Pete Connors

League of Women Voters Debate: Part I, TE School Board Candidates

democrats-republicansYesterday, the League of Women Voters held the TE School Board candidate debate and the Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors candidate debate.  I attended both debates.  Although the debates were not shown live, they will be available for viewing (Comcast 2 and Verizon 24 channels) sometime after Monday’s Board of Supervisors Meeting.  My guess is that there will be separate schedules for the two debates – check the township website for details.

Unfortunately, due to the lateness of scheduling, the school board debate was limited to a 1-hour format versus the 2-hour supervisor debate format.  In speaking with the League of Women Voters representative, Mary Lou Dondero, before the debate, I learned more about their scheduling process.  Ms. Dondero was none too pleased about the lateness of which the school board candidates debate was scheduled.  When asked who was responsible for debate scheduling, it was interesting to learn that it not the local political party leaders that should ask but rather the candidates themselves who should contact the LWV.  This is good information to know going forward.

Six of the eight school board candidates participated (due to prior commitments, Easttown Democrats Maryann Piccioni and Jean Kim were unable to attend). After each candidate presented a 2-minute opening personal statement, the moderator read questions, which audience members had anonymously submitted.  Each question was answered by all candidates with the moderator giving each candidate the opportunity to be first to answer.  Following the questions, each candidate had an opportunity for a 2-minute closing statement.

The LWV debate is not the traditional format that many of us recall from our high school/college days, but rather a Q&A forum. The downside of the LWV debate style is it does not allow for rebuttal by candidate. Case in point, the LWV repeatedly asked the candidates (both school board and supervisors) to respond to the specific question yet several candidates answered the LWV questions with accusations against their opponents.  Due to the LWV format, it made it difficult for the candidates to defend the accusations.

Everyone that follows Community Matters knows that I fought for a school board candidate debate.  Important school district issues surfaced this year, making for a contentious situation for all involved — the Board, administration, employees and the public.  For my efforts in moving the school board debate forward, some questioned my agenda.  If I had an agenda, it was simple – voters need to ‘know’ the candidates and candidates need to have the opportunity to deliver their views on issues, before Election Day.  Hindsight being 20/20, I’m actually glad that I had nothing to do with the school board debate other than to attend.  I cannot be accused of unfairness or a bias in the organization of the debate – candidates were not coerced; they own their words.

For those of us who regularly attend and/or watch the school board meetings, there was little surprise in most of the audience questions. As a result of contentious school board meetings this year, many of the questions related to communication, trust, transparency and morale issues, — asking what would the candidates do to ‘improve’ the current situation, if elected.

Five of the six candidates spoke of the need to improve communication and several of them mentioned morale issues.  School board director Rich Brake (R), who is seeking re-election, accepted that there have been communication issues between the Board and the residents and spoke of the need to improve the dialogue, suggesting town hall meetings. Brake believes that the negativity issues need to be handled directly and wants to bring people together. It was refreshing to have a current elected official acknowledge the problems, accept responsibility and suggest ways for improvement.

With a similar response, Brake’s opponent Scott Dorsey (D) supports greater transparency and open dialogue between the public and the Board, suggesting a public advisory board. Dorsey spoke out against the Board’s use of the consent agenda and suggested its use should be reconsidered. The consent agenda is designed for routine items, such as meetings minutes. However, as Dorsey explained, the consent agenda takes away the public’s right to question an issue.  The consent agenda can bury an item that the Board does not want publically discussed.  In my opinion, in 2013 we saw the misuse of the consent agenda by the school board for the hiring of Andy Chambers and the inclusion of administrator raises and bonuses.  If the hiring of the former police chief as the District’s security expert or giving raises to the administrators was such a  good idea, why not openly discuss them in a public school board meeting, than than buried in a consent agenda. Dorsey was the only candidate to address the consent agenda issue.

Easttown Republicans Doug Carlson and Virginia Lastner spoke favorably on the topic of communication, wanting to see greater resident participation and awareness of District issues.  Lastner wants the employees to feel that they can speak candidly and not risk their jobs by speaking out.  Referring to her background and prior elected positions in Connecticut, Lastner is a proponent of the “listen and learn” concept.

Tredyffrin school board candidate Pete Connors (R) remarks on this topic included “morale starts with leadership”.  Connors believes that there exists a trust issue in the community and proposed an advisory citizens group.  He specifically cited the threat of outsourcing and the proposed demolition of the tennis courts where the Board was forced to reverse their decisions due to the public.  Concerned about the Board’s lack of transparency that has decisions being made in private, Connors promoted a greater sharing of information with the public.

