Berwyn Firefighter Mike Baskin Responds to Fundraising Posting

The following comment just came in from Berwyn firefighter Mike Baskin in regards to fire company fundraising.  Although I posted this comment with the appropriate blog posting, I think Mike’s comments deserve more attention.  Please take the time to review Mike’s thorough examination of this local fire company’s fundraising efforts.  Remember, all this fundraising is in addition to fighting fires!

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I can further add information about Berwyn’s Fund raising. It is important that people know as much information as they can about the fire companies and what they do.
I served as fund raising coordinator at Berwyn for 5 years from 2001 – 2006. It was some of the most frustrating years of my life…I lost far too much hair on my head those years.
Frustrations:
1) Motivating volunteers who already give hundreds of hour to training and running calls to put in time to fund raise. Fund raising is not why they joined.
2) Fund raising is not as easy as it sounds. During my time as coordinator, I probably had 200 conversations with local residents who stated they don’t donate because they pay taxes. When they are advised how little of their taxes go to the fire companies, they feel that it still should not be their responsibility to have to pay more money on their own. It’s a losing battle.
3) I was often told that we need to do a better job of getting our message out there. Every fund raising letter that was sent out (2 times per year per household) had the breakdown of where our funding comes from and the importance of the funding. How many people do you think open this letter? How many people do you think treat it as junk mail and put it right in the trash?
4) Businesses… We have our few reliable, local, mom & pop business that contribute regularly each year (and a few others). But for the most part, the larger businesses are too busy, too difficult to contact the right person without weeks of games, or are often not headquartered in our area. Getting money out of businesses is a full time job. The small shops who struggle to stay in business donate, but the big boys won’t play. We appreciate what we receive by our businesses, as it is such a small number, every dollar counts.
5) I personally spent over a thousand hours over 3 years putting together the revitalization of the Berwyn Fair. We did 2 years, Very Few Came.
The Horse show was too expensive to hold it there, we weren’t welcomed anywhere else. We had trouble finding ride companies to do it based on poor attendance.
6) If people are hurting for money, they won’t donate, and that is simple arithmetic.

As far as statistics: (note: this is Berwyn numbers only)
In 2008
Fire Fund drive (10,000 residents) = approx 25% return
EMS Fund Drive (same 10,000 residents later in the year) = approx 25% return
*overall: approximately 32% of 10,000 residents donated once, therefore some residents donated twice. But that means 68% of residents do not donate at all.
Business Drive (2200 businesses) = 5% return, therefore 95% of business do not donate.

2009 Numbers are slightly lower, probably to the tune of 8-10%, but final numbers are not in and some people wait until the end of December (tax time).

The fire company has anticipated another decrease for 2010.

I stepped down as fund raising chair after 5 years because I grew tired of the frustrations noted above. Fund raising at many non-profit organizations is an employed position. Berwyn Fire Co raises over $200,000 of money on our own. It is the equivilant of a part time job by itself to coordinate that, but it’s being done by volunteers. To do more would be a lot to ask, especially at a time when so many are out of work or on fixed incomes…. the money is harder to ask for and receive.

A bit more about me… (because I feel as though the interpersonal aspects of the volunteer world get lost very easy)
I have been a member of Berwyn Fire Co for 13 years as a Fire Police Officer & EMT. I have logged over 700 hours of formal certification training in my time. I Have served three three-year terms as Captain of the Fire Police (which also holds a Board of Director’s seat). So therefore I have been a Board of Director for 9 years. I was recently re-elected to another 2 year term which begins January 7th. In my younger days, I averaged 300-400 Fire calls per year and another 300-400 ambulance calls per year… In the last 4 or 5 years I have significantly grown a business from scratch that I stated as a young businessman out of college 8 years ago. So these days, I run closer to 200 fire calls and 100 Ambulance calls. In my time at the fire company, I have served my community well with a variety of plaques on my wall, which have minimal amount of value in comparison to the lives I have helped save and protect.

I am not unique. The Berwyn Fire Company has many many members who each have their own list of accomplishments and values they add to the table. We are filled with a variety of people from CEO’s, Chemists, Police Officers, Architects, Mechanics, and the list goes on.

Thanks for your time, and considerations on this matter. Politics aside, if this reaches people so they learn more, it did it’s job today.

Respectfully,
Mike Baskin

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

Paoli Fire Company – Open Letter to Tredyffrin’s Residents

I just received the following open letter to the township from a Board member of the Paoli Fire Company with a request to post.  The letter is well-written and like Berwyn and Radnor fire companies speaks to the real need to reinstate the contribution cut proposed in Tredyffrin’s draft 2010 budget.  Please take the time to read the letter.

