Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Bob Lamina

Police Chief Andy Chambers Tenders Resignation While on Suspension

At last night’s Board of Supervisors meeting, we learned that Police Chief Andy Chambers would resign from the Tredyffrin Twp Police Department, effective December 20, 2011.

Chairman Bob Lamina read a prepared statement that indicated that Chambers made this personal decision to resign while serving a four-day suspension. Last week, the supervisors had suspended Chambers for allowing his 16-year old son to drive a township police car, and his failure to report the incident to the Board of Supervisors. The son was involved in an accident with the township vehicle but Chambers had taken responsibility for all associated costs (towing, repair, etc.) and the car is back in service.

As I have previously stated, and do so again – Andy Chambers is a good guy. Did he have a momentary lapse in judgment? Yes. But now, unfortunately he feels that the price for his mistake is resignation. I do not think that Chambers was under any pressure from the supervisors to resign. As far as the supervisors were concerned, the four-day suspension had settled the matter for supervisors.

I cannot imagine how difficult the last couple of weeks have been for Andy Chambers and his family. We all make mistakes in our lives but most live with the consequences privately. Chief Chambers’ mistake became public and the public scrutiny of his actions, no doubt painful for him and his family. As Lamina read in his statement, Chambers decided that his retirement was the right thing to do for the Tredyffrin police department and for the community. I am guessing that Chief Chambers’ suspension served as an opportunity for personal reflection on he concluded the decision to leave the police department was the right answer for him and his family.

I thank Chief Chambers for his 30 years of service to the community; and offer him best wishes for the future. And, for the record . . . in my book, you still are a ‘good guy’.

In other news from the supervisors meeting, the township budget was approved for 2012. Originally, the budget contained a 6.9% millage tax increase for 2012 but in the final budget, the supervisors lessened the increase to 3.5% millage tax increase. The final budget increase was shaved by reducing professional services and by reducing police hours. The 2012 township budget passed with a 6-1 vote. EJ Richter was the only supervisor to vote against the budget, stating that she was opposed to any tax increase.

The Board of Supervisors meeting marked the final supervisors meeting for Chairman Bob Lamina. After serving 13 years on the Board, Lamina did not seek re-election in the last election and will complete his term at the end of December. Several former supervisors attended last night’s meeting including John Shimrak, Judy DiFilippo, Paul Drucker and John Bravacos. Former and current supervisors joined members of the public and township staff at a reception following the meeting to thank Lamina for his years of service to the community.

Good Guys Can Make Mistakes, Part II

We are now learning more of the details and the timeline surrounding the suspension of Tredyffrin’s police chief Andy Chambers. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the township solicitor Vince Donohue explains that there were two reasons for the Board of Supervisor’s disciplinary action and suspension of Chambers.

There were questions and speculation as to when the supervisors learned of the accident involving Chamber’s 16-year-old on November 23. According to the paper, Board of Supervisors chair Bob Lamina first learned of the incident when he received an anonymous letter on December 4. However, it was not until the day after, on December 5 that Chambers called Lamina to tell him of the incident. (which by that point, Lamina was already aware).

After conducting an investigation and interviewing 15 people, the supervisors suspended Chambers for 4 days because he (1) allowed his 16-year-old to drive a township police car, which was then involved in an accident and (2) his failure to tell the township supervisors.

As I said yesterday, I really like Andy Chambers and understand that as parents we all make mistakes. However, I had also assumed that he had owned his mistake immediately and had come forward at the time the incident occurred. Unfortunately, we now know that he waited 12 days to report the incident (after the anonymous letter detailing the incident was received). This suggests that if the anonymous letter was not received, the Board of Supervisors may never have known of the incident.

To their credit, the supervisors acted immediately with an investigation that resulted in Chamber’s suspension for 4 days. In addition to the suspension, Chambers paid for the vehicle towing, damage and mechanic’s time to repair the car, which is now back in service.

In reading the comments on the newspaper sites and on Community Matters, many have focused on the anonymous ‘whistle blower(s)’ who turned in the chief as being the real culprit. It has been suggested that this incident is not a big deal and offer that some are simply out to get the police chief.

I have to disagree. As the leader of an organization, he or she has a responsibility to ‘set the bar high’ and to lead by example. Should not be a case of ‘”Do what I say, not what I do”. However, we all make mistakes and I have a feeling that Chief Chambers will live with the regrets of this mistake for a long time.

Do I think that he should have told the supervisors back in November when the incident occurred versus waiting until after the Board of Supervisors received the anonymous letter? Yes, but again hindsight is 20-20. I wasn’t there when the incident occurred and so have no idea what went into Andy’s decision not to immediately report the incident. Presumably, he had his reasons . . .

We will hear a statement of explanation at Monday’s Board of Supervisors meeting. I have to believe that Chambers will do his best to repair any damage inside of his department that this incident may have caused and then everyone will try to move forward.

As I said yesterday, I am disappointed in Andy Chamber’s actions but at the same time, I feel sorry for him — we’ve all had those momentary lapses of judgment. This incident just proves that even the good guys can make mistakes.

Tredyffrin’s Preliminary Budget Approved with 6.9% Increase, but Chairman Bob Lamina hopes we can do better!

