Philadelphia Inquirer

UPDATE: DA Tom Hogan Weighs In … Is it a Get Out of Jail Free Card for Tredyffrin Official? You be the Judge!

9-3-12 UPDATE: District Attorney Tom Hogan Weighs In (See end of post)

There was a troubling news article in last week’s Main Line Media News  about one of Tredyffrin Township’s Zoning Hearing Board members, Suzy Pratowski.  TE Patch, the Daily Local and, then a couple of days ago, the Philadelphia Inquirer, picked up the story.

There are several reasons why I think this story caught people’s attention, me included.  The initial newspaper headline, ‘Zoning hearing board member not guilty after police are a no-show at her trial’, causing some of us a double take.  Zoning hearing board member? Trial? MIA police officers?  What was all of this about? Since when do township police officers not show up at trials?  I cannot believe that this is a regular occurrence … I wonder when the last time was that a police officer did not show up for a scheduled hearing?

Remembering back a few years ago,  I decided to fight a traffic violation in Tredyffrin and showed up at my scheduled time at Judge Blackburn’s courtroom.  The traffic officer who had written my citation arrived on time for the hearing with his 6 in. thick codebook ready to defend his case against me.  Although I was well prepared, (albeit sans an attorney), the police officer’s testimony prevailed – I lost the case and paid my fine.  The point is, my hearing was for a routine traffic violation and the officer involved showed up.  From the newspaper articles, Pratowski’s case is far from routine, and she isn’t just ‘Joe Citizen’ … Suzy Pratowski is a supervisor-appointed member of Tredyffrin’s Zoning Hearing Board.

For those that have not followed the case, Pratowski was arrested in Chesterbrook on May 28, charged on two counts, public drunkenness and disorderly conduct, and issued citations. The situation involved a domestic altercation between Pratowski and her former husband, Jay Ciccarone.  I have read the police reports and the account in the newspaper is accurate with one clarification. When Pratowski arrived to pick up her children at Ciccarone’s house, she was not driving but rather a passenger in a car driven by an unnamed male, a designated driver.  Ciccarone was unwilling to turn the two boys over to Pratowski, citing their custody agreement, which requires that Ms. Pratowski not drink alcohol 10 hours before driving and picking up the children. The police officer determined that Pratowski had been drinking and therefore the children should remain with Ciccarone.

A photo accompanying the Main Line Media newspaper article showed Ms. Pratowski with township supervisor John DiBuonaventuro at a 2011 Devereux charity event.  In reading the article, in conjunction with the accompanying photo, it is possible that a reader could conclude that DiBuonaventuro was the unnamed male driver on May 28.  However, that assumption would be wrong … the police report names a Haverford attorney as the driver, not supervisor DiBuonaventuro.  Pratowski left Ciccarone’s home without the children however, returned later that night on her bicycle and police were again called.  With a PBT (preliminary breath test) reading of .18, the officer cited Pratowski with public drunkenness, disorderly conduct and returned her home in a police car.

Two years earlier, in June 2010, during a vehicle stop, Pratowski was charged with DUI, having received a PBT reading of .127.  Pratowski’s two children were in the vehicle at the time and although initially charged with child endangerment, that charge was later dropped. Pratowski pleaded guilty to the DUI.  In reading the police report from 2010, I noted that situation also involved Pratowski’s former husband Jay Ciccarone.  Concerned for his children’s wellbeing, it was Ciccarone who called the police which ultimately resulted in Pratowski’s DUI arrest. The recent May 2012 incident was Pratowski’s second involving alcohol — a second offense that could have had grave consequences for Pratowski legally.

Although the charges against Pratowski were significant, it remains a real mystery as to why the police officers involved were no-shows at her hearing.  Not just one police officer but two officers failed to show up.  How is this possible? According to the Main Line Media News article, “Tredyffrin police Lt. Taro Landis said the officer who was supposed to show up in court that day was on another call at the time.”  The police department explained the absent police officer as an ‘oversight’.  Considering this was a second offense for this defendant, I do question why the police officer would have another call at the time. No mention as to why the other police officer was also MIA for the hearing.

In the Philadelphia Inquirer follow-up article, Tredyffrin Police Chief Tony Giaimo cited a ‘clerical error’ on the part of the officers as to the reason they did not show up at Pratowski’s trial.  He further stated that the officers were disciplined but offered no details.  OK, I’m confused … if it was a clerical error, why would the police officers need to be disciplined?  And where exactly did the clerical error occur; within the police department, the District Court … the police officer’s Blackberry schedule?

It needs to be stated that the police officers involved in Pratowski’s May 28 arrest were not rookie cops. Allen Dori, is a 10-yr. veteran in the Tredyffrin police department and Daniel McFadden, a 20-year veteran and a certified crime scene investigator.  Coincidentally just a couple of days before the Main Line Media story first appeared on August 24, both Dori and McFadden were promoted at the August 20 Board of Supervisors meeting. Police officer Dori was promoted from patrol officer to corporal and McFadden promoted from patrol officer to detective.  Based on their experience and background, these two police officers do not strike me as individuals who would miss an important hearing because of a clerical error!

So let me understand this correctly, if there is a clerical error and the arresting police officer (or in this case, two police officers) does not show up at the hearing, the case is simply dismissed.  Does this mean that the records of the case are expunged?  When a clerical error occurs, am I to understand that there is no such thing as the rescheduling of the hearing.  Magically, the problem is solved and the defendant receives a ‘pass’. Wow … amazing! Based on the remarks that Police Chief Giaimo gave to the Philadelphia Inquirer, it appears that the matter is closed, but should it be?  .

In addition to process questions surrounding this incident, we are left with the open issue about Pratowski’s suitability to serve on the township’s Zoning Hearing Board.  Appeals for relief from decisions of the Zoning Officer and/or requirements in the zoning Ordinance are handled by the ZHB. Unlike other boards and commissions in the township, the ZHB is a quasi-judicial body whose decisions are not subject to the approval of the supervisors. I am thinking that Pratowski’s guilty verdict for DUI in June 2010 should have warranted her dismissal from the ZHB.  For those of you wondering what the grounds are for removal from the ZHB, the following is from the PA Municipal Planning Code that governs the ZHB in our municipality:

Article IX – Zoning Hearing Board and other Administrative Proceedings

Section 905. Removal of Members. Any board member may be removed for malfeasance, misfeasance or nonfeasance in office or for other just cause by a majority vote of the governing body which appointed the member, taken after the member has received 15 days’ advance notice of the intent to take such a vote. A hearing shall be held in connection with the vote if the member shall request it in writing.

Reading the section titled ‘Removal of Members’, it would appear that Pratowski should be removed from the ZHB. Pratowski occupies the seat on the Zoning Hearing Board once held by John Petersen.  As a former ZHB member, a supervisor and an attorney, I asked him for his comments —

I was very sad to hear about Suzy’s troubles. I’ve known her to be a good person and I sincerely hope that she gets to a point, for the benefit of her and her children,  where portions of her life are not being played out in the paper. In most cases, this would be a private matter. Back in 2005 when I was appointed to fill  vacancy on the BOS, I left the ZHB and had recommended Suzy to take my place. I was happy to do so then as she was qualified and has done a good job. However, as a former member of the governing body and the ZHB, I also have to consider the consequences of actions that place confidence in our public institutions at risk. Serving is a privilege, not a right. Given the history here, I have to wonder why Suzy was not removed from the ZHB back in 2010. These latest incidents only serve to add to growing list of questions concerning the integrity of our local government. It’s even worse when there is no confidence in the police, who at various times, holds, albeit brief, a decisive role in a person’s individual freedom. Between township staff, elected officials, certain boards and appointees or the dealings of those appointees and the police, nothing appears to be working correctly in Tredyffrin Township. I  actually fear our government and police as they don’t act in the citizens’ best interest.