December 7, 2009

Dear Tredyffrin Resident,

The Paoli Fire Company supports a Tredyffrin Township budget which does not include the proposed 5% reduction in capital and operating support for the localfire companies serving Tredyffrin Township.

Local fire and emergency services are provided to Tredyffrin and Easttown Townships by the Berwyn, Paoli, and Radnor Fire Companies. The majority ofthe townships’ territory is serviced by the Berwyn and Paoli Fire Companies.

The Paoli Fire Company’s annual operating budget is approximately $1.6 Million. We raise about 80% of that money primarily through our own fundraising efforts and by billing insurance companies for ambulance calls. Approximately $88K or 5.5% of our annual operating budget is paid for by contributions from Tredyffrin Township. For the past two years, we have received a capital contribution from Tredyffrin totaling $33K per year. Our fire engines, support vehicles, and rescue equipment cost approximately $3 million, and we follow a disciplined long range capital plan to replace them as they reach the end of their useful life. We pay for the replacement of those vehicles from our own savings, state funds, state loans, and whatever capital funds are provided by the townships.

For 2010, Eastlown Township 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 Township’s total budget, it is significant to us and we feel it is a mistake for the township to move down this path because every dollar is vital to our volunteer company and it sets a precedent that may be hard to reverse in future years.

The number of fire and emergency services apparatus housed at the Paoli and Berwyn fire departments has been deemed “adequate” to handle fire services in Tredyffrin and Eastlown by an independent consultant and the Insurance Services Organization (ISO). Any change in this status would change the township’s ISO rating and possibly the insurance rates throughout the township.

The term ‘share the pain’ has been used when explaining the cuts in Tredyffrin. While we understand and acknowledge this sentiment, the Board of Supervisors and community must realize that the level of township support we receive is quite low when compared with our total financial needs. We believe that more needs to be done to support the volunteer and paid professionals who are accountable to the community everyday. In 2008, we responded over 1,600 times in performing the mission we were founded to fulfill in 1909.

Two other sources of funding have been reduced this year as well. The funding we receive from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for our Relief Association dropped 10% from 2009. These funds are restricted to safety and training related items and have a very limited use to the general operation of the fire company. At the same time, our fund drive numbers (voluntary contributions from citizens and businesses we serve) are lower in 2009 than 2008. We expect that they will also be lower in 2010 than in 2009. Along with the reduction in reimbursement for ambulance service the pressure to operate with a budget that is declining in revenue and increasing in cost continues to grow.

We ask that Tredyffrin maintain our 2010 funding at the 2009 level. We provide a monthly financial activity report to Tredyffrin Township to improve our transparency and to put a cost on the service we provide to the citizens.

Regardless of the final decision of the Board, our organization is committed to working with our elected officials and community to resolve the longstanding issue of how to fund emergency services with a dedicated funding stream.

We encourage you to reach out to members of the Tredyffrin Board of Supervisors to let them know your view on this critical public safety funding issue. You can email them at bos@tredyffrin.org or attend the Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors meeting on Monday, December 21, 2009 at 7:30 p.m. to voice your concerns directly to the Supervisors.

You can also sign an ePetition in support of the three fire companies that service Tredyffrin. The address is http://tredto.epetitions.net/. We hope you will support us and ask that Fire/EMS funding for the Berwyn Fire Company, Paoli Fire Company, and Radnor Fire Company be reinstated to 2009 levels.

Sincerely,

The Members of the Paoli Fire Company

Fire Company Comments re Fundaising . . . Should Fire Fighters Supplement the Budget Deficiency with Fundraising Efforts?

Comments to my last posting have raised interesting dialogue concerning the township requirement to provide emergency service to the public vs. requirement of the fire houses to further fundraise to increase their coffers.  (Read the comments to the last post).  One commentator suggested that if each household gave $2, the $21K could be raised by the public.  In theory, that would be correct, but as pointed out at the last Board of Supervisor meeting by several (including Bill DeHaven) the public can no be relied upon for contributions.

Read the comments and then weigh in — do you think that our volunteer fire firefighters should increase their fundraising to make up the shortfall with the township budget cut?  Or how about the volunteer fire fighters base their support, on the public’s support?  In other words, they hold back support until the public makes up the financial deficit?

I would be curious if the fire companies could elaborate on their fundraising efforts.  For instance, I know that Paoli Fire Company does an annual contribution drive, does Berwyn and Radnor do likewise? Any details that you could provide would be helpful – however, please understand that I think that your volunteerism efforts as a fire fighter should not require anything further; you provide a service that the township is required to provide to its residents.

