In today’s Main Line Suburban Life newspaper is my As I See It article, “Control of Tredyffrin Township is now in the hands of four people”. Since Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors meeting on January 25, I have continued to do research on the motion to return escrow to St. Davids Golf Club. I have now determined that Tredyffrin Township has (1) historically not returned escrow without a written request; and (2) has not returned escrow without the completion of the project and review by the township engineer. That is until January 25, 2010.
Based on the actions of 4 supervisors (Bob Lamina, Warren Kampf, Paul Olson and E.J. Richter) precedent has been now set for all unfinished projects (and the outstanding escrow) as well as all future projects in Tredyffrin Township. For those who did not attend or watch the Board of Supervisors meeting, I would encourage you to catch a re-run. I hope to have YouTube sections of the St. Davids Golf Club section of the meeting containing the motion to return escrow, available later today.
Please understand that this issue is not sidewalks; it is about government policy and procedure and what can happen when control is placed in the hands of a few people.
As I See It: Control of Tredyffrin Township is now in the hands of four people
Published: Wednesday, February 3, 2010
By Pattye Benson
I preface the following article by saying that there are very few times in my life that I have been left speechless but Tredyffrin Township’s Board of Supervisors meeting of Jan. 25 was one of them. For me, that meeting represented community injustice of the worst kind.
I attended Tredyffrin Township’s Board of Supervisors meeting on Monday, Jan. 25. In the days leading up to this meeting, there had been scuttlebutt that Supervisor Paul Olson would once again bring up St. Davids Golf Club and the sidewalk issue. The word on the street was that Supervisor Olson intended to make a motion to return the $25,000 escrow to St. Davids. As part of St. Davids Golf Club’s 2005 land-development contract with the township, the country club was to build sidewalks. Since July 2008 St. Davids had been in default for failure to build the sidewalks. The St. Davids sidewalk issue had been thoroughly discussed at the Board of Supervisors meeting of Dec. 7. At the December meeting, questions had swirled about a suggested $50,000 cash offer from St. Davids Golf Club contained in the BAWG (Budget Advisory Working Group) report. Although there was no written evidence of the offer (which was to exchange $50K in lieu of building sidewalks), there was public outcry from many in the community about the St. Davids offer and the message its acceptance would send to contractors and builders doing business in Tredyffrin Township.
I did not think with the St. Davids Golf Club sidewalk history and community debate that it would be possible for Supervisor Olson to make a motion to return St. Davids’ escrow. There had been no notification to the public and the topic did not appear on the meeting agenda. Yet under “new” supervisor matters, Supervisor Olson did make a motion to return the escrow; Chair Bob Lamina seconded the motion and called for a supervisor vote. Supervisor Michelle Kichline attempted to offer her opinion on the motion but Chair Lamina silenced her and instead went to the audience for comment.
Bob Whalen, chair of the Planning Commission, explained that the sidewalks were part of the 2005 contractual agreement with St. Davids for their land-development project. He offered that representatives from the country club had returned to the Planning Commission asking for forgiveness on the sidewalks but the Planning Commission, considering precedent, voted against the club. Mr. Whalen further explained that there are currently at least six other projects in the township with unreturned escrow due to unfinished projects. To return escrow to St. Davids would now “open the floodgates” for contractors to request the release of escrow without completion of projects. Mr. Whalen adamantly opposed the motion. I then asked the supervisors if St. Davids had presented a written request to return their escrow. Although Supervisor Olson offered that he had “talked to some people at St. Davids,” the other supervisors confirmed that there was nothing in writing; in other words St. Davids Golf Club never asked for the return of their escrow!
Other audience members said passionately that supervisors cannot make a motion on a matter that was not on the agenda … that procedurally you must advertise the matter to the public … that you cannot just gift the country club with $80,000 (the estimated value of the sidewalk project). Several in the audience suggested that Supervisor Olson orchestrated the motion on Jan. 25 to coincide with the important Tredyffrin/Easttown School District meeting held at the same time; therefore expecting fewer residents in attendance at the supervisors meeting. Remembering that St. Davids Golf Club and the return of the escrow were not on the supervisor-meeting agenda; Supervisor Olson (and other supervisors) might have concluded that residents would attend the important school-district budget meeting in lieu of the township meeting, thus allowing for less opposition. But to those of us who did attend the supervisors meeting, it was obvious that Supervisor Olson (and possibly other supervisors) had contacted a few local St. Davids residents who opposed the sidewalks, as they came prepared with written statements of support for the motion. One of my many questions is: why should a select group of residents receive preferential notification of the meeting rather than full and public disclosure to all?