As to the “clerical error”, as a lawyer, I find that to be hard to believe. It’s a rather generic answer – one that the Inquirer should have followed up on with this simple question: “What was the error?” The workings between the district courts, the County and the various police departments are actually quite efficient. If this was a clerical error, then it was an error that was of the same proportion of that single bullet on that fateful day on November 22, 1963. There would have had to have been errors in Judge Sondergaard’s office as well as the administration in the police department and other people. Did other Tredyffrin Police manage to show up that day for other cases, or the day prior or after? Why this case? Why this person? When was the last time this sort of thing happened? Maybe it’s a common practice? But for Suzy’s private issues and the fact that she is a public official did this one come to light? Again, it’s about the appearance of impropriety.

Nobody has mentioned this yet, but I think it is fair game for DA Tom Hogan to make an inquiry here. As I see it, a full and open investigation is the only way the matter can get cleared up. We’ve already had a major scandal with former chief Chambers. And not too long before Chambers, chief Harkness was dismissed amidst a cloud of allegations the subject of which are/were part of a confidentiality agreement.  Between that, alleged civil rights violations and other things – it’s not been a good time for the police or the government as a whole.

For longer than I care to remember, too many bad acts. In many ways, we’ve not progressed beyond Harry Marrone. Too many questions. This really goes to the honor and integrity of people. What I’ve been seeing lately is a lot of inaction and indecisiveness from township leadership. Again I ask – when is it going to stop? When are the adults going to take charge? When can people have confidence that their government and police will treat all people fairly and equally instead of calling person’s political affiliations out as just being a “Data point?” Anybody else, with these players involved, and I doubt seriously that there would be a “Clerical error.”  And when they don’t treat people fairly and equally, will those same governmental actors ever be held accountable? Candidly, I was not a fan of Giamo’s promotion – given the recent history. Has nothing to do with Tony as a person or his qualifications. It has everything to do with the integrity of the institution and the confidence that public has in that institution. Sometimes, you just have to bring people in from the outside. I believe had we had truly shaken things up, there would not have been a “Clerical error.” One simply cannot look past the fact that Suzy was at a time, a TTRC member, dating a supervisor and of course, is a member of the ZHB. Anybody who cites those factors as being irrelevant is simply being willfully naïve.  I lost my political mentor John Waldeyer in 2005. He was a good man and a great steward of good and honorable political values. He always said to me that the most important thing in politics and service is to be identified with good government. Everything else takes care of itself.  A lot of people forgot those words. I’ve never forgotten them. John would be absolutely ashamed of what we see today. And if he were around today, we would not see the crap we’ve seen for the last 7 years.  People around here have long forgotten what good government is. No government is perfect, but it can still be good nevertheless. John exercised discipline. John was an adult.

Finally, a personal plea to Suzy – if you have not done so, offer up your resignation. Doing so would mark the first time in a very long time a public official did the right thing in the face of adversity.

 Do Tredyffrin Township residents really need another St. Davids sidewalk saga or a ‘big check’ moment — remember the fire funding spectacle with cameras rolling? As Carla Zambelli, fellow blogger and friend, wrote on Chester County Ramblings in her post , “enough Tredyffrin. enough”   … “Tredyffrin needs to get its house in order and stop sounding and acting like a Shakespearian tragedy meets a made for TV movie on Lifetime.”   Carla does have a way with words, just wish in this case, she wasn’t right.

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9-3-12 UPDATE:  District Attorney Tom Hogan Weighs In

I sent an email to District Attorney Tom Hogan, asking if this situation constitutes an investigation by his office.  The DA called and we had a lengthy discussion on this matter.  It is with his permission that I can offer this update.  According to the Hogan, there has been an investigation and review.  Police Chief Tony Giaimo conducted an internal department investigation and then asked for an outside review from the District Attorney’s office on the ‘clerical error’ matter.  According to the internal police report, there were scheduling issues and the two police officers were not notified of Suzy Pratowski’s hearing date.  The DA also reported that Pratowski’s former husband Jay Cicarrone was also not notified of the hearing date.  Pratowski and her attorney were the only ones to receive notification.

Hogan also offered that because of township supervisor John DiBuonaventuro’s relationship with Pratowski (and questions concerning his possible involvement), the police as part of the investigation interviewed DiBuonaventuro.  The police department determined that DiBuonaventuro was not involved in the situation. The internal investigation determined that a clerical error as the reason that the two officers missed the hearing.  The District Attorney’s office reviewed the police department findings and was satisfied by the report.

I asked the DA how often does  a clerical error occur that police officers miss a scheduled hearing. Although Hogan said that it does happen, he did say it was not common in Tredyffrin Township.  I let our District Attorney know that many of us were troubled by the appearance of this situation.  For the record, the District Attorney’s office has no jurisdiction over Pratowski’s continued membership on Tredyffrin’s Zoning Hearing Board – the appointment and removal of ZHB members is a Board of Supervisors matter.

There was discussion of the ‘not guilty’ verdict for Pratowsk, given that the two police officers and Cicarrone did not attend the hearing.  I will defer the legal explanation of the judicial process to John Petersen, who also spoke with Tom Hogan. Here are John’s comments:

I had an opportunity to speak to DA Tom Hogan on the matter. Normally, jeopardy does not attach in a case like this until the first witness is sworn – when the trier of fact (the judge in this case) has begun his journey of fact finding. This is all about protecting a defendant’s 5th amendment rights to due process, and specifically, a defendant’s right to not be tried more than once for the same crime. In this case, the judge had 3 options (really only two legitimate options in my opinion). The first is to find the defendant not guilty and close the case. This would NOT have been appropriate in my opinion because the prosecution was not present due to what has been regarded as an honest clerical error. How could a judge weigh facts that were not presented? The big problem with this option – jeopardy attaches. To review, in this case, not only did the police not show up, but the judge took the one choice that assured this matter went away forever.

The other two options were to 1 – dismiss without prejudice – giving leave to the police to re file the charges or 2 – to simply continue the trial. It seems to me the one that was most prudent in this case was to simply order a continuance. That would have remediated the clerical error and it would not have resulted in any constitutionally protected rights of the defendant being violated.  Dismissing the case would have required the police to re-file charges – which would have resulted in additional time and expense.

Apparently, Judge Rita Arnold, another DJ, successfully quashed a citation against her son. In her case, she was suspended for 30 days. She’s back on the bench. As for her son, he gets off scot free.  If you are thinking it pays to have connections you are right. I have been told there is a strong likelihood of a memo going out to DJ’s that gives better guidance on when it’s appropriate to make a determination on guilt vs. a dismissal vs. a continuance. It’s a bit concerning that guidance has to be given on this. Shouldn’t judges know better? The DJ system is broken and this reinforces my opinion that DJ’s need to be lawyers. This often surprises folks that DJ’s don’t need to be lawyers.

My conclusion on this – we’ll likely never know what really happened here.  I have to ask whether a regular, non-connected person would be as lucky? The answer is absolutely not. Justice was not served here. And yet again, a connected person caught breaks that non-connected people don’t get. I am left with no other conclusion that this particular defendant was helped by many people with influence. How and why do I conclude that? Because there are no facts to suggest otherwise.

I have no faith in any aspect of our local government, it’s people and it’s ability to do the right thing.