The consistent theme from Brake, Dorsey, Connors, Lastner and Carlson was the need for the school board to provide greater communication opportunities for the public. Dorsey, Brake and Connors took it a step further and spoke of changing the negative tone, improving trust and respectfulness and supporting the creation of some type of citizen advisory group.

As president of the school board, Kevin Buraks (D) was center front to the confrontational monthly and committee school board meetings of 2013 yet did not agree with the other candidates on District morale or communication issues.  Unmistakably Buraks is disconnected to the important issues raised by his fellow school board director Rich Brake and by Democrat Scott Dorsey.  At times, it was hard to believe that Buraks and Brake are both on the same school board or that Buraks and Dorsey are representing the same local political party.

Responding to a question, Buraks stated clearly that there are no morale issues in the District. He further commented that if there were moral issues in the District, the employees would leave.  On the issue of communication, his stance is that the school board already provides an open forum, is transparent and that through emails, website, etc. all District information is available.  He pointed out that the Board listened to the public about the demolition of the tennis courts and the outsourcing of the aides and paras and reversed their decision. In other words, according to school board president Kevin Buraks, there is no trust, respect or communication issues in the school district. He backed these assertions by continuously pointing to T/E school district’s rankings as his proof.

So overall, was there any new ‘news’ or any surprises learned from the school board candidate debate for me?  Yes and no.  Because I regularly attend the school board meetings and understand most of the issues, some of the information was not new.  However, I did not know the background and views of Easttown residents Virginia Lastner and Doug Carlson, so appreciated the opportunity to learn more about them.  I know candidates Pete Connors and Scott Dorsey and both have previously spoken out about the District’s communication and transparency issues, so was not surprised by their responses.

The surprise was in the school board incumbents performances. Perhaps it is because Kevin Buraks is an attorney, but his stance during the debate was not to back down or take responsibility for any of the public’s  perceived ‘miss-steps’ of the school board or of his term as the president.  I guess as an attorney, you make a calculation and then stand by your decision, using the mantra of no ‘do-overs’ allowed. Taking the approach that because the TE School District is highly ranked, Buraks wants the voters to believe it is a result of his leadership.  Other the other hand, incumbent Rich Brake took a completely different approach and surprised me with his candor. Portraying himself as somewhat of a school board outsider, Brake acknowledged that there needs to be greater dialogue with the public and more openness.  Whereas Buraks would have the public believe that everything is cohesive and agreeable among the school board directors, Brake paints a very different picture.

These are my personal observations from the school board debate, I welcome others who attended to contribute their opinion.  If you did not attend the debate, I would encourage you to watch in on online when it is available.

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Partisan Politics; No need to go to Washington!

The Federal government shutdown has magnified the political partisan bickering in Washington.  Unfortunately, over the last week, I have had a front-row seat to the local version – I’ll explain.

In the last Community Matters post, I mentioned that the League of Women Voters is conducting a Tredyffrin Township supervisor candidate debate on Saturday, October 19, 2-4 at the township building.  Knowing that in the past a similar LWV debate was scheduled for the school board candidates, it struck me odd that no such event was planned for this year.

I was told that the reason that there was no scheduled TESD school board debate was that the LWV calendar was full and therefore could not accommodate the event. The explanation seemed plausible and I probably would have walked away from the situation except that two TESD school board candidates (Scott Dorsey (D) and Pete Connors (R)) approached me (separately) questioning ‘why’ there was no scheduled school board debate as both were interested in participating in such a forum.

This discussion of a ‘Meet the School Board Candidate’ forum occurred last week as I was completing last minute details for the Paoli Blues Fest.  Between the Blues Fest and community street fair on October 5, the 9th Annual Historic House Tour the Saturday before and eye surgery in between, I was certainly not anxious to take on  another ‘project’.  However, believing that more people in our community need to be engaged in local issues and to ‘know’ the candidates before casting a vote next month, a debate/forum needed to develop. Without the assistance of the LWV or any other organization, I first contacted Tredyffrin Township to check available dates/times to hold the forum.  To the credit of the Tredyffrin Township staff (particularly the township secretary Pat Hoffman) and the police department, township manager and ultimately the Board of Supervisors, I was given approval to hold the candidates forum on Saturday, October 26, 2-4 PM.  If you are wondering why I approached the township for use of their building rather than the library or one of the schools – the answer is simple, cost.  There is a fee to use the schools or the library for an event.

