Paoli Resident Calls for Fair Play and Common Sense From Elected Officials

The following Letter to the Editor appears in this week’s Main Line Suburban Life newspaper.  Written by Paoli resident Eugene Grace, this letter really hits on what some of us have been thinking lately.  Mr. Grace doesn’t write his letter with a particular political view or slant; nor is he suggesting that one political party is better or worse than another.  Mr. Grace’s  message is simple . . . he is asking for fair play and common sense from our elected officials.  An interesting letter — comments?

  To the Editor:

Fair play and common sense are the two traits that voters want from their political leaders.

Fair play means simply following the established rules of the game as well as their related customs and traditions. Locally, fair play does not include Tredyffrin’s use of “New Matter” to keep a significant township matter off the published agenda. Locally fair play would not allow the Lower Merion School District to plant remote-controlled webcams into school-provided computers without some form of notice.

Nationally fair play does not include the U.S. Senate’s use of a tactical tool known as “Reconciliation” to pass major legislation. Under “normal” Senate rules, 60 votes are required to move legislation through that body. Reconciliation was developed as a speedier way to move smaller budgetary or tax issues through the Senate with only a simple majority of 51 votes. The Senate’s use of Reconciliation for health care would be a departure from Senate rules and tradition.

Common sense informs us that Tredyffrin should have collected monies owed under previous commitments without further study and that the Lower Merion School District should have provided notice to students regarding a potential invasion of privacy. Common sense says that the U.S. Senate should not employ Reconciliation regarding health care, which constitutes 16 percent of the U.S. economy. Common sense tells us that leaders should lead.

The fact that “The People” are leading on all these issues tells us that fair play and common sense have been thrown to the wind. Common sense tells us that the “leaders” responsible for these decisions should have a similar fate.

Eugene P. Grace, Paoli

Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors – Some are Political Party Committee Members – is this OK? Radnor Township Says No for their Commissioners

Tredyffrin Township is governed by Home Rule Charter, and you can find a copy on the township website, www.tredyffrin.org.    With a new year, and 3 new supervisors on Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors, I was curious about something.  When someone is a committee person for a political party and is elected to serve their community, I wondered how this subject was handled under Home Rule Charter (or was it even addressed).  From my vantage point, supervisors are elected to serve all the residents, and by remaining a committee person for a particular party, I would think that there is an appearance that a political committee person would ‘lean’ in the direction of their party.  Of the 7 members of Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors, we now have 3 supervisors who are also Tredyffrin Township GOP committee members (Kampf, Kichline, Richter).  I think that Supervisor Kampf is also a PA State GOP committee member – but I’m not 100%.

I checked Tredyffrin Township’s Home Rule Charter and this subject is not addressed.  So I looked to our neighbor, Radnor Township who also uses Home Rule Charter for their local government.  I guess the residents of Radnor Township share my concern with political party committee people serving in elected positions, as they are very clear in their Home Rule Charter. Radnor Commissioners are prohibited from holding an elected or appointed political office.  The information below is cut and pasted directly from Radnor’s Home Rule Charter.  Reviewing Radnor’s regulations on elected officials holding political party office, I was also interested in their ‘Conflict of Interest’ section (also included below).  Reading this,  I am wondering if Radnor Township’s Commissioners would have been permitted (under their ‘Home Rule Charter’) to solicit to businesses on behalf of Radnor Fire Company?  Interesting question, don’t you think?

From Radnor Township’s Home Rule Charter

§ 21.9-904. Prohibitions.

 A. The activities which follow shall be prohibited in the operation of the Township government.

   1. Discrimination. No person shall, in his employment by the Township in any capacity, appointment to any Board, Commission, or Authority, or removal therefrom, be favored or discriminated against because of age, race, national origin, sex, handicap, or political or religious opinions or affiliations in violation of applicable Federal or State laws. No person shall be accorded favored treatment in employment or appointment because of family relationship.

   2. Improper Gifts. No person who seeks appointment on any Township Board, Commission, or Authority, or employment by the Township in any capacity shall, directly or indirectly, give or pay any money, service, or other consideration to any person in connection with such appointment or employment. In addition, no elected or appointed Township official or employee shall receive any money, service or other consideration in connection with such appointment or employment.

   3. Political Party Office. No Township official elected under this Charter, no appointed official, and no full-time Township employee shall hold any elected or appointed political party office.

   4. Improper Political Influence. No elected or appointed Township official and no employee of the Township shall request any Township employee to make a political contribution or engage in political activity.

   5. Other Government Service. No Township official elected or appointed to an elective office under this Charter and no full-time Township employee shall hold any other Township employment or any other elective or appointive Township position. No Township official elected or appointed to an elective office under this Charter and no full-time Township employee shall hold any full-time employment, or any other elective position, with Delaware County or the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. This provision shall not apply to employees of School Districts or of other educational institutions.

 B. Violation of any provision of this Section shall constitute grounds for forfeiture of office, termination of appointment, or dismissal.

