Local Restaurants Close . . . New Restaurants Open . . . Let’s support our local business community

The economy continues to take its toll on our local business community; the restaurant business particularly hard-hit.  We know of some closings in the area but it is also exciting to mention restaurant openings.  I say a brave move on the part of these resturantuers.  There are some pockets in the area that have done remarkably well; based on downtown Phoenxville a couple of Saturdays ago, you wouldn’t even know that there was a problem with the economy.  Their restaurants were full and people were waiting on the streets for tables.  However, on our side of the mountain from Malvern to Wayne, some restaurants have not enjoyed that same degree of success and there have been closings.  But there have also been some recent openings. 

Fellini’s Cafe in Paoli closed at the end of the year, under a cloud of Chapter 7.  However, Fellini’s Cafe in Berwyn (my understanding is that the 2 locations were not related) continues to have a great following and is busy most nights.  In fact, Fellini’s in Berwyn is a local favorite of our State House Rep and his wife.

Next to Fellini’s Cafe in Paoli, there has been a makeover of a long-standing shoe store in to Seafood USA.  Construction has been underway for several months.  Curious about its opening schedule, I called their other location (330 W. Lancaster Ave, Wayne).  First I was told they would open by the end of this month; but after hearing I would mention the opening on Community Matters, the owner decided it was probably safer to say opening will be April 2010.  Fair enough, and we look forward to seafood in Paoli.

Rocco’s Steaks opened in Paoli on Lancaster Ave — formerally it was  Tradewinds Coffee (before coffe, the place was Polish Water Ice).  Originally, I think the building may have been an early Dairy Queen.  Anyway, the point is that it is a drive-through cheese steak place that some are comparing to Gino’s and Pat’s in the city.  Not being a connoisseur of cheese steaks, maybe some of you would like to try the place and offer your opinion.

A new authentic Middle Eastern restaurant, Cedars Cafe www.cedarscafepa.com has just opened in Malvern, in the Westgate Plaza (next to Staples) on Lancaster Ave.  My husband and I vacationed in Istanbul last August, so I will be anxious to stop by that restaurant.  Also in Westgate is Jimmy’s BBQ www.jimmysbbq.com  a very authentic barbeque resturant, especially good for take-out for that warm summer night (don’t we wish!) and a great catering menu.  I noticed that Jimmy has now added a blog to his website with recommended beer to drink with his barbeque.

For those of you who want to have one last dinner at Trattoria San Nicola, Berwyn — I called to check on their closing date.  The doors will close on April 17 but the San Nicola in Paoli will remain open.  Sorry to see San Nicola shuttered in Berwyn, I have enjoyed that restaurant.  But walking distance from San Nicola, a new tea shop has opened. The Royal Tea House,http://www.royalteahouse.net/  has recently opened in the turn-of-the-century building that until very recently housed a  coffee shop.   Stop by Royal Tea House for a hot cup of tea and a wonderful pastry . . . but also stop by to shop; they have a great assortment of loose tea and tea accessories.  Royal Tea House is open Tuesday-Saturday, 10 AM – 5 PM  (closed Sunday & Monday).

Looking for a special treat on a March weekend — for the last several years, some of the wineries in Brandywine Valley have featured tastings of the new vintages in barrels, buckets, bottles and more!  ‘Barrels on the Brandywine’ is a Passport Event (visit their website for details and ticket purchase).  These special wine weekends give you the behind the scenes tour; allowing visitors a chance into their wine cellars, see the new wines firsthand and participate in pruning demonstrations, seminors and more. For further information:  http://www.bvwinetrail.com/trail_events.cfm

As a small business owner and a board member of Paoli Business and Professional Association, I understand firsthand the crisis facing our local businesses as they struggle to stay open.  We are reminded as we drive by the empty storefronts on Lancaster Avenue, we are reminded of the many closings that have occurred.  I would encourage everyone to support our local businesses — whether it is the hardware, dry cleaners, hair salon, or restaurant.  By keeping the flow of business in the neighborhood, everyone can play a vital role in regenerating the economic growth of Tredyffrin.  Supporting our local business community of Tredyffrin Township supports everyone!

If you know of a new business in the community, please send me an email with the specifics,   TredyffrinCommunityMatters@gmail.com  To show support, I would like to offer them exposure on Community Matters.

Tredyffrin’s Finance Director position is now available . . . Township in need of Chief Financial Officer

The position of Finance Director is available in the township.  Yes, our current Chief Financial Officer Dave Brill has given notice to the township; it is my understanding that he has taken a similar position but closer to home.  I know Dave personally and he has been a real asset to the township.  Dave understood the larger financial picture in the township and responded with forward-thinking and a vision for the future.  His thoughtful, management style in dealing with township issues and resident concerns will be sorely missed.  I offer Dave best wishes for his future position.  Dave’s departure is a township loss, but now his position is available. 

I thought there might be some local residents that are looking for a new job opportunity in their backyard.  Do you have the skill set to serve as Chief Financial Officer for Tredyffrin?  If interested, I have included the job specifications below.  I have emailed Mimi Gleason for a salary range for the position — if I receive a definitive response,  I will let you know. [Just heard back from Mimi; the salary range is $90-100K] .  This could be an opportunity for someone to live and work in their own community.  Although it may not be possible, I would like to encourage the township manager and supervisors to consider giving ‘bonus points’ to hiring a Tredyffrin resident for the position.  (Of course, I assume that the Tredyffrin resident is equally qualified as the non-resident applicant).  Please forward this post to friends and neighbors who may be qualified for the position and are currently unemployed, or looking to make a job change.

