“stakeholder” meetings should be centrally located and convenient for “stakeholders” right?

dsc_8099A reporter asked me what happened to the link for the Chester County Planning Commission’s survey in advance of the soon to be new and glorious Landscapes3, an Exercise in Resident Futility.

Why?

Because the original link does NOT work anymore.  Great planning: they send out a link ask all their contacts to distribute within their communities and then they change it. Or make it go away. Of course I have no answer what happened to all of the answers of people who already completed the survey, do you?

So now go to this page Public Participation Opportunities , go partway down the page and see:

Topical Surveys

Developed to gather stakeholder opinions on specific topical areas, these surveys are also being made available to the public. Targeted to representatives of organizations active in the topical areas, interested individuals are welcome to complete these surveys as they become available.

  • Preservation

  • Agriculture

  • Housing

  • Utilities and Infrastructure (available October 26)

  • Transportation (available November 2)

  • Economic Development (available November 16)

  • Community Health (available December 6)

 

Also of note, the top part of the page:

The development of Landscapes3 will be an open and collaborative experience. The public is invited to participate throughout. The process includes:

Photo Contest

Participants can submit their favorite Chester County place in this photo contest, which is aimed at taking a different approach to identifying what is valued by residents. Prizes will be available. (coming soon)

Stakeholder Meetings

A series of stakeholder meetings will be held to identify issues and challenges facing Chester County over the next ten years. Experts will meet under the following topics: preservation, agriculture, housing, utilities and infrastructure, transportation, economic development, and community health. The public is invited to attend and observe these meetings. Click here to view meeting schedule.

 

How many of my photos of farms and historic houses would they like to see?

But then we come to the stakeholder meetings. Here is a screen shot of the schedule:

this-is-how-you-know

In the middle of the afternoon, in Coatesville? Seriously? Hello people work, pick kids up from school/sports, have farms and businesses to tend, and so on.

But no, Chester County’s idea of most opportune time to schedule these meetings is in a place not quite ideally located and at times inconvenient for the majority of people living int the real world.  Common sense would dictate if they were REALLY interested in what people who live here and pay taxes (as opposed to the carpetbagger Executive Director of Chester County Planning Department Brian O’Leary), they would have chosen a location like West Chester, or done a series of traveling meetings and maybe holding them in school auditoriums or something.

But Brian O’Leary and the Chester County Planning must not really be terribly interested in citizen participation if they choose times that are NOT convenient for average folk, even farm folk and choose a location like this one in Coatesville, that is not really even convenient to anyone.  (Which is why I think they should have had travelling meetings to capture different quadrants of the county more effectively.)

This is not an auspicious beginning to a long process that is supposed to matter, Chester County.

And no, Brian O’Leary I am not going to stop mentioning you are not a Chester County resident and come from a uniquely pro-development township (Lower Merion Township) where I don’t think you listened much at all to residents while on the Planning Commission there, arranged for political pasty “planning” awards be given to politicians who weren’t planners except in the landscape sense of the word, and were employed by Montgomery County which as a whole has been decimated by development in part.

Our chief planner should be one of us.  I find it hard to believe that no such qualified planners exist in Chester County.

Carpe Diem, Chester County Residents.  I know many of you care. Speak up. Please…before all the open space, farmland, and history is gone. This county has a unique history, and it is very much at risk.

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why I can’t support the sierra club for quite a while

pizap.com14422611536161

I did not use to have a problem with the Sierra Club, other than some of their fundraising campaigns can be irritating. But now I am going to take a close look at them and groups like them in the future because of something astounding I discovered by accident today.

What am I talking about? Their political endorsements. Who the Sierra Club endorses makes me question everything about them. And I think in a lot of cases non-profits should refrain from endorsing political candidates because eventually their poor judgment is noticed and noted. I respect and prefer non-advocacy or non-political endorsing non-profits.

