Control of Tredyffrin Township in the Hands of 4 . . . Residents Will Now Play by Their Rules!

I preface the following post by saying that there are very few times in my life that I have been left speechless but tonight was one of them.  For me, tonight’s Board of Supervisor Meeting represented community injustice of the worse kind.  If there was ever a subject for Community Matters, this is it!

Tonight I attended Tredyffrin Township’s Board of Supervisor Meeting. Over the last few days, there had been scuttlebutt that Supervisor Paul Olson would once again bring up St. Davids Golf Club and the sidewalks. Although the agenda for tonight’s meeting did not include St. Davids Golf Club, my understanding was that Supervisor Olson intended to make a motion to return the $25,000 escrow to the country club. As part of St. Davids contractual land development agreement with the township, the country club was to build sidewalks. Since July 2008, the country club has been in default for failure to build the sidewalks.

If you recall, at the December 1 Board of Supervisor Meeting I questioned the supervisors concerning the $50,000 cash offer from St. Davids Golf Club which appeared in the pages of the BAWG report. This ‘offer’ (of which there was no written evidence) became widely discussed on Community Matters and in the Main Line Suburban and Daily Local newspapers. There was an outcry from many in the community about this ‘offer’ from St. Davids and the message its acceptance would say to contractors and builders doing business in Tredyffrin Township.

Tonight under the category of ‘new’ supervisor matters, Supervisor Olson made a motion which Supervisor Lamina seconded to ‘return the $25,000 escrow money’ to St. Davids Golf Club. Supervisor Lamina started to call for a vote as Supervisor Kichline asked to offer her opinion. Supervisor Lamina cut off Supervisor Kichline and went to the audience for comment.

Bob Whalen, chair of the Planning Commission spoke and explained that the sidewalks were part of the contractual agreement with St. Davids GC for their land development project. Representatives from the country club had returned to the Planning Commission asking for forgiveness on the sidewalks but the Planning Commission fearing that precedent would be set, voted against the club. Mr. Whalen explained that there are at least six other projects in the township with escrow money that has not been returned because of unfinished projects. Allowing escrow money to return to St. Davids GC will now allow the other contractors to be off the hook, for completing those projects. He adamantly opposed the motion. Next I asked the supervisors if St. Davids GC had come to the Township and asked for their $25,000 escrow money to be returned. Although Supervisor Olson said that he had ‘talked to some people at St. Davids’, the other supervisors confirmed that there was nothing written from St. Davids, in other words the country club never asked for the return of their escrow money!

Other audience members spoke passionately that you cannot make a motion on a matter that was not on the agenda . . . that procedurally you must advertise the matter to the public . . . that you cannot just give a country club a ‘gift’ of $80,000 (the estimated cost to build the sidewalks). Several audience members suggested that Supervisor Olson orchestrated the motion to coincide with the fact that many members of the public would be at the TESD meeting and unable to attend the Supervisor meeting. Remember St. Davids Golf Club was not on the agenda so it was believed that very few residents would attend (making it that much easier to push the motion through). It was obvious that Supervisor Olson had notified local St. Davids residents so they came prepared with written statements that agreed with his motion. Rather than full disclosure to the public by advertising the St. Davids sidewalks discussion, Supervisor Olson (+ Kampf, Lamina and Richter) preferred to tell only a select few residents. 

Following resident comments, Supervisor Kichline, an attorney and an ex-member of the Zoning Board spoke passionately about procedural law and the inappropriateness of the proposed motion, stating further discussion was needed with the township solicitor. Supervisor DiBuonaventuro likewise argued against the motion, suggesting for many reasons why the Board of Supervisors should not pass the motion. Township Manager Gleason added, when asked, that the passing of this motion would set precedent for all future township projects.

Hearing the comments from the residents and objections from Supervisors Kichline and DiBuonaventuro, Supervisor Lamina called for a vote – Supervisors Donohue, DiBuonaventuro, Kichline voted against the motion, and Supervisors Olson, Lamina, Kampf and Richter voted for the motion. The motion carried 4-3 in favor.

