Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Ray Hoffman

This Issue is not only Tennis Courts … It’s accountability from elected officials

It is likely that many in our community were not aware of last week’s drama over the planned demolition of the two tennis courts at Valley Forge Elementary School this past Saturday. Through the efforts of many neighborhood members, the courts received a temporary “stay of execution” to allow for further discussion. However, getting the School Board Directors to call off the bulldozers at the ninth hour did not come easily or without a political tug-of-war between the School District and Tredyffrin Township. In the end, the issue wasn’t about a few neighbors crying foul over the proposed demise of their local tennis courts. From my vantage point, this problem has more to do when elected officials and administrators choose to ignore the voices of the community until the situation borders on explosive.

For those that are unaware of what I’m talking about, here’s the brief overview. Tredyffrin Township, on Tredyffrin Easttown School District property, constructed the tennis courts at Valley Forge Elementary School and until 2009, maintained the two courts. In 2009, the Township decided they no longer wanted to maintain the courts and requested that the School District take over maintenance. However, according to TESD business manager, Art McDonnell, the District has never maintained the tennis courts.

The District’s 2008 parking study concluded the need for additional parking spaces at Valley Forge Elementary School — requiring the expansion of the existing lot. I need to point out that the parking lot and its planned expansion is located in the front of the elementary school whereas the tennis courts are in the back of the property. The expansion of the VFES parking would not include the property where the tennis courts are located.

The obvious question to ask … why demolish the tennis courts if the parking lot expansion is not close to the courts. It was the view of the School Board that they could trade the increased impervious coverage and storm water requirements of the new parking area with the removal of the tennis courts. The Board believed that this approach would reduce the parking lot project costs and save taxpayer money. McDonnell claimed that there was an agreement between the District and the Township in this regard.

Shortly before last week’s School Board meeting, Glenhardie neighbors to Valley Forge Elementary School were notified of Saturday’s planned demolition of the tennis courts. Representing her neighbors, township resident Rosemary Kait appealed to the School Board Directors to delay the demolition pending further discussion. Based on the discussion, it appeared that the demolition was required by the township to meet storm water requirement for the parking lot expansion project. Kait left the School Board meeting and went to the Board of Supervisors meeting, seeking resolution.

As the clock ticked down to Saturday’s ‘Demolition Day’, there was a flurry of activity with phone calls and emails from the residents to the School Board and administration as well as the township manager and Board of Supervisors. What quickly developed was a ‘Tale of Two Cities’ – with Art McDonnell claiming that the Township required the demolition of the tennis courts to meet storm water requirements for the expanded parking lot. Township Manager Bill Martin and Township Engineer Steve Burgo countered McDonnell’s claims, stating that the removal of the tennis courts would not reduce the storm water requirements of the additional parking spaces.

In a press release from the Township, Martin takes issue with the way the District is presenting the situation to the public, and states that the District’s “… statement implies the Township requirements ‘force’ you to remove the courts”. Martin suggests, “The District could have easily gone to the ZHB (Zoning Hearing Board) for zoning relief to impervious coverage limit.”

As McDonnell and Martin issued their statements on behalf of the District and Township respectfully, the residents worked behind the scenes – appealing directly to members of the School Board and the Board of Supervisors. Copied on many of the email exchanges, I learned that these tennis courts are regularly used, not just by neighbors but by children in PTO sponsored after-school tennis programs. I also learned that the tennis courts are currently in very good condition; but not because the courts are maintained by either the District or the Township. For several years, at no cost to the Township or District the neighbors have actually maintained the tennis courts.

Believing that there had to be a better solution than demolition, (like a ZHB variance), all the residents were simply asking for delay for further discussion. Although some have suggested that the proposed demolition of the tennis courts is not political, you cannot escape the fact that the president of the School Board Kevin Buraks (D) and chair of the Board of Supervisors Michelle Kichline (R) are completing their first terms and now seek re-election to the School Board and BOS, respectfully. Clearly caught in the midst of this tug-of-war and finger-pointing, the residents planned a 7 AM ‘Save our Tennis Courts” rally.

Supportive of the residents, I planned to attend their early morning rally. Acutely aware that the School District owns the property and therefore has the right to demolish the tennis courts, I believed that further discussion could produce an acceptable alternative to bulldozing. Very late on Friday night, School Board president Kevin Buraks notified the neighbors of the Board’s decision to delay the demolition, pending further discussion. The next monthly TESD meeting is Monday, April 22.