____________________________________________________________________________________

FINANCE DIRECTOR

Chief financial officer of the Township; provides leadership and coordination of Township financial planning and budget management functions.

Minimum qualifications: Bachelor’s degree in accounting, business administration, finance or related field (master’s preferred) and a minimum of ten years in progressively responsible financial management positions. Must be bondable.

Email a cover letter and resume to accounting@tredyffrin.org .

Job Description: Runs the finance department, reports to the Township Manager.

Requires knowledge of:

•government finance, accounting, budgeting, and cost control principles, including generally accepted accounting principles.

•internal control procedures

•record retention and safeguarding requirements regarding journal entries, account reconciliations, and general ledger reports

•federal and state financial regulations

Requires ability to:

•independently perform professional accounting work, including analysis of financial data, financial/accounting reports, statements, trends and projections

•supervise, evaluate and improve accounting operations and recommend and implement financial policies and procedures

•understand and utilize general office and specialized accounting and reporting software

•motivate staff to produce quality materials within tight time frames and simultaneously manage several projects

•participate in and facilitate group meetings

•maintain confidentiality when working with sensitive or personnel-related records

•communicate effectively orally and in writing

•establish and maintain effective relationships with employees, officials and the public

Essential Duties and Responsibilities:

1. Manages and supervises finance staff to achieve goals within available resources; plans and organizes workloads and staff assignments; trains, motivates and evaluates assigned staff; reviews progress and directs changes as needed.

2. Analyzes monthly and year-end reports to confirm revenue and expenses are in accordance with budget; recommends cost control measures or other improvements where appropriate.

3. Develops an annual report of revenues, transfers, and expenses for all funds.

4. Manages cash flow and the investment of idle funds.

5. Prepares financial analyses for union contract negotiations and significant purchase decisions.

6. Works with department heads and staff to develop five-year operating plans.

7. Recommends benchmarks for measuring the financial and operating performance of departments and measures performance against the benchmarks and operating plans.

8. Works with department heads to plan for purchases and resale of vehicles and equipment.

9. Assists in the preparation of the annual budget and in monitoring budget compliance.

10. Serves as staff liaison to the Municipal Authority and Board of Supervisors’ Finance Committee.

11. Coordinates with underwriters, bond counsel and rating agencies relative to issuance of short- and long-term debt.

12. Explains financial policies, procedures, reports and ordinances to Township staff and elected and appointed officials and recommends appropriate modifications.

13. Keeps abreast of new legislation, regulations and amendments that could impact Township accounting or finances and advises on relevant implications and applications.

14. Provides professional advice to elected officials; makes presentations to elected officials, commissions, civic groups and the general public.

15. Other duties, as assigned.

TESD Finance Committee Meeting . . . Notes from Ray Clarke

I was unable to attend the Finance Committee meeting as it was the monthly Board Meeting for DuPortail House, www.duportailhouse.com and as the Board Secretary it would create a problem if I did not attend.

All I can say is that I am really lucky to have my friend Ray Clarke!  Not only does Ray attend school district meetings, he stays up late so that he can provide detailed meeting notes for Community Matters. When Ray sent his notes he cautioned that the information contained a lot of  ‘numbers’ and the subject matter is complicated.   As Ray explains, two topics that received the most attention last night was the insurance and bond options.  I don’t know about you, but I have always found the subject of  bonds, a complicated and often misunderstood issue.  Maybe through dialogue on Community Matters, we can delve in to the subject matter and get a better understanding.

The majority of last night’s Finance Committee was devoted to two presentations by Board advisors: on self-funding the health insurance plan and on bond issuance options.  These were sufficiently persuasive that the Board was comfortable in agreeing to include the assumptions in a preliminary budget to form the basis of discussion at next Monday’s Budget Workshop.  This budget will also include the strategies discussed at the February meeting and the 2.9% Act 1 maximum tax increase.  The cost savings (including #12, see below) total $4 million ($2 million “one time”), the tax increase would raise $2.4 million, leaving a $2.8 million deficit to be funded from fund balance or further expense reductions.  (Note that the cost savings mentioned at the meeting was $3.7 million – maybe not including #12?).

That fully half of the savings are “one time” shows how important it is to consider a longer term perspective, and Committee Chair Mahoney has been consistent in asking for this to be done.  Those one time reductions will come back in 2011/12 and be compounded by the next round of contracted compensation increases.

Below are key features of the financial strategies, which seem to me to be quite complex and with many assumptions and consequences not fully spelled out.  If your eyes glaze over, sorry! – but take heed of the important role of the Facilities Committee – as discussed here on Community Matters and spelled out below!
 
The $300,000 health insurance savings depend on the actual claims experience being less than the premiums proposed by Blue Cross.  The district is relying on estimates provided by the consultants, who stand to get a fee if the plan goes through.  The basis for the estimates was not convincing, and depends entirely on the trajectory of per person claims costs, which increased 23% (excluding large cases now closed) for the latest available 12 months.  Since there seems to be no understanding of why claims increased so much (it’s not single/family mix, for example – just “an increase in claims of $40,000 to $60,000” – why?), how are we to gauge the future costs?  The assumed savings is entirely speculative: could be more, could be less, or negative.  Do we in fact know more about the health of our insured population than Blue Cross?  Maybe we do.  It seems that most other school districts in the region are also considering a move to self insurance.  Smart schools or convincing consultants?

The bond strategies discussed were also interesting and perhaps with ramifications that deserve more discussion.   There is one straightforward opportunity – to refinance one bond issue at a lower rate, which would save $40,000 a year over each of 13 years, or $170,000, $100,000, $100,000 if front-loaded to the next three years.  Secondly, we were told that the market would be very receptive to a new $20 million issue, which could be issued at historically low interest rates.  Even so, those interest costs would total $700,000 a year for the next ten years (this was not emphasized).

