Tony Giaimo

Improving Conditions in Tredyffrin Township — Power Returning to Many Households!

What’s the saying, “Rome wasn’t built in a day” – the same could be say about restoring power to Tredyffrin Township and its surrounding areas.  Downed power lines and toppled trees left many roads impassable and neighborhoods with dangerous conditions. Winter Storm Nika is PECO’s second worst in their history in terms of power loss, exceeded only by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.  However, as the third day without power ends for many residents, there are improving conditions to report.

Friday evening, I received a phone call from Tredyffrin Township Police Supt. Giaimo offering some updates:

  • Tredyffrin Township now has a crew of 75 PECO trucks, each with 2 employees, dedicated to our township and focused on completing the restoration of all power to residents.
  • The repairs on the main sewer break at Rts 252 & 23 in Valley Forge National Historic Park are progressing and the township’s Public Works and Engineering Departments are moving quickly to resolve the problem.
  • Tredyffrin Township building is open as a warming and charging station.  Although the website states the building is open until midnight, the township building will be open through the night, Saturday and Sunday, if needed.  Coffee and tea is available.
  • Supt. Giaimo strongly urged residents to check on their elderly neighbors.  If you are without power and need a place to stay, the police have an updated list of available local hotels.  They are also arranging for transportation to West Chester shelters, either by buses or in some cases, the police are driving the residents. Residents are encouraged to utilize the resources available at the township building.
  • Much improvement has been made on the road closures with many re-opened today.

Supt. Giaimo assured me that many in the Police Department “have been working around the clock to keep people as safe as possible”.

I have been in contact with Township Manager Bill Martin.  Just as the police chief, the township manager is also working very long hours but wanted me to know that “the hard work is done by all the staff – public works, police and support staff. They work above and beyond anything I have seen in all my years of public service, they care so much about what they do and the residents.”

The hope is that most of Tredyffrin Township should have their power restored by Saturday night – although it may be Sunday for some of the outlining areas.

People are reporting repair crews have arrived from all over the US –Ohio, Illinois, Alabama, Florida, North and South Carolina, Connecticut, Massachusetts and even crews from Canada!  It was interesting to hear a PECO representative say that they usually don’t receive a high volume complaints in a power outage until about the 72 hour mark but that this time the complaints started at less than 24 hours into the outage.  However, unlike the August storm of Hurricane Sandy, residents are dealing with below-zero temperatures during Winter Storm Nika.

Although I think that PECO could have moved quicker to organize following the power outage and PennDOT did not do its best at handling snow and ice covered roads, I have the highest praise for our home team in Tredyffrin – Supt. Giaimo and the Police Department and Township Manager Bill Martin and his support staff, public works and engineering staff.  In addition, we thank the Berwyn Fire Company Chief Eamon Brazunas and his staff of volunteer fire fighters and Chief Ira Dutter and the volunteers of Paoli Fire Company.   Many of these folks are exhausted having worked long hours, and in many cases leaving their own families and houses with similar power outages to help us – the residents of Tredyffrin – and deserve our appreciation and gratitude!

When will Tredyffrin Township hire budgeted police officers?

When will Tredyffrin Township hire budgeted police officers?

Looking for answers, today I met with Tredyffrin Police Superintendent Tony Giaimo. I wanted to understand the search for and selection of police officers. As I explained to Giaimo, applicants for police department positions have contacted me over the last 6-8 months, anxious for a hiring update. I learned much about the police department hiring process and thought it worthwhile to share.

Early in 2012, the Tredyffrin Township Police Department advertised the April 14, 2012 physical assessment and written test date for vacancies in the department.  According to Giaimo, 130+ individuals applied to take the physical and written exam.  In addition to the application form, a physician statement and informed consent form were required.

The physical assessment is judged pass/fail; the written test included multiple-choice questions plus a written narrative.  If a candidate passed the physical exam and received an 80% or higher score on the written exam, they moved to the next step.  All candidates were notified of the test results 2-4 weeks following the April 14th exam.

Of the 130+ applicants, close to 100 individuals passed the physical test and scored 80% or higher on the written part. The next step for the successful applicants was an oral interview by an Oral Interview Board, composed of three police personnel selected by Giaimo. At the time of the interview, applicants were required to provide education transcripts, military discharge papers when applicable, and three reference letters (other than relative and employers). Failure to provide documents at the interview, disqualified applicants from the selection process.  The interviews were conducted between June and August 2012.

Each member of the Oral Interview Board independently scores the oral interviews and those scores are then added to the written exam score. For those applicants that advance to the next step, they receive a polygraph examination. According to Giaimo, the polygraph test is to indicate deception on a pre-determined set of questions.  After the polygraph phase, the top list of 15 candidates is prepared.  The ranking is based on all phases of the test process to this point.  For those 15 candidates, the next step is a background investigation by the Tredyffrin Township Police Department including previous employment, education record, military record, criminal history, credit rating, etc.