Following resident comments, Supervisor Kichline, a municipal attorney and former member of the township’s Zoning Hearing Board, spoke passionately about procedural law and the inappropriateness of Supervisor Olson’s motion, and moved to table the motion until these serious legal and procedural questions could be answered by the township solicitor. Chair Lamina again dismissed Supervisor Kichline and would not allow her motion “to table the discussion” to come to vote. Supervisor John DiBuonaventuro likewise argued against the return of St. Davids escrow, citing multiple reasons as to why the Board of Supervisors should not pass the motion. Township Manager Mimi Gleason added, when asked, that the passing of this motion would set precedent for all future township projects.
Having heard the comments from the residents and stated objections from Supervisors Kichline and DiBuonaventuro, Chair Lamina called for a vote to return the escrow to St. Davids Golf Club. Supervisor Phil Donohue along with Supervisors DiBuonaventuro and Kichline voted against the motion, and Supervisors Paul Olson, Bob Lamina, Warren Kampf and E.J. Richter voted for the motion. The motion carried 4-3 in favor to return the escrow to the country club.
Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors meeting of Jan. 25 was a rude awakening for me … I learned that in our township it is OK for four individuals (Olson, Lamina, Kampf and Richter) to make up the rules. At one point, when Supervisor Kichline offered that in Tredyffrin Township, the Planning Commission actually had the “last say” on the land-development process rather than the Board of Supervisor, Chair Lamina declared that he thinks that the Board of Supervisors will take back their control. Supervisors DiBuonaventuro, Kichline and Donohue did not watch silently as the “Bloc of 4” (Olson, Lamina, Kampf, and Richter) acted against Tredyffrin’s operating principles. Supervisors DiBuonaventuro, Kichline and Donohue understand that personal responsibility means doing the right thing when others do not.
The issue is not sidewalks; it is about following government policy and procedure. Historically Tredyffrin Township has never returned escrow without written request. In addition Tredyffrin Township has never returned escrow without completion of the work and review by the township engineer. That is until now. However, I like others on Jan. 25 discovered that our government policies and procedures do not apply if you are Supervisors Olson, Lamina, Kampf and Richter.
This is a sad reality … but if you are the “Bloc of 4,” you rule the township. Your other fellow supervisors do not matter, the public does not matter, the Planning Commissioners do not matter, the township solicitor does not matter and the township manager does not matter. These four will get to make the rules (or break the rules) as they see fit. As a government, its elected officials are to guide Tredyffrin Township. While politics play an important role in choosing our leaders and charting our priorities, politics should play no role in the rules of governing. The community entrusts the supervisors to care for its assets and its reputation. Our elected officials must conserve and enhance it, or they fail in their fundamental responsibility as evidenced by the decision of Supervisors Lamina, Kampf, Olson and Richter to return the escrow to St. Davids Golf Club.
What does the action of Supervisors Lamina, Kampf, Olson and Richter say for the future of Tredyffrin Township? What does it say to the residents or to all the many volunteers who serve on our township boards and committees? To take advantage of loopholes, quick fixes and shortcuts that will compromise the public trust … To base decisions such as the unprecedented return of escrow to St. Davids Golf Club on how much you can get away with … Integrity in the broadest sense should lead the actions of our elected officials. A moment of choice is a moment of trust and it is the testing point of character and competence.
If Tredyffrin Township’s Board of Supervisors meeting of Jan. 25 is any indicator, I question the transparency of Tredyffrin’s local government, fair dealing practices, full disclosure of information and public communication. Don’t the residents of Tredyffrin Township deserve better from some of its leaders?
Pattye Benson lives in Tredyffrin Township.