There was some forward movement on the budget last night at the Board of Supervisors meeting. At the onset of the budget discussion, Mimi Gleason apologized to the supervisors and to the public for the errors contained in the preliminary budget that was presented at the last BOS meeting. There were math errors in the budget summary tables that were carried forward in the township manager’s narrative. Gleason offered that the week before there had been a number of last-minute changes in the benefit numbers as her explanation.

I am glad that John Petersen reviewed last week’s preliminary budget and caught the discrepancies and notified the township. It was good to see that responsibility was taken for those mistakes and I am hopeful that going forward, there will be greater oversight from the Finance Commission and the supervisors. For the record, there never was a response to the residents from last week’s emails. Some would suggest that since the message was received and changes made, no response was required. Although I am a proponent for process, there is not closure on the issue and we can move on.

There was much discussion and questions from the supervisors to Gleason and the finance director in regards to the budget. Although there were mistakes in the budget summary, the numbers in the budget remain the same – there is a $500K deficit in the 2012 township budget. Without any adjustment to the preliminary budget, the deficit would mean a 6.9% millage real estate tax increase. Using an average assessed property value of $221,000, the increase would equate to approximately $34 per homeowner. The major contributing factors to the deficit are the decrease in transfer and real estate taxes and a significant decrease in the recycling grant money. Both residential and commercial property reassessments have greatly reduced real estate taxes.

Several areas in the budget were reviewed in detail. Specifically, there is a $106K in the budget for website and software upgrade. Of that amount, $6,500 earmarked for a citizen notification system. This system could provide notifications for emergencies, road closures, special events, etc. The approximate $100K remaining funds is split with $50K for contact management system and $50K to permit greater flexibility and to keep making progress. The goal is to make the website more user-friendly, including the ability to reserve sport and summer camp programs online, a complaint and work order tracking system for public works, a third-party credit card system, etc. The $106K website and software upgrade would come from reserves.

There remain some open issues surrounding the employee health insurance costs. I was very surprised to learn that the current budget includes 100% paid insurance. I suggested that almost everyone pays a co-pay of $15/20 and had that been considered? Although Mimi responded that this is part of the union negotiations, I am not confident that the insurance situation is going to change. With the school district negotiations starting in January, this may offer some bargaining power for the teachers.

Tim Klarich, the township finance director alluded to the large unfunded medical and retirement liability but did not state the total. It was my understanding that several years ago, there was $25 million in this unfunded liability and I asked that number to be qualified. Very surprised to learn that the township’s unfunded liability as of January 1, 2011 was $36 million! Although Klarich stated that at this time, there is no minimum contribution requirement for this liability, it does make you wonder what our increase would be if the taxpayers were forced to fund $36 million liability! When and how does that liability receive funding? Is this a bond issue?

Currently the 2012 budget summary is available online but I asked if the township could provide the full budget online for the residents. Bob Lamina asked Mimi if that was possible and she agreed to provide the information. I am not sure if it will confuse us more or help us – but at least this way, we will be able to review the department budgets and see the line listings that make up the individual budgets.

Although the budget discussion ended with the unanimous approval of the preliminary budget with its 6.9% millage real estate tax increase, there was the sense from the supervisors that they are going to continue their review. Lamina stated that he believes that they can do better than the 6.9%. He is not certain that they can get the budget down to a zero percent increase but between now and the next BOS meeting on December 5, they are determined to try.

No Need for Written Request to St. Davids Golf Club to Build Sidewalks . . . Just a phone call! What happens if you get the answering machine!

I attended the Board of Supervisors meeting last night; primarily to see if the chapter on sidewalks (St. Davids) would finally be closed. Each time I think that we have turned that corner; there is a new twist that slows the process.

Whether in the audience or watching from home, the ‘Resolution to adopt the Green Routes Pedestrian Network map’ was not without debate. Chairman Bob Lamina stated that they would divide the township into 3 parts for discussion – essentially the east, middle and the western areas. A torturous process, discussion began with a ‘street by street’ review of the map, starting with the middle section and moving next to the western areas of the township.

The idea behind this resolution was to add a map to the new sidewalk ordinance passed at last month’s BOS meeting. However, the difficulty and confusion among the supervisors was whether the map was to ‘only’ include roads that would be affected by the newly passed sidewalk ordinance, which in essence were areas of the township where possible commercial development could occur. Or was the map to contain all suggested sidewalks, trails, etc. that were part of the green routes network as recommended by the special sidewalk subcommittee.

The debate on which sidewalks to include on the map heightened as the discussion moved to the eastern part of the township, specifically Conestoga and Upper Gulph Roads. Supervisor (Supervisor Olson suggested that sidewalks on Conestoga and Upper Gulph Roads be totally removed from the map.) By the time the supervisors were at the point of voting on the resolution, I am certain many of us were confused as to what exactly was to be included on this ‘Green Routes Pedestrian Network’ map. I believe that in the end, the supervisors voted 4-3 in favor of the map as presented by the sidewalk subcommittee. (Someone please correct me if I’m wrong). With much fanfare, Supervisors Richter, Olson and Lamina voted against the resolution. Richter used ‘storm water issues’ and ‘empty storefronts’ to explain her vote of opposition.