Once I had the day/time locked in, I gathered the email addresses of all eight TESD school board candidates, which includes incumbents Rich Brake (R) and Kevin Buraks (D).  All eight received the same invitation to participate. With my contact information, I sent the following email to the eight candidates:

Dear Tredyffrin Easttown School District School Board Candidates,

‘Meet the Candidates’ forums are central to democratic processes and are an important element of civic action and engagement. In recent years, the League of Women Voters has held these forums for township supervisor candidates and school board candidates.  The League of Women Voters will hold a debate for Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors candidates on Saturday, October 19, 2 – 4 PM but a similar forum is not planned for school board candidates of the Tredyffrin Easttown School District.

This type of forum establishes connections between candidates and residents; allows voters to make informed decisions on election day, gives candidates the opportunity to present their platforms on issues that matter to residents; and gives residents the opportunity to raise issues that they feel need to be addressed by the successful candidate(s).

Utilizing a grassroots community organizational approach, there will be a ‘Meet the School Board Candidates Forum’ on Saturday, October 26, 2 – 4 PM at the Tredyffrin Township Building, 1100 Duportail Road, Berwyn, PA 19312.  All candidates for the T/E School Board are invited to participate in this upcoming forum.  The purpose of this forum is to give school board candidates an opportunity to address a wide range of issues that affect our school district…

Appreciating that the moderator of the candidate forum needed to be a non-TESD resident, I contacted a friend who is an attorney and a financial planner.  With no questions asked, he agreed to help.  I then asked four residents (representatives from Easttown and Tredyffrin Townships) to serve on a committee to help with the planning, logistics, marketing, etc of the candidate forum. For the record, two were Republicans, one a Democrat and the fourth a non-US citizen.  As a registered Independent, I looked more at choosing people that understood the local school board issues versus their party affiliation.  These four individuals were enthusiastic and anxious to help with the event.  As stated in my invitation to the candidates, I was utilizing a “grassroots community organizational approach” to this “Meet the School Board Candidates” forum.

Of the eight school board candidates, I immediately received responses from five candidates (3 Republicans, 2 Democrats), offering support, appreciation for the effort, willingness to re-arrange personal schedules so they could participate, etc.  With a moderator, a volunteer committee, a place, day/time and support from the majority of the candidates, I was feeling confident about this TESD school board candidate forum.

Then the rumblings from the local political parties started – I should mention, that my invitations went directly to the candidates, not the political parties that they represent.  Believing that elected officials need to be independent-thinkers, it seemed the decision of whether to participate in this public community event should be up the candidates themsevles, without influence from the leadership of the respective political parties.  Again, to the credit of many of these school board candidates, there was overwhelming support for the candidate forum.

What do I mean by ‘rumblings’ – I received questions about the format, where would the questions come from and how would the questions be asked, would questions come from the audience, (if so, how would they be categorized), would the process be ‘fair’ or  biased to the Republican candidates or biased to the Democratic candidates, what political party were the volunteers, etc. etc.  The rumblings started within 24 hours of my sending the invitations to the candidates – but it should be noted that not one of the five candidates who contacted me criticized or questioned my motives or my fairness.

About the time the local partisan politics started to surface, it mysteriously became known that the League of Women Voters schedule was not full and that they could accommodate a school board candidate’s forum.  Imagine that!  I knew if ever there was a moment when something was meant as a ‘sign’ this was it.  It had become painfully obvious and very quickly, that no matter how I organized this candidates forum, either the local Democratic Party or the Republican Party (or both) was not going to be satisfied with my efforts or the results.  The finger pointing had already started and it was only 24 hours since I sent the candiate’s their invitations.  If a school board candidate debate was to happen, it was up to the ‘D’s’ and the ‘R’s’ to organize it with the League of Women Voters.

As a result, the following email was sent to the eight school board candidates:

TE School District Board Candidates —

I was working on scheduling a TESD School Board Candidate Forum on Saturday, October 26 for two reasons: (1) to provide an opportunity for candidates to present their platforms on important issues facing the TE School District and (2) to give residents the opportunity raise issues that they feel need to be addressed by the candidates.  A public forum to discuss school district issues is important. When I questioned why there was no school board candidate forum scheduled as in prior years, I was told that the League of Women Voters did not have availability on their calendar.  Based on the information that the League of Women Voters was unable to schedule such an event (and having been approached by two school board candidates, a ‘D’ and an ‘R’), I moved forward to make the necessary arrangements for such a forum.

It has now come to my attention that the League of Women Voters is available for Saturday, October 26 to host the forum/debate for the school board candidates.  To those candidates that contacted me either with a commitment to participate in the forum or a willingness to rearrange their personal schedules, thank you and your responses were most appreciated. Please know that as a community member and as a registered Independent, my only intention in scheduling a school district candidate forum was to engage more residents in our important school district issues and to allow candidates an opportunity to express their views on these issues.  There was no personal agenda on my part.