Can Social Networking Change the Outcome of the Township Budget?

I have only been out of the country for a little over 24 hours, go to turn on my computer and discover that social networking in the form of an ePetition is now in place in Tredyffrin.  The ePetition has been created to help reverse the tides over the fire company’s 5% cut in contributions contained in the recently approved draft 2010 township budget.  If you support the reinstatement of the fire company contribution, you are asked to sign the online ePetition.  I would encourage you to read the ePetition even if you are unsure about adding your signature.  And if you do support the reinstatement of the 5% cut, you are asked to forward it to your township neighbors and friends.

I am fascinated by the use of social networking in this manner.  Recently, a group of Tredyffrin Easttown School District parents banded together to oppose the elimination of the FLES (Foreign Language Elementary School) program in the 2010-11 budget and created an online ePetition to support their cause.  (I included the link to the FLES ePetition in an earlier posting).  Although the FLES program is on the budget chopping block, do you think the ePetition can make a difference?  I just checked their petition and since November 11, 630+ people have signed the petition to save the FLES program in the school district.  Is that a significant number to make a difference to the School Board directors?  What about the fire company . . . do you think that the ePetition can help reinstate their contribution loss?

It is interesting that the empowerment and transparency characteristics of social computing initiatives may be able to disrupt existing power balances.  The sharing of information by the crowd enables citizens to hold public officials to account. Social computing offers an effective means of mobilizing support, disseminating information and providing advice on specific issues. Online, people seem to come together around specific issues, where they can enhance their knowledge by the wisdom of the crowd, so to speak.  I see this in the comments that people share on my blog, Community Matters and also in the online dialogue of John Petersen’s blog, Tredyffrin Township Political NetworkWho knows the future influence of social networking? 

Signing the ePetition on behalf of the Berwyn, Radnor and Paoli fire fighters shows the mobilization and support of the community and the individual citizens.  It will be exciting see how many of our residents will sign the petition before December 21 Board of Supervisor Meeting, and more exciting to it can evoke change!

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! 

With Police Escort, Paoli Fire Company Delivers Santa!

With lights and sirens blaring, Tredyffrin Township police cruiser escorted a Paoli Fire Company firetruck down Lancaster Avenue, turning in to the Paoli Shopping Center.  Singing Santa Claus is Coming to Town and other Christmas carols with the Noteables, the children watched in fascination as Santa climbed down from the big red fire engine.  The kids were so excited they could hardley contain themselves.  With hot chocolate and gingerbread cookies in hand, the crowd followed Santa in to the Paoli Hardware Center.  Seated on a big red sleigh with 2 elves to help, Santa listened as each child gave Santa their Christmas list. 

Paoli Business & Professional Association president Marie Thibault had the vision for the day . . . and the community thanks her.  Below are some photos from Santa’s arrival:

Onboard Paoli Fire Company fire truck, Tredyffrin Twp Police provides escort for Santa

Santa Arriving at Paoli Hardware Center

Christmas Carols provided by the Noteables

Santa listening to child's Christmas List

Remembering a Day in the Past . . . Berwyn-Paoli-Radnor Fire Company Photo

Three years ago, was a very busy time for me.  It was Tredyffrin 300 preparation; Judy DiFilippo and I co-chaired that very memorable celebration that honored our history’s past.  In addition to the special planned events, there was a historic documentary, (Tredyffrin Township. . . the First 300 Years; Judy and I are talking about the possibility of a future township-wide showing, maybe this summer in Wilson Farm Park) and we also created a calendar to mark Tredyffrin’s milestone, which featured historic places and special people that make our community the wonderful place that it is!  Those calendar photos were later framed and hang in the front lobby of the township building.  For many of you who visit the township building, you probably walk right by those photos and may not even notice.  However, when I look at those photos I remember the day they were taken and all that went in to making each photo unique and special. 

There has been much discussion in the last few weeks about the Fire Companies, the budget cuts and the appeal to restore the proposed budget reductions.  I was taken back to a summer day 3+ years ago, when I arranged to have Berwyn, Paoli and Radnor volunteer fire fighters all gather at the Strafford Train Station.  The Radnor Fire Company graciously agreed to bring their fantastic historic fire truck for the occasion. This day for the volunteer fire companies, like so many of the other groups who gathered for their calendar photos, was a time for community goodwill and fellowship.  Today, I spent some time locating that wonderful photo in my files and thought it was timely and appropriate to include  — many of you purchased the calendar, but there could be some new Fire Company volunteers and community members who do not remember the photo or that never saw it.  See if you recognize any familiar faces. 

