Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Re Personal Letter on Government Website — Did Tredyffrin Supervisor DiBuonaventuro receive approval from his fellow supervisors?

Did John DiBuonaventuro actually have approval from fellow supervisors before using government resources and government letterhead to post his personal letter of September 5 on the government’s website? The answer to that question is not entirely clear, and the answer also depends on whom you ask.

As the resident targeted in DiBuonaventuro’s diatribe to the citizens of Tredyffrin Township, I was very interested to read the Main Line Media News article, “Majority of Supervisors may not have approved DiBuonaventuro letter posted to website”. In the article, Rich Llgenfritz explains that the newspaper filed an open records request with Tredyffrin Township asking for all information pertaining to DiBuonaventuro’s letter on the township website. However, it is interesting that MLMN only received one record; an email from DiBuonaventuro to Patricia Hoffman, executive secretary for Tredyffrin Township.

I am grateful to Llgenfritz and Main Line Media News for their continued interest in this matter. If you have followed Community Matters since DiBuonaventuro’s September 5 letter to the citizens appeared on the Tredyffrin Township website, you have read the September 7 email from former Township Manager Mimi Gleason to me. Following the email, there was a conference call on September 14 from Gleason and Police Superintendent Tony Giaimo, with no stated purpose except to continue to harass. (Click here for Community Matters post of September 18 which includes my personal statement and video of the September 17 Board of Supervisors meeting) As a result of DiBuonaventuro’s letter, Gleason’s email and telephone call, I sought legal counsel with attorney Sam Stretton.

One of several troubling unanswered questions in regards to DiBuonaventuro’s personal use of the township website, is did he act alone? Or, … was there discussion (approval) from the other members of the Board of Supervisors. In her response to my question on this matter, Gleason stated the following in her email dated September 7:

“ … In answer to your question, it is unusual to post a statement from an individual Supervisor, but given the inaccurate and derogatory statements and innuendo publicly made about John DiBuonaventuro, I decided to approve the posting of the letter on the Township website. In this case, he was the subject of baseless public speculation simply because he is a Tredyffrin Supervisor. The circumstances justified the use of the website to publicly defend him, carrying with it the implicit endorsement of the Township to the accuracy of his statements. The Chairman of the Board of Supervisors and the Township Solicitor agreed that it was appropriate for the letter to go on the website.”

Gleason’s email states that the use of the government’s website by DiBuonaventuro carried with it the “implicit endorsement of the Township”. She further states that the Chairman [Kichline] and the Township Solicitor [Vince Donohue] agreed the letter was appropriate for the website. But did Kichline really see the actual letter? During the conference call with Gleason and Giaimo, Gleason maintained that Kichline had seen the actual letter. I argued with Gleason that she was incorrect … that Kichline had personally told me that she did not see the actual letter but that she gave her OK to DiBuonaventuro verbally for the letter on the website, as long as the solicitor Vince Donohue had read and approved it.

Subsequent to DiBuonaventuro’s letter going on the website, there has been no public statement from the other 6 supervisors on this matter, except by Kichline who said that the Board would work on a website policy. Why the silence from the other supervisors? Privately, some of the supervisors have told citizens that they never saw the letter and some have stated that they would not have approved of the letter on the government’s website. Why don’t the supervisors own these opinions in public? If I was being accused of harming the First Amendment rights of a citizen (especially one that I was elected to serve) and had not approved (or even seen) the letter in the first place, I certainly would not remain silent. Are these other supervisors afraid of doing what’s right or are they perhaps afraid of retaliation from DiBuonaventuro … or, the political party they all represent? Where’s the independent thought?

Going back to Llgenfritz’s MLMN article – the only piece of communication that was provided through the Open Records request, in regards to DiBuonaventuro’s letter on the website, is the following brief email from DiBuonaventuro to Pat Hoffman, executive secretary for the township:

“Pat, this is a confidential email. This letter has been approved by Michelle and Vince. Please put it on the township letterhead and make three copies for Kristen [Mayock], Michelle and I to review when we get in this morning. We will give you distribution directions once a final review is done. Thanks and see you around 8 or when you get in. JD. [John DiBuonaventuro]

This email clearly states that the Michelle Kichline, BOS chair approved the letter, but did she? If Kichline approved DiBuonaventuro’s letter, then that would mean that she lied to me. And I don’t believe that she lied. So which is it?

