Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Tredyffrin Special Election Supervisor candidates – Where do they stand on the digital billboard, historic preservation ordinance and transparency? Know before you vote!

How many of you know that there is a special election on November 6 to fill an at-large seat on Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors? And that for the first time in township history, both candidates running to fill the vacancy are former supervisors!

The last time that there was a special election on the ballot in Tredyffrin Township was in May 2011; a highly contested race between Mike Heaberg (R) and Molly Duffy (D) to fill an interim supervisor seat, as a result of Warren Kampf’s election as PA State Representative. If you recall, the special election results were so close that the winner’s name changed when malfunctioning voting machines required ballot hand counting. Ultimately, Heaberg was declared the victor and in the general election match-up race the same year, he won a regular 4-year term.

Now seven and a half years later, township residents will be choosing a supervisor in the special election on Nov. 6. In the sea of political campaign lawn signs are a couple of locally familiar names – Republican Judy DiFilippo and Democrat Mark Freed are the special election candidates running to fill the vacated at-large seat on Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors.

Republican Sean Moir, a second term supervisor abruptly resigned last month, having moved from the township and therefore no longer eligible to serve. The term for the vacated seat runs through 2019. The good news for residents is that both DiFilippo and Freed are seasoned township supervisors – Judy served for twenty years, six as its chair and Mark completed one four year term (2014-17).

Whoever wins the upcoming election will determine the party majority on the Board of Supervisors. With the departure of Moir (R), there are three Republicans (Heather Greenberg, Paul Olson and Trip Lukens (and three Democrats (Murph Wysocki, Matt Holt and Kevin O’Nell) currently serving. Because so often local township votes come down on party lines, the impact of who fills the seventh seat could be significant and if Freed wins, it will mark the first time in township history for a Democrat-majority board of supervisors.

The township and its residents is embroiled in a serious issue that would forever change the landscape and village feel of Paoli – the proposed digital billboard at the intersection of Rt. 252 and Lancaster Ave. I remain troubled that as a community we were kept in the dark for 18-24 months while township supervisors discussed the proposed digital billboard. The public only learned at the 11th hour with the township solicitor Vince Donohue using words like “negotiations” and “settlement agreement” in advance of the Catalyst presentation. I, like many others took that to mean that the digital billboard was a fait accompli.

With nearly 2,500 signatures showing support for the petition to “BAN the Digital Billboard in Paoli”) and a GoFundMe exceeding its goal, the community is fully engaged. The laws signs are scheduled for delivery this week!

It is critical that voters know where special election supervisor candidates DiFilippo and Freed stand on important township issues – the proposed digital billboard, historic preservation ordinance and transparency in local government. The candidates received 3 questions from me and were asked to respond in 100 words or less to each question. The following are the questions and the candidate responses, in the order received.

Question #1: As you are aware, the Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors is entertaining a proposal to construct a digital billboard at the intersection of Rt. 252 and Lancaster Ave. in Paoli. The community has been told by the township solicitor that Catalyst Outdoor Advertising will initiate legal proceedings if the digital billboard is not approved. If you are elected before the vote occurs, how will vote and why.

Candidate Judy DiFilippo (R) response: I do not support the proposal by Catalyst Outdoor Advertising to construct digital billboards at the Route 252/Lancaster Avenue intersection. In addition to the concern for safety of the traveling public, in my opinion, the mass of the signs proposed is not appropriate on that site. They do not reflect the overall aesthetic desired in Tredyffrin and do not respect the existing structure and its significance. If there is a deficiency in the Township’s sign ordinance relating to digital signs, a moratorium should be considered on any future applications for digital billboard signs until the ordinance is corrected.

Candidate Mark Freed (D) response: I oppose the Catalyst digital billboard proposal. This billboard is wrong for Tredyffrin Township and would result in the destruction of a valued historic resource. I have opposed the billboard since the concept was first floated by Catalyst when I was on the Board of Supervisors. I advised both my fellow Board members and Catalyst of my grave concerns. I have not seen anything in the recent presentations to change my opinion and remain opposed to Catalyst’s proposal.

Question #2: Unlike most Main Line townships, Tredyffrin does not currently have a historic preservation ordinance. Please comment as to whether or not you would support such a township ordinance and why.

Candidate Judy DiFilippo (R) response: The Township has an award-winning 2003 Historic Resource Survey that lists hundreds of historic buildings and it explains the historic and/or architectural significance for each. Valley Forge National Historical Park lies within Tredyffrin. We have a significant link to the founding of our country. We should be proud to share that history. I support the creation of an ordinance that appreciates and protects our most significant historic resources. Pennsylvania’s Municipalities Planning Code and Chester County’s Planning Commission have tooIs available to help us do that, including adaptive reuse. We can protect historic resources and still respect an individual’s property rights.