The next step is a conditional offer of employment.  Hiring is contingent upon successful completion of psychological and physical examinations and selection by the Police Superintendent. (I believe this part of the examination process takes approximately 4 months.) Once this conditional phase is completed, the cadet serves a two-year probationary period.

At the start, prospective applicants are told that the process takes approximately 6-8 months from the time the exam is taken – in this case, the exam was given on April 14 so if they successfully completed each step, vacancies were to be filled somewhere between October – December, 2012.

I received a call from a father of one of the cadets that is on Tredyffrin Police Department’s ‘short list’ in early January, looking for an update.  I assured him that the township would be hiring 2 police officers shortly.  I was confident giving this response for the following reasons, (1) the police contract was settled; (2) the ICMA consultant’s study (pg. 11) suggested a minimum of 2 additional officers were required to maintain township safety levels and (3) supervisors approved the 2013 budget that included 2 additional police officers (with the possibility of a third officer added sometime during the year).

The focus of my meeting with Superintendent Giaimo was to find out the hiring date of the two police officers.  Remember the cadets were told last April the application process would take approximately 6-8 months; it’s now 10 months!

I could not believe Giaimo’s response today re the hiring of police officers; telling me that he had not been authorized to hire.  What?  That’s right folks. The police contract was signed in December and the 2013 township budget approved (which included the hiring of the two officers) but the Board of Supervisors have not given Giaimo permission to hire the two officers.  Gosh, even pg. 11 of the ICMA police department study indicated the township needed to hire two officers to maintain satisfactory safety levels.

Giaimo assured me that he has the ranked list of candidates ready to go — all he needs is the OK from the BOS to make the offers. If you think that adequate staffing of our Police Department is an important issue, you may want to attend the next BOS meeting on February 11 and offer your opinion.

Home Invasion – Robbery – Kidnapping in Berwyn

Police Superintendent Tony Giaimo sent the following press release concerning last night’s home invasion in Berwyn  Please read and if you have any information about the crime, you are asked to contact the police department.  Fortunately, the owners were not hurt but how scary – I cannot imagine!

TREDYFFRIN TWP. POLICE DEPARTMENT

SPECIAL PRESS RELEASE

HOME INVASION ROBBERY/KIDNAPPING

On Thursday, January 31st, 2013 at 8:28 PM., Tredyffrin Twp. Police officers responded to a “911” call on the 200 block of Wooded Way,  in the Berwyn section of Tredyffrin , for a reported home invasion robbery and kidnapping.

Information received by police was that a local resident, who had returned from work at approximately 7 PM, was accosted by three or four black male (masked) subjects armed with handguns who forced themselves into his home. Once inside, the actors bound both victims (husband and wife) and ransacked the home. The actors then took the male victim (in the victim’s white Volkswagen Passatt bearing PA registration plate DJM0696) to the jewelry store (Shuler’s Jewelers) owned by the victims in East Norriton, Montgomery Co. The additional actors were believed to have followed the victim’s vehicle back to the jewelry store.  The suspect vehicle is believed to be a silver or blue sedan – possibly a Chrysler product. No physical injuries were sustained by the two victims. The investigation is continuing with the assistance of the East Norriton Twp. (Montgomery County) Police Department and the Chester County Detectives.

Superintendent of Police Anthony Giaimo commended the quick actions of all responding patrol officers and detectives. Giaimo noted, “We will aggressively pursue this case in conjunction with other partner law enforcement agencies to bring these criminals to justice.”

The public’s assistance is requested in locating the white VW Passatt sedan bearing PA registration DJM0696.  Anyone with information relative to this case is asked to contact the Tredyffrin Twp. Police Department at 610-647-1440.

Confirmed: Former Police Chief Andy Chambers is TESD Safety Consultant and other notes from Finance Committee Meeting

As follow-up to last week’s announcement by TESD Superintendent Dan Waters to hire former police chief Andy Chambers as a security consultant, I attended the District’s Finance Committee last night.  The meeting started with Waters making a statement addressing the criticism of Chamber’s hiring.  A couple of things I learned from his remarks — Waters stated that he had no knowledge of the issues surrounding Chamber’s departure from Tredyffrin Township police department a year ago.  Waters also wanted to set the record straight that he did not ‘hire’ Chambers.  He made the recommendation to the School Board; the decision required their approval.

I found it incredulous that Waters could claim to have this close association with Chambers yet know nothing of the controversy surrounding the former police chief.  Tredyffrin’s supervisors suspended Chambers for allowing his son to drive a police vehicle that was involved in an accident and his failure to report the incident.  An anonymous tip notified the members of the Board of Supervisors.  Although Chambers was allowed to retire, he left the township under a dark cloud of controversy.

Following Waters statement, I sought further clarification from the school board.  Unlike Waters and Chambers, T/E school directors do live in our community and could not claim to have not known the circumstances behind the police chief departure.  Board president Kevin Buraks, read from Community Matters, quoting my words, “…The focus needs to be our children and keeping them safe, not the additional drama and controversy that a consulting contract with Chambers may present.” 

