Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Mike Broadhurst

Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors – ‘Team Players’ and TESD Budget Discussions Get Underway

As is often the case, Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors meeting conflicted with the TESD Board meeting last night. I attended the BOS meeting and Ray Clarke attended the TESD meeting and graciously offered his comments from the meeting.

The Board of Supervisors meeting saw the swearing-in of four supervisors — Paul Olson and JD DiBuonaventuro returning for new 4-year terms, Mike Heaberg starting his first full-term and newly elected Kristen Mayock joining them. Although rumored over the past few weeks, it was probably still a surprise to some that Michelle Kichline was named ‘Chair’ and JD as ‘Vice Chair’ of the Board of Supervisors. The board members themselves nominate and vote on these positions and traditionally, these positions go to the longer serving members of the Board of Supervisors. However, in this case, Michelle received the unanimous support of her fellow board members for the chair position after serving only 2 years as a supervisor and neither as a vice chair. Congratulations to her and to JD as Vice Chair.

It was obvious from the moment that Michelle was named chair that there is going to be a distinctly different tone to the Board of Supervisors – starting with gifts for freshmen supervisor Kristen Mayock and for Tom Hogan, Tredyffrin Township’s former solicitor and newly elected Chester County District Attorney.

Michelle made a special point in describing the qualifications and strengths of each of her fellow supervisors and described the Board of Supervisors as members of the ‘team’ and here to serve all the people. This team approach and sense of community could provide a winning combination for moving the township forward in 2012. There have been some missteps by Board members in the past and we know the Board is faced with some unfinished business from 2011, so here’s hoping this upward movement and spirit of cooperation continues.

As I said, Ray Clarke attended the TESD meeting last night and provides us with some interesting notes below. He mentions the Catholic Schoolclosings and the possible effect this could have on T/E school district. I was surprised to learn that T/E has 600 students who attend Catholic Schools. My guess is that the Catholic school closings may not affect many of these students as it is unlikely that schools which typically draw TESD students like Villa Maria, St. Monica’s, Devon Prep, Malvern Prep and Archbishop Carroll would be on the ‘closing school list’. Nevertheless, this is another dynamic to consider in the school district budget discussions.

TESD Notes from Ray Clarke:

A fair turnout (~50?) for the TESD Board meeting on Monday. They voted 7-2 to apply for Exceptions that allow a property tax increase of 1.6% on top of the 1.7% increase allowed by the Act 1 Index. Much lip service paid to the fact that this was not a vote to actually increase taxes by that amount, although we do know how that works. Brake and Mercogliano were the two dissenters, with the former articulating the danger of the incremental policy-making that will just give us over the next ten years the 50% tax increase we had over the last ten. He wants to give taxpayers a break. He was also the only one to give a realistic assessment ofHarrisburg’s view of PSERS: the options are to increase taxes or reduce benefits – and neither is going to get any political traction in the near future.

Let’s think about PSERS for a minute, because no one seems to be being objective here.

The state allows school districts to increase taxes to fund the increase in contribution to PSERS. Next year that tax increase is $0.94 million, the net PSERS expense increase about $1.1 million – pretty much one for one. That tax increase is about 1%. All the other cost increases ($4 to $5 million in 2012/13) are for things other than PSERS, yet all the school board could do was blame Harrisburg. The PSERS increases for the next two years are a little more (about $1.3 million a year), and then fall $0.7 million in 2015/16, then little changed for a decade or so, before tapering off. We can deal with a $4.4 million net increase in PSERS costs with a 5% tax increase over 4 years, and if we use the $15 million of fund balance set aside for that purpose, we can spread out that tax increase over twice the number of years.

No one wants to think objectively and long term likes this, because that would force attention on the issues within the District’s control:

  • Pay salaries and benefits that the taxpayers can afford
  • Get really rigorous with suppliers of all purchased supplies and services
  • Manage the cost of in-house services (like janitorial, maybe maintenance?) to market levels
  • Accelerate the hard look at nice-to-have things like the extra paid in-service days

Much commentary that about the cuts in FTEs, programs and costs in recent years, but none about where all the money saved has actually gone: employee compensation (and not yet PSERS, either).