The location, day and time for the school board candidate forum has been reserved for Saturday, October 26, 2-4 at the Tredyffrin Township Building. If you were interested in pursuing this opportunity with the League of Women Voters, I would encourage you to contact your local Republican and Democratic Party representatives.

Please accept my apologies for any confusion and best wishes for a successful campaign.

Pattye Benson

The moderator and committee members that I had contacted to help received the same update as the candidates.  I thank these five volunteers for their support and willingness to help.  So … where does the school board candidate situation now stand?  It is my understanding that the leadership of the political parties is working with the League of Women Voters to organize a debate. The last update I received was that the plan was to schedule the school board candidate debate prior to the Tredyffrin Township supervisor debate on Saturday, October 19 at the township building. I look forward to hearing a confirmation on the date and time.

It remains unclear why the local Democratic and Republican parties scheduled the supervisor candidate debate with the League of Women Voters and did not do the same for the school board candidates. However, I am hopeful that the school board candidate forum will occur; that important school district issues will be discussed and that candidates can have the opportunity to present their view.

In closing, the last ten days has taught me one thing, … whether it’s  elected officials in Washington or our local political parties, I recognize that I am no fan of the partisan sandbox. For me, it’s about understanding the issues and then supporting the candidate that best represents my views.

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Four weeks and counting until Election Day

Election Day 2013 is 4 weeks from tomorrow, Tuesday, November 5.  If you are not registered, today is the last day to register to vote in the Municipal Election.  Applications from Pennsylvanians registering for the first time, those changing their address or changing their party affiliation must be postmarked or delivered to Chester County’s board of elections by the close of business today, October 7.  Chester County’s board of elections is located at Government Services Center, 601 Westtown Rd., Suite 150, West Chester, PA 19380. Their phone number: 610-344-6410. Office hours: 8:30 AM – 4:30 PM.

Do you know the candidates for the Board of Supervisor or the Tredyffrin Easttown School Board? What issues facing the township and school district are important to you – do the candidates share your concerns, your opinions? How likely are you to vote on November 5?

If you are a voter in Tredyffrin Township, you will have an opportunity to learn more about the Board of Supervisors candidates.  The League of Women Voters is holding a supervisor debate on Saturday, October 19, 2-4 PM at the Tredyffrin Township Building. There are three contested seats on the Board – two for supervisor-at-large and a district supervisor for the middle district.  Seeking one of the two at-large supervisor seats is incumbent Michelle Kichline (R), Trip Lukens (R), Murph Wysocki (D) and Mark Freed (D).  Current at-large supervisor E.J. Richter (R) is opposing Laurie Elliott (D) for the middle district seat.

In recent years, the League of Women Voters also has held a debate for the TE School Board candidates. Unfortunately, the volunteer organization will not hold a similar debate this year for the school board candidates.  This is an important time to know your candidates – what are their backgrounds and experience, where do they stand on issues, etc. etc.  So … why no debate for the school board candidates?  Do you know who the school board candidates are?

On the Tredyffrin side of the school district, we have Democrat incumbent Kevin Buraks being challenged by Republican Pete Connors in Region I.  In Region II, Scott Dorsey (D) opposes incumbent Rich Brake (R).

On the Easttown side of the school district, there are two seats available in Region III.  For personal reasons, neither Betsy Fadem (R) nor Anne Crowley (D) is seeking re-election.  I attend almost every school board meeting and I have not met any of the four candidates vying for the two open Region III seats.  The candidates are Republicans Doug Carlson and Virginia Lastner and Democrats Maryann Piccioni and Jean Kim.

School board candidates Pete Connors and Scott Dorsey have each stated that they want the opportunity to discuss school district issues and are interested in pursuing a debate forum with the other school board candidates — Neither knows why a debate was not scheduled as in prior years. Because of my discussion with Connors and Dorsey (and the interest from the public in learning about the school board candidates), several options are being explored.  However, with only 4 weeks remaining until Election Day 2013, it does not leave much time to organize a ‘meet your school board candidate’ forum.

If the past is any indication, the political war for control will rear its ugly head over the next 30 days with school board and supervisor candidates door knocking, campaign mail pieces hitting our houses and the robo-calls that invariably come at dinnertime.  Voters need a reason to go the polls on November 5 – they need to know the issues and which candidates support their views. Everyone should be interested in the election because the future of the township, the school district and the community are dependent upon strong, issue-focused leadership.  The issues are complex and the School Board (and the Board of Supervisors) must work as a team united (with the community) to find effective solutions.