Although I spoke of concern for the hiring of Chambers (given the circumstances), Buraks claimed that the police chief’s suspension has nothing to do with the safety of the kids and therefore has no bearing on his serving as a safety consultant for the District.  Buraks said that the decision to hire Chambers was based on the recommendation from Waters and was a unanimous decision.   I found Buraks complete disregard of former police chief Chamber’s actions (which caused his departure from the police department) incredulous.

I asked if Police Supt Andy Giaimo was aware of the District’s decision to hire Chambers before announcing to the public and the answer was yes.  According to Waters, Chambers was hired at $125/hr. under contracted services and therefore there was no contract or RFP (request for proposal) apparently required. There was no further discussion of Chambers’ qualifications, other than restating that … he knows our community and the schools.

I believe that the public has the right to participate in issues and be privy to what elected officials are doing by seeing discussions and debates in the open with all the facts clearly stated.  In the case of hiring former police chief Andy Chambers as a safety consultant for TESD, that opportunity did not exist.  I understand the need to act quickly in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook tragedy, but I believe it is also vital to the community, that all options be adequately vetted and to have a voice in decisions. The school board directors, like the members of the Board of Supervisors, are in their elected positions to be the voices of the people.

Following the Andy Chambers discussion, the Finance Committee moved to their regularly scheduled agenda and discussion of the 2013-14 budget.  It is interesting that the discussion of outsourcing the custodial staff was minimal.  In the last couple of years, the TENIG union was often seen as the target for revenue savings but there was no date set for initiating a RFP for these services.  Reading between the lines, I think the TENIG staff and the aides and paraeducators who were on the chopping block for possible outsourcing may be safe for another year.  A new expense item in the budget is the District’s security enhancements – the costs of the protective 3M film for the school buildings is not yet known but the District has allocated $250K in the budget for upgrading the security.  Some of the enhancements are already underway, including additional cameras and a buzzer system.

The 2013-14 projection model summary with Act 1 index revenue indicates projected revenue of $110,769,734 and projected expenditures of $113,567,247, which gives a projected budget deficit of ($2,797,513).  Applying the Act 1 tax increase of 1.7%, $1,500,000 and the revised deficit is ($1,297,513).  The District has applied for Act 1 exceptions but there was not a recommendation at last night’s meeting whether or not they will be used.  The court date for Vanguard’s property reassessment appeals is April and, depending on the results, may have a significant impact on the District’s revenue numbers.

Another potential yearly source of revenue for the District is from tax-exempt properties that may no longer be tax exempt.  Chester County is reviewing and identifying TESD tax-exempt properties – once the District receives the report, these properties will be sent a letter and questionnaire to confirm tax-exempt property use.  If a property’s use is no longer tax exempt, there is potential for revenue for the District.

Note:  Ray Clarke and Neal Colligan also attended the Finance Committee meeting; I would welcome their comments on the financial details of the 2013-14 budget from last night,

TESD Selects Controversial Safety Consultant … Former Tredyffrin Police Chief Andy Chambers

I attended the 2-hour community meeting this week on school safety.  The current safety procedures and planned enhancements were presented by  Kevin Buraks, president of the T/E School Board, Tredyffrin Police Supt. Andy Giaimo, Easttown Police Chief David Obzud, the District’s architect Tom Daley, TESD Supt. Dan Waters, TESD Business Manager Art McDonnell and head of TESD Safety Committee (and Vice Principal of Conestoga HS) Andrew Phillips.

There was much discussion from the various panel members about the need to ‘harden’ the schools – to make it more difficult for entry into the schools.  Some of the safety changes expected to be in place by the end of January include a new buzzer system in each of the schools.  After school starts each day, all doors will be locked and visitors to the schools must be ‘buzzed-in’.    Visitors to the schools will now be required to show photo IDs.  Additional security cameras are to be installed at each school.  Glass at the front entrance of each school will be equipped with a 3M safety and security film.  This durable safety film is impact-resistant, making it much more difficult for bullet penetration.

Rather than audience members directly asking questions of the panel, questions were written on index cards.  McDonnell grouped the questions and during the last half of the meeting asked the panel members to respond to the questions. Many questions had to do with the safety of the children outside of the school buildings – recess on the playground, field trips, etc. in addition to the student’s safety before and after school in the buildings.  Although the questions were wide-ranging, there was no discussion of ‘arming’ the teachers and or administration.  Clearly, all questions were not asked, there was a gentleman behind me in the audience who complained 3 times to one of the runners picking up the index card, that his question had not been asked of the panel.  Using the index cards as the means to ask questions controlled which questions would be answered.