So, why issue the bonds?  That brings us back to the Facilities Committee.  We were told that there is a three year capital budget in the Infrastructure Plan of $14 million, essentially to maintain the status quo.  There was mention of another $1.5 million a year of routine capital – bringing the three year total to $18.5 million – almost all the new bond issue.  Doubtless the Facilities Committee has discussed the Plan, but I did not find it on a quick look on the TESD web site.  Perhaps the details of the capital needs and any opportunities to offset them with capital sales could be provided in Friday’s meeting.

(Note that having bond proceeds floating around could help capitalize the risk of self-insuring the medical plan).

Budget strategy #12 lists a saving of $300,000, based apparently on not expensing certain items of capital expenditure.  I don’t understand enough to know if there are any old bond proceeds left to fund this, or if the new issue is required.  Just as interest rates to borrow are low, so interest rates on our fund balances are even lower.  And, there are accounting rules that let you capitalize interest during construction.  How could capital needs be funded without a bond issue?  All in all there seems to me to be an opportunity for a clear exposition to taxpayers of the actual P&L impact of all the maneuverings – a chance for the Administration to show its worth?

So, on to the Facilities Committee and next week’s workshop.  It’s noteworthy that current year expenses will have to be cut by $1.5 million versus budget to balance expected revenues.  I don’t know how that will roll forward into 2010/11 – hopefully the workshop materials will have a detailed line item comparison of 2009/10 actual forecast with the 2010/11 preliminary budget (and with out years, too), including all the strategies discussed so far.  Then it will be time to take a look at all those other strategies #15 – 60 – and other ideas that all stakeholders might bring to the table.

What Does a Sprawling Berwyn Estate, a Hollywood-related Socialite, a Private Girls School and a Planning Commission Have in Common?

March is National Women’s History Month.  There is a story this week in the local news that connects a large sprawling Berwyn estate, a Hollywood related socialite, a private girl’s school and the planning commission of Easttown Township.

Mrs. Alexandra Mellon Grange Hawkins lived on her 106-acre Blackburn Farm in Berwyn until her passing in 2008.  Mrs. Hawkins, graduate of Bryn Mawr College, was the granddaughter of Mr. James Ross Mellon, the second son of Mr. Thomas Mellon (1813-1908) a well respected judge, attorney and entrepreneur, mostly known as the founder of Mellon Bank.  Mrs. Hawkins was also married to Kathryn Hepburn’s cousin and considered to be a bit of a Hollywood insider socialite.

Today, I drove to Sugartown Road to find Blackburn Farm, the home of Alexandra Mellon Grange Hawkins.  For years, Blackburn Farm served as the staging area for Devon Horse Show.  The main house is visible down a long winding driveway and seemed very quiet and lonely against the bleak landscape. I am sure that this wonderful historic property was beautiful and grand but today it just looked silent and empty.  There are stories surrounding Mrs. Hawkins, who died in her 90’s, that her home was discreetly but elegantly furnished and decorated with good but not splashy artworks, and was protected by an elaborate security system. 

Once a year, Mrs. Hawkins celebrated her birthday wearing elaborate ballroom gowns and choosing from a collection of fine platinum, gold, emerald and diamond jewelry.  According to one source, Mrs. Hawkins actually used a Cartier 14K gold check book holder!  She invited friends and representatives from the many charities she supported to celebrate her birthday with a private dinner-dance held under tents on the grounds in the summertime.  A very private person, the house was generally off limits, and few people were ever invited inside.  At her yearly birthday party, Mrs. Hawkins displayed some of her eccentricities including the addition of Hollywood sparkles to her hair that would be custom-matched to her fingernail polish.  A personal requirement, Mrs. Hawkins would not permit  male guests to leave her birthday party until they each shared a dance her . . . very interesting.  (I know Mrs. Hawkins was married twice, but I found no references to either of her husbands or of any children.)

Blackburn Farm was very important to Alexandra Hawkins and she had taken special measures to protect the property.  In fact, sections of the property were protected by both the Brandywine Conservancy and the Open Space Conservancy. Many of Mrs. Hawkins Berwyn neighbors knew of the trust-protected property, so it came as a bit of a surprise when they learned that the Agnes Irwin School had signed an agreement of sale for Blackburn Farm on January 27.  

The private girls’ school in Rosemont has two fields on its campus and needed additional athletic space. This week representatives from Irwins took their case to the Easttown Township Planning Commission.  As it was explained to the standing-room crowd, the agreement is to simply use the land for athletic fields with no intention to move the school or any of its buildings to Berwyn.  There would be two turf fields and two grass fields, as well as a track and two softball fields.  The project will cost millions of dollars and along with the playing field will including a 100-space parking lot, a new 5,000 sq ft. facility to house bathrooms, storage space a snack bar.  Mrs. Hawkins home, barn and garage will remain intact, with no stated usage.

Although the Irwin representative explained that the project will meet all necessary storm water issues and preserve the natural environment of the property, the audience members were not convinced.  Citing traffic, safety, environment issues as well as privacy issues to nearby neighbors, almost all audience members who spoke were opposed to the plan.  The project is in its very early planning stages and the school wants to do everything in its power to make sure that all resident concerns are heard and considered, and that everyone is happy

There were several people in the audience who had known Mrs. Hawkins and suggested that this would not have been what she would have wanted for Blackburn Farm.  Mrs. Hawkins spent much of her later years involved in her charity works and it is thought that she would want the property preserved and not developed.