Another interesting thing to note on this email is that there was a private meeting of 3 supervisors – DiBuonaventuro, Kristen Mayock and Kichline. Why was Mayock involved but none of the other supervisors? As chair of the BOS, I understand the rationale behind Kichline attending the meeting but it is unclear if she actually attended or not. Mayock and Kichline are the two attorneys on the Board – was that the reason behind their request to attend this meeting? And it should also be noted that DiBuonaventuro states in this email, that he has approval from the solicitor Vince Donohue for the letter on the website. Everyone seems to be in agreement that Donohue saw and approved the letter – DiBuonaventuro, Kichline and Gleason all state that Donohue approved the letter. Interesting that this short email is all that is contained in the files in regards to DiBuonaventuro’s letter. Just interesting.

Last Friday I posted the letter (click here to read) that my attorney Sam Stetton sent to members of the Board of Supervisors in regards to DiBuonaventuro’s personal letter on government letterhead on the government website. As follow-up to my posting Stretton’s letter, Llgenfriz had a phone interview with Vince Donohue, the township solicitor. It was alarming to me to see Donohue discuss the legal situation between myself and the township in the local newspaper. He furthered stated that he had sent a response to Stretton and that it would be up to me whether or not I made it public.

At last night’s Board of Supervisors meeting, strangely there were three of the seven supervisors missing. I do not think I have ever been to a BOS meeting where two supervisors were missing, let alone three! Missing supervisors were Phil Donohue (stated reason for the absence was still recovering from surgery), Chair Michelle Kichline and Vice Chair John DiBuonaventuro — the stated reason for their absence was ‘personal’.

Supervisor Mike Heaberg read a statement in regards to the website policy which suggested that there would be a policy presented at the November 19 Board of Supervisors meeting. It was unclear whether or not the public would be permitted input into the website policy. Public input could prove important when you read the response from the township solicitor Vince Donohue to my attorney Sam Stretton below:

November 2, 2012

Samuel C. Stretton, Esquire
301 South High Street
PO Box 3231
West Chester, PA 19381
Re: Tredyffrin Township

The Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors is in receipt of your letter dated October 25, 2012.

As an initial observation, I read Supervisor DiBuonaventuro’s letter as a reaction in his official capacity as a Supervisor to Ms. Benson’s blog entries regarding, primarily, Township issues. This Board does not quash public discussion about Township matters. To the contrary, this Board’s emphasis on transparency and encouragement of public input is evident in all of the initiatives it undertakes. As to Ms. Benson specifically, I would point out that she actively continues to maintain her blog and participates during the public input portion of the agenda at virtually every Township meeting without censure or objection. Accordingly, neither the contents of the letter nor its posting on the Township website constitute an attempt to suppress, or a breach of, Ms. Benson’s First Amendment rights.

Second, it is important to note that the Board of Supervisors, as an entity, never endorsed nor rejected Supervisor DiBuonaventuro’s letter that was posted on the website. Accordingly, the Board believes that the issue involving the letter is one between Ms. Benson and Mr. DiBuonaventuro as an individual supervisor.

Nonetheless, this incident has highlighted the need for a policy governing use of the Township website and other Township-managed social media outlets as a means of communication by the Board and by each Supervisor (or group thereof). All seven members of the Board are entirely supportive of the initiative to enact such a policy, which has been under way since mid-September. It was discussed at the last meeting of the Board by chair Kichline.

