Growing up, it was a marvelous place. Nice people, clean streets, pretty houses. It was safe. Kids could even ride their bikes on their neighborhood streets and play kick the can and other games with neighborhood kids on warm summer nights.
“Back in the day” as they say, there was still big money living there, only it wasn’t so tackily or arrogantly displayed. I mean, you knew there were people with lots and lots of money, only it was considered somewhat déclassé to discuss it and to be so showy.
Well, anyway, that all has long since flown out the window as a policy of polite behavior in polite society, and it is part of the reason why a lot of people are leaving the Main Line. Yes there are rubes to still buy into the myth, but there are a lot of people leaving and considering getting out of dodge.
Yesterday I saw something that literally left me slack-jawed. A press release out of my former township basically bally hooing that they have more money within their boundaries than anyone else.
In an economy where people are struggling to make ends meet, losing their homes, losing their jobs, I find such an announcement somewhat staggering. Also interesting to note is as much as Lower Merion would like to ignore it, they have a fair amount of Sheriff Sale action in the Magic Kingdom too, and not just in the low rent district.
And for this great amount of wealth they support and applaud in Lower Merion, one would think they could do the basics like keep the roads in good repair. But they don’t. And when you go into the business districts, well there seems to be a lot more trash around than there used to be and sometimes you can smell certain smells on the street like you do in more urban areas. And there is crime they don’t want to talk about and a school district always teetering on disaster. (LMSD seems to be having contract issues too, and they just made another large land purchase too.)
There are a lot of lovely places where people can choose to make their homes along the Main Line and into Chester County. And they don’t have municipalities that feel the constant need to point out the top 2%. And of course there is the thought process that maybe Lower Merion should think about these residents with vast resources who don’t feel like being pointed out.
Lower Merion, you aren’t the Hamptons. Here’s the press release:
Township ranked fifth for median family income and home price Posted Date: 8/21/2012 5:05 PM
CNN Money, an online combination of CNN, Fortune Magazine and Money Magazine, has ranked Lower Merion Township near the top of its recently published “Top-earning Towns” list – part of its ongoing “Best Places to Live” series.
Next to a photo of a student entering Pembroke Hall on the campus of Bryn Mawr College, CNN Money puts Lower Merion’s median family income at $153,309, and the Township’s median home price at $553,498.
“Part of Pennsylvania’s wealthy Main Line corridor that popped up along the rail line of the same name, Lower Merion got its start when railroad executives built massive summer homes here,” the online newsmagazine wrote. “Today, it’s an elite suburb of Philadelphia and dotted with colleges, including women’s liberal arts school Bryn Mawr, which is also one of the township’s largest employers.”
Overall, Lower Merion is ranked 5th among the 25 national locations listed.
“We have a terrific community here in Lower Merion, and a wonderful quality of life,” said Lower Merion Township Manager Doug Cleland. “Our residents already know that, of course, but it is nice to see the national recognition.”….
“Residents bring lawn chairs and blankets to twilight concerts at the Bryn Mawr Gazebo all summer long and enjoy their pick of sledding hills in the winter months,” CNN Money wrote about the Township. “The area’s 682 acres of parkland and top-rated schools in the state form a well-rounded nest for well-heeled Pennsylvanians.”
Lower Merion is the only Pennsylvania community ranked among the top 25. Ranking 2nd, 3rd and 4th, respectively, are the towns of Greenwich, Conn., Palo Alto, Calif. and Newport Beach, Calif.
There are lots of places with outdoor concerts in the summer around the area, not just next to a very contentious library re-build at Ludington Library in Bryn Mawr inhaling car and truck fumes from Lancaster Avenue. And you could of course consider they might be speaking of sledding on the roads since Lower Merion is not always so speedy with the snow plow.
Anyway, did not mean to go off on a tangent outside of Chester County, but I just found this whole thing distasteful. And predictable. Personally, I prefer communities that don’t have to brag about things like how much money residents have. I prefer communities that have local governments that just do a decent job.
Can’t say that about Lower Merion. After all, how many years later, and there is still no new train station in Ardmore or a real “redevelopment” there is there? Wouldn’t it be best for all concerned if Congressman Jim Gerlach who gave Lower Merion $6 million for a transit center just took the money back? Over half has been spent, there is no station and yet little boroughs like Malvern can complete a train station makeover complete with pedestrian tunnel and Paoli can get a shovel in the ground?