Because there is easement protection on the property; if the project is to move forward there will need to be a change to the existing ordinance.  The ordinance would need to be amended to allow sports fields to be placed on 50 acres or more in both of the neighboring districts.  The school believes an amendment is required because athletic fields are not currently allowed in these districts and they are asking that part to be changed.

Although anxious to move ahead with the plan, for now Agnes Irwin will have to wait.  The Planning Commission in Easttown is an advisory committee and makes recommendations to the Board of Supervisors.  Because this type of development is not currently permitted it is doubtful that it can be passed, that is until there is a change to the zoning ordinance.  The Planning Commissioners will probably need to take more time to review the plans before making a decision.

With the discussion on the last post about the various houses that have been purchased by the school district, I did start thinking. . . wonder why the school district never considered Alexandra Hawkins estate as a purchase?  I’m guessing that the final sale of the property is based on approval to change the ordinance; otherwise there would be not reason for Irwins to own the property.  Easttown Township has a Historic Commission, I wonder if they have weighed in on the project? Wonder how the same scenerio would play out in Tredyffrin Township?  Wonder what our Planning Commissioners would recommend? 

TESD Budget Process Continues at Finance Committee Meeting on Monday, March 8, 7:30 PM

The TESD 2010-11 budget process will continue with further discussion at the Finance Committee Meeting on Monday, March 8.  Due to the expected turnout, the meeting has been moved to Conestoga High School and will begin at 7:30 PM.  Here is the Agenda for tomorrow’s meeting.  The agenda includes goals for the Finance Committee.

Finance Committee Goals:

1. Review and update the 5 year plan incorporating the new known factors (i.e. new contracts, PSERS, determine level and use of fund balance) impacting the plan.  

2.  Formulate the 2009-2010 budget identifying expense cut opportunities with an eye toward protecting the education program.  

3. Continue to explore opportunities for co-op with other local districts for non-public school transportation.    

4.  Study implications and impact of converting TE school district to a charter school district.    

In attempt to make it easier for the public to understand the process, the TESD Finance Committee has put together background materials for the March 8 Finance Committee Meeting.  The document details the proposed budget strategies and includes lists of those strategies that were reviewed and recommended as well as ideas that were reviewed and rejected.  

The School Board will adopt the 2010-11 Preliminary Budget at the May 10 TESD Meeting and the final adoption of the 2010-11 Budget occurs at the June TESD Meeting.  I’d like to applaud whichever school board member(s) responsible for making these details available online for the public.  The information is well-organized, color-coded and easy to follow.  For planning purposes, the future dates of the Finance Committee are: March 8, April 12, May 3, and June 7.  There is a Budget Workshop scheduled for March 15.    

We understand that the school district is facing a looming deficit in the 2010-11 budget. There are miles to go between now and when the preliminary budget gets approval in May.  I encourage parents, teachers and residents to attend tomorrow’s Finance Committee.  This is an opportunity to voice your support and/or concern about programs that may be headed for the cutting block.  Discussion and exchange of information can be useful to the school board as they may critical decisions for the school district.  There will be discussion on the update of the 5-year plan which includes contracts.  I know that Dr. Waters, the district superintendent, recently renewed his current contract for 5 additional years (at his current salary).  When do the district teacher contracts expire?

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

Mt. Pleasant Town Hall Meeting Update

A few days ago I sent an email to the members of the Board of Supervisors and copied Township Manager Mimi Gleason, Asst. Township Manager Tom Scott and Zoning Officer Emmy Balderssarre in regards to the re-scheduling of the Mt. Pleasant Town Hall Meeting. 

I kindly heard back from Mimi and also Police Chief Andy Chambers.  Officer Larry Meoli has been coordinating the Town Hall Meeting re-schedule date with Donna Shipman, the representative from the Mt. Pleasant community.  I am pleased to report that details are in the works and it looks like March 22 may be the next scheduled date for the meeting.  Hopefully (fingers crossed) the snow is behind us and this much-anticipated Mt. Pleasant Town Hall Meeting can take place. 

Thanks Chief Chambers and Officer Meoli for your follow-up; I know that you share the concerns of the Mt. Pleasant residents.  It’s great to see movement on the Mt. Pleasant front!

Tredyffrin’s Sidewalk Project Gets Underway . . . Work to Start Monday!

The start of Tredyffrin’s sidewalk project around T-E Middle School and Conestoga High School was originally scheduled for last month, but due to the wintry weather was delayed.  But beginning on Monday, March 8 the construction will begin on the sidewalk construction project.  The series of pedestrian sidewalks were made possible by various grant funds, including $2.8 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (federal stimulus funds). To read further about the sidewalk plan, budget, and other specifics, click here.

Marino Corp. of Skippack, Montgomery County will be working on the sidewalk construction for the next 7 months, with completion expected by early October.  Sidewalks will be installed along Old Lancaster Road, Conestoga Road, Howellville Road and Irish Road and will provide safe walking routes for students to and from school The thought is that these sidewalk routes will also link to the local train stations and business areas.

A word of warning to all who travel in these areas . . . motorists can expect delays and possible lane closures on each of these 4 roads while the crews are working, 8 AM – 4 PM, Monday – Friday.  The first step in the sidewalk project will be the removal of trees and the installation of drainage pipes in the sidewalk areas.

In the Philadelphia five-county area, PennDot is investing $257.7 million in federal stimulus funds on 30 transportation projects; including road and bridge improvements, multi-use trails, traffic signal upgrades, etc.  SEPTA received $12.5 million in stimulus money which they will use for improvements/upgrades at their Malvern train station.  Work at Malvern’s station will include 46 additional parking spaces, upgraded more efficient lighting and better storm water management.  The Malvern train station work is expected to be completed by June 2011.