The primary purposes of the policy will be threefold. First, it will document what the Supervisors already practice: that communications on the Township website, letterhead or other Township-managed social media outlets shall pertain to Township issues. Second, the policy will ensure that the reader is clear about the source of the communication – i.e., whether the source is an individual Supervisor, the Board as an entity, a subset of Supervisors, etc. Third, the policy will delegate certain communication responsibilities to certain senior Township staff, depending on the nature of the content of the communication (Township Manager, Superintendent of Police, etc.). This policy will cover not only the website, but also Township letterhead and other Township-sponsored social media outlets. The purpose of the policy is not, however, to restrict any Supervisor’s ability to communicate with Township residents on matters each deems appropriate.

Crafting the right policy is not a task to be rushed. The Board is diligently pursuing the finalization of this policy, but intends to be thoughtful in this ongoing process to ensure that the resulting policy addresses existing needs and avoids unintended consequences. The Board intends to complete this process soon and updates will be provided at each Board meeting until it is enacted.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you would like to discuss. Thank you,

Very Truly Yours,

Vince T. Donohue
Lamb McErlane, PC

Several things are interesting to note in Donohue’s response. He speaks of the transparency of the Board of Supervisors. Based on the issue of DiBuonaventuro’s letter alone, I’d suggest that this Board if far from transparent. Clearly, we still don’t know who saw the letter or who approved it. Donohue states that the Board never endorsed nor rejected DiBuonaventuro’s letter on the website, yet Mimi Gleason’s email to me clearly stated that the use of the township website for DiBuonaventuro’s letter, “carried with it the implicit endorsement of the Township”.

Donohue is saying one thing, Gleason is saying another, and I would suggest thirdly, that by using the government letterhead, which has all members of the Board of Supervisors listed looks like compliance to me. Obviously, if during the last 2 months, any of the other six supervisors had chosen to ‘distance’ themselves from DiBuonaventuro and the letter, that would be different … the problem is that they all “stood by their man”.

Nowhere in the letter does Donohue address the intimidation tactics used in DiBuonaventuro’s letter or Gleason’s email and phone calls towards me. Donohue however suggests that the Board believes this is a personal matter between DiBuonaventuro and me – two problems with that logic. First, DiBuonaventuro does not limit his personal attacks to just me, he also goes after the First Amendment rights of the press, specifically Main Line Media News. Second, if Donohue and the other supervisors view this as some kind of personal matter that DiBuonaventuro has with me and Community Matters, what business does a personal matter have on government letterhead and government website. How can Donohue claim the contents of DiBuonaventuro’s letter is Township business when the tirade includes my 2009 supervisor race?

Now look at what Donohue claims the township website policy will include –

  1. Document the communications on the Township website, letterhead, social media outlets that pertain to Township issues.
  2. Ensure that the reader is clear about the source of the communication – whether an individual supervisor, the entire board or some subset
  3. Delegate certain communication to Township Manager, Police Superintendent, etc.

Then you have this sentence in Donohue’s letter, “ … The purpose of the policy is not, however, to restrict any Supervisor’s ability to communicate with Township residents on matters each deems appropriate.” The way I read it, is DiBuonaventuro (or any other supervisor) gets carte blanche to continue to use government website as their personal ‘bully pulpit’ whenever the mood strikes. Looks like to me, that if you are a supervisor all you need do is label your communication to the public ‘Township business’ and the website is yours to use. I guess the policy needs to protect the rights of DiBuonaventuro to use government resources whenever he feels threatened by the local news media or Community Matters. As a citizen of Tredyffrin Township, I certainly will not find this website acceptable if approved by the Board of Supervisors.

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    1. Boring indeed….which is exactly what lemmings who vote and go to the polls and read headlines ultimately conclude about anything that actually requires examination and thought.

      GP — there is an injured party on the side of the road here. We all have the license plate of the driver. Because you don’t believe the injuries look serious, you want to drive on. Well — I guess some of us leaning more towards the Good Samaritan. We want to stop and examine the injuries, ask about the circumstances of the hit and run, and wonder if we should file a claim against the driver.

      And what could have avoided all of this: If the Driver had put on the brakes (and shut his mouth) while the crowd was crossing the road. He may have only injured one person, but he certainly threatened many, many others.