At this point in the meeting, with the map issue resolved, I expected that we would finally move past the sidewalk topic. However, no, much to the surprise of audience members (and some of the supervisors) Lamina made a new motion — for broader notification to the public when sidewalks were contained in future land development plans. There was concern from some audience members that this discussion was not on the agenda and needed further discussion. Supervisor John DiBuonaventuro questioned Lamina about the timing of the motion, suggesting that because the motion was formally written, that Lamina had sought legal counsel from the township solicitor in advance of the BOS meeting. Lamina explained that the idea had come to him at lunch, while “eating his bologna sandwich”! Supervisors DiBuonaventuro and Donahue voted against this motion, both believing further discussion was required. However, the motion did pass 5-2.

Surely, there could be nothing further to say on the topic of sidewalks in Tredyffrin Township. Not so fast. Stating that there was some ‘housecleaning’ needed, DiBuonaventuro offered a motion to remove the moratorium on the building of sidewalks at St. Davids Golf Club. The ‘hold’ dated back to the February 22, 2010 supervisors meeting. Now at this point, I was completely confused.

If you have been following Community Matters, you will note that after last month’s supervisors meeting, I sent a couple of emails to Mimi Gleason, our township manager (copied the BOS and Tom Hogan, township solicitor). I wanted to understand the next step in the St. Davids sidewalk saga and assumed that since the sidewalk ordinance had passed, the township staff now had the green light to move on enforcement of the sidewalks contained in any open land development agreements (including St. Davids). I had received the following response from Gleason, which I posted last week on Community Matters,

Before sending letters, the Township now will contact any of the property owners with approved plans that inquired about the need to install sidewalks. They will be informed that they no changes were made to the ordinance that changes anything for their plans. Enforcement proceedings will commence only if they refuse to install the sidewalks.

Based on Gleason’s email response to me, I was completely confused as to why DiBuonaventuro’s motion was necessary but OK; let’s tie up any loose ends.

However, the vote to move St. Davids Gold Club sidewalks along in the process did not come easily. Again, much discussion, primarily from Olson, who claimed that the township should take the $50,000 that St. Davids Golf Club, had offered not to build the sidewalks . . . further suggesting that St. Davids would instead give the $50K to the fire companies.

There was no way that I was going to let his remarks stand as anywhere close to accurate. For the public record last night, I stated that (1) St. Davids Golf Club had not offered to give $50K to the fire company and (2) there was never any written offer from St. Davids. The $50K ‘offer’ from St. Davids Golf Club not to build the sidewalks was contained in the 2009 BAWG report but was never substantiated! To perpetuate misinformation is simply wrong – bringing up the $50K offer from St. Davids was as if the township clock was turned back 20 months! Eventually DiBuonaventuro’s motion passed 6-1 (Olson the sole dissenting vote).

I then asked Gleason about the staff notification process to St. Davids re the sidewalks. Based on her earlier email to me, I was concerned and was of the opinion, that such a request to St. Davids Golf Club should be ‘in writing’. No, she explained, the staff would call St. Davids Golf Club and ask them to build the sidewalks. I said should not there be a paper trail of the notification – how does one track a phone call? Although she insisted that this was township procedure, I asked how was the public to know if the call was made. I suggested that no one could ever make a ‘right to know’ request over a telephone call. Bottom line . . . short of asking the question, “Did you phone St. Davids?” at every supervisors meeting, the public will not know. I asked what the timeline was for the phone call – I believe her response was, in the next 30 days.

It strikes me odd that after 20 months of St. Davids Golf Club sidewalk debate, the request for St. Davids to complete their 6-year-old land development agreement is not done in writing but with a phone call.

Wonder what happens if the township person calling St. Davids gets their answering machine . . . leave a message and assume that the right person gets it? Wow . . . is this really how local government works?

Do all Roads in Tredyffrin Lead to Sidewalks?

Although there was a 5-2 vote to approve the revised sidewalk ordinance at last week’s Board of Supervisors meeting, confusion over sidewalks still reigns. I think many would agree had there never been a BAWG report that suggested there was a $50,000 offer from St. Davids Golf Club not to build their ‘agreed upon’ and ‘contracted for’ sidewalks, we would not be where we are today. (To clarify, the $50K offer was not in writing and never substantiated).

For the last 21 months in Tredyffrin Township, it is as if all roads lead to sidewalks. The debate over whether St. Davids Golf Club would be required to build their contracted sidewalks has reigned supreme. A sidewalk subcommittee was formed and for over a year, held public hearings, received resident input, conducted surveys, etc. The results of the sidewalk subcommittee were presented earlier this year to the Board of Supervisors; indicating that the majority of the residents responding favored sidewalks, bike trails, etc. in the township.

The Board of Supervisors instructed the Planning Commission to draft a new sidewalk ordinance. After several months of discussion and review, the Planning Commissioners presented a sidewalk ordinance proposal to the Board of Supervisors. The supervisors agreed that the new sidewalk ordinance would have no bearing on the 8 currently open land development agreements that contained sidewalk requirements (including St. Davids Golf Club).