§ 21.9-905. Conflict of Interest.

 A. No elected or appointed official of the Township and no Township employee, shall engage in any activity which follows.

   l. Take any action as a result of information acquired as a Township official from which action the Township official or employee or any other person or entity in whose welfare the official is interested, shall realize a gain or advantage. Such action shall not, however, be construed to be prohibited if the gain or advantage were realized generally by a group or class of citizens as the purposeful result of such action.

   2. Solicit or accept, directly or indirectly, any gift, favor, service commission, or other consideration that might reasonably tend to influence that official or employee in the discharge of the duties of office.

   3. Seek to influence, directly or indirectly, the awarding of any contract where such Township official or employee, or other person or entity in whose welfare the official or employee is interested would benefit directly or indirectly, financially or otherwise, from said contract.

 B. Disqualification from Action. Any elected or appointed official and any employee of the Township, having a direct or indirect financial interest with any person or business entity proposing to contract with the Township for the purchase or sale of land, materials, supplies, or services of any kind, or seeking formal action of the Board or any petition application, request, or appeal, whether that interest be as an employee, a party, a partner, or a stockholder, shall disclose fully said interest and except where stock holdings in a public corporation shall be minimal, shall not participate in the discussion or formal action relating thereto. Violation of the provisions of this Section shall render the contract of such actions voidable by the Township.

The ‘Big Give’ in Tredyffrin

In today’s Main Line Suburban newspaper, Malvern resident Kathleen Keohane writes the following Letter to the Editor, titled The ‘Big Give’ in Tredyffrin.  Kathleen’s take on Monday night’s Board of Supervisor Meeting is a poignant reminder to us all on the importance of sufficient funding to our volunteer fire companies.  Here is her letter from the paper:

To the Editor:

After following Tredyffrin’s budget brouhaha for several months, I attended Tredyffrin’s final Board of Supervisors’ meeting on Monday night with a mixture of hope and low expectations. As one of many who came to support full restoration of 2009 funding levels for our volunteer fire companies to the 2010 budget, I doubted there would be enough votes to reverse the cut but I had hope the Christmas spirit would move at least one supervisor to change his mind.

Instead, at the start of the meeting, BOS chair Warren Kampf pre-empted a nasty shout fest by announcing to a standing-room-only crowd that over the last two weeks he and fellow supervisors Paul Olson and Bob Lamina had gotten commitments from local businesses and residents to the tune of $23,200 to close the gap. Mr. Kampf said he thought even more private contributions were likely. He seemed very pleased that no taxpayer dollars were involved.

Short-term, it is good news for the cash-strapped fire companies, but it offers no assurance of future funding. As Supervisor John DiBuonaventuro noted, some of these generous end-of-year donors may be ones who would normally contribute directly to the fire companies and will not do so again during their 2010 fund drives. It is hard to gauge the net effect of this.

Also, the problem of establishing reliable funding streams to allow Paoli, Berwyn and Radnor fire companies to plan for major equipment purchases and other capital expenditures in the future remains. Though fire and EMS services are among the most essential services a township provides, these volunteer companies are left to wonder what lies ahead.

In my view and that of over 500 residents who signed a petition in support of maintaining fire funding at 2009 levels, it is ultimately the responsibility of local government and not private citizens or groups to ensure adequate fire protection. The buck stops with the board.

And we must not take a step backwards! If anything, Tredyffrin supervisors should be looking for ways to increase their support for our volunteer organizations in the future. We need to support them in ways that enhance the fire companies’ ability to recruit more volunteers, whose interests lie in helping the community – not in year-round fund-raising or enduring dismissive treatment from tone-deaf supervisors.

In this era of declining civic engagement, we need to honor our volunteer firefighters/EMTs, who put their lives on the line for us. Not providing a dedicated and predictable level of funding is disrespectful to them and endangers our community’s safety.

The proposed budget cuts to our firefighters sent the wrong message. And while one-time private contributions are much appreciated, they are a seat-of-the-pants response to an ongoing problem.

Kathleen Keohane, Malvern

Just in . . . Paoli Business & Professional Association Supports Reinstatement of Fire Company Budget Cut

I am on the Board of Directors of Paoli Business and Professional Association and I am pleased to report that our organization has approved the following statement of support for the reinstatement of the fire company budget cut. A copy of the statement will be emailed to each member of Tredyffrin Township’s Board of Supervisors.

__________________________________________________

Dear Tredyffrin Township Supervisors,

Our organization supports the Paoli, Berwyn and Radnor Fire Companies and the volunteer firefighters. Our support does not include Tredyffrin Township’s proposed 5% reduction in contributions for local fire and emergency services. We ask that the Board of Supervisors maintain the 2010 fire company funding at the 2009 level.

Sincerely,
Board of Directors
Paoli Business and Professional Association

Board of Supervisor Meeting – Monday, December 21

Here is the agenda for the Board of Supervisor Meeting for Monday, December 21, 7:30 PM.  The final budget will be approved at this last meeting of the year. Will the fire companies see their 5% cut reinstated?  Will the ePetition make a difference in the decision-making process? (Over 460 people have signed it, is your name on the list?)  Will the audience hear any follow-up to the St. Davids Golf Club sidewalk issue . . what is the status on the subcommittee which was formed? 