It’s time to stop passing the buck!

One factor outside the district’s control, and which could have a major impact on costs: which Catholic schools will the closed, and what will that mean for TE enrollment? There are currently about 600 students living in TE that attend Catholic schools. It was stated that there is to be an announcement of the school closings on Friday.

Another observation: new Board member Kris Graham was a consistent pro-teacher advocate, and tried to invoke the hoary old chestnut that the homestead exemption offsets the property tax increase! Not recognizing that the exemption actually makes the property tax even more regressive. Because the exemption is a fixed amount, unchanged for many years now, the lower the assessed value the greater the effect of a given millage increase. The 3.3% tax increase is actually 3.5% for a home assessed at $150,000 that claims the homestead exemption.

And finally: it was notable that Mike Broadhurst showed his hand, advocating for keeping the janitorial out-sourcing option on the table, not “going too far” with tax increases so that “Harrisburg’s hand will be forced again”, questioning many of the projection model assumptions, and drawing attention to the hardly-new-news that the employee benefit cost is $1,040 per year for a family (but not completing the calculation to show that this is merely 1.2% of the median $85,000 teacher salary).

Integrity, Honesty, Decency . . . Have we lost those values in politics?

When I wrote my last post for Community Matters, I had a very specific message. The Tredyffrin Republican school board candidates made a choice and in my opinion, it was the wrong choice. They sent a campaign mailer that contained a lie — stating that the Democratic school board candidates want an EIT and that they have begun the process to implement this new tax. The Democratic school board candidates have not taken a position in favor of an EIT and it was wrong for the Republican candidates to lie and state that they had.

Integrity, honesty, decency . . . have we lost those values in politics? How about doing what’s right?

Through comments on Community Matters and in personal conversations, it may be possible that the Republican school board candidates did not approve or see that mailer before it went out. Do I know that factually? No. Is it possible? I guess so, but I stand firm that ‘as a candidate’, it is your name, your face and ultimately your reputation on the line, so the ‘buck stops with you’. A mailer may come from a political party but if it has your name attached to it, you are responsible for its contents. In other words, as a candidate, you ‘own it’

Two years ago, during the 2009 campaign cycle, similar misinformation about my fellow candidates and me was perpetuated and unfortunately, as a supervisor candidate I was on the receiving end. After that election, people should know that it has taken a lot of effort (and forgiveness) to move past the damage caused by that negative campaigning. Similarly, I have struggled to get past the personal distress caused during the Special Election by the local Democrats over what I believe was an inappropriate use of Community Matters on a candidate mailer.

Based on the firestorm of activity on Community Matters in the last couple of days, it is obvious that I do not fully understand the level of partisan politics held by some in Tredyffrin Township. But I would like to appeal to the local political party leaders, Republican Mike Broadhurst and Democrat Dariel Jamieson to look around at what is happening in this community; the partisan divide in widening. Whether or not your candidates win on November 8, is the price of victory worth it?

TTDEMS Chair Dariel Jamieson Offers Comment on Special Election Ballot Hand-Counting

Dariel Jamieson, chair of the Tredyffrin Township Democratic Committee, provided a comment to Community Matters. Jamieson’s remarks speak directly to the hand count by Chester County Department of Voter Services on Monday of the Special Election ballots. Her remarks provide us with further details of the recounting process and I thought it important to provide them in this post (see below).

In her remarks, Jamieson brings up an interesting point – it certainly would have helped if Voter Services had run the ballots through a voting machine prior to the hand count. I would think that if Voter Services could duplicate the machine malfunction error, there would be a greater probability of correcting the problem! Echoing a question that another CM reader posed, what were the candidates told by Voter Services as the ‘reason’ for the 61 uncounted votes.