Personally, the bombshell of the evening came towards the end of the meeting. TESD Supt. Dan Waters spoke of hiring a safety consultant to review the current security of the District.  Based on the Tredyffrin’s recent consulting study to review its police department which cost the taxpayers $49K,  just hearing the word ‘consultant’  sends up a red flag.  But in the case of the school district, the ‘bigger’ red flag was who Waters named as the District’s safety consultant … Tredyffrin’s former police chief Andy Chambers!  Waters stated that he had a personal relationship with Chambers, having worked with him for 25 years and that Chambers knew the school buildings and would not need to be brought up to speed as other possible consultants. Doesn’t Dan Waters and the School Board recall the controversy surrounding Chambers and his departure from Tredyffrin’s Police Department?

To refresh everyone’s memory — In December 2011, the former police chief Andy Chambers was suspended for 4 days as a result of allowing his 16-year old son to drive a township police car which was subsequently involved in an accident in November 2011.  Chambers failed to report the vehicle accident to the BoS – the information was leaked to the supervisors a month later through an anonymous tip.  Seeing the handwriting on the wall, Chambers ultimately retired while serving his suspension.  To say that Chambers left Tredyffrin Township Police Department ‘under a dark cloud’ would be quite an understatement!

Given the background of Chamber’s departure from Tredyffrin’s police department, why would the school district want to invite the controversy that comes with his hiring as a safety consultant?  Just because Waters has a personal relationship of 25 years with Chambers should not be ‘reason enough’ for his hiring as a consultant.  The focus needs to be our children and keeping them safe, not the additional drama and controversy that a consulting contract with Chambers may present.

NRA Statement: “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”

In advance of today’s statement, The National Rifle Association stated that the organization would offer “meaningful contributions to help make sure that this never happens again.” In the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut tragedy, I was hopeful that the NRA would nudge national laws toward making it hard to gain access to some semi-automatic weapons, such as the one used last week.  I was hopeful that the horror of Sandy Hook Elementary might trigger a change in the NRA’s policy toward gun control.

Unfortunately, the olive branch of compromise was not what the NRA had in mind.  The NRA broke their week-long silence with a statement read by NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre that calls for guns at every school in America.  While the President is calling on Congress to act on gun control legislation, LaPierre believes that the only effective way to protect our schoolchildren is with “properly trained armed good guys”. 

Echoing the sentiments of some Community Matters commentators, LaPierre said, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” adding, “Would you rather have your 911 call bring a good guy with a gun from a mile away … or a minute away?”  Others have argued on Community Matters, that rather than banning guns, the government should be arming teachers and administrators in schools so that they can defend students in the event of another school shooting.

LaPierre’s words scoffed at the notion that banning semi-automatic weapons or enacting gun control laws could stop school violence.  Instead, he cast blame for gun violence in schools on the violence of video games and movies.

The NRA statement did nothing to address the problem of the availability of assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. Although the weapons used by the shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary were legal, one-third or more of gun sales remain unregulated in the secondary market, which includes not only the gun show loophole but also private sales between individuals.  NRA … why not address establishing a system of comprehensive background checks for gun purchasers?

The spirits of the twenty children killed last week will haunt us all this holiday season. It is unbelievable that the NRA’s response to the Sandy Hill tragedy is to arm more Americans. According to the NRA, the most effective way to protect against another horror like last week’s school shooting is … more guns.

The NRA’s failure to consider any meaningful gun regulations is offensive and is no way to honor the memories of the twenty-eight lives lost last week.

————————————————————————————-

A couple of related  gun and school safety items:

Alan Thomas, Main Line Media News, spoke with Tredyffrin’s Police Superintendent Tony Giaimo on the procedure for turning in a gun to the police department, read ‘Turning in a gun, how it’s done” for details.  According to Giaimo, to date for 2012, there have been 6 guns turned in, none of which were assault weapons.

In response to the Sandy Hook tragedy, the T/E School District has scheduled a ‘Community Meeting on School Safety’ for Wednesday, January 9, 2013, 7 PM at the Valley Forge Middle School auditorium.  The meeting will feature a panel of experienced safety experts including representatives from the Tredyffrin and Easttown police departments, District building architects and representatives from the District Safety Committee.

Tredyffrin Township’s Proposed 2013 Preliminary Budget Indicates 5.5% Tax Increase

The proposed preliminary 2013 budget was unveiled at Wednesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting to a sparse audience – I didn’t count but there must have been fewer than a dozen residents in the attendance.  As stated in an earlier post, three of the seven members of the Board of Supervisors were absent from the BOS meeting, including Chair Michelle Kichline, Vice Chair John DiBuonaventuro and Phil Donahue.  Supervisor Paul Olson presided over the meeting as acting chair.

Acting Township Manager (and Finance Director) Tim Klarich presented the proposed 2013 preliminary budget, which includes a 5.5% tax increase, from 2.308 to 2.435 mills. Supervisor Mike Heaberg was the only representative from the Finance Committee in attendance at the BOS meeting and assisted Klarich with questions on the proposed preliminary budget.