Based on the last 2 Board of Supervisor meetings, I am forecasting another episode of action packed, reality must-watch TV for Monday night!

Immediately following the Board of Supervisor Meeting, there will be a Public Hearing to:

  • Amend the Pension Ordinance to change the employee contribution
  • Increase the Sewer Utility Rate for the year 2010 to $250/EDU

Let it Snow. . . Let it Snow. . . Let it Snow

There may be a run on milk, eggs and bread today at the grocery stores!  A major storm warning has just been issued for Chester, Montgomery, Delaware, Philadelphia and So. Jersey.  The warning goes in to effect Saturday morning, 1 AM and snow is expected to continue throughout most of Saturday before ending late Saturday night.

It is being suggested that this could our first major snowstorm of the season!  Accumulation will depend on the storm’s track but I just looked at the national weather and it looks like Tredyffrin may be getting 8-10 inches! 

Wonder if this will affect Monday night’s budget decisions — didn’t we loose some Public Works employees in the layoffs?  What was the final decision on the snow removal contract for 2010 — is it in or out?  I remember saying at the candidate debate (as some of the other candidates talked of cutting services) I encouraged no further cuts in emergency personnel and public works.  Actually said that I hoped there wasn’t a blizzard this winter or we could have a problem!  

But maybe since this snow removal will come out of 2009 budget rather than 2010 budget, we will be OK?!  Our volunteer fire fighters and police department may also be called in to service with this weather prediction.

Progressive Budget Decision re Earned Income Tax

At times misunderstood when campaigning, I often suggested that the township needed to explore Earned Income Tax (EIT) as a possible revenue source.  There was (and continues to be) a lot of inaccurate information circulating about Earned Income Tax.  An example of misinformation occurred at the last Board of Supervisor Meeting, when Supervisor Chair Warren Kampf indicated that those individuals who lost their jobs would pay Earned Income Tax (if Tredyffrin were to have an EIT).  I hope that Mr. Kampf did not intentionally try to confuse the public with his words;  the fact is that individuals receiving unemployment benefits would not pay Earned Income Tax; unemployment benefits are not subject to EIT.

I thought it might be useful to list examples of income which are not subject to Earned Income Tax:

  • Retirement Pensions
  • Disability Payments
  • Active Military Pay
  • Unemployment Compensation
  • Insurance Proceeds (non-business)
  • Workmen’s Compensation  
  • Bequests
  • Stock Dividends (non-business)
  • Gifts/Lottery Winnings
  • Social Security
  • Interest (non-business)
  • Military Bonuses

Earned Income Tax is based on gross wages, salaries, commissions and other earned compensation. As stated numerous times, approximately $3 million is being paid to other municipalities by Tredyffrin residents.  If an EIT were in place, this revenue would return to the township.  Dave Brill, Township Finance Director, has offered that the potential township revenue could be as high as $8 million (should Earned Income Tax be instituted). 

Assuming that we get through the township budget discussion on December 21 with the proposed draft budget more or less intact, I still contend that the 2010 budget is nothing more than a Band-Aid solution to a far greater financial problem.  I believe that the township will limp along through 2010 with the budget in place.  However, without financial foresight, this time next year the township will be faced with a far greater problem than the reinstatement of $20K to the Fire Department.  The 3 new supervisors all campaigned (and were elected) on the ‘no new taxes’ mantra and they will probably take office on January 4 with that promise intact.  However,  it doesn’t take my London School of Economics education to believe that their promise will be short-lived.  Financially the township is in a very precarious financial situation and we are going to witness firsthand the result of shortsighted financial planning.

I know that this posting of Earned Income Tax discussion will bring opposing comments, and I actually encourage the dialogue.  Tredyffrin’s 2006 Tax Study Commission and voter referendum overwhelmingly were against imposing an EIT.  Warding off that particular argument, clearly 2010 can not possibly be compared economically to 2006; it is a vastly different financial climate facing this township.  I may have been one of the voters in 2006 who opposed an EIT; believing that the township at that point did not have severe financial needs to warrant that taxation approach.  However, if in 2009 this township’s annual budget of $37 million can not fund $20K to our firefighters, something is dramatically different in this current picture.  Each and every taxpayer needs to take a careful look at the proposed 2010 township budget — I believe the future is going to require more than simply tightening our belts as has been suggested by some of our township leaders, as a response to our economic problems!