For those that attended the supervisors meeting or watched from home, the confusion over the sidewalk ordinance continued to reign supreme. Although the new ordinance passed 5-2, (Lamina and Olson the dissenting votes) there remains the open issue of the sidewalk ‘map’. The sidewalk ordinance passed but without a map indicating the sidewalk requirements. Discussion of the sidewalk map is apparently on the agenda for Monday’s supervisors meeting. However, there was some discussion from Lamina at the last supervisors meeting, that it may be his intention to go through the map, ‘road by road’ to decide the fate of sidewalks.

Wanting to understand the next step in the St. Davids Golf Club sidewalk saga, I sent a couple of emails to Mimi Gleason, our township manager. I assumed that since the sidewalk ordinance had passed, the township staff now had the green light to move on enforcement of the sidewalks in any open land development agreements (including St. Davids). I received the following email from Mimi:

Before sending letters, the Township now will contact any of the property owners with approved plans that inquired about the need to install sidewalks. They will be informed that they no changes were made to the ordinance that changes anything for their plans. Enforcement proceedings will commence only if they refuse to install the sidewalks.

Based on Gleason’s response, can we assume that by now St. Davids Golf Club has been contacted. I am not sure why there was an interim step ‘to contact’ vs sending the letter and will seek clarification. I will also ask what is timeline for a response before the enforcement letter is sent. After all the issues surrounding the sidewalks, I think it would be important to have a paper trail in place.

So . . . will St. Davids now build their required sidewalks? Or . . . will the country club wait it out, in hopes that their road will somehow disappear from the yet-to-be-approved township sidewalk map? Let’s hope that St. Davids will do what they contractually agreed to do. How long has it been – 5 or 6 years?

In a letter to the editor in this week’s Main Line Suburban, Tory Snyder, a Planning Commissioner and the chair of the special sidewalk subcommittee, gives an outline of the new sidewalk ordinance. As full disclosure, she indicates that she is a Board of Supervisors candidate in the East District. For folks that may not know, Snyder (D) is running against Paul Olson (R).

The following is excerpted from Snyder’s letter to the editor:

The facts of the newly adopted ordinance are as follows:

  • Sidewalks will be required on about 14 miles of Tredyffrin roads. The current ordinance requires sidewalks on all Tredyffrin roads.
  • All but one of the roads affected by the ordinance are major roads on which pedestrian safety is an issue. None of the roads are local roads per PennDOT or the Township Comprehensive Plan. Within the last two years a child walking along one of these roads with no sidewalks was hit by a car.
  • All roads affected by the ordinance provide needed pedestrian linkages to and from specific destinations, including schools, libraries, parks, train stations and shopping centers.
  • By nature of its location in the Subdivision and Land Development code, ONLY developers of non-residential and multi-unit residential properties would be required to build the sidewalks. Homeowners improving their own properties would not be subject to the sidewalk requirement.

This information lays out the facts and corrects some of the misleading and incorrect information that has been presented.

A planner by profession, Snyder further explains in her letter, “All 12 municipalities within a 25-mile radius of Tredyffrin require sidewalks in their subdivision and land-development codes. Almost all of these codes are stricter than the measured and balanced approach offered by the newly adopted ordinance. Were Tredyffrin to exclude a sidewalk requirement from its code, there would be no plan to add needed sidewalks in the future, and the entire cost of building any sidewalks would be transferred directly to the taxpayers.”

Stay tuned . . . the sidewalk saga continues at Monday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.

Walkability in Tredyffrin Twp or. . . How to Keep a Private County Club from Building Sidewalks?

Is Tredyffrin’s sidewalk ordinance really about supporting walkability of Tredyffrin or is it about stall tactics to keep St. Davids Golf Club from building their required sidewalks?

Whether you were in the audience or watching from home, I hope residents have had an opportunity to watch Monday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.

Prior to the BOS meeting, I attended last week’s Planning Commission meeting; one of only 2 audience members (BOS member Mike Heaberg the other) who remained for 4 hours and 20 min. of the meeting. My purpose in attending the Planning Commission meeting was to ask about the enforcement of the 8 open land development agreements. These land development agreements had been placed ‘on hold’ since December 2009, 21 months ago pending the results from the special sidewalk subcommittee. Although the sidewalk subcommittee presented their results months ago, the 8 existing land development agreements continued to remain open issues. During a public hearing discussing the proposed sidewalk ordinance, the supervisors voted unanimously to ‘separate’ the 8 open land development agreements from any new sidewalk ordinance. In other words, the 8 signed land development agreements would not be affected by any township ordinance change. It is the belief by many that legally the existing land development agreements could never have been changed based on any new ordinance. To be clear, one of these 8 open land development agreements is the sidewalks required at St. Davids Golf Club.

Once the supervisors voted to exclude the existing land development agreements from the proposed sidewalk ordinance, I assumed that there was no impediment for enforcing the contracts (which was why I attended the Planning Commission meeting). Much to my surprise (and to the surprise of some Planning Commissioners) in response to my enforcement question, I was told by the township manager that those agreements were still ‘on hold’ by the BOS. I followed up with — what do we do to move forward. . . what’s the process. Ms. Gleason informed me that the BOS would have to instruct her to move forward or that a resident could ask the supervisors at a regular BOS meeting to move the process forward for enforcement.