Face it when it comes to dollars and cents, some local governments may see dollar signs but have no sense.
I will preface this post with the fact that I honestly do appreciate the jobs that those in the public sector do.
Firemen, policemen, nurses, teachers, EMTs, etc. I know many, many amazing people in these job categories. But there has been this photo making its rounds on the web that just irritates me.
Check it out and then I will tell you how it makes me feel as someone in the quote end quote private sector.
Have you read it now?
You know how this makes ME feel? Like I am the enemy. I also live within my means, did not accept bailout money, do not live in a multi-million dollar home, did not crash the markets, and so on and so forth. This simple statement smacks of class warfare, and that is unfair.
Getting a bit more controversial, many of these public service employees have fabulous health and benefit plans. Yes there are hiring freezes and things like that because guess what? The economy is in the toilet and almost everyone is feeling a pinch. Millions of people are out of work.
Maybe this sector of people would get more in this country if say, more municipalities and hospital systems were willing to trim upper management fat, and give back. Check out this link for an interesting list of salaries from Main Line Today Magazine which says for example that an assistant township manager in Lower Merion makes $122,921 and a township manager makes $193,324 …and it is going up and I will get to that.
Like it or not, and average workers do not identify with upper level management in the public service area, but you want to know where your increases go if you are from that employment sector? To management level employees. The article in Main Line Today was from 2011 and it lets you get a peek as to a whole lot of salaries.
The other truism is this: reality is someone will always be doing better or earning more than you. It’s life.
And when it comes to benefits, well I don’t know coming from the private sector how much sympathy I have. I used to work for an employer who did not offer benefits or access to benefits. So for a few years now, I have been self-pay on my benefits. Including self-pay through breast cancer. So to me, everything is relative, and if I had employer or taxpayer-funded benefits that were for the most part paid for, I would not object to chipping in. Again, because my perspective is different and I do this myself for myself. (which of course opens the whole conversation about Obamacare, and sorry, I haven’t seen the benefits, and don’t know that I ever will.)
But let me remind all of you, just because I have these opinions, it doesn’t mean I don’t respect public service employees. I just think that sometimes people need to get a little bit more realistic about life.
Now, as to respect. Which to me seems to be an underlying theme in the photo of that statement above.
Respect is earned. I have met and know some fabulous firemen (volunteers), EMTs, police, and so on. I have also met some who leave a lot to be desired. For example, as a photographer of public events I have been what only can be described as menaced a few times by police personnel who have no clue what no expectation of privacy in a public space actually is. The most memorable occurred at a music and food festival a few years ago.
There I was with friends, taking photos (and there were a few dozen cameras around me at the time, some with those super long and fat “paparazzi” lenses), and speaking to the person who happened to be the driving force behind this event. I was not even using a flash. I was on a public street, at a public event, taking photos.
All of a sudden out of nowhere is this police officer. Literally so close to me, that it could be described as invading my personal space. He tried to take my camera. As in made a grab to yank it off my neck. As in touch me. He singled me out and ordered me to stop taking photos. Mind you all around me, camera after camera was still snapping away.
I stepped back, away from him and asked why and reminded him this was a public event on a public street. I also believe I asked why he was not attempting to confiscate any other cameras. I did not get an answer other than telling me he could do this. At that point, someone I knew, a lawyer, stepped in and he disappeared.
That event really upset me. It ruined the event, I felt bullied and harassed and I know I had done nothing wrong. Some would have filed a complaint, I chose not to. I figured maybe everyone is entitled to a bad day and working crowd control at a huge summer event couldn’t be much fun.
But a few years later, when I see things like that slogan above, this is something I think about.
On July 4th, 2012 Paoli Fire Company proudly participated in the 2012 Wawa Welcome America Independence Day Parade in Philadelphia, PA. Afterwards, the fire company was made aware that a member of the company made an obscene hand gesture while riding in the rear of the engine. Not only was this gesture apparent to spectators, but was also captured on the live television broadcast. First and foremost, the Paoli Fire Company would like to express a profound and sincere apology to the parade organizers, event sponsors, 6abc and the City of Philadelphia for this inappropriate and disrespectful act. Moreover, Paoli Fire Company apologizes to all of the citizens who witnessed the gesture; both live and on the televised broadcast.