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PA School District’s Financial Problems … Taxpayers Draw the Short Straw

Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) the state teachers union recently released a study, Sounding the Alarm, which looks at the financial crisis in school districts across the states.  The paper examines how districts are being forced to cut educational programming to meet the demands of school budgets because of the public schools financial crisis.

The PSEA report identifies the following five key problems that have combined to create a financial crisis in the public schools.

1. State Budget Cuts. Unprecedented state funding cuts and the elimination of key funding programs have compounded underlying, systemic problems, particularly for lower-wealth districts.

2. Charter School Payments. Charter and cyber charter school laws result in a net increase in costs to school districts.

3. Declining Tax Bases and Rate Limits. Declining local property values and caps on property tax increases have eroded school districts’ tax bases and curtailed their ability to raise much-needed revenues.

4. Underlying Fiscal Weakness.  School districts showing the greatest underlying financial weakness had fund balances averaging 1.27 percent of total expenditures. These districts tend to be relatively small, rely heavily on a single source of revenue, have a small amount of buffer within their budgets, and carry a heavy debt load. They range in type from urban school districts, to small districts in the coal regions and Monongahela Valley, to rural districts in the central and western parts of the state.

5. Pension Cost Increases. A decade-long “holiday” that allowed employers to avoid paying their share of retirement contributions, coupled with investment losses from 2008 and 2009, forced the current increase in employer payments.

In the Education section of today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, we learn that Philadelphia schools may not be opening in September due to a budget gap for 2012-13 of $218 million! The school district officials are hoping that the five unions operating in the Philadelphia public school system will ‘giveback’ $156 million to help next year’s budget.  There is discussion of privatizing the custodial services; officials think they can raise another $50 million from maintenance, transportation and custodial cutbacks.  Even if this wishful thinking translates into a reality for Philadelphia public schools, they figure they will still end up short by $94 million.

In the meantime, Mayor Nutter is trying to collect $90 million in taxes for the school district next year by shifting to AVI (Actual Value Initiative) system for property taxes.  Nutter claims that the new system will more accurately indicate the increase in market value of properties in the city but includes two tax hikes to Philadelphia’s properties owners.

Whether it’s PSEA or Mayor Nutter in the city, why is it that the solutions have one thing in common – the burden falls to the taxpayer with increased property taxes.  I’m really struggling to understand how taxpayers are going to survive the increases in the tax bills.  We all want the quality of the school districts like T/E maintained, we get that our property values are tied directly to the desirability of the educational program but … if the residents can no longer afford to live in these communities, than what difference does it make?

Layer the state funding cuts with the teacher’s pension and health care benefit cuts and add in the community’s demand for excellence in the schools and you are left wondering how are the school districts supposed to balance their budgets?  Answer seems simple … either decrease spending or increase revenue.  Problem is that the school boards are finding themselves left with few options short of jeopardizing the quality of education, as they discuss options to increase revenue.  One of the more unfavorable budget strategies left on the table is demotion of professional staff for economic reasons and increasing class size.  Of course, there was another revenue source but that option was not taken to the voters — the Earned Income Tax.  It was decided that it would not pass a voter referendum.  While that is probably correct and an EIT would not have passed, I wonder how the community is going to feel about increasing property taxes and possible decreasing property values.

Like many people in this community, I too feel the frustration as we sit on the sidelines of the District’s budget discussions and watch for updates from the teacher negotiation talks.  I have asked for transparency in the negotiation process but apparently, that is not to be … interesting to note however that in some parts of the country, teacher contract negotiations are held in the public.  For instance, in Idaho the state law allows public attendance at all labor discussions.

Below is a comment for Community Matters from a resident that shares his/her frustration:

Comment from ‘Damage Control’

T/E Budget Crisis Solved!

Move to Haiti. Yes, you’re reading this correctly— move to Haiti. Students, teachers, administrators, board and taxpayers – move to Haiti! … where they use rags as soccer balls, bicycle rims for basketball nets, parking not an issue. Teachers get paid $5,000 per school year, administrators reap $7,000 and yes, like all the other districts, the superintendent makes $10 worth of stogies (not stoga’s). Best of all, UNICEF and the Salvation Army “underwrites” the entire school system!

School board, what nerve you have in asking non-profit organizations to help with a bailout. I am not a teacher nor do I have children in attendance. I’m just an old taxpayer who sees the “writing on the wall” with this school board and this particular cost savings “strategy” is one of the reasons that prompted me to write this piece.

How dare you! How dare you ask non-profits for a handout when you have $30 million in reserve! You say this reserve money is set aside for rainy day issues, sick day payments, retirement, etc.—Total BS and I don’t mean in a masters or PhD degree sense! How dare you ask these non-profits when your net worth far exceeds any amount these local non-profits could attain even if they all pull together!

Aretha Franklin sang about RESPECT, Rodney Dangerfield got more. You, the board, gave NO respect to Ms. Whittaker, the TEEA president at the last school board meeting. Granted, you announced and stressed at the meeting that only TE residents could speak—a.k.a.—allowed to be heard. Excuse me? Is Dr. Waters a resident? He speaks at school board meetings and he commutes from a different time zone!!! And, by the way, who pays for his gas—TE resident tax payers do! A TE resident voiced that the TEEA president be heard—you board, denied that request. By denying Ms. Whittaker the 1st amendment right of every American, you fired the “first shot” deep into the bowels of the TEEA ship.

Am I just blowing smoke? Don’t think so. Threats of cutting family coverage without ability to purchase such coverage, demoting top educated and experienced teachers, over-crowded classrooms, etc. will only bring together teachers, students, parents and the many news cameras and media to every school in this top-notch and one of the richest school districts in America come this September. Lines drawn, let the battle begin—what a shame! There will be no winners.

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Will the NRA Control Decisions on HB1523 … Follow the Money!

Here’s a latest update on pending Pennsylvania House Bill 1523 – although on the state House agenda since last Wednesday, the bill has yet to get to the House floor. Today is the last day the House of Representatives are in session before recessing until mid-March.  With at least 13 proposed amendments to the bill, since the proposed legislation left the Judiciary Committee hearing, my guess is there probably will not be a decision today.

Thirty cities and towns across Pennsylvania have taken action to crack down on illegal gun trafficking but the pending bill threatens to punish them for taking local action on illegal gun traffickers and straw purchasers.  As originally written, the bill would allow any gun owner to challenge these local ordinances and to collect legal fees and damages from the city that passed such an ordinance.  As if that was not sufficient, HB1523 got a boost when it left the state Judiciary Committee … the amended HB1523 legislation grants legal standing to the NRA, allowing the pro-gun organization to sue the local municipalities, just like  individual gun owners.

This is the NRA we are talking about – the most powerful lobbying organization in the country! If you look at the supporters of HB1523, you will see support from both sides of the political aisle; this is not a Republican versus Democratic issue.  No, it seems to have less to do with party politics and more to do with legislators feeling the need to stay on the ‘right side’ of the National Rifle Association.

I wonder how many of these Harrisburg legislators have received money from the NRA?  Or, are the legislators involved in current campaigns and feel the need to stay on NRA’s approved list of candidates or elected officials? Some of  the elected officials in Harrisburg apparently do some kind of calculus and figure that there is more to be gained by staying on the ‘right side’ of the NRA than any possible downside to the safety of the local municipalities.

Why should the goals and objectives of the NRA guide the decisions of any local elected official?  Why?  What’s the saying, ‘follow the money’?