I came across an interesting article from December 11 concerning the borough of Yeadon, Delaware County — a community located close to the Philadelphia Airport.  I pulled up the demographics to compare Yeadon with Tredyffrin; as you can see they are vastly different.  The median income of Yeadon is approximately one-half the level of Tredyffrin, with 3 times the number of people living under the poverty level.  The point of the comparison is that Yeadon is making a progressive budget decision for 2010 and instituting an Earned Income Tax!  The borough manager believes the move will diversify the tax base and help the seniors stay in their home (the EIT will reduce their property taxes).  I have no idea what the average education level is in Yeadon, but I’m going to make a broad guess and bet that it is far lower than the average Tredyffrin resident.  Why do you suppose than that Yeadon’s leadership was able to conclude that the severity of the economic situation required an Earned Income Tax?  I am  guessing that paying an additional 1% tax to residents of Yeadon is going to be a lot more difficult than a similar tax would be to Tredyffrin residents.  It’s probably a safe assumption that our average Tredyffrin taxpayer is in a far better financial situation than a Yeadon resident. I salute Yeadon Borough for analyzing their economic climate and making this progressive budget decision.

Below is a demographic comparison of Yeadon vs. Tredyffrin with the article concerning Yeadon’s progressive 2010 budget decision. 

Demographics of Yeadon, Delaware County:  As of the census of 2000, there were 11,762 people, 4,696 households, and 2,967 families residing in the borough. The median income for a household in the borough was $45,550, and the median income for a family was $55,169. The per capita income for the borough was $22,546. About 14.6% of the population were below the poverty line.

Demographics of Tredyffrin Township, Chester County: As of the census of 2000, there were 29,062 people, 12,223 households, and 7,834 families residing in the township. The median income for a household in the township was $90,915 and the median income for a family was $121,809. The per capita income of the township was $47,584.  About 3.7% of the population was below the poverty line.

Yeadon Adopts EIT, Decreases Property Taxes

Published: Friday, December 11, 2009

YEADON — Officials will end the year with two bold financial moves.

Council voted 4-0 Monday to impose a 1 percent earned income tax, expected to channel about $900,000 into borough coffers annually.

While municipalities often adopt EITs to close looming budget shortfalls, Interim Borough Manager Paul Janssen said he recommended it as a means of diversifying the tax base.

“Seniors have to pay property taxes like crazy to be able to stay in their house. If council can shift this to an EIT and add a property tax cut it has huge benefit to seniors.” And “They get a tax source that grows.”

Officials plan to use the new tax to decrease property taxes by 1 mill, lowering the rate from 9.89 to 8.89 mills, about 10 percent. The reduced rate had been advertised and is scheduled for adoption Dec. 17. The EIT will also eliminate need to dip into the borough’s fund balance. Janssen said Yeadon had a balanced budget, but it included $197,000 from reserves.

Said Vice President Jack Byrne, “The EIT will generate more revenue for the borough and we’re going to reduce taxes. We have a lot of seniors here and it’s going to be helpful for them.”

Byrne noted that many residents who work outside the borough already pay the EIT, but to the municipality where they work. Adopting an EIT will allow Yeadon to capture those monies.

As I See It . . . Commentary on Board of Supervisors Meeting & Call to Reinstate the Fire Company Budget Cut from Another Township Resident

Over the last few days there has been much discussion about Supervisor Bob Lamina’s  As I See It: Supervisor’s take on Tredyffrin budget: Fair and balanced recent article in the Main Line Suburban.  There was another equally as powerful article in the paper, written by Malvern resident Kathleen Keohane which offers her opinion on the last Board of Supervisor Meeting and includes support to the fire company’s reinstatement of their budget cut.  For the sake of fairness, I want Ms. Keohane’s As I See It: Not much good, but plenty of bad and ugly at Tredyffrin meeting article to receive the same degree of attention.  As taxpayers and residents of Tredyffrin Township, I think we all need to reflect on our expectations from our local government, our leaders and where this township is heading in 2010.  Post your comments here, on the Main Line Suburban’s website or directly to the township supervisors at bos@tredyfrin.org

As I See It: Not much good, but plenty of bad and ugly at Tredyffrin meeting

In all the years I’ve lived in Tredyffrin, I have never seen such theater as I witnessed during Monday night’s supervisors’ meeting!

First, a long-serving supervisor decided to leave office with her integrity intact by clearing the air on an issue the board had tried to sweep under the rug – the source of $50,000 in potential revenue recommended by the Business Advisory Working Group (BAWG) in their report. A concerned citizen had stood up at the last BOS meeting to ask how such a recommendation could have made it into the report to the township. Chairman Kampf refused to answer. The topic on the agenda was the budget, he said, and since the $50,000 did not appear in next year’s budget, he would not address it.

In refusing to answer Ms. Benson’s straightforward questions, Mr. Kampf looked like a foolish prevaricator. Ms. Benson remained standing and asked again. Then it became theater of the absurd as every township official and BAWG member sat mute. Apparently no one knew anything about this money. Not even members of the BAWG, who ironically had just received plaques for their hard work on behalf of the community.

The stonewalling raised more questions, but as of last week’s board of supervisors’ meeting, it seemed there would be no answers – until supervisor DiFilippo matter-of-factly reported at Monday’s meeting that the $50,000 offer had come from supervisor Paul Olson last year but had never been put in writing. It was a rare moment of truth.