According to Klarich, the 2013 expenses are slightly lower than the 2013 budget, but 7% higher than the 2012 forecast.  I noted that the 2012 forecast is more than $1M lower than the budget for 2012 due to vacancies and a mild winter.   The proposed 2013 budget indicates that the greatest expense increase next year, at 69%, is in salary and benefits category.  The 2012 budgeted salary and benefits at $11.4 million, however due primarily to unfilled vacancies the forecasted 2012 amount is $10.7 million.  Budgeted for 2013 in salary and benefits is $11.5 million which indicates the 69% increase. Currently there are 13 vacancies in the township, with the township manager vacancy to be filled shortly.  As to how many of the remaining 12 vacancies are to be filled in 2013, I am not certain. In the reviewing the proposed preliminary 2013 budget, it appears that there are police vacancies that will not be filled.

An open issue that I hope will be addressed prior to finalizing the 2013 budget is the results from the police department staffing study.  If you recall, this $49K consulting study was discussed at the June BOS meeting and then approved 6-1 at the July BOS meeting.  The one dissenting supervisor vote  was from John DiBuonaventuro; his non-support of the support of the study was that he thought that the money could be better spent on bringing the staff level in the department up to projected 47 officers (from the current 41 officers as of July 2012) or for police department equipment.  Police Supt Tony Giaimo appeared to supportive but asked that the consultant expedite the study and that the final report take less than 125 days.(Presumably, so that the results would assist in the 2013 budget decisions).  The consulting contract was approved in July, so it would seem that there should be results by this point.

However, based on the response given by Klarich and Supervisor Heaberg at Wednesday’s BOS meeting, it appears that the results will not be public prior to the Nov. 17 BOS meeting, when the final  preliminary 2013 budget is presented.  To be clear, I do not like the idea of paying more taxes (5.5% tax increase proposed) but I am more troubled that this tax increase may not include filling all police department vacancies.

 Is it my imagination or lately does there appear to be an increase in crime (auto, house break-ins, and robberies) in Tredyffrin and some of which have occurred in broad daylight?  So, if this is correct and that there is an increase in crime, how is it that the township can consider decreasing the size of the police department?  If anything, wouldn’t an increase in crime suggest the need for an increase in the police department? I would think that the report from this $49K police department staffing study would be vital to understanding the police department needs so that the BOS can make an informed decision for the 2013 budget.

According to Klarich without a real estate tax increase, the 2013 revenue be flat compared to 2012.  With the proposed 5.5% tax increase, 2013 revenue is 3% higher than 2012. Klarich explained that the four General Fund changes in 2013 are: (1) staffing and compensation; (2) Retiree medical funding; (3) Repair and maintenance funding and (4) Real estate tax increase.

According to the proposed 2013 preliminary budget, some (but not all) of the vacancies will be filled. Again, I am unclear how many vacancies will remain unfilled in 2013 and of those that remain unfilled; exactly how many are in the police department. There is a new health care plan that will save money but as Klarich explained, the new plan cannot be put into place until the police arbitration is completed.  He spoke as if arbitration may be close to resolution but will be it in time for the budget approval – I do not know.  There are raises in the 2013 budget – per contract and merit-based raises and bonuses for non-union staff.  There was no background information provided on the formula for bonuses/merit-based raises.  I would like to understand the criteria for employee bonuses.

Tredyffrin Township’s unfunded liability of retiree medical funding currently stands at $40M; $31M from uniformed retirees and employees and $9M from non-uniformed retirees and eligible employees.  The non-uniformed union has agreed to changes but as Klarich again points out, the police department remains in arbitration so any possible changes that could help in the future are unknown at this time.  Klarich explained that it is recommended that $2M should be budgeted annually to ‘buy down’ the $4M unfunded liability.  In 2012, the budgeted amount was $250K and Klarich has budgeted $500K for 2013. At a rate of $500K per year, it will take the township 80 years to pay off this debit (and that assumes that the unfunded liability does not continue to increase.)

Here are some highlights in the repair and maintenance expense category contained in the proposed 2013 preliminary budget – – an increase of $114,500 for streets drainage.  Considering only $15K was budgeted for street drainage in 2012, this is no doubt an increase that is long overdue.  Building maintenance was budgeted in 2012 at $76K but has been increased by $63,320 in the proposed 2013 budget for a total of $139,320. No details offered  as what is included in the $139K line item, AC/heating system for township building, repair of township building front steps??  I was disappointed to see that the proposed 2013 preliminary budget decreases maintenance in the township parks from $50K to $46,600.  If anything, I think that Wilson Farm Park could use additional funding not less.

Real estate tax generates ½ of the General  Fund revenue.  Real estate tax is based on the assessed value of properties as set by Chester County. Tredyffrin’s tax base was only growing marginally before the recession, due to little development.  Unfortunately, since 2009 the tax base has been declining, primarily based on successful assessment appeals.  Therefore, it stands to reason that without a tax increase, the revenue will continue to decrease.