Apparently, I am not alone in my opinion.  In today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, columnist Monica Yant Kinney writes about HB1523,

“Pennsylvania gun laws are a sick joke. Any state that happily sells buyers unlimited weapons on demand is a state where politicians fear the wrath of the NRA more than the loss of their own lives. … Legislators want to have it both ways: They refuse to protect citizens, but they’ll be damned if they allow cities to do it for them.”

Amen Sister.

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Walkability in Tredyffrin Twp or. . . How to Keep a Private County Club from Building Sidewalks?

Is Tredyffrin’s sidewalk ordinance really about supporting walkability of Tredyffrin or is it about stall tactics to keep St. Davids Golf Club from building their required sidewalks?

Whether you were in the audience or watching from home, I hope residents have had an opportunity to watch Monday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.

Prior to the BOS meeting, I attended last week’s Planning Commission meeting; one of only 2 audience members (BOS member Mike Heaberg the other) who remained for 4 hours and 20 min. of the meeting.  My purpose in attending the Planning Commission meeting was to ask about the enforcement of the 8 open land development agreements.  These land development agreements had been placed ‘on hold’ since December 2009, 21 months ago pending the results from the special sidewalk subcommittee.  Although the sidewalk subcommittee presented their results months ago, the 8 existing land development agreements continued to remain open issues.  During a public hearing discussing the proposed sidewalk ordinance, the supervisors voted unanimously to ‘separate’ the 8 open land development agreements from any new sidewalk ordinance.  In other words, the 8 signed land development agreements would not be affected by any township ordinance change. It is the belief by many that legally the existing land development agreements could never have been changed based on any new ordinance.  To be clear, one of these 8 open land development agreements is the sidewalks required at St. Davids Golf Club.

Once the supervisors voted to exclude the existing land development agreements from the proposed sidewalk ordinance, I assumed that there was no impediment for enforcing the contracts (which was why I attended the Planning Commission meeting).  Much to my surprise (and to the surprise of some Planning Commissioners) in response to my enforcement question, I was told by the township manager that those agreements were still ‘on hold’ by the BOS.  I followed up with — what do we do to move forward. . . what’s the process. Ms. Gleason informed me that the BOS would have to instruct her to move forward or that a resident could ask the supervisors at a regular BOS meeting to move the process forward for enforcement.

Not really understanding ‘why’ the process continued to have delays, I took up my quest for resolution at Monday’s BOS meeting (prior to the public hearing).  There was no decision, no vote on the enforcement issue, but Bob Lamina said that he understood I wanted closure and perhaps it would happen as a result of the sidewalk ordinance.  I argued that the proposed sidewalk ordinance had no bearing (they had voted to exclude the existing land development agreements!) but I got no where.

We then get to the infamous public hearing on the proposed sidewalk ordinance.  With Lamina and Paul Olson fiercely opposed to sidewalks, there was endless rhetoric, it went on and on . . . the long and winding road. One could conclude Lamina’s behavior was nothing more than filibustering.

fil·i·bus·ter: The use of obstructionist tactics, especially prolonged speech-making, for the purpose of delaying legislative action.

A letter to the editor by Bill Bellew of Devon appears in this week’s edition of the Main Line Media News. (click here).

An accurate analysis of the BOS meeting, Bill writes, ” . . .  Some time ago I went to a BOS meeting and asked the board to “knock it off” when it came to these Washington-style debates. We the voters elect the board to run our township now and for the future. As a registered Independent, I couldn’t care less what party you are affiliated with –  just do the job we elected you to do. . . ”

So where are we with the sidewalk issue? I sent an email 3 days ago to Mimi Gleason, copying the BOS, asking when the enforcement letters would go to those 8 projects that have existing open land development agreements (including the sidewalks at St. Davids Golf Club).  So far, there has been no acknowledgement of the email nor any response from our township manager (or the BOS).  With a vote of 5-2 (Lamina and Olson opposed) the proposed sidewalk ordinance was passed by the supervisors.  However, the ordinance passed without a map attached to it.  Without a map, it is my understanding there is no sidewalk requirement.  Until a map is approved to accompany the sidewalk ordinance, the Planning Commissions cannot require sidewalks as part of a land development agreement.  But even without a map, the signed land development agreements (including the one with St. Davids Golf Club) are legal and binding.  In other words, ‘where’ sidewalks are required may be temporarily ‘up in the air’ until a map is approved, there is NO impediment for the sidewalk requirement in existing land development agreements!

Tredyffrin’s sidewalk discussion has traveled beyond the borders of our local community.  In today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, the following article appears.  To the Philadelphia Inquirer writer, Anthony Campisi who attended the BOS meeting, the story appeared to be simply sidewalks . . . some for them and other against them.  However, for many of us, we know it’s about a specific sidewalk in a specific location!

Tredyffrin sidewalk ordinance aims for a walkable community

By Anthony Campisi

Inquirer Staff Writer

To understand why Tredyffrin Township wants to build more sidewalks, look no further than Harold Scott.

The 69-year-old Pottstown resident was on his way to a church meeting in the township but wanted to stop first for coffee at a Saxby’s down the road on Route 30.

Rather than walking from the Church of the Good Samaritan, he ended up driving the 100 yards to the shop. The sidewalks “stop and start” too much to walk safely, he said, gesturing toward the road, with its islands of unconnected sidewalks and cars rushing by.

If the sidewalk ordinance adopted Monday does what it’s supposed to, people like Scott will be able to get around more easily on foot.

The ordinance will require new residential and commercial developments along roads yet to be designated to have sidewalks. Eight are currently planned in the township but it is unclear how they would be affected.

The result, proponents say, would provide longer stretches of sidewalk and a more livable community. Resident Hans van Naerssen told supervisors before the vote the ordinance would ensure that pedestrians have “equal opportunity” with motorists.

But the move to add sidewalks encountered some opposition from the supervisors chairman and vice chairman, who argued that the ordinance would raise costs and scare away development. They said the question should be put before voters in a referendum.

Tredyffrin, a mostly residential section of Chester County that encompasses parts of Wayne, Paoli, and Berwyn, has had a sidewalk ordinance for almost 25 years, requiring sidewalks to be installed as part of any large-scale project.

The problem, according to Township Manager Mimi Gleason, was that the requirement “used to be waived routinely” because the ordinance was vaguely worded.

The result is that much of the township’s 150 miles of roads lack sidewalks – including parts of major commercial corridors, such as Route 30.

The new ordinance – passed after almost two years of debate – is meant to change that by providing a more strategic approach that will result in fewer waivers, according to Supervisor Michelle H. Kichline.

But that argument didn’t persuade Supervisors Chairman Robert W. Lamina, who worried that the ordinance was “highly prescriptive.”

Because most of Tredyffrin’s neighborhoods are built out, the ordinance will affect mostly commercial redevelopment projects.

Sean N. McCauley, a developer and planning commissioner, disputed Lamina’s claim, saying “the cost of sidewalks is insignificant.”

With Tredyffrin competing with others to attract jobs, he argued that creating a more walkable community was essential.

Joseph Hacker, a top transportation planner at the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, agreed, saying in an interview that sidewalk requirements make an “enormous amount of sense” if, as in Tredyffrin, they’re meant to connect residents to things like train stations.

Not everyone in Tredyffrin wants a walkable community.

“I don’t believe this township is a walking township,” resident Bob Robie told supervisors, adding that he’s happy driving.

Tory Snyder, a Planning Commission member, said a survey found that about two-thirds of residents supported more sidewalks.

Snyder, who chaired a sidewalk committee that helped develop the ordinance, said in an interview that it took a balanced approach.