Candidate Mark Freed (D) response: I support a historic preservation ordinance that protects our Township’s valued historic resources. We must recognize Tredyffrin’s rich historic heritage. We must also be mindful of the rights of the owners of historic resources. I understand that the Historical Commission has proposed an ordinance amendment that would prohibit the demolition of designated historic resources unless reviewed by the Historical Commission and approved by the Board of Supervisors at a public hearing. This amendment would prevent the issuance of over-the-counter demolition permits that have resulted in almost immediate demolition of our historic resources. It would be a significant step forward.

Question #3: The support for openness and transparency in local government often appears on candidate campaign literature. What does it mean to you for local government to be open and transparent? Please be specific.

Candidate Judy DiFilippo (R) response: Transparency means you abide by the Sunshine Law. Certain matters dealing with Township personnel or pending litigation can be discussed in Executive Session by the Board and the Solicitor. When Executive Session meetings are held, it is announced during the Public Meeting. All Township Commissions, Advisory Councils, and Boards must abide by the Sunshine Law as well because their decisions and recommendations also impact the Township. Open discussion by the Board and with the public is the only place for decision-making. The public should be able to rely upon that and upon the trust given to the individuals they elect.

Candidate Mark Freed (D) response: To me, openness and transparency mean providing the public with information in a timely manner, giving the public the opportunity to express their views at public meetings and elsewhere, listening respectfully, responding forthrightly, and letting the public know that their voices have been heard and respected. They mean being clear and direct with the public about the Board’s decision-making process. They mean remembering that Board members serve the public.

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  1. People will say and do anything to get elected. After they get in, they do what they want to do, which usually reflects making decisions that benefit themselves.

    It doesn’t matter who wins. What matters is that citizens keep a close watch on them and the decisions they make that will effect all of us.

    Thank-you Ms. Benson for watching out for all of us.

    1. Well, the good news is that the candidates have committed in writing — and based on their responses, it looks to me like both will vote against the digital billboard and both will support a historic preservation ordinance. The vagueness is government transparency. Both the candidates certainly say the right thing, what we want to hear — but I’m with you, the delivery of the promise will only be known once elected.

      Transparency on the digital billboard proposal should have happened much earlier than it did. According to Mark Freed’s response, he was on the board at the time Catalyst first came in and stated he was vocal in his disapproval. We know that the first time Catalyst came to the township supervisors was somewhere between 18-24 months. And if, as suggested it was thought that the digital billboard sign idea really wasn’t going anywhere, I can see why the public was not initially told. However — how is it that Catalyst comes to the township 18-24 months ago, we hear nothing and when we finally do it is with talks of a lawsuit and settlement agreement. The public isn’t stupid, somewhere along the way the idea of a digital billboard in Paoli became a ‘real discussion’. Exactly when did that happen and why wasn’t the community advised at that time. The code of silence continues — and that is not my idea of government transparency.

  2. Government transparency can only be made “vague” by those elected officials making it so.

    No surprise the two candidates running are against the billboard. Doesn’t make sense for them to go against a 2,000 to 10,000 voting base. This is an opportunity for them to identify with a large group of voters.

    No surprise those in office offer no explanations for supporting something no one wants. They hold the office the two running will say and do anything to get elected.

    It’s up to residents to watch what officials do after they are elected.

    Thank-you Ms. Benson for watching.

    1. Rumor has it that Mr Freed May be preparing to run for a Common Pleas Judge position which is equivalent to 10 years with close to $200,000 in salary. Benefits and pension.
      Ask for a written dog, park and historic ordinance and real information on the clockworks property owner and the written commercial lease.
      Ask for an updated sign ordinance .
      If the lease terminated, the owner of the property can take down the building. Property owners have rights in their land ownership.
      All interesting twists to come.
      I do think promises are often empty based on the fact a supervisor needs the majority votes and the thought of a lawsuit may decrease the fund balance significantly.

  3. I would love to hear both of these candidates speak out against the sign at the BOS meeting tonight. Wouldn’t that be something? Or maybe someone should just read their responses to the board?

    1. Ah yes — there’s an idea! Judy DiFilippo and Mark Freed please attend the BOS tonight and speak out against the digital billboard in Paoli. Many people will watch the meeting from home and this would be a perfect opportunity for you to respond with a statement as residents.