Tonight was a rude awakening for me . . . I learned that in Tredyffrin Township it is OK for 4 individuals (Olson, Lamina, Kampf and Richter) to make up the rules as they go along. At one point, when Supervisor Kichline offered that in Tredyffrin Township, the Planning Commission actually had the ‘last say’ on the land development process rather than the Board of Supervisors – Supervisor Lamina declared that he thinks that the Board of Supervisors will take back their control. I discovered tonight that the government procedures do not apply if you are Supervisors Olson, Lamina, Kampf and Richter.

This is a sad reality . . . but if you are the ‘Block of 4’ (Olson, Lamina, Kampf, Richter), you rule the township. Your other fellow supervisors do not matter, the public does not matter, the Planning Commissioners do not matter, the township solicitor does not matter, and the township manager does not matter. These 4 will get to make the rules (or break the rules) as they see fit.

What does tonight’s actions say for the future of our township? What does it say for the residents or all the many volunteers who serve on our township boards and committees? If tonight is any evidence, transparency of our local government, full disclosure of information, public communication . . . all gone.

The Clock is Ticking Down . . . Where Will you be Tonight?

The clock is ticking down to the final Board of Supervisor Meeting of 2009. Tonight’s meeting, 7:30 PM in Keene Hall, Township Building, will contain the approval of the 2010 township budget.  Remembering the last 2 meetings, I expect that tonight’s meeting will again be electrifying, dramatic, emotional . . . and any other adjectives you care to add.  I suggest that you either plan on attending or watch from home.  Remember folks, this is our township and our money that we are talking about!

How will each of the 7 supervisors decide to vote on next-years budget? I recall the draft budget was approved 4-2 (Bob Lamina was absent) Will the fire company’s see their budget contribution reinstated?  I just checked and the ePetition to reinstate the firefighters contribution is at 513 signatures.  There’s still time to  join these residents and show your support for the firefighters, click here to sign the petition. 

Do you think that the appeals from the residents and business community will make a difference in how each supervisor will cast his/her vote? What’s that saying about the “will of the people”?  Will that be recognized? How about the reinstatement of the staff longevity pay . . . will that be included in the final budget?  Do you remember the passionate plea from a township staff member at the last Board of Supervisor meeting; she suggested that some of the employees may be receiving as much as a 14% cut if the proposed budget passes.  Can we expect further discussion about St. Davids Golf Club and the $50K offer in the BAWG report?   There was a subcommittee created to discuss the sidewalk issue; will the public receive an update?

Tonight’s meeting will honor 3 supervisors who are retiring – John Shimrak, Mark DiFeliciantonio and my best friend, Judy DiFilippo.  John stepped in to finish out Bill DeHaven’s term and Mark completes his term, serving 4 years.  Tonight is a landmark meeting for Judy; it will mark her 20th (and final) year of serving on the Board of Supervisors – what a remarkable accomplishment of service to this community!  I am sure that you join me in thanking all three for their time and commitment.

In case you missed it, here is the agenda for tonight’s meeting.

Berwyn & Radnor Fire Companies Offer Written Public Statements

Both the Berwyn and Radnor Fire Companies have now written public statements concerning their individual budgets and the 5% budget cut contained in Tredyffrin Township’s proposed 2010 budget. 

In an open letter to the Tredyffrin community, members of the Berwyn Fire Company respond to the proposed 5% budget cut.  The letter also includes required upcoming capital expenditures. Here is an excerpt from their letter, but I encourage you to read it in its entirety and respond accordingly. 

For 2010, Easttown Township has decided to maintain the level of funding (both operating and capital) for the Berwyn and Paoli Fire Companies at the 2009 level. Tredyffrin Township has preliminarily approved a budget that will reduce its township contribution to our operating and capital budgets by 5% compared to 2009 funding levels. While this is a relatively small amount of money in the townships’ total budget, we feel it is a mistake for the township to move down this path-both because every dollar matters to our volunteer company and because we feel it sets a precedent that may be hard to reverse in future years.  

I have just received notice that the Radnor Fire Company has followed suit and their Radnor Fire Company President David Roderick and Chief James Kelly have issued a formal public statement on the proposed 5% reduction in support from Tredyffrin Township. Their letter likewise details the financial difficulties facing their volunteer fire company.  In addition, Radnor Fire Company provides clarification that their organization does not receive capital support from Tredyffrin Township.  Below is an excerpt from their public statement.