      And here’s a clue for you: “Pat, this is a confidential email.”……..Nope. Not even close. Not since Rosemary Woods has anyone been willing to take a bullet for a slightly corrupted boss…..on what grounds is an email confidential ? Never until the subject is. Whoops.

      Now I know why only 5 supervisors commented about the letter….looks like we know who the other 2 were. And I’m sorry — they were the other 2 at the center of the DNA talks….this is all about bitterness.

      1. @Township Reader – Glad to see that others are connecting the dots regarding the 2 supervisors that were driving the DNA’s outcome. In fairness, I’ve been told there were a few other non-BOS members that greatly contributed to the “bitterness” as you call it. Bottom line: time marches on, but I’m hedging my bets that many in the DNA won’t forget the lack of support when these elected officials need OUR support when they seek re-election.

        @Graham Parson – Sorry if we’re “boring you”. Perhaps if you felt marginalized personally like Pattye, or the DNA, you’d feel differently? Either way, we value free speech – so your opinion’s always welcome :-)

  1. “Second, it is important to note that the Board of Supervisors, as an entity, never endorsed nor rejected Supervisor DiBuonaventuro’s letter that was posted on the website. Accordingly, the Board believes that the issue involving the letter is one between Ms. Benson and Mr. DiBuonaventuro as an individual supervisor”

    WHY would an Open Record request deny material from Mr. Donohue since he represents the BOS, not Mr. JDB. Until/unless JDB pays a bill for legal advice, there was no attorney-client relationship in this situation. If JDB sent VD a copy of the letter, he claims here he has no role in reviewing it as it is a personal matter. Can’t have it both ways. Either this was a board issue, or it was not. If it was not a board issue, he had no basis for any review. If he was acting as an attorney, then Mr. JDB should have been billed for the advice about his personal rant.

  2. John, at this point I don’t believe there is proof that the entire BOS authorized/ratified John D’s letter and approved its posting on the website – Mimi Gleason just implied that they all did. In my mind, that makes it even more of an abuse of power.

    1. Couldn’t agree more. I truly believe Pattye and Andrea when they say that certain BOS members admitted “off the record” that they hadn’t seen the letter NOR had they given their approval for it to be added to the TT website.

      Mimi’s implying that all had seen/approved is reprehensible. The only thing MORE alarming? The fact that those who didn’t approve will CONTINUE to stand united with their bully kin. Moral compass, anyone?

  3. Ms. Benson: We just had one of the most important presidential elections of the last 100 years as well as vital local elections and this is what you continue to write about for the last few weeks? Don’t you think the residents of your “community” would like to weigh in on election results instead of this? Your self-obsession at this time is really inappropriate.

    1. I think defending civil liberties is important — you may call it ‘self-obsession’ but I happen to think that First Amendment rights are something that we should all care about. You can claim that my writing about First Amendment violations “at this time” is inappropriate; actually I would suggest that there is no more appropriate time than ‘now’!

      As for the election — I would think that there was enough saturation through TV, radio, newspaper, robo calls, campaign literature and let’s not forget the campaign signs, that my writing an article on Community Matters was not needed nor required. In fact, I actually made a personal decision (based on what happened 2 years ago) to NOT write about the local 157 state house race. I saw where my good intentions got me during the last state house election, so decided that I would sit this one out. But based on your comment, I see that I am criticized for taking that stand. Guess I just can’t please everyone.

      However, I will say that I found it very troubling, the amount of $$$ that must have been spent on the campaign literature for the State House 157 race, from both campaigns. As registered Independents, my husband and I were receiving 2 or 3 pieces of campaign literature from both candidates, sometimes daily. I can only wonder how much money was expended on the 157 — and did the literature and/or signs make a difference in the outcome?? Who knows. And I would appeal to all the political campaigns to please, please, please pick up the campaign signs that remain all around this township.

    2. Barbara..

      A post like yours indicates to me that you support a government like this. A post like yours is more concerned with protecting the players as opposed to making sure the government serves the people.

      I am fairly certain you are affiliated with the TTGOP – perhaps in E-3.