    2. It would say a lot about the intent and integrity of the two running to stand before the BOS and express their opposition for the billboard.

  4. Two comments on transparency.

    One, the BOS is obligated, by law, to announce when they met in executive session and the specific topic discussed. Commonwealth Court has ruled that:
    1) The reason for holding the executive session must be announced at the open meeting occurring immediately prior or subsequent to the executive session
    2) a specific reason must be given for each executive session so the public can “determine from the reason given whether they are being properly excluded from the session”. “To simply say personnel matters or litigation tells nothing”.
    Thus, the BOS was obligated to say something like, “we held talks with Catalyst concerning a proposed digital billboard” immediately after talks occurred.

    Two, there is no law that requires a board to meet in executive session. Thus, the Board is free to discuss the billboard with Catalyst in public session if they so choose. There are always marginal cases where executive session can be “just about” justified. An open board would lean toward openness; a secretive board would lean toward secrecy.

    1. Thanks for this comment Keith. The first time that Catalyst was ever mentioned at a BOS meeting was at their Sept. 17 meeting, where there was a mini-presentation. It seems to me that if this ‘discussion’ between the township supervisors started 18-24 months ago, the public should have been informed along the way, correct? It doesn’t seem right that the first we hear about a digital billboard, includes the threat of a lawsuit. I’m confident that Catalyst didn’t come to the township 18-24 months ago with a lawsuit threat in hand — any discussion with Catalyst was never made public until September 17! And sadly, we are now at this place.

  5. This looks like an embarrassing failure on the part of the solicitor. I wonder what his explanation will be.

    1. The solicitor Vince Donohue called me yesterday (in advance of the BOS meeting) — after a 30-40 min. phone call, we continued to go in circles. Problem was we were not in the same circles. I kept going back to the 18-24 mo. of the public being kept in the dark and he focused on the pending litigation. The thread throughout the phone conversation was that I had not been damaged nor was the public damaged, because a decision on the digital billboard had not yet been made. My point to him was — had the public known what was going on/being discussed, we perhaps could have rallied much earlier against Catalyst/billboard and things ‘may’ have turned out differently. I get that Catalyst comes barreling into municipalities and looks for the ‘weakness’ in zoning ordinances, etc. etc. but without a crystal ball — who really knows where we would be if we had only known what was going on!

      Both supervisor candidates (Judy DiFilippo and Mark Freed) attended the BOS meeting. Mark publicly stated his opposition and actually clarified the timeline — from his memory (he was serving on the BOS at the time) that when Catalyst first approached the township, Mark told us that the company did so without the threat of litigation! This was a significant point; as this clarifies (according to Mark Freed’s recollection) that Catalyst had not initially come to the township with a threat of a lawsuit in hand (which was my argument all along, that this situation evolved over time!)

      I made my comments at the BOS meeting, talked about the Change.or petition (now 2,500 signatures and continuing to grow!), the GoFundMe exceeding its goal, the Facebook page. I handed out my newly printed BAN the Digital Billboard campaign flyers to the supervisors and told them that the lawn signs were on the way.

      I feel like the public was really let down by our elected officials — and I say this regardless of what happens — I keep going back to the point that this situation didn’t start as litigation, that it developed over time. I believe that at some point along the way, there was a responsibility to notify the public. Again, the argument posed was that the public “had not been harmed”.

      Another interesting note is that the solicitor said that some in the public (based on letters received from residents) thought that the township was contributing to the billboard project — I never said that nor was the solicitor suggesting that I had. At the meeting, he repeated this, saying that from a township standpoint, the project was financially neutral and that he had counseled the BOS to not talk about the Catalyst situation with the public.

      I again stepped forward to say that TWO supervisors had talked about a financial gain for the township that would be had by the settlement agreement with Catalyst. And that this information had not been previously disclosed to the public. The disclosure of information contained the proposed settlement agreement was posted on Facebook by two supervisors as soon as my petition went up.

      One of the ‘pick and choose’ components of the settlement agreement apparently states that the township has the ability to “sell back” to Catalyst any unused free advertising they receive on the digital billboard. This information was NEVER made public, it was part of the of the proposed settlement agreement which only the supervisors have seen. In a Facebook post, supervisor Trip Lukens wrote the information, disclosing this proposed agreement item and then Heather Greenberg (Chair, BOS) thanks him publicly on Facebook and shares his post to her followers. Again – done to discredit the petition. Mind you, the public is not privy to executive session information nor had we seen the draft settlement agreement.