We will be already dealing with a 10% cut in support we receive from the Commonwealth and our fund drive numbers look to be down based on 2009 numbers. We are not asking for an increase and we stand together with our fellow Tredyffrin fire companies in Berwyn and Paoli.

Unfortunately, we were unaware that Tredyffrin Township was proposing cuts to our funding only until a few weeks ago. Furthermore, we never had an opportunity to present to the Tredyffrin Township Finance Committee or to the Citizen Budget Advisory Work Group that was established to perform a comprehensive budget review in ‘09.

It is interesting to note that the BAWG committee did not contact the Fire Departments directly before making their recommendations in their recently released report.  I have stated this before, but will re-state — unlike other reductions contained within the proposed 2010 budget, it must be acknowledged that the fire companies are almost entirely volunteer organizations.  Once again, the savings to the taxpayers of Tredyffrin Township is estimated to be $7-12 million annually!  The proposed 5% reduction in contribution to Berwyn, Radnor and Paoli Fire Companies is in addition to the 10% cut from the Commonwealth.  Read their open letters to the community — these organizations are being honest and transparent in appealing to the community for support! 

Board of Supervisor Meeting – Reality Must-See TV!

Sitting in the audience tonight and watching the Board of Supervisor Meeting unfold — was more exciting than watching any reality TV show!  There were so many dynamics going on, it’s hard to know where to start.  Everything was routine and relatively calm until we got to the ‘New Matters’ section of the agenda.  Then what happened was nothing short of amazing, remarkable, combative, antagonistic . . . just about any adjective you want to use!

First off, a remarkable moment occurred when Supervisor Judy DiFilippo decided to do what’s right as I had called for in an earlier blog posting.  In regards to the alleged $50K offer from St. Davids Golf Club which appeared in the BAWG report, I had asked the Board of Supervisors and the Chairman of the BAWG Committee a series of questions at the November 30 meeting.  This offer (in lieu of sidewalk construction) had mysteriously appeared in the newly released BAWG report as a suggested available revenue resource. No one seemed willing to offer any answers to my questions — neither Tom Colman, chair of the BAWG committee or members of the Board of Supervisors.  Tonight, Ms. DiFilippo started at the top of my list and proceeded to answer each question as follows:

  • Where did the $50K St. Davids Golf Club offer come from?  Ms. DiFilippo indicated that Supervisor Paul Olson suggested the $50K offer to the Board of Supervisors as payment from St. Davids Golf Club in lieu of  the construction of the sidewalks.
  • Was this a written offer from St. Davids Golf Club Board of Directors and was it made directly to the BAWG committee?  No written offer, only verbally discussed by Supervisor Olson.
  • Was the Township Solicitor, Township Manager and members of the Board of Supervisors advised of the St. Davids Golf Club offer (prior to BAWG’s publication of its report)? Both the Township Manager and Township Solicitor were aware of the inclusion of the St. Davids Golf Club $50K offer prior to the release of the BAWG report. Prior to its release, both asked that Tom Colman remove it from the report.
  • If this is a written offer, what are the conditions and timeline for its acceptance?  Who has the authority to accept the offer?  No written offer
  • Was this offer and the details discussed with the Planning Commission or Sidewalks, Trail & Paths (STAP) Committee prior to appearing in the BAWG report?  This $50K St. Davids Golf Club offer was not discussed with the Planning Commission or STAP Committee, prior to inclusion in the BAWG report.
  • Are any of the members of the BAWG committee also members of St. Davids Golf Club?  Rob Betts, is both a member of St. Davids Golf Club and also served as a member of the BAWG committee.
  • Are any of the members of the Board of Supervisor also members of St. Davids Golf Club?  Supervisor John Shimrak is a member of St. Davids Golf Club.

Supervisor DiFilippo further explained that the newly formed subcommittee was meeting this week to discuss the St. Davids Golf Club situation as well as other incomplete Planning Commission land development projects.  The meeting will include members of the Planning Commission with Ms. DiFilippo and members of staff to work toward satisfactory completion of all outstanding incomplete projects and also develop a strategy going foward with future land development situations. 