Not really understanding ‘why’ the process continued to have delays, I took up my quest for resolution at Monday’s BOS meeting (prior to the public hearing). There was no decision, no vote on the enforcement issue, but Bob Lamina said that he understood I wanted closure and perhaps it would happen as a result of the sidewalk ordinance. I argued that the proposed sidewalk ordinance had no bearing (they had voted to exclude the existing land development agreements!) but I got no where.

We then get to the infamous public hearing on the proposed sidewalk ordinance. With Lamina and Paul Olson fiercely opposed to sidewalks, there was endless rhetoric, it went on and on . . . the long and winding road. One could conclude Lamina’s behavior was nothing more than filibustering.

fil·i·bus·ter: The use of obstructionist tactics, especially prolonged speech-making, for the purpose of delaying legislative action.

A letter to the editor by Bill Bellew of Devon appears in this week’s edition of the Main Line Media News. (click here).

An accurate analysis of the BOS meeting, Bill writes, ” . . . Some time ago I went to a BOS meeting and asked the board to “knock it off” when it came to these Washington-style debates. We the voters elect the board to run our township now and for the future. As a registered Independent, I couldn’t care less what party you are affiliated with – just do the job we elected you to do. . . ”

So where are we with the sidewalk issue? I sent an email 3 days ago to Mimi Gleason, copying the BOS, asking when the enforcement letters would go to those 8 projects that have existing open land development agreements (including the sidewalks at St. Davids Golf Club). So far, there has been no acknowledgement of the email nor any response from our township manager (or the BOS). With a vote of 5-2 (Lamina and Olson opposed) the proposed sidewalk ordinance was passed by the supervisors. However, the ordinance passed without a map attached to it. Without a map, it is my understanding there is no sidewalk requirement. Until a map is approved to accompany the sidewalk ordinance, the Planning Commissions cannot require sidewalks as part of a land development agreement. But even without a map, the signed land development agreements (including the one with St. Davids Golf Club) are legal and binding. In other words, ‘where’ sidewalks are required may be temporarily ‘up in the air’ until a map is approved, there is NO impediment for the sidewalk requirement in existing land development agreements!

Tredyffrin’s sidewalk discussion has traveled beyond the borders of our local community. In today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, the following article appears. To the Philadelphia Inquirer writer, Anthony Campisi who attended the BOS meeting, the story appeared to be simply sidewalks . . . some for them and other against them. However, for many of us, we know it’s about a specific sidewalk in a specific location!

Tredyffrin sidewalk ordinance aims for a walkable community

By Anthony Campisi

Inquirer Staff Writer

To understand why Tredyffrin Township wants to build more sidewalks, look no further than Harold Scott.

The 69-year-old Pottstown resident was on his way to a church meeting in the township but wanted to stop first for coffee at a Saxby’s down the road on Route 30.

Rather than walking from the Church of the Good Samaritan, he ended up driving the 100 yards to the shop. The sidewalks “stop and start” too much to walk safely, he said, gesturing toward the road, with its islands of unconnected sidewalks and cars rushing by.

If the sidewalk ordinance adopted Monday does what it’s supposed to, people like Scott will be able to get around more easily on foot.

The ordinance will require new residential and commercial developments along roads yet to be designated to have sidewalks. Eight are currently planned in the township but it is unclear how they would be affected.

The result, proponents say, would provide longer stretches of sidewalk and a more livable community. Resident Hans van Naerssen told supervisors before the vote the ordinance would ensure that pedestrians have “equal opportunity” with motorists.

But the move to add sidewalks encountered some opposition from the supervisors chairman and vice chairman, who argued that the ordinance would raise costs and scare away development. They said the question should be put before voters in a referendum.

Tredyffrin, a mostly residential section of Chester County that encompasses parts of Wayne, Paoli, and Berwyn, has had a sidewalk ordinance for almost 25 years, requiring sidewalks to be installed as part of any large-scale project.

The problem, according to Township Manager Mimi Gleason, was that the requirement “used to be waived routinely” because the ordinance was vaguely worded.

The result is that much of the township’s 150 miles of roads lack sidewalks – including parts of major commercial corridors, such as Route 30.

The new ordinance – passed after almost two years of debate – is meant to change that by providing a more strategic approach that will result in fewer waivers, according to Supervisor Michelle H. Kichline.

But that argument didn’t persuade Supervisors Chairman Robert W. Lamina, who worried that the ordinance was “highly prescriptive.”

Because most of Tredyffrin’s neighborhoods are built out, the ordinance will affect mostly commercial redevelopment projects.

Sean N. McCauley, a developer and planning commissioner, disputed Lamina’s claim, saying “the cost of sidewalks is insignificant.”

With Tredyffrin competing with others to attract jobs, he argued that creating a more walkable community was essential.

Joseph Hacker, a top transportation planner at the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, agreed, saying in an interview that sidewalk requirements make an “enormous amount of sense” if, as in Tredyffrin, they’re meant to connect residents to things like train stations.

Not everyone in Tredyffrin wants a walkable community.

“I don’t believe this township is a walking township,” resident Bob Robie told supervisors, adding that he’s happy driving.

Tory Snyder, a Planning Commission member, said a survey found that about two-thirds of residents supported more sidewalks.