The origin of an offer by St. Davids Golf Club to pay the township $50,000 was made to get out of a contractual agreement signed back in 2004. The offer became public at a special meeting last month when BAWG chair Tom Colman made a presentation of recommended budget cuts and additional revenue sources. When the offer was made, St. Davids was already in breach of its agreement to construct a sidewalk along the north side of its property on Upper Gulph Road. In addition it turns out that supervisor John Shimrak is a board member of St. Davids and BAWG member Rob Betts is also a member of the golf club.

Ms. DiFilippo stated her opinion that 1) if the township were ever to consider the offer, St. Davids should have to pay the equivalent of the actual construction costs, 2) the funds should be held in a separate Sidewalk Fund, and 3) only the planning commission could approve such a decision, having imposed the sidewalk requirement in the first place as part of a building permit. Not surprisingly the Planning Commission had already denied St. Davids’ waiver request in 2008, at which point it was in breach.

While the facts behind this backroom deal settled over the room, recently retired supervisor Bill DeHaven stepped to the microphone to express some strong opinions. He called the entire sidewalk controversy a red herring. And then he proceeded to criticize his former colleagues’ 2010 budget as one of misplaced priorities, with no evidence of planning – a “get-by budget,” he called it.

DeHaven, a retired police officer, made an emotional plea to restore the fire companies’ funding for 2010. “I love this township. I want it to stay as great as it is and move forward. And I’m willing to pay for it.” He urged the imposition of a dedicated fire tax so that residents would know exactly how much they contributed for fire and emergency medical services.

Supervisors Kampf, Lamina and Olson defended the fire cuts as necessary. At that point supervisor John DiBuonaventuro responded that he was truly offended that $21,000 for fireworks remained in the budget while funding for the fire companies had been reduced by an equivalent amount. And that ironically firefighters would be expected to work for free on the Fourth of July. He reminded the board that its first responsibility was to protect the township’s residents.

If all of this wasn’t dramatic enough, a township clerical worker bravely stood up and spoke bluntly to her bosses. She said that she was one of 24 office workers who had formed a union several years ago because they felt it was the only way they would be able to make a decent living. The elimination of their longevity pay in next year’s budget meant 6-14-percent cuts in their salaries. And since seven clerical workers had been laid off in October, those remaining were expected to take up all the slack. Their average salary: $40,000. The woman expressed her feeling that the supervisors’ decision to make steep cuts instead of raising taxes to pay for necessary services was a mistake. You get the level of service you pay for, she said. She urged everyone to study the budget cuts carefully.

As the emotional pleas from board members, former board members and residents wore on, supervisor Bob Lamina announced that he had decided that he could not support fireworks over fire companies. John DiBuonaventuro immediately asked that the fire companies’ funding be reinstated. Anti-climactically, BOS chair Mr. Kampf refused to consider it. And then he launched into an emotional defense of all the budget cuts as necessary given the current economic climate. “We have a choice,” he said, “to go to the taxpayers or look to ourselves. So we decided to tighten our belts.”

The entire meeting lasted about 75 minutes but it seemed an eternity. In the process, a backroom deal revealed. Emotional pleas for and against budget cuts. All peppered with insulting remarks made by supervisors and citizens alike. You must watch a rebroadcast of this meeting. And then weigh in as a citizen. You can contact your supervisors at bos@tredyffrin.org.

As I See It from a Tredyffrin Resident

There has been much discussion concerning Supervisor Bob Lamina’s As I See It article  in this week’s Main Line Suburban newspaper. In my opinion, sitting Supervisors have to be very careful of public criticism of residents, either in public meeting or as this case, in written form in a newspaper.  I support freedom of speech but I stand firm that supervisors were elected to represent all the people, regardless if the citizens opinion is in opposition of their own.  Whether it is reading Supervisor Lamina’s article in the paper or reflecting on the behavior of some of the supervisors towards citizens at the last two Board of Supervisors meetings, we do have to wonder if they want to know what we think?  Do they believe that they should do our thinking?

Most people are aware of the form of censorship defined by the American Library Association as “the removal of material from open access by government authority.” But there are other not so blatant forms of censorship, which can be just as damaging to the free and public exchange of ideas so crucial in a democratic society.

These forms of censorship occur through unofficial government actions usually by individual officials and their supporters. Two of the most common methods of this subtle form of censorship are the demonization of people who dare speak against the status quo, and the marginalization of ideas contrary to those supported by government officials.

These types of censorship are not always easy to spot and are not necessarily the result of any thoughtful process by the official. In fact, they are just as likely to be the result of an emotional unthinking reaction. However, demonization and marginalization constitute a very real form of censorship because they inhibit and discourage citizen participation in our local government.

Attempts at censorship and control of citizens opinions by our elected officials harm us all. Personally, I am glad that we have local citizens who care enough about Tredyffrin to offer comments, ask questions and share their community ideas that can improve our local government (for all the community) not just the politically connected.  Likewise, I want to believe that our elected officials value the opinions of the entire community. We know they did on election day.