Bottom line … in my opinion, much of the drama over the demolition of the tennis courts and the ninth hour decision to delay could have been avoided. How? Residents deserve better communication and accountability from elected officials. I am troubled by (1) the lack of adequate notification of the District to VFES neighbors of the demolition; (2) misrepresentation or confusion of the related facts (I suggest that you read the conflicting Township press release and the School District’s response) and (3) the overall feeling from residents of unresponsiveness from the School Board and administration.

Normally, I do not comment on Ray Hoffman’s column in Main Line Media News, but I take issue with his characterization of the threatened tennis court demolition. In this week’s column, Hoffman says, “… the recent flak from neighbors over the scheduled demolition of the two tennis courts at Valley Forge Elementary School is Shakespearean at its best, “much ado about nothing,” or an inventive modification of the NIMBY “law” at its worst.”

Mr. Hoffman, I could not disagree more … the proposed tennis court demolition is about much more than about ‘nothing’. It is about accountability and transparency from our elected officials. It is about the public’s trust for fairness from our government. It is about those elected to serve listening to our concerns and working with us for acceptable solutions. Poor accountability erodes our trust.

No Oscars but Locals Receive Awards for their ‘Antithesis of Outstanding Performances’

Last weekend, Los Angeles played host to the glitterati of the film world for Oscar night, the world’s greatest wrap party. The evening was filled with the glamorous fashions, long-winded acceptance speeches and first-time host Seth MacFarlane, his controversial humor making for an interesting choice for Hollywood’s most prestigious awards show.

From the moment that the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences announces its annual award nominations, the campaign season for a little golden man kicks into high gear, with movie studios spending large amounts of money in an attempt to influence Academy voters. For moviegoers, armed with personal award predictions of who will take home Hollywood’s biggest prize, the red-carpet evening always entertains.

Ray Hoffman noted the glitz and glamour of Hollywood’s big night in Main Line Suburban Life today by presenting a few local “performance awards” of his own. In lieu of a golden statuette, Hoffman presented ‘Razzy’ trophies to deserving locals for their “antithesis of outstanding performance”.

Banter’s Razzy winners include –

  1. The Tredyffrin Township BOS for ‘Worst Performance by a Community Board’ for its long-standing stonewalling of the sidewalk issue at St. Davids Golf Club;
  2. The T/E Board of School Directors for ‘Worst Case of Communicating with the Public’ in the matter of hiring of former Tredyffrin Police Chief Andy Chambers as special school safety consultant;
  3. Former Easttown Township Manager Mike Brown for ‘Worst Performance in a Short Subject’, his term of office lasted only 13 months;
  4. Easttown Township BOS for ‘Worst Use of a Worn Excuse for Termination of a Manager’ in the matter of Brown’s firing so that he could “pursue other opportunities”; and
  5. Regency Center for ‘Worst Application of Pedestrian Walkways in a Shopping Center Parking Lot’ at Gateway Shopping Center.

Looking back over the last 12 months, I think Hoffman may have missed some deserving Razzy winners. Here are some personal additions:

  1. Former Tredyffrin Township Manager, Planning Commission and BOS for ‘Worst Zoning Amendment Change for a Specific Developer’ in the matter of a C-1 zoning amendment change so developer Ed Morris can build an assisted living facility on the old Jimmy Duffy’s catering site in Daylesford;
  2. T/E Board of School Directors for ‘Worst Board Participation in Teacher Contract Negotiations’ for not having a seat at the contract negotiation table;
  3. Tredyffrin Township Supervisor John DiBuonaventuro for ‘Worst Attack of a Private Citizen by an Elected Official using Township Resources’ for the matter of using official township letterhead and the township website for a personal tirade against a resident;
  4. Tredyffrin Township BOS for ‘Worst Communication Website Policy’ which permits individual township supervisors to use the public’s township website for personal reasons; and
  5. Tredyffrin Township BOS for ‘Worst Police Department Study Not Used’ in the matter of spending $49K for a boilerplate consulting study and then not following the consultant’s advice and hiring additional police officers.

Community Matters … A Year in Review (Part 2)

It was interesting to read through my Community Matters posts of 2011 and the hundreds of comments but choosing which ones to include in my ‘Year in Review’ was difficult.

Certain topics, including the school district and the primary and general election, were much discussed. For a second year in a row, the sidewalks at St. Davids Golf Club saw much attention on Community Matters. Land development and the struggles between the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors for ‘control’ over future projects will be interesting to watch in 2012.