But don’t expect walkability issues in Tredyffrin to go away soon. The Board of Supervisors has only begun working to figure out where new sidewalks would be required.

 

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A Speakeasy, 2 Goats & a Haunted House . . . Find them all on the Annual Historic House Tour on Saturday!

Just a few days remaining until Saturday and this year’s over-the-top Historic House Tour.  But it’s not too late to purchase your tickets;  go online at www.tredyffrinhistory.org for credit card purchase and further information. Not only are the historic houses on this year’s tour amazing but their owners are even more remarkable! Supportive of historic preservation in our community, the homeowners are generously opening their doors to visitors on Saturday and on behalf of the Trust, we thank them!

I want to thank all the media outlets for their advertising of the House Tour. Kathleen Brady Shea, staff reporter with the Philadelphia Inquirer included an article in yesterday’s paper with photos, following up with Facebook and tweets.  Main Line Neighbors and AroundMainLine have advertised the tour with articles, notices and updates using their online presence and Facebook and Twitter.  Bob Byrne at TE Patch has included articles on the House Tour in his daily online news information. Susan Greenspon, editor of the  Main Line Media News has run articles both online and in print on the House Tour for the last couple of weeks in the Suburban and King of Prussia Courier.  I thank each of these media outlets — they didn’t have to help advertise the House Tour but they did!

Alan Thomas wrote the following article for the Main Line Media News which appears today.  Here’s hoping it inspires some more ticket sales!

Historic House Tour is Saturday

Published: Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Main Line Media
By Alan Thomas

The question was “Why?”

“They’ve never repeated,” the voice on the phone said. “She’s asked me year after year after year.”

Michael and Corinne Ackerman’s home, Tivoli Farm, will be in the Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust’s 7th Annual Historic House Tour this Saturday, Sept. 24. And, according to Corinne, this is it. You may never have the opportunity to visit Tivoli Farm again.

“She” is Pattye Benson, owner and proprietor of the Great Valley House of Valley Forge, the circa 1720 bed and breakfast that is older than the house that George Washington stayed in at Valley Forge, and “She” is also president of the Historic Trust.

The Trust is a nonprofit 501c3 organization established in 2002 in response to the threat to demolish the historic 18th-century Jones Log Barn, a Colonial Welsh-American architectural treasure. The Trust’s mission is to preserve and protect historic and cultural resources in Tredyffrin Township for the benefit of present and future generations and to educate the public about the preservation and protection of historic and cultural settings.

The tour’s historic homes and gardens will be open from noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 24, rain or shine. Knowledgeable guides will be staffing each home on the tour and the tour admission includes an individual house history with a map and parking details. Tickets are $35 and advance purchase is necessary, as there will be no tickets sold “at the door.” Tickets are available online atwww.tredyffrinhistory.org using your credit card, or you may quickly download an order form and mail with your check to Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust, P.O. Box 764, Devon, PA 19333-0764. At this late date, however, going online is advised.

Much of the story of Tivoli Farms, involves the efforts of the Gretz family, a Philadelphia beer-baron family, that today still makes its name in the beer business, being the Anhueser Busch distributor for the four counties surrounding Philadelphia.

“There are three buildings on the property,” Corinne Ackerman said. “The carriage house,” visible from windows in the main house, is special. “I love looking out at that.”

There are also “the high ceilings, the pocket doors and the pine floors.” Ackerman also described some of her home’s historic flaws. “It’s got some bumps in the walls, uneven ceilings, those sorts of things.” she admits she could never do a perfect house tour with “curtains and furnishings.”

Like so many of the other tour houses, Tivoli Farm has stories, like the tale of its “speakeasy” history, long before its eventual acquisition by the Ackermans.

During Prohibition the Gretz famly turned to managing the dairy farm at Tivoli. However, an outside entrance to the basement, on the east side of the house is said to have been the entrance to a speakeasy.

The Montessori Children’s House of Valley Forge will be the ticket pick-up point for this year’s tour. One of the sponsors for the tour, MCHVF is one of the only schools located in a U.S. National Park; it officially opened its doors last year after spending $3.8 million to renovate the 3.5-acre property known as Ivy Hollow Farm, circa 1750. The Ivy Hollow farmhouse has been converted into a meeting room and a residential apartment for a staff member. The barn was transformed into the school building. Both the farmhouse and the barn will be available for visitors during the house tour.

According to Benson, this year’s sponsors have already “contributed about three-fourths of the total for last year’s house tour.” The 28 sponsors, Benson said, include State Representative Warren Kampf and also Penn Medicine. She added quickly that the local political scene has actually produced “representatives from both sides of the aisle,” along with several architectural and business firms and others.

Last year, Benson said, there were 350 tickets sold. This year, she’s shooting for 500.

“Over five hours [of the tour], it’s doable,” she added.

That number just might set the record for visitors to a farm that at one time was also a speakeasy.

 

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Paoli Transportation Center Project Takes Big Steps Forward – A Letter-of-Interest Request Issued by Tredyffrin Township and Request-for-Proposal Issued by SEPTA!

Plans Afoot For Troubled Paoli Rail Yard, Can It Become A Transportation Center With Buses And Better Parking?”

This Philadelphia Inquirer headline above was not written this week, this month, this year — no, the article is seventeen years old, dating from September 14, 1994!

This years-old Inquirer article focused on the possibility of turning the “problematic Paoli rail yard into a sophisticated intermodal transportation center” which would accommodate “a transportation center, complete with buses and improved parking.” Can it be that the dream, this vision for the future may still be possible?  Maybe so.

At the last Board of Supervisors Meeting, I was disappointed that the supervisors did not update on the process of the Paoli Transportation Center.  There had been previous discussion about an upcoming issuance of a Request-for-Proposal (RFP) on the N. Valley/Central Avenue road and bridge improvement project (part of the Paoli Transportation Center project) and I was seeking an update — specifically was an RFP issued?  If so, what was the status, how many bidders, due date, etc.

Many of us have followed the saga of the train station for years, and remain interested in the progress (if any) on the project.  My intention in asking for an official public update was certainly not to step on the toes of either the township staff or our elected officials, but just to seek information.  What’s the old adage, “Ask and ye shall receive”? I was asking the questions, but I guess I wasn’t asking the right way or to the right people.

Although not listed on the township website, I discovered with some Internet research that the Tredyffrin Township Engineering Department has issued a ‘Letter of Interest’ for the “Paoli Road Improvement Project – Feasibility Study and Public Involvement Program”. According to the township’s Letter of Interest request, all phases of the Feasibility Study will be 100% state funded and that the township is encouraging responses from small firms and firms that have not previously done work for the township.

The township’s public Letter of Interest advertisement gives the full solicitation details on the Paoli Road Improvement Project and includes the following:

Tredyffrin Township Letter of Interest Request:

Paoli Road Improvement Project – Feasibility Study and Public Improvement Program

Tredyffrin Township will retain a PADOT qualified engineering and public involvement consultant team to provide a feasibility study and public involvement and outreach program to assess the traffic, roadway, infrastructure and community stakeholder needs, and identify potential alternatives for the existing local and PADOT roadway network located in Paoli, in the vicinity of S.R. 0030 (Lancaster Avenue), E./W. Central Avenues, Paoli Pike/ Greenwood Avenue, Darby Road, Plank Avenue and N./S. Valley Roads. The Township seeks a feasibility study that provides cost effective alternatives to allow for traffic calming, streetscape, intersection modification, and signal timing adjustments to address existing congestion and public safety concerns while providing for the needs of motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists, rail users and the overall vision for a multi-modal Paoli.