My Reflections Evoke Thoughtful Comments from Residents

I was surprised by the commentary on yesterday’s posting.  Thank you to Kate of Malvern, John of Berwyn and Matt of Berwyn for reflecting on our local government and then taking the time to send me your comments. Also, thank you to those of you have called and sent personal me personal emails; much appreciated! Please take the time to read the comments on this topic, along with other comments posted in the last few days.  Many of you are following Community Matters, and I thank you.  I would encourage more of you to put pen to paper and send me your thoughts – for me, it has been very therapeutic.

Always believing in the positive, half-glass full approach to living life, I am going to count on this community (and our elected officials) to take that higher road going forward, starting at the next Board of Supervisor Meeting on December 21.  We can all agree to disagree on the budget and its contents, whether its longevity pay, fire company and library contributions, fireworks, etc.  The point that has been driven home to this community in the last 2 Board of Supervisor Meetings is related to actual behavior.  Decisive, antagonistic behavior is not going to make it easier to get through these tough economic times.  On the other hand, a bit of compassion and understanding of others opinions just might. 

I am heading out to the airport shortly for a few days away.  Much to my husband’s chagrin, I will be taking my laptop but have promised that I will keep my Community Matters updates to a minimum during the next week. 

Let me know your thoughts . . .

Reflecting on Radnor Township and Tredyffrin Township Leaders

Over the last year, I have followed Radnor Township’s governmental problems, including how their former Township Manager Dave Bashore ran the township without any real oversight during his eight years of tenure.  An outside accounting firm’s audit suggests that Mr. Bashore apparently spent over $600K of township money without documentation or approval.  These expenses included an apparent misuse of a township-issued credit card on personal purchases (which were reimbursed by the township).  In addition, Mr. Bashore gave himself and other township employees annual bonuses, without approval from the Board of Commissioners. 

What can we learn from our neighbors misfortune?  As taxpayers, we must trust that our elected officials are acting in our best interest, governing without self-interest, and are mindful that they represent all residents.  In today’s Main Line Suburban Life, editor Tom Murray presented interesting comments about the Radnor Township/Dave Bashore situation.  Tom includes an email exchange from one of his newspaper writers, Sam Strike.  Here is a section of that email: 

I think some of the things that come out of this are the importance of things like community participation, governmental checks and balances, the importance of transparency and providing documents, and truly welcoming the opinions and participation of the people.

In democracy the people are at the top, the representatives work for us and the administration works for us via them. That wasn’t the way things seemed to have been run recently.

Read these paragraphs and then think about our own township and our last two Board of Supervisor Meetings.  Have Tredyffrin’s elected officials been as transparent as they should? Think about St. Davids Golf Club and the alleged $50K offer.  Two meetings ago, I posed questions about St. Davids and no one answered.  I knew (or at least had a fairly good idea) the answers to all those questions before I asked them, but I thought it was important that the public heard the questions and then was able to hear the Supervisor responses.  Only we didn’t hear any answers that night.  Fortunately for all of us, one of the supervisors, Judy DiFilippo, had the courage at this week’s Board meeting to answer those questions and to set the record straight about who had prior knowledge about the offer and which Board members and BAWG members were members of St. Davids Golf Club.  But I have to wonder, if I never asked the questions, would the $50K alleged offer from St. Davids Golf Club just have remained in the BAWG report and never been questioned.  I guess so.

Continuing with the excerpted comment above, do our elected officials “. . . truly welcome the opinions and participation of the people”?  I am still recalling in detail this week’s Board of Supervisor Meeting.  As an audience member, I watched as brave souls took their turn to comment on various topics.  At times, their comments were greeted with antagonism or dismissiveness.  This leads me to wonder, do our elected officials really welcome our participation and involvement in the process?  I think some do and some don’t.  I think that there may be some Supervisors who are OK with commentary from the community, as long as it agrees with them.  

I’d like to make a suggestion to the members of the Board of Supervisors.  Perhaps before the next Board Meeting on December 21, you take the opportunity to reflect that it was the voters who elected you to serve them — that is, elected you to serve all the residents.  Including those who may have differing opinions.  I think that it is perfectly acceptable for our Supervisors to disagree with each other and also to disagree with the residents.  However, I don’t think it is OK to do so with a personal agenda or malice.  

Remembering the words of John Quincy Adams,

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.

Must See TV — Watch a Rebroadcast of December 7 Board of Supervisor Meeting

I have had a number of people ask me about Monday night’s Board of Supervisor Meeting.  I am one of those people who rarely re-reads books or is interested in watching reruns of TV shows.  However, . . . in the case of the Board Meeting, I think I might change my mind.  A couple of days later and people are still talking about it — certainly one to be remembered for a long time.  Although I tried to capture the essence of the evening, I have told friends that they really need to watch it.  I went online and found the rebroadcast schedule.  Assuming that it is correct, below are the days and times for the Supervisor Meeting.  And if you were at the meeting, so much was going on at once, it was hard to take it all in so you might want to re-watch it.  I encourage everyone to see it before the next Board Meeting on Monday, December 21.