Snyder, who chaired a sidewalk committee that helped develop the ordinance, said in an interview that it took a balanced approach.

But don’t expect walkability issues in Tredyffrin to go away soon. The Board of Supervisors has only begun working to figure out where new sidewalks would be required.


Tredyffrin Township Budget Workshop & T/E School Board meeting updates

Monday was township’s budget workshop as well as the T/E School Board meeting. I attended the school board meeting and fortunately for us, Ray Clarke attended the budget workshop. Thank you Ray for attending and for providing your notes to Community Matters readers.

The long-range budget and economic situation continues as a major discussion of the school board directors. During the school board meeting, we were reminded of the Citizen Tax Study Group. The group was set-up to study the “possible effects of an earned income tax and presenting research to the school board and community”. The Tax Study Group meetings are open to the public. Here are the meeting dates and times from the T/E school district website:

Thursday, September 8, 2011 – 7:00 p.m.

Thursday, September 29, 2011 – TBD
Thursday, September 15, 2011 – TBD
Thursday, October 6, 2011 – TBD
Thursday, September 22, 2011 – TBD
Thursday, October 13, 2011 – TBD

Based on Ray’s notes from the township budget workshop, we can certainly see that our township is not exempt from the worsening economic climate. Township staff and services have seen major cuts so I’m not sure how the supervisors are going to manage to hold the line on no tax increases. On the revenue side, we do not see any significant commercial real estate transfers in the near future, so …what’s the answer?

According to Ray, there will be another township budget workshop (date not confirmed) that will focus on capital projects. This budget workshop had no mention of the township building’s HVAC system — I remember discussion between the supervisors and Steve Norcini that there were major problems with the current system so it will be curious to see if the HVAC system is on the capital project list at the next budget workshop.

Here are Ray Clarke’s notes from the township budget meeting:

The Township held a Budget workshop on Monday night to present a base case context for development of the 2012 budget. A good event – short, focused, and with significant implications – it was disappointing that very few residents attended. My takeaways follow; I recommend that anyone interested pick up a copy of the materials, hopefully Monday’s extras are still available.

1. The slumping economy is taking its toll on the Operating Statement. For 2011, instead of the budgeted small surplus, there is now a projected deficit of $422,000. Revenues are unfavorable to budget by $373,000, due essentially to a $191,000 shortfall in licenses and permits (especially a mis-budgeted road opening rate and volume??), an $87,000 shortfall in transfer taxes and a $77,000 shortfall in other revenues like camp fees. Expenses are unfavorable by $96,000, with $205,000 overspending in supplies (road salt), offset by $115,000 favorable in personnel costs.

2. Things are likely to get worse next year, based just on what’s knowable at the present time. Revenues will be down a further $124,000, largely due to reductions in state transfers. That’s before any impact of a reduction in real estate assessments. (And of course, before any changes in tax rate). Expenses will continue upward, driven by an increased pension contribution (due to a minor reduction in assumed return to a level that’s still ridiculously high……), offset by a hoped-for better snow clearing experience and reduced repairs and maintenance. Now, the key here is that all employee contracts are currently being negotiated: the base case assumes no salary increase and the current benefits plan. (A similar approach to that of the School District). I leave it to others to judge the realism of this. The base case does include a 3% increase in contributions to the fire companies. Bottom line: 2012 General Fund Operating Deficit of $667,000.

3. On the capital side, the Township is on track to spend about 60% of the capital budget across all the funds (General, Sewer, Trunk Sewer, Vehicle and Equipment). There are reasons for this; one seems to be that the township always budgets generously to assure that it is correctly positioned for grants. Another might be that we simply don’t have the resources to get done everything that needs to be done. The capital plan information that was presented was acknowledged to be very rudimentary, and it was agreed that another workshop be held (I think a Saturday in early October?) to discuss the projects and priorities in detail.

So, what’s the answer for the Operating Statement? Are there more cuts to be had? Seemingly it would be tough to make the staff any leaner on top of the layoffs of recent years. The crumbling state of the front steps to the township building does not indicate that recent repair and maintenance spending has been effective. Unlike the School District, it’s not clear that there’s much room in benefits. On the revenue side, the property tax rate has been unchanged since 2009 and has increased at an annual rate of less than 1.7% for the last decade.

Paul Olson contrasted recent property tax rate increases in Easttown (my data for 2010, 2011: +12%, +4%) and Radnor (+11%, +9%). Of course, rather than just layer on more property taxes, the net cost to Tredyffrin residents would be lower if the township took a percentage of any EIT that a large number of residents are already paying and that the School District may possibly put to referendum ……

Sidewalks on Tredyffrin’s Supervisors Meeting Agenda: Translation . . . Does St. Davids Golf Club Build its Sidewalks?

The agenda for tonight’s supervisors meeting in Tredyffrin will include a presentation by PennDOT and the PA Turnpike regarding the start of 202 construction and the Rt. 29 slip ramp construction. The slip ramp construction got underway last week so I look forward to a review of the time for that project and for 202.

The agenda lists the scheduling of two public hearings, (1) an ordinance to create new regulations for historic preservation and (2) to consider amendments to sidewalk requirements in subdivision and land development plans.