The proposed 5.5% tax increase for 2013 includes 3.1% increase in funding for the unfunded medical long-term obligations (doubling the $250K contribution budgeted in 2012 to $500K  for 2013 – remember, the current outstanding debt obligation is $40 million!) and 2.4% increased funding for services ( $198K increase).  The proposed 5.5% tax increase equates to a $448K increase in the $16.7M budget.

Following the presentation of the proposed 2013 preliminary budget, residents Carol and Raymond Clarke asked whether there would be public budget workshops, as held in previous years.  There were also questions about a budget summary as former township manager Mimi Gleason prepared in prior years. If you recall, Gleason remained on as a consultant to the township after her resignation, primarily to assist Klarich and the other township department heads with the 2013 budget.  The Clarke’s and other audience members were looking for background and supporting information behind the preliminary budget numbers. Supervisor and Finance Committee member Heaberg suggested that he would be available to discuss the budget with individual citizens.  However, to the credit of Carol Clarke, she requested a public meeting so that all citizens with budget questions could attend.

Kudos to Carol for her follow- up with Heaberg; as a result, a public meeting to discuss the proposed 2013 preliminary budget is scheduled for Tuesday, November 13, 8:30 AM at the township building. If you have questions about the proposed 2013 preliminary budget, you are encouraged to attend.

The timeline for the 2013 township budget is for the BOS to approve the preliminary budget  November 19 and to approve the final budget December 17, with a public hearing on either December 17 or January 2 to adopt the real estate tax increase. I do not recall a public hearing last year, regarding the 2012 tax increase. Someone help me here – was there a public hearing for the tax increase of 2012 and I am simply not recalling it?

In case you forgot, the preliminary budget for 2012 included a 6.9% increase which was ultimately revised downward (and approved) to a 3.5% tax increase.  The township amended the 2012 preliminary budget by reducing professional fees, decreasing funding for IT, department expense reductions and deferring the equivalent of two police officers’ salaries and benefits until July 1, 2012.  Holding off hiring of two police officer’s for 6 months added $127,400 to the overall budget expense reduction.  Unfortunately, it looks like the 2013 budget may also going to include a decrease in the police department staff … stay tuned.

Does a Private Citizen Have Civil Rights in Tredyffrin Township?

Following the public hearing and vote for the C-1 zoning change, the Board of Supervisors meeting reconvened the regular meeting.  Of note, the township Finance Director Tim Klarich was named acting township manager, township secretary and Municipal Authority secretary and  township Zoning Officer Matt Baumann was named Open Records Officer.  Yesterday marked Mimi Gleason’s last day as Township Manager however, she was approved for a consulting contract with the township (contents of agreement were not disclosed.)

The regular Board of Supervisor’s meeting ended with supervisor and citizen new matters.  Chairman Michelle Kichline read a statement from the Board of Supervisors concerning the use of the township website for John DiBuonaventuro’s letter to the citizens.  Although a personal attack on a private citizen, Kichline stood by the decision to post his letter on township letterhead on the website.  She did say that the board will look into developing a policy for the use of the website going forward.  As the private citizen who was the target of DiBuonaventuro’s venomous attack, Kichline and the Board of Supervisors response was far from satisfactory.

Following Kichline’s statement on the Suzy Prawtoski matter and the use of the township website for a supervisor’s personal letter, Andrea Felkins, a former School Board director and longtime resident, presented a lengthy statement in opposition.  Felkins was absolute in her conviction against  DiBuonaventuro’s use of the township website for his personal attack on me and of Community Matters.  She spoke of the school district’s strict policy and suggested strongly that a similar policy should be adopted by the township.  Felkins has been a regular commenter on Community Matters, especially for all school board related matters.  Her comments always thoughtful and engaging.  I would like to publically thank Adrea for her public support.

To view the Kichline statement and Felkins statement video, click here.

Last night posed a near impossible situation for me. A close friend has often remarked to me that I see people as I wish them to be, not as they are … that was never truer, than last night. The last couple of weeks have sadly left me wondering about people who I thought that I knew and who I thought that I could trust.  It has been particularly sad to realize and have to accept that there are those in positions to make a difference or create change in Tredyffrin, but choose ‘group think’ rather than independent thought.  As if life could not have been more challenging, something happened last Friday that will forever alter how I view the place that I call home.

To watch my BOS personal statement, click here.

Below is the transcript of my statement from the September 17 Board of Supervisors meeting.

Pattye Benson
Personal Statement
September 17, 2012

Members of the Board of Supervisors and citizens of Tredyffrin Township – I had not intended to speak tonight, preferring to listen to other’s voices.  But something happened this past Friday, that has shaken me to my very core.  At approximately 9:40 AM on Friday, September 14, I received a joint phone call from township manager Mimi Gleason and Police Superintendent Tony Giaimo that has forever changed who I am.  In life’s journey, this is my watershed moment and a feeling that I will never forget.