Speaking of sidewalks, according to the township website, the sidewalk subcommittee will be on the March 15th agenda of the Board of Supervisors, and the members will be announced at that time. If you recall the sidewalk subcommittee (members of the Planning Commission; Sidewalks, Trails & Paths Committee; and supervisors) was announced as part of the St. Davids Golf Club motion of February 22.  I am looking forward to the announcement of the members of this new subcommittee at the next supervisors meeting. I think in the best interest of all, it would probably be a good idea that members of St. Davids Golf Club be excluded from membership in this newly designed Sidewalk Subcommittee.  I think the last thing the township needs is accusations of a ‘conflict of interest’.

Open Land Conservancy Holding ‘Vine Day’ Tomorrow . . . Looking for Volunteers

Cabin fever has really taken hold for many of us after a very long wintry season but the weekend forecast is looking great.  Why not take some of that energy outside tomorrow and help out with ‘Vine Day’ at Cool Valley Preserve?  Cool Valley Preserve is located in the western Great Valley portion of the township, off of Swedesford Road in Malvern.

Ray Clarke, frequent commentator on Community Matters and board member of Open Land Conservancy sent me a note to invite readers to come and help tomorrow, Saturday, 9 AM – 12 Noon, Cool Valley Preserve.  You can get some fresh air and help with the preservation of open space in the township.  Cool Valley Preserve is 32.2 acres of meadows, woods, extensive trail system through fields and along Valley Creek. 

Do something good for yourself and something good for the community . . . be an Open Land Conservancy volunteer tomorrow morning!

For further information, directions, what to wear and what tools you might to bring, and contact information, here is the link:

http://www.openlandconservancy.org/Vine_Days_at_the_Preserves.html 

Community Matters . . . Seeking Balance Between Comments and Censorship

It was a bit of a lark that I decided to start Community Matters 3-1/2 months ago. Although I have done some writing over the years, I had never written a blog post or participated in regular blogging. But I had a vision for Community Matters; this would be a place that I could present issues that were important to me or that I thought were important to others in the community. I guess I figured it would be my online ‘watering-hole’ for local information. Although I had occasionally visited other blogs, I did not spend much time analyzing the ‘hows’ or ‘whys’ before venturing in to the world of blogosphere.

There was never any question in my mind that I would include comments on Community Matters. I wanted this to be forum that people would visit often; a place where they might learn something or provide thoughtful commentary themselves. Naively, I did not expect that Community Matters would become so popular . . . yesterday marked the 65,000 visitor. I did a monthly statistic check and found that February had 31,000 visitors. I guess the wintry weather forced many of us to remain indoors.

Making the decision to include comments on Community Matters was an easy decision. When it came to the decision whether to allow ‘anonymous’ comments . . . another easy decision, I wanted people to feel their identity was protected. In my opinion, a blog with comments disabled is more analogous to a newspaper editorial. But even with a newspaper editorial, readers can make public comments by sending a letter to the editor, which may be published in a later edition of the paper. A blog with comments disabled would tie the reader’s hands (and also struck me as elitist). To deny public conversation by disabling comments right out of the gate –based on the presumption that the comments would be negative or of low quality — again, seemed awfully elitist.

In my view, there’s an interesting cultural difference between a blog that allows comments and one that does not. A blog that doesn’t allow comments seems to me to be saying “this is the final word on this topic.” To me it seems there’s something formal about such publications — they distance themselves from readers; they hold themselves up as a paragon rather than engaging “on the level” with users.

As the administrator of Community Matters, I have the ability to edit comments but I made the conscious decision not to edit or to remove a comment (unless there was the use of profanity). What I was not prepared for, nor could I have forecasted, was the vitriol of negative comments. In my opinion, constant snark does not a credible blog make. But I did not want an overly processed, censored forum. The rough edges are what give Community Matters the patina of authenticity. But too much negativity and my blog can seem petty and immature. There is an ongoing desire to find a balance.

When people have criticized my choice of subjects or what people have perceived as my personal bias on topics, it has caused me pause. But I did not delete those negative comments; I did not want to give readers the sense that Community Matters had been wiped clean; especially because I myself resent censorship. I hoped that by leaving the negative comments showed that I respected other people’s perspectives and opinions.

The more difficult problem has been how to handle the negativity expressed between individuals that have posted. I have come to the conclusion that although I have been committed to letting people have their opinions; it does not mean that they should be allowed to run rampant. It’s okay to disagree with what people write, but the key word here is to respond respectfully. I do not want readers to turn away from Community Matters because of flame wars in the comment section. I enjoy passionate debate and discussion on issues; it tells me that people are engaged in our community.  However, comments that are mean-spirited, disrespectful, and off-topic do not generally make a positive contribution to Community Matters.

The question remains . . . are comments worth it?  The more I think about this, the more I keep coming back to my original position: a blog without comments enabled is not a blog.  I’m not sure what it is, exactly, but it definitely isn’t a blog.

_______________________________________________________________________________

As a postscript, I received the following comment from JudgeNJury as I was writing this blog post.  His/her comment speak directly to this topic:

JudgeNJury, on March 5, 2010 at 8:44 AM Said:

“[A]llowing people on your blog who resort to namecalling and ad hominem attacks (see John Petersen’s comments above) will not lead to open and meaningful dialogue.”

This is unfair to Pattye. A sure-fire way for Pattye to kill any chance of an open a meaningful dialogue would be for her to start censoring comments. If readers thought that Pattye might censor their comments because she either disagreed with the content or did not like the way the commenter expressed his or her ideas, they would stop taking the time to submit them and the discussion section of the blog would die.