I was told today that the Sierra Club endorsed Ken Miller for re-election for supervisor. And there it was on his website. And there it was on the Sierra Club Southeastern PA website.  Technically it was for the spring when he was still a Republican and not a KenOcrat.  Here is what it said:

Sierra ooof 1

My goodness one would think the man was a saint . I like the part where they left out his part (and vote) as a West Vincent Township Supervisor in the whole failed eminent domain for private gain land grab of Ludwig’s Corner Horse Show in December, 2011. This was the debacle that cost then Executive Director of the French and Pickering Creeks Conservation Trust Clare Quinn her job. They did not like it when she as a then West Vincent Township Supervisor voted in favor of an eminent domain for private gain land taking.  She did not seem to get that when her day job was land preservation/conservation it was a bad idea to vote for a land grab as an elected official with her night job, I guess? Here is an excerpt from the article:

….The board of the French and Pickering Creeks Conservation Trust voted unanimously to end its more-than-five-year relationship with West Vincent Township Supervisor Clare Quinn, said Cary Leptuck, the trust’s board president.

“The board believes that Ms. Quinn’s actions as a West Vincent Township supervisor in condemning the Ludwig’s Corner Horse Show grounds represent a fundamental conflict with the trust’s long-standing mission of voluntary land conservation,” he said….This month, Quinn was among the West Vincent supervisors who voted to seize the 33-acre horse show tract by eminent domain, a decision that prompted a widespread outcry that included two politicians, State Sen. Andrew E. Dinniman (D., Chester) and Chester County Commissioner Ryan Costello.

The supervisors said they wanted to use the land for a park and ball fields. The horse show could use it as well, they said, but those affiliated with the show questioned the feasibility of that arrangement.

The conservation trust passed a resolution on Dec. 3, “opposing condemnation as a means of land preservation and community access.”

 

Here is hoping the French and Pickering Creeks Conservation Trust remembers all this and doesn’t endorse Miller this fall…or they will become a land conservation/preservation hyprocrite non-profit too.

So…the Sierra Club. How could they endorse an elected official who every voted for eminent domain? Seriously?

If the Sierra Club can’t do it’s homework, why should people support them? Eminent domain is not exactly beneficial for the planet now is it? (Of course how they tell the tall tale of eminent domain around West Vincent Township today is it was all misunderstood. They were just going to take the Ludwig’s Corner Horse Show to “protect it”, they wanted to put a CONSERVATION EASEMENT on it.  Yeah sure and I have a bridge they can buy…in Brooklyn.

They can try to dress it up and perfume it and tart it out a few years later, but eminent domain is eminent domain and politicians who vote in favor of such land grabs shouldn’t be endorsed by non-profits that preach a better planet, land conservation and land preservation.

Of course this isn’t the only questionable Sierra Club 2015 political endorsement. Take where I used to live in Lower Merion Township. They endorsed two candidates that are so PRO as in EXCESSIVE development they can’t possibly be green (unless they are nauseous).

sierra club oof 2

Oh ok because she could afford geothermal heating it’s ok to endorse her?  As for Manos, he’s done what exactly? Oh yes….like Liz Rogan (because face it they both got placed into office by the same people but that is a longer tale for another time) he has voted for so much development and so many bad pro-developer zoning overlays it is terrifying.

Residents were SO outraged by Liz Rogan being endorsed by The Sierra Club that a flyer went out in the spring:

Sierra club rogan

Here is an excerpt from the BACK of the flyer:

Let’s look at Ms. Rogan’s “green” record as a commissioner and as president of the Lower Merion Board of Commissioners. How has she impacted the LOCAL environment? First, consider her policy of encouraging development in inappropriate places from an environmental perspective. She’s enthusiastically endorsed huge development projects on Rock Hill Road (600 units – 330 being built now and 270 later on) and in the “M” District on the Schuylkill River in a FLOODPLAIN (about 600 units). Neither area is effectively served by public transit. This will bring many more cars, more air pollution and more urban runoff into the waterways. Is this green and environmentally sensitive? Hardly.

….Environmentally alert residents have worried about the continuing degradation of our creeks and streams in both the Mill Creek and Cobbs Creek watersheds. Storm water runoff from impervious surfaces, including roads and parking lots, is a major culprit. Ms. Rogan’s penchant for more impervious

surface through very dense development, in most cases, leads to more blacktop or asphalt parking lots. Is this green? We don’t think so…..

For years, residents have been asking the Township for stronger storm water management regulations and better remediation measures. Efforts to focus Ms. Rogan’s attention on this issue for years have been met with inaction. Now the threat of sanctions from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection – starting in 2018 – has brought about the creation of a storm water advisory “committee” probably too late to save these important waterways as viable streams. This is most definitely not green….