T-SPAN (Supervisors’ Meeting)

Air-Times:

  • Sunday, 1:30 PM
  • Monday, 7:30 PM
  • Tuesday, 7:30 AM
  • Tuesday, 1:30 PM
  • Friday, 7:30 PM
  • Saturday, 7:30 AM

Lights, Camera, Action . . . Board of Supervisor Meeting!

Lights . . . Camera . . . Action!  A Hollywood screenwriter could not have scripted last night’s Board of Supervisor meeting any better.  Drama, Comedy, Suspense . . . the night had all the elements for a made-for-TV movie!

During the New Matters section of last night’s agenda, the audience watched as the individual personalities of the supervisors emerged; at times leaving the audience wondering who exactly was in charge.  Joining the cast of characters was ex-supervisor Bill DeHaven who chimed in multiple times from the audience-side of the dais.  Larger-than-life personality, Mr. DeHaven’s passion in his support of the fire companies was evident to all.  He chastised the supervisors for not having a long-range budget plan, suggesting that their current proposed budget was shortsighted and represented a band-aid solution to a far greater problem.  He further suggested that the supervisors go back to the drawing board and figure out how to ‘fix’ the proposed budget before December 21.  One of his recommendations was a ‘fire tax’ that would help fund the fire companies’ expenses.  (Interesting concept, why not explore further?) Mr. DeHaven’s criticisms of the proposed budget incensed Supervisor Bob Lamina, escalating to an angry exchange of words. 

Supervisor John DiBuonaventuro tried to steer the boat to a higher ground, with his continued support to reinstate the township’s 5% budget cut back to the Fire Company budget. An interesting player last night was Supervisor Mark DiFeliciantonio.  I’m not sure if Mr. DiFeliciantonio’s behavior was due to his lame duck status on the Board or his impassioned support of the Fire Company and EMS services.  Unfortunately, from my perspective Mr. DiFeliciantonio overstepped his position, when suggesting to resident Ray Clarke that he was not interested in hearing what he had to say; declaring that he was tired of Mr. Clarke saying the same thing, meeting after meeting.  Shame on this elected supervisor – when you are elected by the people of this township, you are elected to serve, and to listen to them all.   

Although I support open public debate among Board members, last night represented a fine line between respectful discussion and overt, antagonistic personal attacks.  At one point, Supervisor Warren Kampf offered a lengthy personal diatribe supporting his position to accept the proposed 2010 budget, which continues to be offered to the public as a ‘balanced budget’. (Several residents made public comments in support of raising taxes in lieu of reduction of township services).  It was during Mr. Kampf’s closing remarks that Mr. DiFeliciantonio abruptly stood up, walked through the audience and out the door.  Not sure what we were to take from his dramatic exit . . . what kind of message was this elected official looking to send?  Following Mr. Kampf’s remarks, Mr. DeHaven had the last word of the evening, suggesting that Supervisor Kampf was campaigning from the bench.

Last night this taxpayer had some questions answered (the mystery surrounding the alleged $50K offer from St. Davids Golf Club was put to rest by Supervisor Judy DiFilippo, which I addressed in my last posting) but other questions still remain. I am struggling to understand the sewer fund/streetlight issue.  I thought that the sewer fund was a stand alone operation and any additional fees proposed in the budget were to simply cover expenses.  Does the sewer fund actually subsidize the township streetlights? I do not understand the connection. If there is someone who has a better understanding of the sewer fund/streetlight issue, I’m appealing for some clarification. 

Between now and the final Board of Supervisor Meeting of the year, on December 21, if you have thoughts about the proposed budget, post a comment here, write a Letter to the Editor, send emails to the Board of Supervisors and the Township Manager.  I encourage you to get involved; let your voice be heard.  If you have a chance, please look for the rebroadcast of last night’s Board of Supervisor Meeting.  The meeting presented an up close and personal look at our elected officials and shed an interesting light on the inner workings of our local government.

Stay tuned for the next installment – update on the Fire Department later today.

Resident’s Letter Supports Reinstatement of Fire Company’s Proposed Budget Cut

The following letter of support to reinstate the proposed budget cut to the fire companies appeared in this week’s Main Line Suburban newspaper.  Although Kathleen Keohane of Malvern speaks of the proposed $3.5 million reduction in overall township spending, it is the Fire Department that receives her major attention.  Kathleen offers her explanation of what this decrease in township conributions will mean to Berwyn, Radnor and Paoli Fire Departments.

Support volunteer firefighters

To the Editor:

I hope Tredyffrin residents are paying close attention. On Nov. 30 the Board of Supervisors voted 4-2 to pass the 2010 preliminary budget. It features a whopping $3.8-million reduction in spending, almost 15 percent below last year’s operating budget. And it does so in the name of holding the line on property taxes – even as transfer-tax revenues continue to decline.