Alternatives included in the feasibility study should emphasize solutions that meet current PADOT design and safety standards, and the local stakeholder and Township vision for the Paoli Transportation and Town Center Districts. In addition to the Feasibility Study, an intensive coordinated public outreach and stakeholder involvement process must parallel the identified Feasibility Study phases to ensure final recommendations have been thoroughly discussed, stakeholder input received while ultimately working toward a consensus on roadway improvements for consideration and prioritization for future design and construction phases of the project.

The township’s Letter of Interest words, “. . .  intensive coordinated public outreach and stakeholder involvement process . . .” aligns with my request that the public remain ‘in the loop’ and informed on the process of this important community project.

The list of companies already registered to submit a Letter of Interest to the township on the Paoli transportation project is impressive!  To date, 50+ companies have registered, including local companies from Wayne, Malvern, West Chester, Collegeville, Exton and Kimberton and several companies from Lancaster, Gettysburg, New Jersey and Delaware.  Source Management Onvia of Seattle, Washington has also registered to bid the project!  Letters of interest are due by bidders to the township by 2 PM on September 15, 2011. It is my understanding that registration does not necessarily imply that all registered companies will submit a Letter of Interest.

According to the Letter of Interest advertisement by the township, the evaluation and selection process by Tredyffrin Twp is:

For the purposes of negotiating a contract, the ranking of a minimum of three (3) firms will be done directly from the Letters of Interest. Technical proposals will not be required prior to the ranking. Only the top three (3) firms will be requested to prepare technical proposals. The top three (3) firms will then be ranked based off the Technical Proposal and the top firm will be requested to submit a cost proposal.

In another big step for the Paoli Transportation Center project, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) has issued a Request-for-Proposal, Proposal Number 11-091-DMH for qualified “Consultants for Architectural/Engineering Services for Paoli Intermodal Transportation Center”.

SEPTA’s A&E Paoli Intermodal Transportation Center RFP description states:

Consultant services include, but are not limited: the development of construction documents (plans and specifications) for the construction of the Paoli Intermodal Transportation Center in accordance with the scope of work of this RFP and in full compliance ADA and other governing authorities.   The deadline for proposals is September 7, 2011.

The issuance of a Letter of Interest by Tredyffrin Twp and a Request-for-Proposal from SEPTA is positive and encouraging news for the community on the Paoli Transportation Center project and marks real progress in this long journey.

As Henry Ford said, “If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.”

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The ‘To Toll or Not to Toll’ Discussion Continues . . . A Personal Response from State Rep Warren Kampf

The ‘To Toll or Not to Toll’ discussion continues . . . the tolling of 422 continues to make headlines and yesterday was a busy day for legislators on either side of the issue.

In an op-ed article (6/9/11) in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Joe Hoeffel (D), vice chair of the Montgomery County Commission and chair of the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, wrote, “there isn’t enough state or federal money for the job. The state has budgeted $250 million for the Route 422 corridor over the next decade, but transportation experts agree that $750 million is needed. And nobody believes the legislature or Congress will provide that kind of funding anytime soon. Without a new funding source, 422 will not be fixed for at least 30 years, according to projections by the state Department of Transportation. By that time, the highway will be gridlocked for much of the day.”  Hoeffel supports tolling of 422 and believes that a modest toll could generate $800 million in a few years.

Opposing the tolling of 422, state representatives David Maloney, (R) Berks, Marcy Toepel, (R) Montgomery, Tom Quigley, (R) Montgomery and Warren Kampf (R), our 157th district representative, held a news conference in Phoenixville yesterday.  Calling the 422 project, the Hoeffel Tolling Plan, these local legislators do not believe that tolling is a viable option to pay for infrastructure improvements.  Click here for a short video clip of the press conference.

There continues to be much written and discussed about the tolling of 422.  Depending on how you feel about the topic, you can find supporters on either side of the issue; those for tolling and those against tolling. However, regardless of your personal views on  tolling, I think we can all agree that the traffic congestion on 422 is a commuter’s nightmare and that something needs to change, and. . . we need people with a vision to encourage that change.

We aware that our own state representative continues to stand behind his ‘no tolling of 422′ campaign message — but it was unclear to me whether Kampf considered that Route 422 was actually a traffic problem.  Seeking clarification on his ‘422 traffic’ position, I sent him this simple email a couple of days ago:

Dear Rep. Kampf,

As my elected State Representative, do you believe that there is a traffic problem on Route 422?

Thank you and I look forward to your response.

Pattye Benson

As some of you are aware, my previous communication with Kampf has not always been the most successful. Now that he is our elected state representative, I was curious to see if anything had changed and admit I was pleasantly surprised that he took the time to send a personal and lengthy response. I believe that there is value in my sharing his response and have notified him that I would be adding it to today’s post on Community Matters.  His reply to my email:

Pattye:

Thank you for your email. I welcome the opportunity to respond.

As you may have heard, I am on record as being against tolling 422. I believe that this “toll” is just another name for a tax on the already overburdened commuters of that roadway. But I recognize that 422 is a transportation problem for commuters.

The idea to address 422’s needs without tolling is not solely mine; Governor Corbett has convened a Transportation Funding Advisory Committee that is looking at over 50 prospective ways to address the funding gap for our road/bridge infrastructure (tolling is one of the options but in no way is it the only option being discussed). I believe that prioritizing, finding cost savings and advocacy for our regional roadways must be tools considered as part of the discussion too.

I have empathy for the people who drive that roadway, and I have my own personal experience on 422 to draw from. We all pay the same gas taxes and vehicle fees that others in Pennsylvania pay, but the response to fix our road has been to ask my constituents to pay up to $5 a day more for the privilege of driving that road! That just seems unfair.

Other areas have had road and bridge needs addressed. PennDOT does have a larger plan for the area’s roads. As you know, 202 is getting significant improvement. Route 309 was also rebuilt. These projects came to fruition not with tolling revenue but with the already existing sources within the Commonwealth that I mentioned above. Why is 422 unique?

There is over $240 Million currently programmed for improvement of 422 during the next eight (8) years within the PennDOT plans. This is in the plan without tolling. While it is not enough, and does not come fast enough, it will be a good start. Tolling does not appear likely to make this set of improvements happen any faster that I can tell. Further, this proposal is being billed as a public private partnership, but fundamentally it is almost entirely public money—both tolls and other transportation funding—that will pay for these improvements. Finally, there is a rail line proposal in the mix here, paid for with toll money. While I certainly recognize the attractiveness of restored rail to towns like Phoenixville, this will in all likelihood require management by SEPTA, or some such entity, and we know such rail lines usually run at a significant deficit year in and year out. That cost will ultimately pass on to the taxpayers, and I campaigned on a platform that promised the taxpayer, in tough times such as these and in good times, a seat at the table when these decisions are made. I feel I am making good on that commitment but seeking alternatives.

As a final thought, we built 422 with public money. We have maintained it with public money. We have continued to collect those monies and have an obligation to serve the people who drive that road. One could argue it would be a violation of the public trust to change the game now and introduce tolls. The 422 corridor continues to grow in large part because of the access that road provides. Indeed, it is a road regularly used for shopping and other trips not related to “commuting.” I believe my constituents feel as I do, and I welcome your input.

Thank you for your question.

Warren

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Should Teachers Be Consulted in School Budget Discussion?

The following editorial appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer on January 12.  While many school districts across the State, including Tredyffrin-Easttown, are facing multi-million dollar budget deficits, this editorial explores the problem from a different angle; through the eyes of a teacher.