 

So.  Reading all this and knowing about these candidates PRIOR to knowing the Sierra Club endorsed them makes me question the efficacy of the Sierra Club and their moral compass as an organization. After all an endorsement should be made with careful consideration. Not with fluff and nonsense and who do you know and maybe they will get a pretty donation out of it, right?

If you are as incredulous and astounded as I was, here is how you contact the Sierra Club. These are national organization contacts. Obviously there is something wrong with the Southeastern PA Group since they obviously didn’t do their homework.

Anyway here are the contacts:

Contact Us

Sierra Club
National Headquarters

85 Second Street, 2nd Floor
San Francisco, CA 94105
USA
Phone: 415-977-5500
Fax: 415-977-5797
Sierra Club
Legislative Office

50 F Street, NW, Eighth Floor
Washington, DC 20001
USA
Phone: 202-547-1141
Fax: 202-547-6009

General information: information@sierraclub.org

Membership questions: membership.services@sierraclub.org

 

So the moral of this story is to do the research….you know, like the Sierra Club should have prior to endorsing.

Development isn’t land conservation/preservation. It’s development, a for profit enterprise that gains municipalities a short time high of new ratables.

TDRs (Transferrable Development Rights) are not land conservation/preservation.

Zoning overlays partially designed by and for developers are not land conservation/preservation. They are just another way to shove in development.

True conservation easements don’t need to occur by using eminent domain as a “tool”. Remember, eminent domain is not a helpful tool, but those who utilize it are tools…..

Vote smart no matter where you live this November.

And look for other non-profits to give your money to in Southeastern Pennsylvania.

Save your local environment by changing the face of who governs you.

a walk down memory lane

 In  2009 I documented through photographs the last few months of architect Addison Mizner’s famed La Ronda in Bryn Mawr.  The tale of La Ronda even made the Wall Street Journal back then.

Putting all the drama of the La Ronda and her demolition and the upheaval the demolition caused in Lower Merion Township and across the country aside, the saddest part of the tale of La Ronda is there was a man willing to have the mansion moved brick by brick, who was willing to buy it fairly. Only he was denied that by both the seller of the property and buyer of the property.  Those people sold La Ronda to be torn down and tore down La Ronda because they could and that is kind of sad especially since they were players in the socioeconomic levels where they could actually afford to be more preservation minded.

I am not getting into some protracted discussion about property rights, what this demolition has done is leave a lasting impression on me regarding historic preservation in Pennsylvania.

Historic preservation in Pennsylvania remain a lofty ideal, but is seldom a true reality. So when you hear on rare occasions that you might not like what a developer is doing, but they are saving and preserving a historic structure on a property they bought? Well that my friends is huge and doesn’t happen very often. See ( Linden Hall post July 24  and Farmhouse Post on July 27 and Adaptive Reuse from April 2013 )

Truthfully, all these years later and salvagers are still selling bits of La Ronda. And people still write about La Ronda and what happened (reference Proper Philadelphia in 2012 )

I watched and documented the last sad few months of La Ronda, and to me it is a glaring reminder of  what   lip service preservation is. In 2009, Lower Merion Township Commissioners (including the current Board President Liz Rogan) did much beating of the collective breast and waxed long and poetically on how they were going to do things differently and how they were going to preserve historic assets.

Flash forward to 2014 and well, much like other places, it’s all been talk. Or political gob smacking…. take your pick. Now the William Penn Inn is under a 90 day stay of execution err demolition, which means it will inevitably come down.  And that is the case even though people are saying it may have had something to do with the underground railroad (and see cool photos of the place here thanks to Main Line Media News.)

3971577793_125d8e9098_o

Also facing an uncertain future is the historic Odd Fellows Hall and property and United Methodist Church and property in Gladwyne.  People have said for decades that there are Revolutionary War soldiers buried there.  Famous Phillie Rich Asburn is buried there and heck some of my friends have all their family buried there.  So Odd Fellows is in limbo. What is historic will survive if  the developers who are the owners, Main Line Realty Partners, do the proper preservation.  They can do the right thing if they want to.  They have in the past and truthfully the partners in these projects have done beautiful work.  Last I heard that Odd Fellows plan was tabled, but these same developers have now purchased another church, First Baptist in Ardmore.  They also bought the United Methodist Church in Narberth Now the developers are calling themselves Main Line rebuild.

3941005703_d390c4249e_oBut like I said, adaptive reuse and historic preservation by developers are the exception rather than the rule.