Unable to shake how I was feeling, after 24 hours, I wrote the following email to Mimi Gleason and copied Michelle Kichline, chair of the Board of Supervisors.

Let me share that September 15 email with you.

Dear Ms. Gleason,

There are two reasons that I am writing this email (1) to state that as a citizen of Tredyffrin Township, I now feel threatened and harassed by our government and (2) to request that you never contact me again, unless it is with a written apology for your actions.

I have thought of little else since receiving your phone call yesterday, Friday, September 14.   As a township resident, to be blindsided with a conference call from the township manager and the police superintendent was more than a little intimidating; I have to wonder how often you have taken a similar approach with other citizens in this community. The telephone conversation left me wondering exactly what was the purpose of the call and why did you involve Tony Giaimo except as a witness or possibly to record the phone conversation.  Although there was no mention made of the call being recorded, Tony did state he was in his police vehicle, so am I to assume that the telephone conversation was recorded without my knowledge.

Between the historic house tour, the Paoli Blues Fest and personal health issues, I do not have the time or energy for your directives, missives or whatever else was the intention of your phone call or of your email dated September 7.  On September 7, I emailed you the following simple question:

“Who is responsible for Mr. DiBuonaventuro’s letter on the township website?  Was placing the letter on the website sanctioned by you, the township manager?”

The only response that my question required was a simple, yes or no, with the possible addition that the chair of the Board of Supervisors and the township solicitor had OK’d the letter for the township website.  However, no, you decided on a different response, one that was not required, not needed and not necessary.  Frankly, as a citizen and taxpayer in this township, your response was one that I believe you should never have sent. When I received your email, I made no response.

Your call yesterday revisited the opinion you stated in your September 7 email to me; again complaining that Community Matters contained misinformation and incorrect facts, specifically the assisted living project.  However, never once in the conversation did you cite specifics as to what was incorrect.  As a response to your complaints about the Suzy Pratowski matter, I stated that the Main Line Media News, TE Patch, Daily Local and the Philadelphia Inquirer had all written articles on the subject.  I further stated that there was at least a week after the news articles appeared for the police department, the township or the Board of Supervisors to make a statement before I wrote anything on Community Matters.  Residents were asking questions and no one seemed to be providing answers.

As a result of the situation, I did my own mini-investigation, speaking with District Attorney Tom Hogan, District Judge Tom Tartaglio, BOS Chair Michelle Kichline and Police Supt. Giaimo.  After a thorough analysis, I presented my own summary statement on Community Matters.   I clarified that John DiBuonaventuro was not the unidentified driver with Ms. Pratowski in the May 28 incident, as a photo in the newspapers may have implied.  In my summary, I stated that DiBuonaventuro was interviewed by the police and that the police were satisfied that he was not in any way involved with the two police officers not appearing for the August 21 court date.  I wrapped the summary up and tied a ribbon on it, stating that the two police officers missing the hearing was a human error, a mistake.  I also thanked those involved (Hogan, Tartaglio, Kichline and Giaimo) for their help and used the words that I was ‘closing the chapter’.  Little did I know, what was to happen … DiBuonaventuro’s letter, your involvement with the letter on the website, your September 7 email and most recently, your telephone call of September 14.

Feeling threatened by your phone call, I remarked at one point during the conversation that I should have an attorney on the call.  I stated to you and Giaimo that as a resident of this township, I have rights, and as a citizen of the United States, I have rights, including 1st Amendment rights.  I believe that our government does not have the right to harass and intimidate those citizens it serves to protect.  I am not an attorney but I cannot imagine that your actions of yesterday (or your email) would be viewed favorably by the courts. Further, I cannot imagine that you would have considered making a similar phone call to Main Line Media News, TE Patch or the Philadelphia Inquirer nor would you have dare taken this approach with an attorney who might understand the legal implications of your actions far better than me.

Supt. Giaimo asked what I would like to see happen going forward – my response was a denouncement from the Board of Supervisors for the letter going on the website and an apology from the township manager.  It should be noted that I quickly also stated that I did not expect either of those two things to happen.

It saddens me greatly that you were compelled to bring Tony into this matter.  He and I have enjoyed a good working relationship over the last several years, including the blues festival and the house tour. Was your motive to damage my relationship with him, or was it to record the conversation?  It is entirely unclear why you involved the police superintendent, except to further intimidate me.

In case you are not aware, your phone call was so upsetting, that I immediately called Michelle Kichline, chair of the Board of Supervisors to report the conversation.  You suggested that I was ‘mistaken’ when I suggested that Ms. Kichline had not seen Mr. DiBuonaventuro’s letter before it was posted on the website. For the record, Ms. Kichline again confirmed that she had not seen the actual letter before it went on the website; I guess you are the one who is mistaken.

In closing, your intimidating actions have contributed to my feeling harassed and threatened by some in our local government.  I ask that you not contact me again, unless it is with a written apology.  For the record, I believe that John Petersen is also owed an apology from you, for the words, “so-called legal expert has no expertise …”   contained in your Sept 7 email to me.