      If you want to weigh in on election results, then why don’t you do that – instead of questioning what Pattye has a legitimate right to do.

      Of course, given the organization I believe you to be in – the level of insightfulness I would expect would be a kin to one who could not spell the word cat if spotted the “CT”… :-P

    3. It may possibly be that the election was as important as you state (and I do find it significant that for the second presidential election in a row, the top Dems [this year, Obama, Casey, Kane, Dinniman] won a majority of Tredyffrin voters), but we should not forget that Community Matters is Pattye’s blog, she can write about whatever she chooses to, and if we don’t like it we don’t have to read it. Asking her to drop the subject seems to be another dose of the treatment that she has received already and finds so objectionable.

      1. You hit the republicans nationally very hard. Yet Romney won just 3 million less than O. O was elected the first time.. how? No resume worthy of national office.. How was he re elected? No resume worthy of re election. He had less solid foundation than Ryan during his first election, except for rhetoric. Ryan not so much. More nuts and bolts. Not good for an electorate educated in an environment where the tenticles of liberalism are spread wide and deep or not educated at all. The whole thing is a sham, a great disappointment only to be assuaged if Obama and Congress can work together. What does your crystal ball say about that?

        By the way, Druckers ad in the Tredyffrin newsletter about protecting women was, well, like fingers on a chalkboard. No thanks, I can protect my own women. It was really an ugh read. Drucker “protect” women? C’mon

  4. John, I appreciate your remarks on this issue. It looks to me like the solicitor is just making matters worse for all the supervisors. I thought the job of the township solicitor was to protect the supervisors, or at least advise them if they were stepping into what could potentially be legal quicksand. If that is the case, how could Donohue have OK’d that letter going on the website in the first place. Shouldn’t he have advised against it. Not only did he not advise against it, based on his letter to Patty’s lawyer, it appears that he is involved in the details of the website policy. Is that the role of the township solicitor?

  5. I have followed your blog for years and find it very useful and informative. The information that you, Keith, Kevin, Ray, Andrea, etc present is awesome.

    Lately, not so much. The post about the missed hearing led to a lot in misinformation, a lot of insinuation, and a lot of name calling. Though you eventually got most of the information right, there was quite a bit of harm done – on both sides.

    The fact that we are still discussing the issues is allowing the same people who caused the problems on the original post about the hearing to just keep stirring the pot.

    You are better than that. You should move past it and get back to being the source of good information and discussion that you were before.

  6. Barbara
    I routinely object to John’s efforts to out posters — I don’t care who you are — but your criticism of our being on this topic — in light of the recent elections (“one of the most important in the last 100 years”) seems way off topic.

    Since John believes you are an R, let me say that the two highest profile TTRC’s in our community BOTH agreed with my comments to the BOS. One left early after I assured him I was going to make the statement and ask for censure, and the other stopped me outside to say if I hadn’t said no applause, he would have applauded.

    SO for John’s sake and others, I think we need to recognize that this whole debacle relating to JDB is ON HIM….it’s like Watergate. It’s not the act, it’s the cover -up that is causing the problem. JDB did something WRONG. He has had numerous opportunities to accept and admit that. Before I made my statement, I said that I was disappointed that Michele (my neighbor) had made her statement and failed to “make it right” as she had committed ahead of time.

    So — the phrase “all politics are local” is quite true. Unless you are a Republican with 300,000 friends, your vote in PA barely counted for President….so what do you want to discuss there? We elected nothing but incumbents for the most part….which is what almost always happens unless the incumbent has broken the connection to the constituents.

    I find the failure of our local BOS to step up and address what is in fact kind of PETTY but by being ignored has become significant to be a far more important issue than whether Paul Drucker wants to claim that Warren Kampf wants fracking near schools. Or whether Todd Akin has the first clue about women.

    So Pattye == feel free to bore us all anytime. One thing I know only too well and lectured JDB about — no one has to read it, no one has to respond, and anyone who has something to say is free to do so. Except on the township website.

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