Absent a crystal ball, my guess is that the T/E School District’s upcoming teacher contract negotiations and the State House 157 race will lead discussions in 2012. I am hopeful that our local economy will move forward in a positive way — maybe the new year will see a tenant for Genuardi’s in Chesterbrook. I have heard that a high-end gym may be in the offering. And Nudy’s will soon be filling the empty Jake’s space in Paoli Village Shoppes.

Below are my picks for the most interesting Community Matters posts of 2011, in chronological order. Here’s wishing you a wonderful 2012 … may we all enjoy good health and happiness in the new year!

1. Should Teachers Be Consulted in School Budget Discussion? January 14, 2011

Do School Board, administration, parents and taxpayers give adequate attention to the opinions of the teachers during budget discussions. As TESD teacher negotiations are to begin shortly, this Community Matters post and its comments are timely to read again.

2. Another Store Closing in Tredyffrin . . . A Suggestion for a Business Task Force February 3, 2011

Eleven months ago, I proposed a “township business task force … a volunteer group of local retired executives, small business owners, and corporate representatives. The group would meet monthly with a mission to spearhead ways to improve existing relationships and provide assistance and a resource for township businesses. This important support group for the business community could provide regular updates and suggestions to the Board of Supervisors.” We know that my suggestion was approved by the BOS, an advisory group set up but . . . nearly a year later, where does it stand? There have been a few stores and restaurants open (Big Lots, Mealey’s, McKenzie’s) but closings and empty stores are everywhere … Genuardi’s, Syms, Jake’s).

3. Looking at Unionville-Chadds Ford School District, is the ‘Handwriting on the Wall’ for T/E? February 22, 2011

A comparative analysis between Unionville-Chadds Ford and T/E School Districts encouraged 62 comments. Both of these school districts are top performing and enjoy similar academic performances. The teacher contract negotiation process in UCF was lengthy and time-consuming – teachers worked for over a year without a contract as both sides battled over the benefit package (specifically health care). Even an independent arbitrator was challenged over the UCF teacher contract process. Is this the handwriting on the wall for T/E?

4. Labor Dispute Between TEEA Teacher Union & T/E School District . . . Claiming Unfair Labor Practices re Online Course Programming March 11, 2011

Another very heated school district debate on Community Matters was the dispute over online E-learning in T/E. The teacher’s union took the stance that the school district was offering courses online to students that could be taught by teachers. They claimed that the work of instruction and assessing students taking online courses is no different from work performed by teachers in the classroom. The school district argued that the E-learning courses fall outside the scope of teacher bargaining.

5. Berwyn Banter . . . Ray Hoffman’s Remarks on Homosexuality Evoke Strong Response from Local Residents April 2, 2011

Ray Hoffman’s Banter column in the Main Line Media news of March 24, 2011 evoked strong response from many residents. In his column, he had referenced his moral outrage over the Catholic Church and priests involved in the child sex scandal. In my opinion, Hoffman stepped ‘over the line’ when he suggested in his column that pedophilia and homosexuality are synonymous; and “the work of evil incarnate and therefore unforgivable”. Although one can describe pedophiles that prey on innocent children as evil and their behavior unforgivable, how could Hoffman impose that same standard in his description of homosexuals? To grow up gay in America, faced with intolerance and persecution can prove an enormous challenge for today’s youth, which made Hoffman’s words all the more painful to read.

6. The Use of Community Matters on Campaign Ad without Permission . . . Illegal or just Disrespectful? May 11, 2011

The use of anonymous comments from Community Matters on political campaign literature without my permission was a very difficult time for me – and in hindsight, I came very close to closing down Community Matters as a result. I had discussions with several attorneys over the matter and quickly arrived at the conclusion that the use of Community Matters by the TTDEMS (without my permission) was not illegal. However, were their actions unethical and disrespectful? These same people had supported me the year before as “one of their own” supervisor candidates – I just could not understand how some of them could disrespect and hurt me in this way. What’s the saying … all’s fair in politics?

7. Unofficial Results from Chester County Indicate Duffy Won by 40 Votes in Tredyffrin’s Special Election . . . Reports of Malfunctioning Voting Machines Add a Twist May 18, 2011

This was one for the history books. Molly Duffy was declared the winner in the special election by 40 votes. Reports of malfunctioning voting machines turned out to be correct. A hand-count of the election ballots a week later found 61 uncounted ballots; as a result Mike Heaberg was named supervisor to fill the vacancy left by Warren Kampf.