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Democrats and Republicans Finalize Slate of Tredyffrin Supervisor and T/E School Director Candidates

For candidates for the T/E School Board and the Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors, Tuesday, March 12 is the last day to circulate and file nomination petitions at Chester County Voter Services for Pennsylvania’s May 21, 2013 Primary Election.

T/E School Director candidates must file a petition signed by at least 10 qualified voters of the school district for the political party with which the petition will be filed.  Generally, school board candidates cross-file.  To cross-file in a primary election (that is, to run on both parties), a registered Democrat or Republican must circulate a proper petition for the other party.  The petition must contain signatures as previously mentioned.  If elected on both party ballots in the May primary, a candidate will appear on both party ballots in the general election in November.

The candidates for the May 21, 2013 Primary Election are as follows:

The Tredyffrin Township Republican Committee has endorsed the following candidates for the office of Tredyffrin-Easttown School Director:

  • Tredyffrin, East – Region 1:  Pete Connors
  • Tredyffrin, West – Region 2:  Rich Brake **

The Tredyffrin Township Democratic Committee has endorsed the following candidates for the office of Tredyffrin-Easttown School Director:

  • Tredyffrin, East – Region 1:  Kevin Buraks **
  • Tredyffrin, West – Region 2:  Scott Dorsey

In addition to the Region 1 and Region 2 seats in Tredyffrin Township, Easttown Township, Region 3 has two school director seats up for election.  I have not confirmed whether incumbent Democrat Anne Crowley will seek a second term or Republican Betsy Fadem will seek a fourth term as School Board Directors from Region 3. I will update the Region 3, Easttown Township candidates for the T/E School Board when confirmed.

For Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors, the Tredyffrin Township Republican Committee has endorsed the following candidates:

  • Supervisor at Large:  Michelle Kichline **
  • Supervisor at Large:  Trip Lukens
  • District 2 Middle::  EJ Richter ** (a)

For Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors, the Tredyffrin Township Democratic Committee has endorsed the following candidates:

  • Supervisor at Large:  Murph Wysocki
  • Supervisor at Large:  Mark Freed
  • District 2 Middle:  Laurie Elliott

** Incumbent

(a) Currently serving as a Tredyffrin Township At-Large supervisor, Evelyn Richter will seek re-election; not as an At-Large candidate but as a candidate in the Middle, District 2 race.  The current Middle, District 2 supervisor Phil Donahue has decided not to seek a second term.

In a review of the slate of candidates, there are some familiar names and some not so familiar names among the list. Republicans Michelle Kichline and Evelyn Richter are seeking re-election to the Board of Supervisors and Democrat Kevin Buraks and Republican Rich Brake to the T/E School Board. Another couple of recognizable names on the list …Tredyffrin Township Democratic Committee have endorsed former candidates, attorney Murph Wysocki for an At-Large Board of Supervisors seat and pastor/administrator Scott Dorsey for the School Board in Region 2.

Also familiar is the current chair of Tredyffrin Township Planning Commission, Republican Trip Lukens, endorsed by the local Republican Committee as an At-Large supervisor candidate.  If you recall, Tredyffrin Planning Commissioner Tory Snyder, a Democratic candidate in the last election, lost by a handful of votes to Republican incumbent Paul Olson, for the District 1 East supervisor seat.  For those that regularly attend or watch Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors meetings, you may have seen Laurie Elliott at the microphone. A Glenhardie area resident, Elliott has been involved in the Trout Creek Overlay District and the Richter property development project, and now seeks to represent residents as a Middle, District 2 supervisor.

Unfamiliar names on the list (at least to me) are At-Large Board of Supervisor candidate, Democrat Mark Freed and Tredyffrin, East – Region 1 School Director candidate Republican Pete Connors.  A quick Google search indicates Mark Freed is an attorney and shareholder at Zarwin, Baum, DeVito, Kaplan, Schaer, Toddy, PC in Philadelphia. Freed concentrates his practice in the areas of environmental and toxic tort law and litigation.  Republican Pete Connors of Wayne is the founder and President of Remcon Plastics, Inc. a plastics manufacturer in the custom molding, material handling and safety products industries headquartered in Reading, PA.

As I have done in the past, I will be posting the resumes and/or bios of the supervisor and school board candidates, at some point.  I should point out, that there’s still time if you are interested in having your name on the May Primary ballot — remember, it only takes 10 signatures to run for the School Board.  Click here for a link to Chester County Voter Services for information.

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