[Subsequent to this post, Dariel Jamieson has provided an official press release from the TTDEMS, click here to read. According to Jamieson’s information, over 100 of the 223 precincts in Chester County have not reported voting irregularities. In my opinion, there should be a complete internal examination of systems and procedures at the Department of Voter Services.]

In reading between-the-lines of Jamieson’s remarks, is there a sense that the end of the story may not yet be told?

Comment from Dariel Jamieson, Chair, Tredyffrin Township Democratic Committee

I have been told by our witnesses that there was NOT a machine count of the Tredyffrin votes prior to the full manual recount. We believe Voter Services acted with good intentions, thinking it would be helpful to speed resolution of the special election by going right to a manual count. While this did speed things up, I personally believe that a machine count first might have shed some light on how and why the machines might have been malfunctioning.

Voter Services also told our witnesses that there was no way to know for sure that all the uncounted ballots were Republican, although seeing the outcome of counting them Makes it look like they were. We were told that all the ballots that were accepted into the machines end up in the same compartment, so it could not definitively be said which ones were counted and which were not. If something was wrong with only Republican ballots, why did they not all reject?

A reconciliation of the number of ballots that were counted in the manual count has not yet been reconciled to the number of signatures in the sign in sheets and names in the poll books. Voter Services has said that those kinds of reconciliations will be done after all the precincts in the County have gone through the official count process. If those numbers all match, then one could conclude that the number of physical ballots that were manually counted was the correct number of ballots. If they should not match, one would have to ask where the additional ballots came from.

Speculation that putting the ballots in face up, face down, backward, or with poor tears of the perforation could all be possible, but that seems incompatible with the idea that all the unread ballots were Republican.

And adding 61 ballots to the mix will almost certainly change the totals in the other races, bur probably not enough to change any primary election vote outcomes.

We, too, are waiting for answers.

Hand-Count of Duffy-Heaberg Special Election Ballots in Tredyffrin Finds 61 Uncounted Ballots . . . Changes the Outcome of the Race

A week ago the polls closed, the votes were counted and unofficially Democrat Molly Duffy had won the Special Election against Republican Mike Heaberg by 40 votes. Chester County Department of Voter Services listed unofficially Duffy receiving 2,266 votes and Heaberg with 2,226 votes.

Immediately following the closing of the polls, there was discussion of voting inaccuracies and talk of machine malfunctions. We learned first hand from Steve Shapiro, the Judge of Elections at the W-2 precinct, that there were an additional 5 ballots found in the voting machine that were not counted. There were reports of similar malfunctioning machines at four or five other precincts in the township. As a result, Chester County Voter Services conducted a daylong hand-count yesterday of all 17 voting precincts in Tredyffrin. Duffy and Heaberg attended the recounting by Voter Services, as did their attorneys and representatives from the Tredyffrin Township Democratic and Republican parties.

Late yesterday, after recounting all the ballots by hand, it was determined that 61 ballots were not originally counted, changing the results of the special election. Of the 61 ballots found not counted, nine additional votes went to Duffy and 52 additional votes went to Heaberg. The new unofficial vote total indicates Duffy receiving 2,275 and Heaberg receiving 2,278 . . . a difference of 3 votes, this time in favor of Heaberg. If this total is accurate, it may be the closest supervisor election in the township’s history.

It is my understanding that there was vote count issues found in 12 of the 17 precincts. How is this possible? That strikes me as a very high percentage of malfunctioning machines! However, at this point, it is unclear to me if the problems were attributable only to machine malfunctions or if there were other types of errors. Who could have predicted that a 40-vote difference in favor of one candidate could change with a recount to favor the other candidate by 3 votes? What is the probability of that happening?

Again, there is caution that the new special election vote totals are unofficial until certified. Do we believe that the hand-count is accurate and that this final vote count will stand? Or, will it take 4-5 weeks as previously explained, for the certification process? Assuming the new hand-count number is correct; will the Democrats challenge the election results?

For me, I’m still stuck on how 61 ballots went uncounted . . . and how many times in past elections has this same scenario played out but may have gone unchecked? It really makes one wonder.