Sincerely,
Pattye Benson

This is the end of my email to Ms. Gleason but I have a few closing remarks.

The great irony is that today is this country’s Constitution Day.  Two hundred and twenty five years ago, on September 17, 1787, forty-two of the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention held their final meeting. Only one item of business occupied the agenda that day, to sign the Constitution of the United States of America.  Our founding fathers fought and died for our freedom, and I am left wondering if what is going on in this township is what they would have intended.

In closing, I am but one person, but I believe that I represent a far greater community.

Can we question our government?

Do we dare to have an opinion?

I believe that ALL our voices matter.

Thank you.

Fund Balance Transfer, Another TEEA Grievance & Demotion Remains an Option in T/E!

I attended last night’s marathon Board of Supervisors meeting and public hearing continuation on the Trout Creek Overlay district.  For the first 20 minutes, Keene Hall was overflowing with a standing room only crowd to witness the swearing-in of Tredyffrin’s new Superintendent of Police Tony Giaimo.  Family, friends, co-workers and elected officials from the community and beyond, enthusiastically supported the appointment.  I also add my ‘Congratulations Tony’!

Three-fourths of the audience left following the ceremony and then it was back to ‘business as usual.’  Comments from the Trout Creek Overlay working group, a developer update and discussion from supervisors and residents took the public hearing to 11 PM.  I’ll offer my remarks in another post.  The T/E School Board meeting was held at the same time as the supervisors meeting and Ray Clarke kindly provided his notes on that meeting.

As I understand it, the teachers union, TEEA has filed two grievances against the District.  At the last District finance meeting, we were told of the one filing ($1 million expense), which pertained to the additional high school teaching period not covered in their contract.  Since September, the teachers have had 6 teaching periods rather than 5 periods.  However, the community learned last night that those teachers affected by the additional teaching period are seeking a one-time payment of $2.2 million, as compensation for this extra period of work.

Although the school board unanimously approved using some of the District’s fund balance for 2012-13 budget gap, the three budget strategies remain under consideration – (1) soliciting tax exempt property owners in lieu of taxes, (2) increasing class size and (3) demotion of professional staff for economic reasons.

Here are Ray’s notes from last night’s school board meeting:

There were two you-better-be-paying-attention moments in tonight’s drawn-out meeting, marked otherwise by earnest students delving at length into school funding and opportunities for tax increases and donations, restrained only by the Solicitor waving placards announcing that their time was up.

First, in a discussion about risks to the “Proposed Final Budget”, we were reminded about the $1.4 million of revenue risk from commercial appeals and the $1 million of expense risk from the union appeal of having to teach 6 periods.  Then the solicitor was asked to report on another grievance just filed by the TEEA.  As last time, much incoherent mumbling, but it appears that the new grievance covers the same issue as the first one, but it goes back to the current year, adds some kind of multiplier and that’s worth another $2.2 million.

Fast forward to the very end of the meeting, Karen Cruickshank reads a statement about the negotiations that essentially says:

  • It’s a new world
  • The district has nothing for salary, wages and benefits (SW&B) increases
  • All other employee groups have made concessions or had salaries frozen
  • The Board does not like asking people to work more for less, but that’s reality for many taxpayers
  • The next steps would be to revisit demotions and then all non-mandated programs
  • “Everyone has to give up something”, and if so, there can be a solution
  • In response to resident questions: a) Both sides are represented by professional negotiators because the stakes are high, and b) if the Board talked directly to teachers they would open themselves up to potential Unfair Labor Practice charges
  • The next negotiation session is on June 7th

You would think that the Board position would be straightforward: here’s how much money we have (assume tax increases of index plus exceptions; at some point PSERS and maybe even Special Ed increases will begin to tail off), work with us to figure out how it should be allocated.  The Projection Model for combined SW&B would be pretty much the line in the sand, you would think.

It appears as though the TEEA strategy is set up an extreme position for possible arbitration, and to seize as much as possible from the fund balance while it’s there, and keep the pressure on the citizenry to support new funding sources (sales or income taxes, or some change in the Act 1 index?).  The $1 million from the original grievance would be an ongoing expense, but – if I understood it right – the $2.2 million would be one time.

The budget with the $1.55 million fund balance contribution was approved 9-0, but it’s clearly not final.  They still have not updated the compensation costs for the retirements/replacements, which will bring a material saving.  And the class size and demotion issues are still on the table.  The next Finance Committee on June 11th (still at the TEAO) will hopefully bring us some decisions and accurate numbers.  (But not likely a negotiations breakthrough from June 7th – what are the negotiators doing for the next three weeks, anyway?)

If anyone wants to weigh in on the donations issue, it will be discussed at the Policy Committee on May 23rd at 6:30pm in the TEAO.  The June 14th Board meeting for Final Budget adoption will be in the CHS cafeteria.

Community Matters © 2015 Frontier Theme