But in my view this lean budget comes at a significant cost to our community’s safety and vital services, especially in terms of our fire departments. Berwyn and Paoli fire companies are manned mostly by volunteers, and adequate funding has been an ongoing struggle for them. In fact, until 2007, Tredyffrin provided no capital contribution for the replacement of costly equipment. It was all the responsibility of the fire companies themselves.

Next year our local tax dollars will provide less than $300,000 toward the $2-million-plus operating expenses of the Berwyn and Paoli fire companies. Easttown and Willistown’s combined contributions to B.F.D. and P.F.D. will account for about half that amount.

That leaves a huge funding gap to be filled by insurance reimbursements and fund-raising. And it doesn’t even begin to cover the huge capital costs our fire departments incur in order to purchase major pieces of equipment. For example the replacement cost of an ambulance is about $150,000, a fire engine $500,000 and a new ladder truck over $1 million. And Berwyn Fire Company is in need of all of these in the next two years.

These are staggering costs for volunteer fire departments to manage. Yet we expect them to save lives and protect property with this minimal level of taxpayer support. And commit more time for training and spend more time fund-raising than ever before.

Is it any wonder that the number of people willing to volunteer as firefighters has declined greatly in recent years? Have taxpayers really considered the real cost of maintaining a full-time firefighting/EMS staff in Tredyffrin? It has been estimated at $7-12 million – and that’s annually.

So when Tredyffrin makes across-the-board cuts in tough times, our already underfunded fire departments really suffer. They need more support, not less – from the township as well as individuals and businesses that benefit from their services.

Notably both Easttown and Willistown have decided not to reduce their funding for fire and ambulance services in 2010.

So please step up. Get the facts on Tredyffrin’s proposed budget cuts and funding levels for public safety. Call your supervisors and let them know you want to see the fire companies’ funding restored to the 2010 budget. And please get out your checkbook and contribute to the most worthy of organizations – your local fire companies.

Your life may depend on it. Just ask the disabled woman rescued from her burning Chesterbrook home on Thanksgiving afternoon. Tredyffrin police, fire and rescue responded in a matter of minutes and saved her life and her property.

Kathleen E. Keohane, Malvern

Paoli Business Association names Judy DiFilippo as Citizen of the Year; Barbara Tachovsky as Business Person of the Year; and Beautification Award to Paoli Hospital

Each year the Paoli Business & Professional Association (PBPA) names a Citizen of the Year, Business Person of the Year and Business of the Year.  The PBPA named Tredyffrin Township Supervisor Judy DiFilippo as Citizen  of the Year; Paoli Hospital President Barbara Tachovsky as Business Person of the Year; and Beautification Award to Paoli Hospital.  Below is the Letter to the Editor that I wrote which appears in today’s Main Line Suburban newspaper.

__________________________________________________

Celebrating excellence in the community

To the Editor:
Annually the Paoli Business & Professional Association (PBPA) selects a “Business Person of the Year” and “Citizen of the Year” and gives a “Beautification” award. Some years the PBPA Board of Directors labors over its decisions with much discussion. However, this year the choices were immediate and the vote unanimous. The honorees were recently celebrated at our 2009 Annual Banquet held at the Farmhouse at People’s Light & Theatre in Malvern.

Paoli Hospital president Barbara Tachovsky was chosen Business Person of the Year for providing outstanding leadership for the hospital’s mission, values and goals. Barbara is responsible for developing and implementing the master plan at Paoli Hospital, which includes the five-story patient-care tower, the Pavilion. Under Barbara’s leadership, Paoli Hospital has been named to the list of 100 Best Hospitals in the country. We thank Barbara for her vision for what Paoli Hospital “could be” and then the leadership and ability to make it happen.

The decision in the Citizen of the Year category was equally as easy this year. Retiring at the end of this year from the Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors, Supervisor Judy DiFilippo was named the Paoli Business and Professional Association’s selection for Citizen of the Year. Judy is currently serving her fifth four-year term as township supervisor and will retire at the end of 2009, having served 20 years. The best reflection of Judy’s skills lies in her long-term outcomes. With outstanding civic and charitable responsibility, Judy has demonstrated through her leadership a generosity of spirit that embodies the idea that volunteerism and community service must be inclusive for all and can enrich all our lives.

The Paoli Hospital was named our choice for this year’s Beautification Award. The new 259,000-square-foot Pavilion officially opened in July. The Pavilion features 124 private patient rooms, a new Emergency Department, new surgical suites, outside courtyards and a three-story Atrium that connects to the parking garage. From the moment you step inside the doors of the new Pavilion, the interior design creates a calming, peaceful environment through generous use of glass and neutral colors. Over 350 carefully selected pieces of art continue the theme of bringing nature inside and helping create a sense of serenity for visitors and patients alike.

We salute Paoli Hospital for setting a new standard in community hospitals. We salute Barbara and Judy for their vision, leadership and commitment to our community.

Pattye Benson, Board of Directors, Paoli Business & Professional Association