Attached is a jpg of the Berwyn-Paoli-Radnor Fire Company photo, feel free to share it.  (Rena Ferris was the Tredyffrin 300 calendar photographer).

Berwyn-Paoli-Radnor Fire Company volunteers at historic Strafford Train Station

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

Fire Companies are Working on Financial Statements

I have received word from the Fire Companies that they are working on individual statements and financials that will be easy for the public to understand.  It’s important to understand the effect that the 5% budget cut (in addition to the 9-10% budget cut from the State) will have on their organizations for 2010.  The next Board of Supervisor Meeting is this Monday, December 7, 7:30 PM at the Township Building.  Let’s see if we can get a better understanding of Berwyn, Paoli and Radnor Fire Company budgets prior to the meeting.  As soon as I receive information or links from the individual Fire Companies I will post it on this site.

Budget Cuts . . . Difficult Decisions, Particularly the Berwyn, Paoli & Radnor Fire Company

I am concerned about how the Board of Supervisors will ultimately make the difficult decisions required for this 2010 budget. I have received numerous phone calls and emails from people all weighing on in what they think is fair; or in some cases, stating what they think is unfair about the proposed budget.  There has been an overwhelming level of support for the reinstatement of the Fire Company’s 5% cut in the township budget.  The specific dollar amount to be cut in the 2010 proposed budget to the individual fire companies is as follows:

Radnor: $1,160
Paoli: $6,077
Berwyn: $14,073

There has been much discussion about the fact that the proposed township budget only cuts the fire company contribution by 5% versus higher percentage budget cuts proposed in other areas, such as library, township staff, police, etc.  It needs to be said that unlike paid personnel, the fire companies are staffed almost exclusively by  volunteers, whether it is the firefighters, local professionals who donate their professional services pro bono, etc.  We need to understand the value of these volunteer services.  The real cost to maintain full-time fire and emergency services in Tredyffrin is estimated to be $7-12 million per year.  Interesting on the Main Line Surburban site, there is an online poll where you are asked whether you think that the fire companies should be tax-supported; 85% of the voters said yes.  The community can’t help but make this an emotional discussion.  We have young men and women putting their lives on the line for this community, and  at what price? Is it possible to look at this subject without emotion (and without using the fireworks remaining in the budget argument, which I am guilty of) and I think we can try.

I would like to make a suggestion to the 3 fire companies which might help the public better understand.  If they can email me a copy of their 2010 budgets with line item expenditures and revenue sources (or direct me to a link) I would be happy to post the information on this site.  If possible, it would be interesting if each fire company could provide a statement as to what this proposed reduction will mean to their specific operations.  In other words, if the 5% cut is not reinstated in the township budget, specifically what changes will be required of each fire company.  We believe that the state is cutting their fire company contributions by an additional 9-10%, please include that reduction in your statement for what this means to the overall operation of the Fire Department.  If this information is provided to me at pattye@greatvalleyhouse.com , I am willing to post it.  A statement from Radnor, Berwyn and Paoli Fire Companies will help make this a financial argument (rather than an emotional argument) for the reinstatement of the proposed budget cuts.  So, if the fire company representatives are reading this blog, I look forward to hearing from you.  There is another Board of Supervisor Meeting scheduled for Monday, December 7 — let’s get this information out there before then.

In an attempt to be fair, others in the community are equally concerned about the proposed budget cuts for the library – layoff of staff, shortening of hours, decrease of services.  How do you feel about the library situation?  I for one, do not feel that closing Paoli Library for a day during the week but opening it on Sundays afternoon does anything to improve the situation.  The Paoli Library has never been open on Sundays so doesn’t that create a set-up for possible decrease (rather than increase) of demand with this option?  Why not shorten the hours of operation during the week -maybe delay the opening an hour or closing an hour early?  With either of those scenerios, you save the library 5 hours which is equivalent to what you gain by opening on Sundays.  To me this makes a whole lot more sense.  People are used to the Paoli Library being opened Monday-Saturday and closed on Sundays.  A shortened day is easier to adjust to than closure all day (particularly if the net budget gain is the same).  I’d love to hear from some of the Library Board members about your thoughts on the proposed budget cuts.  Either comment directly here, or if you prefer to write a formal statement, email it to me and I would be happy to post it.  How will the Library make some of these difficult decisions required by the proposed budget cuts? 

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.