8. What’s the meaning of ‘Good Government’? Does it Mean Something Different in Tredyffrin? June 21, 2011

The Board of Supervisors continues delay tactics over the St. Davids Golf Club sidewalk land development project. The supervisors decided that rather than honoring their vote of a few months earlier to leave the land development authority in the hands of the Planning Commission, they presented a new township land development process giving the supervisors more oversight. The issue should not be about sidewalks at St. Davids Golf Club but rather a 6-year old signed land development contract between the club and the township and why it is not enforced.

9. America’s Best High Schools But Where is Conestoga High School? July 23, 2011

It was very surprising to learn that Conestoga High School was missing from Newsweek’s list of best high schools in America. Regardless of whether you give any credence to school rankings, what did it say that every other public high school in the area was on the list but not Conestoga. We learned subsequently that someone in the TESD administration had ‘dropped the ball’ and somehow the paperwork was not returned by the deadline. Although I am still not clear exactly what happened, I am fairly confident that this same mistake will not occur again.

10. Tea Party Agenda by State Rep Warren Kampf; so claims Former State Rep Paul Drucker August 27, 2011

In an op-ed article in Main Line Media News, former State Rep Paul Drucker had some harsh words for some of the choices made by current State Rep Warren Kampf. Drucker accused Kampf of following a ‘tea party agenda’ and pointed out the state’s education cuts, the lack of taxing on Marcellus Shale drilling and the state’s decreased funding of social services. I questioned the timing of the editorial and asked Drucker if he was considering a re-match against Kampf for the 157 district in 2012. At the time I did not receive a definitive answer … wonder if the idea remains a possibility?

11. Light Bulbs . . . Who’s Responsible? Township staff or PECO? October 12, 2011

This was became the starting point for light bulbs in Tredyffrin. I discovered the problem with light bulbs in Chesterbrook has existed for 27 years since the light poles were installed. I did a more ‘scientific’ count and found that there were 37 lights out between Duportail Rd.and Chesterbrook Blvd. I know that the township staff, supervisors and PECO have now held meetings over the matter. I regularly receive emails from residents who report that they are seeing ‘cherry-picker’ trucks with light bulbs being replaced. I am hopeful that supervisor Richter will give a light bulb update at the next BOS meeting – plus here’s hoping for an update on the St. Davids Golf Club sidewalks too.

12. Why Must the Campaign Season be ‘Politics as Usual’ . . . Please, Can it be the Truth? October 26, 2011

One of the most highly commented posts (100+ comments) this was a discussion about the negative ads of election season. Republican and Democratic parties both lowered their bars to slinging mud against each other. The line became so blurred; it was hard to tell the truths from the lies. False and misleading information about school board and supervisor candidates was delivered regularly and had many of us questioning the disappearance of honesty and decency in politics.

13. Election Day 2011 is over . . . Looks like much will remain the same! November 9, 2011

The General Election results showed that all incumbents in the supervisor and school board races won. It should be noted that in the east, it was a very close race between incumbent Paul Olson (R) and Tory Snyder (D). In a nail-biter, Tory lost the race by only 13 votes, returning Olson to the Board of Supervisors for another term. I am not sure but he may have the distinction of having being the longest-serving supervisor. Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors will continue as an all-Republican board. Kristen Mayock’s election to the Board adds a third woman and it has been a while since we had that dynamic. In an upset. Jeremy Blackburn (R) was unseated by Analisa Sondergaard (D) as District Judge. Unlike Judge Blackburn, Sondergaard is an attorney who will now fill the seat as District Judge.

14. Police Chief Andy Chambers Tenders Resignation While on Suspension December 20, 2011

The township has a cloak of mystery and drama as the year ends. We learned of an anonymous letter sent to the township supervisors which contained two allegations against Police Chief Andy Chambers. The first allegation, which the Chief admitted was true, involved him allowing his 16-year old son to drive a township police car. While driving the car, the kid was involved in an accident but Chambers took full responsibility for costs of its repair. The supervisors suspended Chambers for (1) allowing his son to drive the police cruiser and (2) his failure to tell the supervisors. While on suspension, the Chief decided to retire on December 30 after 30 years of service. The second allegation contained in the anonymous letter suggested that Chambers had used township time to work on personal business. There was no mention of this allegation by the supervisors so it is not clear whether or not it was investigated or whether or not the allegation is true. The public was not told the reasons for Police Chief Harkness’ departure from the Police Department, so my guess is there will be no further information on Police Chief Chambers.