Bottom line, until there is official confirmation on the special election results, I guess we just need to stay tuned.

The Cost of a Ballot Challenge in Tredyffrin Township . . . $2,614.60 plus posting a bond fee

The closeness of the election results, coupled with reports of voting machine malfunctions, has led to speculation about a possible vote recount in the Duffy-Heaberg special election. As reported on the Chester County’s Department of Voter Services website, the unofficial election results indicate that Democrat Molly Duffy received 2,266 votes and Republican Mike Heaberg received 2,226 votes.

I have received several notices stating that the Republicans were challenging the election results of the special election and calling for a vote recount so . . . I did some investigating in hopes of better understanding the process. First off, I called the Chester County Department of Voter Services. As of 3:30 PM today, Thursday, there has been no ballot challenge petition received for the special election or any other race in Tredyffrin Township. Further, as was explained to me by a voter service staffer, it would be unlikely that such a petition would be received at this point in the election certification process. Why? Here’s what I learned from a Chester County’s voter service staff member on the certification process.

The voter service ‘computation committee’ will meet for the first time tomorrow (Friday) to begin work on the 2011 Primary Election certification process. This committee will take 2-3 days to sort through all the paperwork from the 226 voting precincts in the county (Tredyffrin Township has 17 voting precincts). After sorting the paperwork, the committee begins with write-ins, absentee votes and reconciliation of ballots from each precinct in the county. To complete the certification process will take the computation committee 4-6 weeks. According to the voter services representative, it would be unlikely that someone would challenge the vote count until the certification process is completed. It would appear that a candidate should wait until the election results are certified and pronounced official. I asked if the reported malfunction voting machines would pose an additional time delay and the response was not likely.

Curious, I asked if there was such a thing as an ‘automatic’ recount of votes if the certification process indicated that a race was very close, say just a few votes separating the candidates. The answer was no; there is no automatic recount; regardless of how close the election results.

Next question, how much does it cost to petition for an election recount? I discovered that Chester County Department of Voter Services does not handle the money side of a ballot challenge and I was referred to the Chester County Prothonotary’s Office. I called the Prothonotary’s Office and spoke to Elizabeth Doan, First Deputy. Deputy Doan explained that the fee schedule for a ballot challenge is $153.80 per precinct. Since the Duffy-Heaberg special election was for an at-large township seat, the petition charge is $153.80 for each of Tredyffrin’s 17 precincts or a total cost of $2,614.60. Additionally, there is a bond fee of $50, which the applicant would need to petition to have returned. It was unclear if the $50 bond fee was per precinct or a one-time fee; Doan suggested that I contact an attorney for clarification.

What did I learn from this exercise? It would not appear to make sense to petition for a ballot challenge until after Chester County Department of Voter Services completes its certification process. The computation committee has to first complete their certifying process before they can do a recount and that would be 4-6 weeks from this point. I was cautioned throughout my conversation with voter service staff that the election result numbers on county website are unofficial until they are certified.

I hope that this clarifies the ballot challenge process and offers a timeline for the election results certification and the cost of a petition process in Chester County.

It’s Official . . . Announcing Candidates for Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors & Tredyffrin-Easttown School Board!

Tuesday, March 8th was the deadline to file petitions for Pennsylvania’s May 17, 2011 primary election.

Special thanks goes to Mike Broadhurst, chair of the Tredyffrin Township Republican Committee and Dariel Jamieson, chair of the Tredyffrin Township Democratic Committee for providing the names of candidates for the Board of Supervisors and the Tredyffrin Easttown School Board. Mike and Dariel have agreed to supply the bios and/or resumes of each of the supervisor and school director candidates which I will provide in a future post on Community Matters.

Note on School Director candidates: To become a school board candidate, you must file a petition signed by at least 10 qualified voters of the school district for the political party with which the petition will be filed. It is my understanding that all school board candidates are cross-filing. To cross-file in a primary election (that is, to run on both political parties), a registered Democrat or Republican must circulate a proper petition for the other party. The petition must contain signatures as previously mentioned. If elected on both party ballots in the May primary, a candidate will appear on both party ballots in the general election in November.