There has been much discussion on Community Matters about our school district budget problems.  Question, do you think that  we (the school board, administration, parents, and taxpayers) give adequate attention to the opinions of those most affected in this process . . . the teachers?  Do you think the teacher’s voice is disregarded (or minimized) in budget discussions? Or, is it the teacher unions that are quieting the teacher voices? 

If you did not see the editorial, please read it and weigh in on this discussion.

Our least-consulted experts on education
. . . Teachers are rarely given a say on school policy
By Christopher Paslay, a Philadelphia schoolteacher and the author of “The Village Proposal,” to be published this fall.

The Philadelphia School District is facing a projected $430 million budget deficit in the next fiscal year. As a result, Superintendent Arlene Ackerman has asked her administrators to prepare contingency plans for a massive budget cut. There will undoubtedly be a significant impact on students and staff in the city’s schools.

To soften this impact, administrators could ask teachers what support they need in classrooms and what they can do without. Teachers are ultimately held accountable for student learning, so it would make sense if they were consulted on the budget overhaul.

Unfortunately, though, when it comes to matters of budget and education policy, the opinions of schoolteachers aren’t given much credence. In the 21st century, public educators are paid to perform, not talk.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan exhibited this attitude last year in a speech to students at Columbia University. “In our new era of accountability,” Duncan said, “it is not enough for a teacher to say, ‘I taught it, but the students didn’t learn it.’ As [Stanford education professor] Linda Darling-Hammond has pointed out, that is akin to saying, ‘The operation was a success, but the patient died.’ ”

Like a surgeon?
The analogy comparing schoolteachers to surgeons is an interesting one. Surgeons are regarded as experts and treated as specialists. During surgery, they are provided with a complex system of support so they can focus on their area of expertise.

Teachers, on the other hand, are treated as jacks of all trades. They teach, but they also discipline, police, and parent. They write and grade lessons, but they also make phone calls and photocopies. They calculate report-card grades and compose syllabi, but they also chaperone dances, monitor hallways, and break up fights.

Teachers are basically responsible for everything that needs to be done to allow their students to learn. Their instruction is highly scrutinized and held to rigorous standards, but they are not treated as instructional specialists.

Imagine if a surgeon were expected to administer anesthesia, monitor vital signs, and give blood transfusions during a surgery. Imagine if he were required to make all the phone calls to patients to remind them not to eat for 12 hours before the operation. Imagine if he were responsible for maintaining order in the waiting area. How might this affect his performance?

But we regard surgeons as highly skilled, and we respect their opinions. We regard teachers, on the other hand, as educational grunts. Their insights about their own profession are often dismissed by education leaders as uninformed.

Data and power

Education is one of the few professions in America in which policies are written and decisions are made by governing bodies outside the field. Doctors, lawyers, and engineers all govern themselves. Their panels and boards of directors are made up of other doctors, lawyers, and engineers. The same holds true for counselors, carpenters, and electricians. Even professors and researchers are subject to peer review.

Not teachers, though. Politicians make the decisions when it comes to education in K-12 schools. So do researchers, think tanks, and lobbyists. Does it matter that most of these people have little to no experience teaching in a K-12 classroom? No, because they have the data and the power.

And what do the teachers have to offer? Just experience. Just thousands of hours of trial and error, of dealing with children, parents, curriculum, and content. That’s all the teachers bring to the table. Unfortunately, these contributions aren’t “data-driven,” and they lack political backing. As a result, they aren’t accorded much value.

But if education leaders are going to demand that teachers perform with the precision of surgeons, then teachers should be treated as specialists. Their experience and expertise should be used to reform policy and set budgets so they can get the educational support they need to help children succeed.

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Community Matters Mentioned in Philadelphia Inquirer front page article!

I looked cover to cover in Sunday’s Philadelphia Inquirer for the article on Genuardi’s, but nothing.  However this morning the article appears on the front page of today’s paper!  An interesting article, the writer explains the dynamics of the supermarket world, in particular the downturn of Genuardi’s grocery chain and the threat that Wegmans poses to local supermarkets.  I was so excited to see ‘Community Matters’ get a mention – it’s validating, especially because there are some who may question the value (or influence) of a blog. 

With a root canal scheduled for later this morning, I will take this as a good omen for the day!

Genuardi’s is closing another supermarket

By Kathy Boccella
Inquirer Staff Writer

Here we go again.The venerable Genuardi’s supermarket chain is closing another store. This time it’s the Towamencin Village Square market in Lansdale, which will shut down Saturday, nearly 20 years to the day after it opened. Lately, it seems as if every month brings a new Genuardi’s closing. Last spring, the Voorhees store went out of business, followed by one in the Edgemont Square Shopping Center in Newtown Square in July and two in August – in Tredyffrin’s Chesterbrook community and the Glen Eagle Shopping Center in Concord.

The problem for Genuardi’s is that Philadelphia is “overstored,” said Richard George, a professor of food marketing at St. Joseph’s University. From Walgreens to Wawa to Wegmans, a bounty of food retailers is making it hard for traditional stores to stay afloat.

“There are too many stores selling food in too concentrated an area,” said Jeff Metzger, publisher of Food Trade News, a food-industry publication.

Genuardi’s spokeswoman Maryanne Crager agreed that the competitive array was staggering. “At one time a drugstore might have one little aisle with chips. Now they sell yogurt, cheese. Everybody is trying to get a piece of the pie, and the pie is only so big,” she said, citing such nontraditional food sellers as Target and CVS.

With the latest closing, Genuardi’s now has 31 supermarkets in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, down from 39 when monster food company Safeway Inc. bought the chain from the family of founder Gaspare Genuardi and his wife, Josephine, in 2001. The Lansdale store, whose lease expires at the end of the month, was closed because it was not as profitable as expected, Crager said. The company will try to find openings at other Genuardi’s for the store’s 45 employees, as it has done at previously shuttered markets, but not everyone is able or willing to relocate, she said. She would not say how many workers had been laid off.

The job outlook, not surprisingly, is not great. Wendell W. Young IV, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1776, said grocery stores had slowed or stopped hiring to offset lower profits.

Many of the new stores coming into the region are lower-end markets that pay minimum wage. And most supermarket employees are part time, working 25 to 30 hours a week, he said.

While Genuardi’s is downsizing, another chain is cementing its reputation as a local category killer. Wegmans, whose massive take-and-go prepared-food sections are magnets to busy suburbanites, opened a 130,000-square-foot megastore in Malvern in July, bringing to six the number of regional Wegmans, three of them in the greater King of Prussia area. Wegmans and other upscale niche retailers such as Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods are muscling out middle-of-the-road supermarkets such as Genuardi’s, say the experts.

“Pathmark is closing, Super Freshes are closing. It’s that big middle that are neither the low-price guy like Wal-Mart and Save-A-Lot, yet don’t have the cachet of Wegmans and Trader Joe’s,” George said. “So people say, ‘Why do I shop there?’ ”

At Genuardi’s in Lansdale, few were shopping on a recent afternoon, despite a 20 percent-off sale that had already cleaned out many aisles. Employees looked as grim as pallbearers.

“It’s very, very sad,” said customer Nancy Demetrius, a mother of four who lives around the corner from the supermarket and says she shops there once or twice a week. “They’re very nice people here, very helpful.” She was picking up milk and chili fixings with her 3-year-old daughter, Camryn. The family did most of its shopping at Genuardi’s, she said, even renting movies at the Red Box out front. “At parties, if we needed rolls, soda, we’d run to Genuardi’s,” she said. She said she would miss the quality of the meats and produce. “Excellent, excellent.” Her children will miss the free cookies from the bakery.