Paoli Fire Company does not condone such behavior, nor does it believe that these actions should be tolerated. We expect the highest level of professionalism and respect from all of our members in all situations, especially when interacting with the public. As such, the member in question has been indefinitely suspended pending further disciplinary review, and we are currently reviewing our internal policies related to conduct and training.
The fire company, comprised almost exclusively of volunteers from Chester County, prides itself on providing highly skilled fire, rescue and emergency medical services to the community of Paoli and its surrounding areas. We recognize the importance of a strong and supportive relationship with the citizens that we serve and other first responder organizations that work with us. This trust is not easily earned, but we will do all that is necessary to demonstrate the momentary lapse in judgment by an individual member does not reflect the principles and operating standards of the organization.
John Beatty Ira Dutter
Check out what Bob Byrne wrote in Tredyffrin-Easttown Patch:
The volunteer firefighter, riding in a rear-facing seat in the back of a Paoli Fire engine cab, flipped the TV camera – and the world- the bird in a live broadcast originally aired on Philadelphia’s WPVI-TV/6ABC and then rebroadcast around the globe on CNN. The video now also lives in infamy and (most likely) perpetuity on the internet.
The gesture and the way the fire company first responded touched off a flurry of bad publicity and angry comments on websites across the internet.
At first the Paoli Fire Company said viewers did not actually see what they thought they saw.
So now, let’s talk about upper level management who eat all the monies that should perhaps be more evenly disbursed in a municipality. Your taxes pay for this. Whether local, state, or federal, taxes pay for this.
In Lower Merion Township where I used to live a controversy is in full bloom. Douglas Cleland, the Township Manager is renegotiating his contract.
Cleland’s contract if approved, as per Main Line Media News, means that his salary will end up around $207,000 per year. If I recall prior conversations about this salary, this means Cleland makes more than the Mayor of The City of Philadelphia, Mayor Michael Nutter, more than high-ranking members of Congress, and more than United States Supreme Court Justices. And for what? In the scheme of things, some are speculating that his package would come out over $240 and up to $300K and over is you count all the perks and deferred compensation and so on.
As a former resident of Lower Merion I can tell you, this is not a man who is user-friendly or accessible to residents. He in fact controls the majority of the commissioners more than they control him. Through his dictums you have a hard time reaching other management level employees, like the township solicitor – and the truth of the matter is, usually township managers and so one are accessible to the public. Of course, it doesn’t help that the President of the Board of Commissioners Liz Rogan used to be his employee before a former commissioner made it possible for her to go into politics. And the Vice President of the Board in Lower Merion? Paul A. McElhaney? His brother is the head of the workers’ association. (It’s not a true union, nor is membership mandatory.)
This package will get passed, and so if people think things are wacky in places like West Vincent, they also should check out Lower Merion. Lower Merion in a manner which makes people understandably hate local governments is vetting and voting on this in the dead of summer.
However, in all fairness, when discussing public sector employees, you need to look at the cream of the crop. Some of whom are in Radnor Township. Newly promoted Lt. Andy Block and Lt. Chris Flanagan are two examples. These two men deserve the accolades they receive from their home township and community at large.
Another public sector employee who is the cream of the crop is Radnor Township’s Manager Bob Zienkowski. I am a huge fan of this man. Not only has he taken a township and turned it around after a huge scandal involving the former manager Dave Bashore could have tarnished Radnor forever, but he is the real deal when it comes to public sector employees.
Recently, instead of asking for more, he voluntarily gave back. Lower Merion Commissioner Jenny Brown wrote to constituents recently and summed up what Zienkowski has done:
Last week, the Manager for our neighboring municipality, Radnor Township, showed the type of leadership that we should be able to expect from a first class township manager. According to a Radnor Township Commissioner, the Radnor Township Manager recently went to his Board of Commissioners and offered to reduce his overall compensation. Among the things he offered (and that have been incorporated into his new contract):
1. Radnor’s Manager has agreed to no increase in salary for as long as he works for the Township (his salary, which is significantly less than Lower Merion’s manager’s salary, will remain at its 2010 level);
2. Radnor’s Manager has agreed to pay for his own life insurance (previously funded by taxpayer dollars);
3. Radnor’s Manager has agreed to personally pay for (the Township will not have to pay for) his attendance costs at any conferences or training;
4. Radnor’s Manager has agreed to pay 10% of his family health insurance premium in 2013, 11% in 2014, and 12% in 2015.
5. Radnor’s Manager will contribute 2% of his gross salary towards OPEB (other post-employment benefits)
In addition, I note that while Radnor’s manager may participate in his township’s deferred compensation plan, it is only with his own money, there are no employer contributions (Lower Merion’s manager gets an 8%, legally questionable, taxpayer-funded contribution). As well, unlike Lower Merion, the Radnor manager is required to live in the township he manages.