On a personal note, it is not often when you have the opportunity to witness firsthand the extent of an individual’s honesty and integrity.  After 20 years of serving on the Board of Supervisors, it would have been far easier for Ms. DiFilippo to simply keep quiet about what she knew about the situation, leave the questions unanswered and just close the chapter on the St. Davids issue.  But instead of following the example of others, Ms. DiFilippo set herself apart in true leadership style, and did indeed, do what’s right!  And we thank her!

It’s late and I think that the amazing, combative and antagonistic elements of tonight’s Board of Supervisor meeting (and my comments) will need to be tomorrow’s installment.

St. Davids $50K Cash Offer . . . Lots of Questions, But Not So Many Answers!

First off, let me say that I truly appreciate the amount of time extended by the BAWG committee on behalf of the residents of Tredyffrin Township.  As a committed community volunteer, I understand all too well the amount of time and effort, this project demanded of the BAWG committee.

Now on to last night’s Board of Supervisor meeting, the BAWG report and the St. Davids Golf Club’s $50K cash ‘offer’.  The BAWG members were introduced, thanked and given framed commendations for their efforts.  It was my understanding that BAWG Chairman Tom Colman would give a summary of the report; he did not, choosing instead to thank the township staff and other BAWG committee members for their willingness to help in the process.  I expected that Supervisor Chairman Kampf would then ask if his fellow supervisors or audience members had any questions/comments related to the BAWG report.  However, Mr. Kampf did not ask for comments but instead made a motion to accept the BAWG report as a township public document.  Without further discussion, all supervisors voted to accept the BAWG report as a permanent document and proceeded on to the budget discussion. 

As I had stated in an earlier posting, I intended to ask my questions surrounding the $50K St. Davids Golf Club cash offer contained in the BAWG report.  In the official acceptance of the BAWG report as a public document, Mr. Kampf referenced using the report’s recommendations going forward – to me this implied anything contained within the pages of the report could be considered (including the St. Davids ‘offer’) as possible budget revenue sources.

Troubled by the offer from St. Davids Golf Club which appeared in the BAWG report as a suggested revenue resource, I decided to publically ask the following questions:

  • Where did the $50K St. Davids Golf Club offer come from?
  • Was this a written offer from St. Davids Golf Club Board of Directors and was it made directly to the BAWG committee?
  • Was the Township Solicitor, Township Manager and members of the Board of Supervisors advised of the St. Davids Golf Club offer (prior to BAWG’s publication of its report)?
  • If this is a written offer, what are the conditions and timeline for its acceptance?  Who has the authority to accept the offer?
  • Was this offer and the details discussed with the Planning Commission or Sidewalks, Trail & Paths (STAP) Committee prior to appearing in the BAWG report?
  • Are any of the members of the BAWG committee also members of St. Davids Golf Club?
  • Are any of the members of the Board of Supervisor also members of St.  Davids Golf Club?

Just to ask these questions, became a testament to my patience (and for those who know me, I do not claim patience as one of my virtues).  Apparently, Mr. Kampf decided that at first my questions were not budget-related; and therefore could not be asked during the budget discussion.  However, having not been given an option to comment on the BAWG report earlier, and knowing that this report was now a public document that could be used in budget discussion, I felt compelled to keep going — to get the questions out there, and hopefully answered. 

Finally getting the questions asked, I looked to the supervisors for answers to the ‘mystery’ of the St. Davids Golf Club $50K offer — where did it come from, who made the offer, what’s the timeline, etc. etc. I  suggested that acceptance of this offer would be setting precedent for future land development projects (along with usurping the authority of the Planning Commission).  In reponse to the question of the St. Davids offer, they knew nothing of any offer and suggested that Tom Colman come to the microphone and address my questions.  Mr. Colman’s explanation was that he had just ‘heard’ of the offer, didn’t know from where or from whom, but thought it could have been right here in Keene Hall.  He mentioned that the BAWG committee was independent and made decisions on their own, even stating that the Township Solicitor had suggested the removal of the St. Davids offer from the report, but that the BAWG members voted to keep it in. 