      During my earlier phone conversation with the solicitor, I brought up the fact that two of the supervisors had divulged the information from the settlement agreement. Although the solicitor stated he does not have Facebook, he was aware of what happened. He is there to provide counsel to the BOS and I guess he cannot enforce them to follow it. From my viewpoint, this is just another way the public has not been treated fairly as it comes to the digital billboard.

      Bottom line — I respectfully disagree with Vince Donohue, the township solicitor — I do believe that the community has been harmed. I believe there was an obligation for public to be informed sometime during the last 18-24 months about an issue that may forever change the landscape of the village of Paoli. Also think that it is wholly unfair for supervisors to publicly provide information that only they would know from executive session as a means to discredit a citizen!

  6. It was very nice to see Mr Freed take the time to address the BOS last night and state publicly his opposition to the Catalyst proposal.

  7. So let me get this straight. The very same supervisors who don’t tell us about the billboard project because its secret negotiations now come out talking on Facebook about provisions contained in the settlement agreement that no one but the supervisors has seen. Do I understand that correctly? Please confirm Patty.

    1. Yes, Paoli resident you understand correctly. But it’s the two supervisors that I mentioned in my comment, not all. IMO, these supervisors simply couldn’t stand the fact that the BAN the Digital Billboard in Paoli was getting traction (and signatures!). So to discredit my claim that the township would not benefit financially from this billboard deal, they released information contained in the proposed settlement agreement (that only the supervisors would have known from executive session). I should add that I find it a bit slimy, this idea that the township receives free advertising from Catalyst on a digital billboard (that many, many people don’t want) and then the township sells it back to Catalyst for money. Just wow — and how much money would that generate monthly? Whoops — we have no idea because that part was left out in the supervisor Facebook post. Who knows??? More missing information. Interesting how they decide what is disclosed to the public and what isn’t!

  8. “At the meeting, he repeated this, saying that from a township standpoint, the project was financially neutral and that he had counseled the BOS to not talk about the Catalyst situation with the public.”

    The Solicitor stated that the project is financially neutral with respect to the township. Then Greenberg and Lukens state on Facebook that it’s not financially neutral after all.

    I would assume that the Solicitor was looking at the drafted document. Therefore I have suspicions that this new revenue opportunity Greenberg and Lukens recently referenced on Facebook was not discussed by the BOS until Ms. Benson started the campaign.

  9. The solicitor’s argument that the public wasn’t harmed by keeping the Catalyst talks secret doesn’t make sense. If harm was supposedly not done for 18-24 months why not just extend the secret talks for another year or two. Does the public, according to the solicitor’s logic, ever need to know about the Catalyst talks? Does he not understand that secrecy breed distrust?

    1. Thank you Keith! Yes, both on the phone and at the BOS meeting, the solicitor stated that I and the public was not harmed because no settlement agreement has been reached. That was his argument. I get that this ‘not harmed’ argument is a legal term — but I feel like we were harmed because we were kept in the dark. Doesn’t that matter?

      And I argue that had we not been kept in dark, there was a possibility that the community could have done something to change the future course. Who knows? We will never know, will we?

      By nature, I am not normally a suspicious person — tend not to look backwards and live in the moment. However, this entire billboard mess has me wondering what else has either gone on or, is currently going on, for which the community is not aware. Just sayin’

  10. This was certainly kept in the dark by the BOS,not the first time they have done something along these lines. But I’m not fully convinced things would be any different if the public had know earlier .Do you know if there is a legal case to be made by Catalyst to permit the Billboard, whether it is opposed or not? I am sure that they run into community and BOS opposition every time they propose a digital billboard, so they are prepared to litigate as it’s just part of business for them.

    The question then is would the twsp be wasting $$ fighting something they can’t win (not a lawyer nor do I know anything about Catalyst’s past win/loss ratio).

    My only comment where i would slightly disagree with you is on the description of the “village of Paoli having it’s character changed forever” – Paoli is no village but more of a commercial strip mall from one end to the other – while i don’t want to see an historic building destroyed or a huge billboard at that site, if it does go up, it’s really not changing the character of that strip of Route 30, but it is a safety issue.

    1. Granted that Paoli is no village – they even plow some sidewalks under when it snows.

      But try driving up 422 towards Oaks and check out the digital billboard on the right.

      That thing would degrade the character of any place within hundreds of miles – strip mall or otherwise.

      It’s like those strobe lights on some school buses: it seizes the attention of passers-by in an unnatural way.

  11. Once again I reiterate that this behavior should be addressed with removal proceedings and not just disappointment. If there never are any consequences, then elected officials will do whatever they want which is exactly what has happened.