Berwyn Banter . . . Ray Hoffman’s Remarks on Homosexuality Evoke Strong Response from Local Residents

In reading the Letters to the Editor in the Main Line Media News, there were several references to Ray Hoffman’s Berwyn Banter column from March 24, 2011, which before writing this post, I had not read.

In the past, Hoffman’s columns have generally focused on local community events such as restaurant opening and closings, funerals, sports and school events, the Fire Company, etc. His remarks can be informational and are often times laced with his opinion on local politics and people. Occasionally, Berwyn Banter has provided personal opinions on other topics, including an obvious disdain for online news sources, including blogs. Unfortunately, on several instances, Hoffman has referenced both me as a political candidate and Community Matters in a very negative, disrespectful manner.

Unlike the dialogue that Community Matters topics often evoke, Hoffman’s Berwyn Banter columns rarely produce any comments. I choose rather than responding directly to his criticisms, to simply ignore his rancor, preferring to believe in the mantra ‘what goes around comes around’. Apparently, for Mr. Hoffman, that concept may have hit home for him; his last Berwyn Banter column which referenced his moral outrage over the Catholic Church priests has received negative response from local residents.

To be clear, I too am outraged over any child who has suffered abuse at the hands of Catholic priests (or any adult). However, for Hoffman to suggest in his column that pedophilia and homosexuality are synonymous; and “the work of evil incarnate and therefore unforgivable”, has taken his opinion, to a very difficult and hard to understand place. One can describe pedophiles who prey on innocent children as evil and their behavior unforgivable but it saddens me greatly to read that Hoffman imposes the same standard in his description of homosexuals. Growing up gay in America and facing religious intolerance and persecution can prove a challenge for many of today’s youth as they struggle to fit in and to ‘belong’. Hoffman’s words are painful to read.

My concern for Hoffman’s apparent intolerance of homosexuality is echoed in one of this week’s letters to the editor from Liz Young of Wayne. She writes . . .

“ . . . The biggest misunderstanding many people have is that pedophilia and homosexuality are one and the same. But to say that all homosexuals are pedophiles, or that all pedophiles are homosexual, is like comparing apples to rat poison. . .

Statements like those of Mr. Hoffman inspire hate crimes. In many parts of the world, including our own country, we have made strides in tolerance and acceptance. Do we really want to go backward to a world where members of disliked minority groups were stereotyped as representing a danger to the majority’s most vulnerable members? For example, Jews in the Middle Ages were accused of murdering Christian babies in ritual sacrifices. Black men in the United States were often lynched after being falsely accused of raping white women. . . “

I note that there is not a Berwyn Banter column in this week’s edition of the newspaper. I emailed Ray Hoffman but have not received a response, perhaps he is on vacation. [update: Ray Hoffman responded to my email, confirming that will he continue to write his column for the paper. He also corrected me that the column changed from ‘Berwyn Banter’ to Main Line Banter’ two years. ] The following is an excerpt from Ray Hoffman’s Berwyn Banter column of March 24, 2011. To read the entire column, click here.

Moral Outrage over Catholic Scandal . . .

Nobody asked me but I think that there needs to be another level of defined sin in the Roman Catholic Church. Mortal and venial sin each has a long litany of offenses identified over the centuries, and one might think that this multitude of imperfections and separation from God covered it all. Not so fast, my friends. A few short years ago, the white-hot spotlight of front-page press illuminated pedophilia among priests throughout the United States. Child abuse by priests was amok, even affecting legions of faithful families along the Main Line. As if this evil plague of child abuse were not enough in itself, the heinous cover-up by the church hierarchy of priests abusing innocent and trusting children was equally disgraceful. The world continues today to be further appalled by and mourns this unthinkable parasitical pestilence on a daily basis. As the incidences of child abuse grow in number and location, the question could well be asked: where and when does this stop?

Last week fellow columnist Henry Briggs joined a clamoring contingent of lamenting and lambasting journalists in the cry: “Enough!” Which brings me to my suggestion that there should be another level of defined sin within the Catholic Church: unforgivable sin. No ifs, ands and buts! Just unforgivable! I know that the basis of many organized religions is that God is a forgiving Creator and Father. But it is difficult for me to believe that my God would not have a hard time forgiving men who have prostrated themselves before him, vowing that they would do his will, and to have those men shatter the sanctity of young and innocent children who have been entrusted to their care and spiritual upbringing. What is even viler is that many of these offending pedophiles are also homosexuals. Pedophilia and homosexual behavior is more than mortal (deadly) sin. It is the work of evil incarnate and therefore unforgivable. . .

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