Once again to clarify my position. Although I was disappointed by the Board of Supervisors decision in May 2008 that would not permit the Trust from accepting the estimated $50,000 in-kind offer from Pitcairn Properties, the Trust’s Board of Directors accepted their decision. The reasoned decision by the supervisors was based on the fact that Pitcairn at that time was in land development negotiations with the township. (Albeit, I was not aware of their project). During this time, Judy DiFilippo was a Trust board member and a sitting supervisor and the concern was that a perceived pay-to-play might exist if the Trust were permitted to accept Pitcairn’s offer. This based on the fact that Judy was both a Trust board member and a supervisor.
I only offered Pitcairn as an example at the supervisors meeting to ask why the same pay-to-play perception would not exist with the solicitation of Comcast by supervisors Kampf, Lamina and Olson (understanding that Comcast is currently negotiating their 15-year franchise contract with the township). As has been stated by others, I agree that the Pitcairn decision by the Board of Supervisors in 2008 was the correct decision, . . . I just wanted to understand why are the same rules were not applied in 2010 with the solicitation of companies doing business with the township (Comcast)?
Blair Meadowcroft attended the Board of Supervisors Meeting on Monday night and below is an excerpt of her article that deals with the Tredyffrin Township Supervisors Holiday Firefighters Fund Drive. For the full article, click here.
Tensions Mount in Tredyffrin
By Blair Meadowcroft
Tension mounted at the Monday-night Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors meeting after Pattye Benson, president of the Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust, stepped up to the microphone during the public-comment part of the meeting. Her comments were brought up just after the end of the first quarter as well as the March 31 deadline for collection of the Tredyffrin Township Supervisors Holiday Firefighter Fund Drive.
Benson explained how after budget cuts were made to the Tredyffrin Township fire companies, three of the seven supervisors worked on fund-raising for the Firefighter Fund Drive, resulting in a check for $23,200 that was presented to the fire companies.
After waiting for the Fund Drive to be complete, Benson questioned the supervisors’ fund-raising, stating, “I voiced my concern about the solicitation by supervisors to companies that could be doing business with the township, and I cited a specific example from May 2008 and the Pitcairn Company.”
Benson went on to explain how in 2008 a sizable in-kind donation, a gift valued at as much at $50,000, had been offered to the Trust by a vice president for Pitcairn Properties. But the Trust later learned it could not accept the offer.
“The idea was that there could be a ‘pay to play’ perception because of a final review of the land-development project between the township and Pitcairn,” said Benson. “Warren Kampf was chair at the time and he was absolute that I could not accept this offer because this company was doing business with the township. I knew nothing about Pitcairn’s planning-commission review yet I could not accept the offer.”
That conflict of interest, as understood by Benson, is similar to the Firefighter Fund Drive in that supervisors were doing the fund-raising for the fire companies.
“The very same people who told me I couldn’t accept the offer from Pitcairn were out soliciting money,” said Benson. “The way I see it is the only difference between the Pitcairn/Trust situation and the fire-company solicitation is that one was an in-kind offer and the other was a monetary contribution; both could be perceived as benefiting the township.”
Throughout explaining the situations, similarities and her confusion, Benson made the point to explain that three of the current board members, Michelle Kichline, Evelyn Richter and Phil Donahue, were not on the board when the Fund Drive began. But she did want the other board members to explain why the Pitcairn and fire-company situations were handled differently.
“These are the same supervisors but different rules,” said Benson. “I would have liked to have been able to accept the $50,000 from Pitcairn like you were able to accept money for the fire companies. This is not about the money that was raised. It is about the process that they used to raise the money, the source of the donations and the encouragement donors may have felt in responding to the solicitation.”
In response, Kampf explained how at the time of the Pitcairn offer, township solicitor Thomas Hogan gave the advice that it not be accepted because serving Supervisor Judy DiFilippo was on the board of the Trust, making it a conflict of interest.
“The difference as I see it between the situations is that we are supervisors who are free as individuals and who are allowed to accept charitable donations,” said Kampf. “I do not surrender my rights as a private citizen. When I see a problem that I can help with, I will. We went out, asked for help and were able to raise close to $25,000. And people were free to refuse to donate. There were some who refused and that is fine; we wouldn’t hold that against them.”
The discussion continued to go back and forth between a select few of the board members, Benson and a few residents. While Benson stated she was “just trying to understand why the rules are different,” the board members responding asked what her motives were.
“For you to stand up here and insinuate that this was a bad thing makes me question your motivation behind bringing this up now,” said Chairman Bob Lamina. “The timing is just interesting. We are supervisors but we’re also individuals. We made some calls and exceeded our fund-raising goal. I’m disappointed in you, Pattye. This was a win-win for the fire companies that one individual here today tried to diminish.”
While the issue was not solved, the fund-raising and budgeting question shifted after Berwyn Fire Company Capt. Eamon Brazunas approached the microphone.
“On behalf of the three fire companies, the funds raised did cover most of the budget shortfall, but we still believe the cut was a mistake,” said Brazunas. “We are, however, happy that the cut will be restored in the 2011 budget.”
Supervisor John DiBuona-venturo went on to add that the fire companies’ expectation is that funding will start back at the 2009 levels. While Lamina and Kampf agreed that a funding solution needs to be found for the fire companies, and that the board is likely to restore the funding, it was stated that no public commitment has been made.
“We feel the amount of money we were able to raise shows that if we work together with the fire companies that we will be able to do great things,” said Lamina. “We are working to re-engage the fire-company task force and plan to meet in May to discuss funding as well as other task-force issues.”