The Lansdale area is a microcosm of the “overstore” phenomenon. There is a Super Fresh less than a mile away, although that, too, is closing, and an Acme and Giant nearby. A new ShopRite is expected to rise not far from Genuardi’s. Demetrius said she would probably shop at Giant. “It’s cheaper, but the quality is not as good,” she said. “You do what you have to do.”

Though the Lansdale store seemed robust to shoppers, other locations languished before finally going dark. The Chesterbrook Genuardi’s in Tredyffrin was “dated” and not maintained, said Pattye Benson, a Malvern bed-and-breakfast owner, who raves on her Community Matters blog about the gelato kiosk, 800 kinds of beer and large take-out section at the new Wegmans.

“Safeway took absolutely no interest in maintaining that store. . . . It just went downhill,” she said.

For many people, Genuardi’s was never the same after the corporate giant bought it from Gaspare and Josephine’s children, who transformed their vegetable garden in Norristown into one of the area’s most beloved businesses.

The company replaced many favorite Genuardi’s brands with Safeway products and downgraded two benchmarks of the Genuardi’s stores – produce and deli items, Metzger said. The Genuardi family “ran that store with terrific products and tremendous customer service,” said George. Safeway “lost sight of the customer,” he said. “Genuardi’s,” he said, “used to stand for something.”

Still, some Genuardi’s stores are now busier than ever and offer more locally grown produce, as Gaspare and Josephine did in the old days. Smaller than many other market leaders, between April 2009 and March 2010 Genuardi’s was the fifth-highest-grossing supermarket company in the region, with 38 stores and $983 million in sales. The leader was ShopRite, whose 67 stores earned $2.6 billion, according to Food Trade News.

Wegmans’ six stores had $364 million in sales, making it the sixth-largest in the area. Companies showing the biggest decline were Acme, which lost its number-one post after 32 years, Genuardi’s, and Giant.

Crager said Genuardi’s had no plans to close more stores but acknowledged the challenges for the chain. Referring back to her pie analogy, she said: “Some of the slices for some operators are getting smaller and smaller. Obviously when you get smaller . . . it becomes more challenging to operate.”

On the bright side, “We’re part of a much larger corporation,” she said.

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Remembering Tredyffrin’s Segregation Battle of the 1930’s

I was invited to a special commemoration yesterday at the Mt. Zion AME Church in Devon, but due to a conflict I was unable to attend.  When I was working on the township’s Tredyffrin 300 historic documentary I was particularly moved by the township’s segregation struggles that existed in the 1930’s and which we choose to include in the documentary. 

On the eve of the T/E School Board Meeting tomorrow night, and the difficult budget decisions facing the School Board, I thought maybe you would also find this of interest.  The Philadelphia Inquirer ran an article in the newspaper yesterday which highlighted this special part of Tredyffrin’s history.  An in-depth article by Roger Thorne can be found in the Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society Quarterly, Vol 42. Segregation on the Main Line, The “School Fight” of 1932-34.

 Remembering a Chesco school segregation fight

By Kristin E. Holmes

Twenty years before the 1954 landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education forced the policy of separate but unequal onto the national agenda, the families of 212 black children in Tredyffrin and Easttown Townships boycotted their own segregated schools.

The two-year battle in Chester County was not covered by television cameras broadcasting the kind of imagery that later galvanized a national movement. These families, whose children were ordered into dilapidated school buildings for black students, fought what became known as the “school fight” on the small-town streets and farms outside Philadelphia – and won.

And that victory – achieved when parents kept their children out of schools between 1932 and 1934 – will be commemorated at 1 p.m. Saturday at Mount Zion A.M.E. Church in Devon, which was the site of many organizational meetings. “Our parents stuck together,” said Estelle King Burton, 88, of Wayne, who was in the fifth grade when her parents pulled her out of school. “They had a big fight on their hands.”

The case stands as one of dozens of civil rights fights in Northern states that have been overlooked, said Thomas J. Sugrue, author of Sweet Land of Liberty: The Forgotten Struggle for Civil Rights in the North. Between the late 1800s and the 1950s, civil rights battles in the North usually occurred in small towns and the suburbs, said Sugrue, a professor of history and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania.

The cases went unnoticed because no national media publicized them and white Northerners treated the cases as if they were typical of Southern life but not their own, Sugrue said. In 1932, officials of the two school boards involved ordered black children in the townships’ elementary schools to transfer from their integrated neighborhood schools to two schools – one in each township – for black students, said Roger Thorne, president of the Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society. Classes were to be taught by black teachers. The order prevented black children from attending a new elementary school set to open in the fall of 1932.

A local businessman, Primus Crosby, who was born in Alabama, called a community meeting hours after an announcement of the school boards’ order appeared in a local newspaper. “He kept saying, ‘It’s never going to happen. There’s never going to be a [segregated] school here,’ ” Crosby’s 95-year-old daughter, Bessie M. Whitney, said of her father’s resolve to have the order rescinded. Led by Crosby and the Bryn Mawr NAACP, the families persuaded the renowned Philadelphia lawyer Raymond Pace Alexander, an African American, to take their case. He worked pro bono.

While Alexander battled in the courts, parents were fined and jailed when they refused to send their children to class.Esther Long, 85, of Berwyn, was pulled out of school along with her brother and sister. Their father, Henry, a chauffeur, was jailed for five days. “We just lived through it,” said Esther Long, a retired nurse. “We were assured we would come out with a victory. We had the best lawyer in Philadelphia.”

Alexander worked with a team that included his wife, Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander, also an accomplished, Ivy League-educated attorney. He fought off national interference from the NAACP, and employed a strategy of lawsuits, protests and boycotts, all the while keeping the fight local, said David Canton, an associate professor at Connecticut College and author of The Origins of a New Negro Lawyer: Raymond Pace Alexander, 1898-1923. Alexander filed lawsuits in Chester County, but they were deemed invalid by a judge who ruled that only the county district attorney or the state attorney general had such legal standing. Alexander then moved the fight to Harrisburg in an effort to enlist Attorney General William A. Schnader to join the case. “This was the singular most important case that came about in [Alexander’s] young career and laid the foundation for the rest of his life,” said Rae Alexander-Minter, the Alexanders’ daughter and one of the speakers at the Saturday event.

As students remained out of school, some were sent to nearby districts to live with friends and family and continue their education.Elsie Holley Fuller of Bryn Mawr was a student at Tredyffrin/Easttown High School (now Conestoga), which was unaffected by the boycott. But her younger brothers, Jerry and Spencer Holley Jr., were pulled out of elementary school and sent to live with a friend in South Philadelphia.

“My job was to wash, iron, and then pack their clothes when they came home for the weekend,” said Fuller, 92, a retired housekeeper.

In March 1934, Schnader intervened. By then, he was seeking the black vote for a planned run for governor, and he wrote to school officials urging them to rescind the order. Forty-four days later, they did.

Bessie Cunningham, a sixth grader when she was pulled out of school, returned to class with other black students that spring. She stayed for only a year. “I couldn’t keep up,” said Cunningham, 88, of Thorndale. “I quit. “When I look back, it makes me mad. I didn’t finish school,” said Cunningham, who worked as a housekeeper and in computer disk manufacturing. “But overall, it was a good thing. They found out that we were not going to stand back and let foolish things take place.” At the Saturday event, she will be honored as one of those who refused to stand back.

“If the case had not been won, Tredyffrin and Easttown would have been segregated,” Long said. “We won the case, but we weren’t necessarily free. There was still a long way to go.”

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