Starting in July, SEPTA is Taking our ‘R’!

Starting in July . . . SEPTA is taking our ‘R’.   I had heard rumors and come July. . . it becomes a reality. The Paoli R5 is loosing its ‘R’.  SEPTA has made it official, they will no longer use the R-number system for designating the rail service routes.  Rails service routes will just be known by their end destination.

A bit of historical trivia – the R-number was devised by a University of Pennsylvania transportation professor in the early 1980’s in anticipation of the opening of the Center City commuter tunnel. The tunnel connected the former separate regional rail networks of the Pennsylvania and Reading train lines and made it possible to operate the trains from one suburban terminal to another via Center City. There have been changes to the system over the years and now only about one-third of the Regional Rail trains make end-to-end trips through the tunnel, which is a primary SEPTA argument to remove the R-numbering system.

With SEPTA’s replacement of the R-number system to the ‘end destination’ system, where does that leave our R5 – will the train line be known as ‘Paoli’ or Thorndale or ‘Paoli/Thorndale’?   All outbound trains stop at Paoli but all outbound trains that stop at Paoli do not continue on to Thorndale. (Thorndale has a reduced schedule as a final destination).  SEPTA is using the end destination labelling  as the way to designate the train routes which works fine with outbound trains from the city.  That is once SEPTA determines what the end destination is for the R5 . . . will the train be known as ‘Paoli’ or ‘Thorndale’ or ‘Paoli/Thorndale’?   (I already want our ‘R’  back!).

Using SEPTA’s idea of naming the train by its end destination, I then wonder how the inbound trains will be labeled.  Some have suggested that SEPTA should just name the trains according to where they end, regardless whether they are inbound or outbound.  Schedules can include outbound destinations for inbound trains at the top, just below or above the train number. Trains terminating in Center City can be labeled “30th Street” or “Temple University” accordingly, depending on which direction they’re headed.

But there’s more . . . if you are that person who depends on SEPTA’s color-coding to make it easier to get around, that too is coming to an end.  Come July there will be no more color-coding of individual routes which are currently on schedules and signage. The color codes will be replaced by the light bluish-gray color that is now used in the Center City District.

All of this sounds very confusing to me – why can’t we just keep our ‘R’?

Attorney Offers Legal Opinion on February 22 Board of Supervisors Vote

A follower of Community Matters, a local attorney (most likely a municipal attorney) has offered his legal opinion on various township topics, including St. Davids Golf Club sidewalk issue.  Overnight I received his legal opinion on the February 22 vote by the Board of Supervisors to reverse their earlier vote and decision to set up a sidewalk and trails review subcommittee (Board of Supervisors 2/22/10 Meeting . . . St. Davids Golf Club Motion.)  As indicated in the post of St. Davids Golf Club Decision Reversed but, . . . Was There Full Disclosure, Transparency, Deal-Making? the supervisors vote of February 22 created much dialogue from the community.  Understanding the supervisors decision from a legal perspective is important; I ask you to reflect on the following:

JudgeNJury, March 3, 2010 at 12:36 AM Said:

Other matters kept me from focusing on the February 22 vote before, but now that I have looked at it (and at the risk of beating a dead horse), I wanted to add my two cents. In short, it seems to me that the BOS once again failed to follow appropriate procedures when it passed the second part of the February 22 motion.

Pennsylvania’s Municipalities Planning Code (“MPC”) authorizes townships to establish planning commissions. Tredyffrin Township did so, and Section 43-6 of the Township Code specifically states that the Planning Commission “shall have all other powers and duties provided by the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code.” (http://www.ecode360.com/?custId=TR1485).

Section 303(a) of the MPC states that:

“Whenever the governing body, pursuant to the procedures provided in section 302, has adopted a comprehensive plan or any part thereof, any subsequent proposed action of the governing body, its departments, agencies and appointed authorities shall be submitted to the planning agency for its recommendations when the proposed action relates to . . . the location, opening, vacation, extension, widening, narrowing or enlargement of any street, public ground, pierhead or watercourse.” (http://mpc.landuselawinpa.com/MPCode.pdf).

Section 107(a) of the MPC contains the following definitions:

1) “Governing body” includes “the board of supervisors in townships of the second class.” Tredyffrin Township is a township of the second class, and it has adopted a comprehensive plan (http://www.tredyffrin.org/departments/community/comprehensive.aspx).

2) “Planning agency” includes planning commissions.

3) “Public ground” includes “parks, playgrounds, trails, paths and other recreational areas and other public areas.” Under this definition, it seems clear that sidewalks qualify as a “public ground.”

The second half of the February 22 motion did two things: it (1) “form[ed] a Subcommittee . . . to begin a process to reexamine where the community wants and needs sidewalks;” and (2) relieved St. David’s from its obligation “to build the path, until the new policies are adopted or the Township has put in place designs and funding for sidewalks or paths that would connect to the proposed St. David’s pathway.” It seems to me, then, that the motion was a “proposed action of the governing body [the BOS]” that “relates to . . . the location [and] opening . . . of any . . . public ground.”

Therefore, the BOS was required to submit the motion “to the Planning Commission for its recommendations” before it could vote on the motion. The Planning Commission then would have had 45 days to make a recommendation. See MPC Section 303(b). As far as I know, the BOS did not submit its proposal to the Planning Commission before it voted on it.

As a practical matter, compliance with these procedures probably would not have made much difference. The BOS could have submitted the proposal to the Planning Commission for a recommendation and then, regardless of what the Planning Commission recommended, voted to approve the motion. That reality does not, however, change the fact that the BOS appears to have ignored procedures once again.