The candidates for the May 17, 2011 primary election are as follows:

The Tredyffrin Township Republican Committee has endorsed the following candidates for the office of Tredyffrin-Easttown School Director:

  • Region 1: James Bruce **
  • Region 1: Tara G. LaFiura
  • Region 2: Kristine Graham
  • Region 2: Elizabeth Mercogliano

The Tredyffrin Township Democratic Committee has endorsed the following candidates for the office of Tredyffrin-Easttown School Director:

  • Region 1: Karen Cruickshank **
  • Region 1: Jerry Henige
  • Region 2: Scott Dorsey
  • Region 2: Jenny Wessels

The Easttown Township Republican Committee has endorsed the following candidate for the office of Tredyffrin-Easttown School Director:

  • Easttown, Region 3: Peter Motel **

The Easttown Township Democratic Committee has endorsed the following candidate for the office of Tredyffrin-Easttown School Director:

  • Easttown, Region 3: No Candidate

For Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors, the Tredyffrin Township Republican Committee has endorsed the following candidates:

  • Supervisor at Large: Michael Heaberg **
  • Supervisor at Large: Kristen Kirk Mayock
  • District 1 East: Paul Olson **
  • District 3 West: John DiBuonaventuro **

For Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors, the Tredyffrin Township Democratic Committee has endorsed the following candidates:

  • Supervisor at Large: Molly Duffy
  • Supervisor at Large: Ernani (Ernie) Falcone
  • District 1 East: Victoria (Tory) Snyder
  • District 3 West: No Candidate

For Tredyffrin Township Auditor, the Tredyffrin Township Republican Committee has endorsed the following candidate:

  • Bryan Humbarger

For Tredyffrin Township Auditor, the Tredyffrin Township Democratic Committee has endorsed the following candidate:

  • No Candidate

For Chester County Magisterial District Judge, District Court 15-4-01, the Tredyffrin Township Republican Committee has endorsed the following candidate:

  • Jeremy Blackburn **

For Chester County Magisterial District Judge, District Court 15-4-01, the Tredyffrin Township Democratic Committee has endorsed the following candidate:

  • Analisa Sondergaard

** Incumbent

Lower Merion, Tredyffrin Townships Struggle With ‘Behind-the-Scenes’ Manipulation . . . Where’s the Transparency?

Mother Nature caused the cancellation of tonight’s interim supervisor interviews. Fortunately the Personnel Committee was able to reschedule the interviews for tomorrow night. Although the interview process will only include 3 supervisors (Kichline, Donahue, Lamina) rather than all six supervisors, I am accepting that it is a step in the right direction. I know each of the candidates, Eamon Brazunas, Mike Heaberg and Kristen Mayock, personally and the residents of Tredyffrin would be fortunate to have any one of them serve as interim supervisor.

Regardless of the candidate ultimately chosen, I do believe that we need to continue to encourage greater transparency from our elected officials. Similarly to Tredyffrin Township, Lower Merion Township is involved in the process of filling vacancies of elected officials. In Lower Merion’s case, two Commissioners have resigned. Residents have questioned the appointment process in Lower Merion; concerned by an orchestrated effort to manipulate the outcome behind the scenes. Many residents feel that the Commissioner replacements are predetermined — some suggest the replacement Commissioner is known before the vacancy is publicly announced! Some in Tredyffrin have suggested that a similar situation may exist.

Audrey Romasco of Bryn Mawr offers her opinion in Main Line Times on Lower Merion’s appointment process . . . and Lower Merion officials who can stay within the law, but manage to disregard transparency and civic participation.

Ms. Romasco’s letter ends with “In 2011, a year of municipal elections, it is time for citizens of Lower Merion to demand a level of transparency that both fulfills the law and fosters civic participation and to consider how well that demand is met when they enter the voting booth.” Many readers of Community Matters would probably agree with Ms. Romasco. If you don’t approve of the way things are done, make your voice heard through your vote. As you read the letter below, replace Lower Merion Township and their Commissioner vacancy with Tredyffrin Township and our interim supervisor vacancy.