    Also, what are these threats of litigation in regard to? Townships have thousands of codes that not everybody likes but you just can’t sue the township if you don’t like it. That’s their rules.

  12. Looks to me that this BOS has completely ignored and violated the Home Rules Charter of Tredyffrin Township. As Pattye mentioned, Cataylst did not start off by threatening a lawsuit so the secret meetings with them violates section C of our charter rules. Also, the Facebook postings from the other Supervisors violates section D.

    C. The Board may take no official action except at an open public meeting in the presence of a quorum,
    consisting of a majority of all the members of the Board. All discussions relating to official actions should
    be in open public meetings with the following exceptions:
    1. Matters in litigation with the Township as a party;
    2. Matters concerning hiring, dismissal, promotion or discipline;
    3. Matters which would adversely affect the reputation of any persons; and
    4. Matters having to do with the acquisition of land and other subjects which would be likely to benefit a
    party whose interests are adverse to the general community.
    Official actions by the Board shall be taken only by ordinance, resolution or motion. Voting, except on
    procedural matters, shall be by roll call vote. A majority vote of all the members of the Board shall be
    required to adopt an ordinance. Resolutions or motions shall be adopted by a majority vote of all the
    members of the Board present, except as otherwise provided herein.
    D. It is the intent of this Charter that the Board act as a body in relation to all administrative matters. No
    Supervisor shall publicly or privately seek individuality to interfere with the official acts of Township
    officers and employees. However, nothing herein contained shall prevent the Board from establishing
    committees of its members to review the operations and legislative needs of the departments, or from
    assigning individual Supervisors to liaison relationships with boards, commissions and authorities.

    1. Thank you for this information. It did strike me as unfair that Trip Lukens and Heather Greenberg were posting information on Facebook that was contained in the proposed settlement agreement and which the public had not seen! And the crazy part, is that it was done to discredit my petition claims that there was no additional revenue for the township from the proposed digital billboard. Apparently contained in the settlement agreement (according to these two supervisors) is the notion that the township could sell back to Catalyst the ‘gifted free advertising’ but of course no dollar amounts were attributed to this money-making scheme. However, at the BOS meeting, the solicitor very clearly stated that the digital billboard would be “revenue neutral”. Supervisors saying one thing and the solicitor saying something else!

      And I restate, that it’s not just a theory of mine — Mark Freed (who was on the BOS at the time) stated at Monday’s supervisors meeting that he did not recall Catalyst threatening a lawsuit at the first meeting.

  13. Yup,
    Lies piled upon lies. So basically, this BOS has been busted. Now it’s up to us to prosecute.

    These are not simple mistakes or “oops I forgot the rules.” Even if they vote down the proposal, which they should, they still broke the rules of our Charter. There has to be consequences or they’ll just do it again.

    1. I’m not sure what you have in mind — consequences? Personally, I would like to see an acknowledgement from them that the handling of the process (failure to notify/transparency) failed the public. It shouldn’t be that they think we haven’t been ‘harmed’ because there’s been no vote yet taken. We need to do better going forward — the community deserves it.

  14. What’s your point about whether Mark Freed is rumored to be running for a judge position, it makes no difference. The supervisor seat is to finish the vacated term and runs through 2019. If someone runs for office in 2019 and wins, they would not take office until January 2020, after the supervisor term has ended.

    I do agree that the sign ordinance needs to be updated asap. So that even if the digital billboard comes to Paoli, it will stop the same thing from happening to the other township billboards (although the township owns the one on Bear Road/252). The township should be working on an updated sign ordinance now.

  15. If the township owns the billboards on 252, let’s start a fund to buy them and eliminate all billboards from the township. I am not a resident but I am a taxpayer and would pay towards that.

    1. To clarify — there are three billboards in Tredyffrin Township. The township does own the sports field on Rt. 252 (Bear Hill Road)where one of the billboards is located. The township has a lease agreement with the billboard company and receives a monthly fee. There other two locations of billboards in Tredyffrin Twp are on private property — Lancaster Ave, across from the BMW dealership and also at the location in Paoli (Rt.252 and Lancaster Ave). The Paoli location (Clockworks) at the intersection of Rt. 252 and Lancaster Ave. is where Catalyst Outdoor Advertising is proposing their dual 20-ft. high billboards, with reflecting pool!

    1. The owner of the property is Dale E. Nelson, however sometime this summer he moved the property to a Dale E. Nelson Family trust. Catalyst has a 30 year leasehold mortgage on the property, signed in January 2017.

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