Following Mr. Colman’s explanation that there was no $50K offer in writing and complete vagueness of the offer’s origination, I once again stepped forward.  I told the supervisors that I had read every Board of Supervisor and Planning Commission meeting minutes from 2004 onward and that there was absolutely no discussion of any $50K offer from St. Davids Golf Club — was this OK to have a offer in this official public document that had no verification or proof to exist?  My sense was that yes we can accept the BAWG report as public document with a suggested revenue source that is not verifiable and has no basis.

I sat there for a full 20 min. as the budget discussion continued on, trying to understand what had just happened.  There was an easy solution, a right solution — why couldn’t someone make it?  Why not offer the public full disclosure, why not take a stand and do what’s right?  For this taxpayer, the St. Davids Golf Club cash offer of $50K appearing in the BAWG report was wrong.  If this offer existed (albeit no one was willing to publically admit that the offer existed) where was the proof of its existence?  Why wasn’t this so-called offer being seen as a way to allow St. Davids Golf Club off the hook for building the sidewalk?  Sure, St. Davids would come out ahead — the cost of the sidewalk is more likely $75-100K, not $50K.  What about the authority of the Planning Commission – the sidewalk was part of the acceptance of the St. Davids Golf Club land development agreement?  Doesn’t anyone see the potential future problems with setting this kind of precedent?  

At the end of the evening, other members of the audience took the stand to make similar remarks about the St. Davids’ offer.  There certainly seemed a need from people to understand what they had just witnessed.  Under new Board matters, Supervisor DiFilippo made a motion to set up a subcommittee with board members and Planning Commission members to look at the St. Davids offer and how they may be able to deal with future land development situations.  Mr. Kampf offered to be on the subcommittee with Ms. DiFilippo.  The motion passed, 6-0.   This motion confused me further.  If there was no actual $50K offer from St. Davids Golf Club, why was there a need for a subcommittee to look at it? Or did I just misunderstand the the reason for this subcommittee?

I do not question the integrity of the BAWG members or their commitment to this project.  I just believe that if an error or inaccuracy is made, we should try to correct it – I still contend that there is great mystery surrounding the inclusion of St. Davids Golf Club’s $50K cash offer in the BAWG report.  I also believe that the St. Davids offer had no business in this official report and should be removed as a possible revenue source.  Following the Board of Supervisor meeting, Mr. Colman stopped to tell me that one of the BAWG members, Rob Betts was a St. Davids Golf Club member and that he recused him from votes pertaining to St. Davids.

It is fascinating to look at the dynamics of our local government.

Our Fire Companies — No Reinstatement of Their Budget Cut!

Tonight’s Board of Supervisor meeting tested my faith in our local government.  The audience witnessed our supervisors heap accolades on our firefighters, praise their saving of a handicapped, wheel-chair bound resident in Chesterbrook on Thanksgiving Day, and then watched as the firehouse representatives groveled to have their 5% Tredyffrin Township 2010 budget cut reinstituted.  How is it possible that in one meeting, our supervisors can extol the virtues of our volunteer firefighters and their life-risking efforts and at the same time (some of the supervisors) can vote to take away township support?  And yes, the supervisors can vote to leave the annual fireworks in the budget (I think that budget line item was $20K).  I am all about the 4th of July and fireworks, but does this seem an equitable trade?

Let’s remember tonight’s meeting when some of these individuals take to the campaign trail and speak of their emergency services support. 

As for the BAWG report and the St. Davids Golf Club’s $50K cash offer — I think I better sleep on it before I write how I feel about that part of tonight’s experience.  I have to remind myself that I will take the higher road and not follow the example of other’s bad manners.

Understanding Township Planning Commission Authority

So that everyone is on the same page, here is the description of the township’s Planning Commission and its authority.  It seems fairly clear that the Planning Commission is the last word on land development in the township.

From the Tredyffrin Township website:

“Tredyffrin’s Planning Commission is a volunteer group of nine residents appointed by the Board of Supervisors. Each member is appointed to a four-year term. The Board of Supervisors has authorized the Planning Commission to prepare, update and oversee implementation of the Comprehensive Plan, Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance and Zoning Ordinance and to review land development and subdivision applications. Land development decisions by the Planning Commission are final, while the Board of Supervisors has final approval authority on all subdivision applications.”

Did the BAWG committee consult the Planning Commissioners before including the St. Davids Golf Club’s $50K sidewalk offer in their report?