In Lower Merion, not only is the manager paid excessively more than any other township manager, he has demanded a raise for next year and expects the township taxpayers to pay for all sorts of perks, including the nearly unrestricted personal use of his township-owned car and he wants the taxpayers to continue to pay for all of the gas he puts in his car – can you imagine not feeling any “pain at the pump”!?! There are other inappropriate perks that I don’t have room to detail in this email but will discuss at the meeting.
That is leadership. That is a public servant in the most positive and proactive sense of the word. I am sorry, but there is something to be said about a man who gets where a lot of us are who don’t have government or public sector jobs.
I felt it was important to show good form along with the “bad form” I am writing about in this post. Radnor’s Manager is not taking the fat for himself, he is sacrificing when he doesn’t have to. He is leading by example.
Here is the article from Main Line Media News and Philadelphia Inquirer about Lower Merion’s manager issue. While not a Chester County issue or topic, it is well worth reading because it is just so outrageous. But then again, this is a municipal manager who kept his job after a failed bid years ago of eminent domain for private gain.
There are many fine individuals who work in Lower Merion Township, don’t misunderstand me. But I think Lower Merion needs different leadership. This is a well-heeled municipality, yes, but you would never know to drive through it. Check out the condition of their public parks, or even the roads.
In a slow economy, how much is too much to pay the manager of an affluent township of 60,000 people on Philadelphia’s Main Line?
That question, debated for months in Lower Merion, will come to a head this week.
Republican Commissioner Jenny Brown, and several others on the township board, say a $275,000 pay package for Township Manager Douglas Cleland is “excessive.”…
Others on the Democratically controlled board counter that Cleland, manager since 2002 and a 28-year township employee, has saved the township hundreds of thousands of dollars with efficiencies, has protected and capitalized on a stellar AAA credit rating, and has negotiated fiscally sound contracts with employee unions.
Cleland, who has been working without a contract since December, has a base salary of $202,989 a year. Benefits bring his total compensation to $275,000, commissioners said.
He is among the best-paid municipal administrators in the region and, as Brown likes to point out, takes home more than the Pennsylvania governor or Philadelphia mayor….
Cleland “knows Pennsylvania law. He’s been able to refinance our debt, saving us money,” said Commissioner C. Brian McGuire, a Democrat. “We are one of only four townships in the country with a AAA credit rating. He’s done an excellent job, and we are lucky to have him.”
Cleland, who did not respond to an e-mail request for comment Sunday….the meeting, which will be held at 6 p.m. at the Township Administration Building, 75 E. Lancaster Ave. in Ardmore.
Lower Merion Township has now posted terms of a proposed new two-year contractfor its manager, Douglas Cleland. ….He would receive a 2-percent pay hike, to $207,049, effective Jan. 1, 2013, and extending until the end of the contract period on Jan. 6, 2014.
He would also continue to receive longevity increases the same as other township employees, based on his base salary for 2012.
In addition, according to the terms, Cleland would continue to receive deferred compensation of 8 percent, slightly higher than most other township management employees.
So when we hear about situations like firefighters getting caught on camera giving people the finger on 4th of July, or township managers up for fat contracts which are utterly outrageous in this economy, it is easy to understand why emotions might run high when people discuss “public servants.” (I hate that phrase, incidentally.)
But when we hear about the negative things, we should also remember the positive.
At the end of the day however, we are experiencing an economy that probably hasn’t been felt as keenly since the Great Depression. That means that all of us have to give a little.
How do you feel about the public service people in your community? I believe they do deserve our respect, but I do not feel one size fits all. I also think other communities should pay attention what goes on in their neighboring municipalities.
I for one hate to say it, but am very glad I am out of Lower Merion Township. Lower Merion in my childhood was such a beautiful place to live. Now it is well, tarnished. Radnor on the other hand, is really an example of what can happen when government and residents work together for a common good as opposed to pandering to special interests.