Members of the township HARB and Planning Commission have worked on creating an ordinance to protect historic properties in the township for two years. In reviewing my HARB minutes, there was discussion as early as March 2009 recognizing the need. Much discussion and many joint meetings has taken place between HARB, Planning Commission and township staff. I am thrilled to see the work of many community volunteers now move forward.

Scheduling of the other public hearing – amendments to sidewalk ordinance. It’s fascinating that 16 months post-BAWG report and St. Davids Golf Club, the mention of sidewalks in Tredyffrin reminds us of the open St. Davids sidewalk issue. Recalling the history, the land development agreement between St. Davids Golf Club and the township requires the building of sidewalks. Rather than enforce the land development requirement, the supervisors decided last year to create a sidewalk subcommittee to examine the needs and interest in sidewalks in Tredyffrin.

Fast forward to April 2011 and where does the township stand on sidewalks and the open issues surrounding the land development agreement with St. Davids Golf Club to build sidewalks? Last month, the sidewalk subcommittee presented their results, which included an overwhelming resident interest in sidewalks, trails and bike paths in the township. The sidewalks subcommittee confirmed the Green Routes Network plan included sidewalks at St. Davids Golf Club. The results of last month’s public hearing to consider changing final land development authority from the Planning Commission to the Board of Supervisors included a supervisors vote for the Planning Commission to retain this authority. So where does the township stand on St. Davids Golf Club sidewalk requirement? What really has changed in the last 16 months?

This morning, I was copied on a public email from John Petersen to township solicitor Tom Hogan (which also copied the Board of Supervisors and Mimi Gleason) inquiring on the “status of St. Davids”. Petersen’s email included the following:

“ . . . St. David’s has always had the obligation to build the sidewalks. At best, over the past year, there has been a forbearance on that obligation. It would appear that the status quo is firmly in place. By that, I mean that the sidewalk plan as promulgated in the master plan is still in effect. Second, the PC [Planning Commission] has retained full land development authority. That said, the St. David’s obligation was always in place. i.e., it was pre-existing contract. Therefore, no matter what was done on a prospective basis, it would have no effect on the St. David’s obligation. The same conclusion would have applied a year ago. . . St. David’s has two choices. 1 – build the sidewalks per their land development obligation. 2 – pay the township the full cost to build the sidewalks as per the land development obligation . . . So again I ask, what is the BOS going to do?”

I am curious to see if the elephant in the room (St. Davids land development agreement) is discussed at the supervisors meeting tonight. As much as some people would like the sidewalk issue at St. Davids Golf to just ‘go away’, unless there is a decision, the issue remains open. Will our elected officials enforce the land development agreement with St. Davids and require the sidewalks to be built . . . ? As Petersen says, “. . . What is the BOS going to do?”

The community needs closure on the St. Davids sidewalk issue; will that happen at tonight’s supervisors meeting? Stay tuned.

Sometimes Life Surprises You and the Right Thing Happens . . . the Planning Commission to Retain Land Development Authority in Tredyffrin!

Following tonight’s Board of Supervisors meeting was a scheduled public hearing to discuss land development authority. The Board of Supervisors were holding this initial public hearing to consider an ordinance amendment to change final land development authority from the Planning Commission to the Board of Supervisors. As the public hearing began, chair of the supervisors, Bob Lamina excused himself to leave for the airport. With Lamina’s departure, vice chair Paul Olson became ‘acting’ chair in his absence. Lamina’s last words as he departed were that he anticipated that this was an initial public meeting and the discussion would continue in the fall.

Lamina reminded the audience that a final decision on land development authority would not take place until after the review and approval of the township sidewalk ordinance. (Some have suggested that the timing of this land development authority ordinance change is directly related to the St. Davids Golf Club sidewalk decision by the Planning Commission).

Township Manager Mimi Gleason offered a background of why the land development authority was given to the Planning Commission some twenty-five years ago. Interesting to note that Tredyffrin Township is the only municipality where land development rests with the Planning Commission versus the Board of Supervisors.

Prior to tonight’s public hearing, Supervisors Kichline, Heaberg and Richter met with supervisors from Upper Merion and Easttown Townships to discuss how they handle their planning authority process. Kichline reported that these other municipality supervisors suggested that there was not ‘right or wrong’ way to handle land development authority.

Audience members were invited to comment on the proposed land development authority change. Trip Lukens, vice chair of the Planning Commission offered remarks from last week’s Planning Commission meeting. At their meeting, planning commissioners had decided rather than create an ordinance change; they would wait until the outcome of tonight’s public hearing. Other residents in attendance offered their opinion. One after another, they all said the same thing in a variety of ways . . . “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it”. Former supervisor Judy DiFilippo also spoke in favor of leaving the land development authority with the Planning Commission. In other words, all those in attendance who spoke, completely supported the Planning Commission retaining final land development authority.

After audience members had all spoken in favor of leaving the land development authority process ‘as is’ with the Planning Commission, Supervisor DiBuonaventuro declared that he did not understand ‘why’ the Board of Supervisors was having this discussion and that as a supervisor ‘he’ was not interested in taking back land development authority. DiBuonaventuro said that there were many other important issues facing the township that needed his attention and that Planning Commission should retain this authority.