King of Prussia Mall Parking Lot . . . Saturday Afternoon . . . Gunpoint Robbery

This morning, there was an online news article from The Mercury with the following story. Most readers would probably have given the King of Prussia police report but a passing glance, and I too would likely have skipped over it, . . .  that is until the subject of guns in Valley Forge National Historical Park became a topic last week.  Until that new federal law was instituted allowing weapons in Valley Forge park,  I was naively going through life not giving much thought to guns in general, let alone in Tredyffrin Township.

But the reality is that now I do read the police report about the armed robbery on Saturday afternoon in the parking area of the King of Prussia Mall.   The commentary on gun ownership, individual protection, the NRA, Second Amendment rights, etc. has provided many of us with new information.  Whether its the discussion on Second Amendment rights in Valley Forge National Historical Park, or an armed robbery at our local shopping mall, this dicussion has served to open my eyes.  Gone is my innocent thinking that guns are only somewhere else . . . I am much more informed on the subject. 

    King of Prussia Mall Employee Robbed at Gunpoint

Published: Tuesday, March 2, 2010

KING OF PRUSSIA — An employee of The Court at King of Prussia was robbed at gunpoint Sunday afternoon in the mall parking lot, police said. Upper Merion police are investigating the robbery and asking the public’s help to nab a suspect.

The 20-year-old mall employee had gone from the store where he worked to his vehicle on the first level of the Court parking garage at 4:25 p.m., when he was accosted by a man with a handgun, police said. “He was going out to retrieve something out of his car,” Upper Merion Police Lt. James Early said. The officer said the incident occurred in the garage not far from Allendale Road.

The assailant reportedly pointed a black semi-automatic gun at the worker and demanded his wallet. After the victim turned over his wallet, the robber fled west on Court Boulevard toward Mall Boulevard. Investigators don’t believe the gunman knew the mall employee. Armed robberies are “pretty rare” in and around the sprawling 3-million-square-foot shopping mall complex that includes King of Prussia Plaza, The Court at King of Prussia and The Pavilion, Early said. The mall has more than 400 retail stores and dozens of restaurants.

The gunman was described as a black male in his early 20s with short black hair. He wore a black zip-up jacket and dark jeans, authorities said. Police searched the area but were unable to locate a suspect. “We’re asking anyone who witnessed the crime to call our detectives,” Early said.

Continuing the Local Gun Discussion . . . Supreme Court to Weigh in on Chicago’s Handgun Ban . . . Will High Court Uphold Federal Law Over State Law? What Does this Mean for Pennsylvania Gun Owners?

When I wrote Semi-Automatic Weapons in Valley Forge National Historical Park . . . Do You Feel Safer? a couple of days ago, I could never have forecasted the interest in the topic.  Although admittedly surprised by many of the responses (50 comments on this topic!), I was fascinated by the strong opinions of many in this community.  The ‘right to bear arms’ topic has opened up conversations (and debates) among family members and friends.  I had intended to move on from this topic but I received several emails over the weekend encouraging further discussion.  I feel strongly that we learn from each other by exchanging ideas and information.  The evolution of Community Matters as a new informal communication channel can help to educate us, if we are willing to listen to each other.  Although I would be the first one to encourage lively debate, I would ask that you be respectful with your comments.

Several people commented on the June 2008  Supreme Court decision which struck down a handgun ban in Washington, D.C., and declared that individuals have a constitutional right to possess firearms for self-defense and other purposes. The Washington, D.C. lawsuit marked the first time that the highest court ruled that US citizens have a right to own guns for self-defense. The Second Amendment to the Constitution speaks of the right to bear arms in the context of a “well-regulated militia.” 

Over the weekend, we were out to dinner with friends at Majolica www.majolicarestaurant.com in Phoenixville (highly recommend!) and  spent much of the evening discussing the Second Amendment law, the new federal park gun legislation and many comments and opinion that were shared on this blog. 

There is a new Second Amendment Supreme Court case which will look at the handgun law in the city of Chicago.  The Supreme Court argument starting tomorrow will decide whether the Second Amendment — like much of the rest of the Bill of Rights — applies to states as well as the federal government. It’s widely believed they will say it does.

This new Second Amendment Supreme Court lawsuit was filed by an elderly, African-American Chicago resident who said he wants to defend himself.  Otis McDonald, 76, is suing the city over its gun ban, says he keeps a 20-guage shotgun at home to protect himself from the neighborhood gangs. But even if the court strikes down handgun bans in Chicago and its suburb of Oak Park, Illinois, that are at issue in the argument to be heard Tuesday, it could signal that less severe rules or limits on guns are permissible. An interesting aside to this latest lawsuit is that Chicago is President Obama’s hometown. The US Supreme Court justices will be deciding whether the Second Amendment right of every US citizen to possess arms for self-defense should apply to local as well as federal laws. The latest high court lawsuit will look at Chicago’s 1982  ban on handguns; determining whether federal decisions should apply to local law.

On the eve of this latest Second Amendment case, I was interested in understanding what the Pennsylvania State laws were in regard to gun ownership, age, restrictions, etc.  Although I claimed to be naive on the subject of local gun ownership in my last post, I researched Pennsylvania’s current legislation.  The following is offered to those who are also uninformed on the subject of owning firearms in Pennsylvania.  I don’t recall anyone mentioning the ‘open carry’ policy. 

Would you rather people have their guns out in the open, or concealed?  Do you think that the open display of weapons would help (or hurt) possible incidents of violence?  I am curious how the police feel about the ‘open carry’ policy . . . wonder if they would rather know that a person is armed?