Transparency more than letter of the law
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
By Audrey W. Romasco, Bryn Mawr

Over the past four weeks the residents of Lower Merion have learned a very important lesson: it is possible to follow the letter of the law, enacted in the Sunshine Act, and still deprive the citizens of transparency.

I am speaking of the Machiavellian handling of the serial resignations of Commissioners Reed and Taylor. By Bruce Reed’s own account, he had been considering resigning for the past year. Mr. McGuire also stated that Reed approached him “two or three months” before his resignation. Yet Reed waited to publicly disclose his intention until just before the close of business on Dec. 23, the last day before two shortened holiday weeks.

In other words he timed his resignation to deliberately attract the least attention from the public and to minimize the possibility of developing interest from candidates other than Mr. McGuire whom he had chosen to fill the vacancy. This goal was furthered by the very compressed scheduling of the deadline for applications.

The First Class Township statutes in Pennsylvania state that the Board of Commissioners must fill a vacancy within 30 days of the vacancy occurring. In Mr. Reed’s case, the vacancy did not actually occur until the close of business on Jan. 19. The board thus had until Feb. 18 to name a replacement. Instead, hard on the heels of residents returning to non-holiday mode, applications were due by Jan. 6. This week Lower Merion experienced déjà vu. Commissioner Taylor announced that he was resigning as of Feb. 15. Again, though the Board of Commissioners by statute has until March 17 to fill the vacancy, it has instead rushed the process forward, anticipating interviews on Feb. 9, which would require applications to be submitted by Feb. 3, a mere 13 days after Taylor tendered his resignation. Taylor was cannier than Reed. He demurred when asked about his replacement, saying he had talked to several people. However, the foreshortened timetable can only lead one to believe that a predetermined successor has been identified.

All of the above is strictly legal. It even has precedent in Lower Merion politics. It is also bad government.

First, the voters of these two wards had an expectation when they went to the polls three years ago that their elected representatives would complete their terms barring health issues or relocation. Such was not the case with Messrs. Reed and Taylor. Rather than transparently announcing well in advance that they would not seek re-election, they merely decided that they wanted to “reprioritize” their lives: that they didn’t owe their constituents the last 10 months of their “contract” with their ward residents. This sheds an entirely different light on all the votes they cast in the last several months, a context that was completely hidden from the Lower Merion citizens.

Second, by grooming specified replacements well in advance of announcing their resignations, they have denied a level playing field to all applicants. Several commissioners noted that Mr. McGuire was more “up to speed”; small wonder when he had three months to prepare. And while the commissioners had time to privately interview the candidates for Ward 13 (indeed several Democratic commissioners had already committed their vote to Mr. McGuire before the application deadline), few constituents were afforded enough time to meet them, perhaps in a venue such as a civic-association interview.

Third, they have cunningly influenced the elections playing field. They have discouraged what otherwise might be a vigorous primary contest in May by investing one candidate with the advantages of incumbency.

Finally, and by no means least, they have once again done damage to the concept that civic participation is a virtue. Their premature resignations suggest they consider only their own self-interests, an all too common perception of elected officials. The truncated appointment process signals predetermined results. A commissioner purportedly telling a citizen not to waste their breath supporting Stuart Ebby chills all citizen comment.

The National Constitution Center’s 2010 Pennsylvania Civic Health Index shows that only 11.2 percent of Pennsylvanians contacted or visited a public official and only 8.8 percent attended a meeting where political issues were discussed. That ranks Pennsylvania 29th and 38th respectively among the 50 states. As appalling as these numbers are, it can hardly be surprising when some of our elected officials do everything in their power to discourage transparency and citizen participation.

In 2011, a year of municipal elections, it is time for citizens of Lower Merion to demand a level of transparency that both fulfills the law and fosters civic participation and to consider how well that demand is met when they enter the voting booth.

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