After much discussion on the topic from each supervisor, Supervisor Kichline made a motion to end the public hearing on the planning authority ordinance change; Supervisor Donahue seconded the motion. Left in charge of the public hearing by Chairman Lamina and probably realizing that he was losing the battle for further discussion, Supervisor Olson suggested the supervisors just wait on this vote and have further discussion. Supervisor Richter agreed with Olson but the other supervisors were committed to forcing a vote to end the public hearing.

With a roll call vote, Supervisors Kichline, Heaberg, DiBuonaventuro and Donahue voted to leave the land development authority with the Planning Commission and Olson and Richter voted against the motion. This vote removed any further discussion on the topic.

I believe that Bob Lamina was the driving force behind this ordinance change to place final land development authority back in the hands of the Board of Supervisors . . . and he left for the airport thinking that this public hearing tonight was nothing more than an ‘initial’ meeting with further discussion to come. He could never have expected this outcome!

Sometimes life surprises you and the right thing happens . . . tonight was one of those occasions! The Planning Commission retains final land development authority and a round of applause goes to supervisors Kichline, Heaberg, DiBuonaventuro and Donahue for ‘doing the right thing’! And the planning commissioners should feel good with their overwhelming vote of confidence from the residents!

Tredyffrin’s Interim Supervisor Vacancy No More . . . Mike Heaberg Appointed

Attending last night’s Board of Supervisors meeting was much like attending a wedding. Entering Keene Hall, I found members on the bride’s side of the aisle there to support Republican Kristen Mayock as the interim supervisor. Left of the aisle, the groom’s side contained those gathered to support Republican Mike Heaberg. Representatives from both sides promised that their candidate was the right one to lead the township.

The audience heard from supporters of Mayock and Heaberg, as well as for the Democrat candidate Eamon Brazunas. Friends and political allies praised Mayock for her personal, business and civic achievements. Some of the words used to describe her were skilled negotiator, creative as well as committed and very intelligent. A former Republican committee member and fellow attorney at her law firm, Scott Reidenbach spoke eloquently of Mayock . . . describing her as someone who ‘gets it’ and that she, “understands people and understands this township”.

Others rose to the microphone to extol Heaberg’s virtues, describing him as smart, talented, community-minded . . . the “ultimate selfless person who is seeking public office for all the right reasons”. Sandy Gorman, a fellow FLITE board member and friend, said three words described Heaberg . . . integrity, reliability and thoroughness.

There is a part in a traditional wedding ceremony, when the officiant says, ‘if anyone objects . . . let him speak now or forever hold his peace.” Like those words in a wedding ceremony, chair of the Tredyffrin Democrats, Dariel Jamieson took the microphone to make a case for the all-Republican Board of Supervisors to choose a Democrat candidate to fill the vacated Republican seat. Supporting interim supervisor candidate Eamon Brazunas, Jamieson described the volunteer firefighter as committed to service and to the community; as someone we trust with our lives. In her support of Brazunas, Jamieson explained that Brazunas had run twice before for the Board of Supervisors and represented broad appeal to both parties, having only lost the last election by 71 votes.

Jamieson offered that 45% of the residents of Tredyffrin are registered Republicans and that the other 55% of the township population is not, so perhaps a Democrat should be appointed to add balance to the board. Unfortunately, Chairman Lamina’s partisan response to Jamieson was far from satisfactory; telling her that he could never vote for someone unless they were a Republican.

Elected to serve all the people . . . Republicans, Democrats, Independents . . . I found Lamina’s remark, particularly as chair of the Board of Supervisors, to be both inappropriate and offensive. This kind of remark has the potential to continue to push the political wedge between members of this community. And for what purpose . . . for what political gain? Tonight Lamina formally announced that he would not be seeking re-election; so why not try, in the last remaining 10 months of your term, to bring people together rather than continuing to separate and divide.

The five members of the Board of Supervisors (Paul Olson was on vacation) took a vote on the interim supervisor appointment. As some expected, DiBuonaventuro supported Mayock and the other four voted in favor of Heaberg. Mike Heaberg was elected 4-1 to fill the interim supervisor position and will be sworn in at the next Board of Supervisors meeting.

The supervisor appointment is over; but are the hard feelings between the Republican Committee people still there? Will the two opposing factions come together to support and work with the newly appointed Mike Heaberg? Can the badly split Republican Committee manage reconciliation for the sake of the ‘party’? On the other hand, if the fences cannot be mended, does this now create a permanent party divide?

Looking ahead, will Brazunas challenge Heaberg in the Special Election? Will the Republican Committee endorse both Heaberg and Mayock as the two at-large candidates for the May Primary? Will Brazunas enter his third bid for election to the Board of Supervisors?

Summing of the Board of Supervisors meeting . . . as someone who believes in ‘people’ and ‘issues’ and not partisan politics, I found the meeting disturbing. As possibly the lone ‘Independent’ in a room filled with political stakeholders, the talk of Republicans and Democrats was both uncomfortable and unsettling. And I cringe that our elected officials are discussing party politics from the dais. Appoint the right ‘person’ and leave the party politics at the door. And once elected, we want them to set aside their ‘R’ or their ‘D’ and simply govern and serve us all.

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