Owning Firearms in Pennsylvania

  1. Do I have to register my firearms in Pennsylvania?
    No, in fact in Pennsylvania it is actually illegal for any government or police agency to keep a registry of firearms per 18 Pa.C.S. § 6111.4 (Registration of firearms). If you legally possess and bring your firearms into Pennsylvania or come into possession of the firearms legally, no further action is required.It should be noted however that all transfers of handguns in Pennsylvania are required to go through the Pennsylvania Instant Check System (PICS) and as such the Pennsylvania State Police keep a “Sales Database” of all handguns purchased within the Commonwealth. While almost any casual observer can see that this database clearly violates the spirit of 18 Pa.C.S. § 6111.4 (Registration of firearms), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed with the Pennsylvania State Police that because the database is not a complete record of all handgun ownership (as people bringing handguns into the state do not have to register them), it does not.
  2. How old must one be to possess a firearm? Per 18 Pa.C.S. § 6110.1 (Possession of firearm by minor), the minimum age to possess a firearm is 18 with two exceptions:
    1. The minor is under the supervision of a parent, grandparent, legal guardian, or an adult acting with the expressed consent of the minor’s parent or legal guardian and involved in lawful activity.
    2. The minor is lawfully involved in hunting or trapping activities.

Is open carry legal in PA?

Answer: Yes, with some restrictions.

Anyone whom can legally own a firearm in the commonwealth can openly carry, on foot, with the exception of court facilities, federal buildings, motor vehicles and cities of the first class (Philadelphia)  While Pennsylvania has a specific law that requires a License To Carry Firearms for the concealed carry of a firearm, and the carry of firearms in vehicles, the law is silent on the legality of openly carrying a firearm in other situations; which if I understand the law makes it de-facto legal. 18 Pa.C.S. § 6108: Carrying firearms on public streets or public property in Philadelphia

  • No person shall carry a firearm, rifle or shotgun at any time upon the public streets or upon any public property in a city of the first class unless:

(1) such person is licensed to carry a firearm; or

(2) such person is exempt from licensing under section 6106(b) of this title (relating to firearms not to be carried without a license).

Are Fair Housing Rules being Broken in the Mt. Pleasant Community of Tredyffrin? How Can we Help these Residents?

If you have been following the St. Davids Golf Club and the ongoing sidewalk saga, you have probably seen Christine Johnson, who has attended and spoke out at recent Board of Supervisors meetings.  A passionate Mt. Pleasant resident, Christine has been very vocal in her support of sidewalks and of her Panhandle community.  I have written several posts concerning the struggles of Christine and her neighbors re college housing and associated planning and zoning issues; and police enforcement (primarily noise and speeding concerns in the community). 

Back in the fall at a Board of Supervisors meeting there was agreement to conduct meetings between Mt. Pleasant neighbood members and township representatives including the police, zoning officer, township engineer and supervisors.  Informal discussions were held and a town hall meeting was planned with the residents in mid-December.  Unfortunately, that meeting was cancelled due to snow.  Another town hall meeting date was chosen for early 2010 but again that meeting needed to be cancelled due to snow. 

As far as I know, a third date has not been chosen for the town hall meeting. This ongoing situation is frustrating for Christine and her Mt. Pleasant neighbors . . . as the problems with college rentals and zoning issues remains unsolved. I am committed to providing updates and to continue to shine light on Mt. Pleasant’s challenges until we can reach a resolution on their problems.

Christine in her quest to research and better understand her rights as a resident of Mt. Pleasant community has reached out to the Fair Housing Council of Suburban Philadelphia.  Based on the information that Christine is providing below, there has been some stretching of the fair housing laws by some of the landlords in the advertising of college housing in Mt. Pleasant. 

I know that Tredyffrin Township does not have specific zoning regulations that deal with college rentals as do some of the neighboring municipalities.  As a first step, I think we need to get the town hall meeting back on the schedule and then start working on helping the Mt. Pleasant folks.  I think Supervisors DiBuonaventuro and Kichline are onboard to represent the Board of Supervisors; can I appeal to help find a new date for the town hall meeting?

     Violating Fair Housing Laws

According the the Fair Housing Act,  you cannot discriminate against families.  Shouldn’t famillies have the chance to  live in Mt. Pleasant?  I’m sick of seeing our houses advertised as “Rental – Student Approved”  “Student Approved House” “Villanova Student Rental” “College Rental” “Great for College Students” etc, etc, etc.

When describing your rental, please be aware the misuse of a phrase can, however innocently used, be in violation of federal fair housing laws. The list below is fromHousing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME) www.homeny.org:

The following list of words and phrases are considered to be in violation of the federal fair housing laws when used in advertising of the sale or rental of housing because they may indicate a preference, limitation or discrimination to the ordinary reader. This list is not all-inclusive but should be used as a guide and example of unacceptable language.

  1. Max 2 people, 3rd extra charge
  2. Great for one
  3. 1 Person pref.
  4. ideal for couple
  5. ideal for working couple
  6. ideal for adults
  7. Suitable for couple
  8. In quiet adult community
  9. perfect for working single
  10. adults pref.
  11. ideal for 2 adults
  12. professional & students only
  13. looking for professional
  14. mature adults
  15. professional couple pref.
  16. 1 person pref.
  17. employed couple or single
  18. ideal for a single
  19. employed male/student
  20. ideal for students
  21. ideal for single person /couple
  22. perfect for students
  23. suits 1-2 employed adult/student
  24. Ideal for male/female
  25. great for students
  26. no pets or children
  27. max 2 people
  28. ideal for single female
  29. working single
  30. male/female suitable for one
  31. 2 bedroom maximum/2 person occupancy