I do not know a lot of the preservation groups throughout Chester County as I have not lived here that many years yet .  I love the  Chester County Historical Society and they have lots of neat stuff in their headquarters in downtown West Chester and they do fun things like walking tours.

Also worth noting is the Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust. Their 10th annual house tour is September 27th, 2014.

 

And if you like house tours you should also consider signing up for Chester County Day which benefits Chester County Hospital.  They have preview lectures starting in September which are open to the public.

Anyway, remember the La Rondas…once they are gone, they are gone.

Thanks for stopping by today!

just tacky

I used to live in Lower Merion Township.

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.

But in Lower Merion they have long denied this economy was a problem.  Just look at the crazy salary and benefit package they ended up giving the township manager, Douglas Cleland.  Look at the taxes all the way around. Everything is relative, and while they are patting themselves on the back, the simple fact remains that a heck of a lot of residents feel like they work to support the township.

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:

Lower Merion Near the Top of CNN Money’s Top-Earning Communities in America

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.

bad form.

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.

And on the 4th of July, something occurred involving a public service employee that I find abhorrent and unacceptable.  It involves a Paoli first responder. Who apparently gave people the finger during a 4th of July parade. The huge Welcome America parade.

So how is this o.k.?  How is this something the public at large is supposed to respect?

When I saw this on Main Line Media News’ website I was truthfully shocked.

Paoli Fire Company has issued a statement about this July 4th incident on July 5th:

July 5, 2012
Dear Citizen,
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.
Respectfully,
John Beatty                              Ira Dutter
   President                                      Chief
Check out what Bob Byrne wrote in Tredyffrin-Easttown Patch:

Paoli Fire Co.Tries to Put Out a PR WildfireA one-finger gesture seen ’round the world  puts the Paoli Fire Company in the middle of a public relations firestorm.By Bob Byrne July 7, 2012

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.

Also on TE Patch: FingerGate: How should Paoli Fire Company Handle the Scandal? Patch readers weigh in.

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 Lower Merion, a dispute over town manager’s pay comes to a head this week

By Marie McCullough  Inquirer Staff Writer

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 manager’s salary to rise to $207K in proposed contract

Published: Monday, July 09, 2012

By Cheryl Allison callison@mainlinemedianews.com

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.

be glad you live a little off the main line…

…I know I am.  

Sure, every area has issues.  No local government is perfect, and yes, there is always something to complain  about, but seriously?  I moved out of a township that prided itself on being “first class”, yet it in essence required an act of Congress to accomplish something as basic as filling a pothole.

Yes, Lower Merion Township.  The Magic Kingdom as it is known (sarcastically) in some circles, isn’t what she used to be.  You have a political majority that believes they know better than everyone, and as a resident you feel as if you work to support the township.

Where do a lot of these negative feelings stem from?  A lot of them have to do with all the crazy infill development plans and the fact that it has been over 30 years since Lower Merion had a completed Comprehensive Plan update.  Some land planner told me once that as per the Municipalities Planning Code in PA municipalities are supposed to do this every couple of years.

When I used to wake up in Lower Merion, although a high rent district, the cacophony of sound that assaulted my senses on a daily basis was quite urban.  Construction and other noises often way too early.   Here when I wake up, I hear birds.  You have NO idea how marvelous a sound that is unless you have experienced the other.

Development plans in Lower Merion, suit the developers, not the residents.  For example, the development begun in my old neighborhood by a wannabe developer, architect Tom Hall, and then turned over to Cornell builders was shoe-horning in thirteen townhouses in barely over an acre.  But the houses are “green” and you can spit at The Haverford School, which was perhaps the most uncaring neighbor in my neighborhood.   You have no idea what it is like to live with an institution as a neighbor in close quarters.  We existed to be their overflow parking lot and speed thru cell phone mommy/nanny zone.  The nicest thing about that school are some of my friends’ sons.

In Ardmore, the neighboring town, mostly in Lower Merion, for years not so long ago, small business owners had to fight eminent domain for private gain.  Ardmore residents and business owners are still suffering because although no one can spend money like Lower Merion Township, they still can’t get the Ardmore Redevelopment Plan off the ground.  Of course, many feel, that those on township staff who put forth the infamous plans A & B that contained eminent domain for private gain for years should have just been removed from their jobs.  But they stayed and the six million dollars  that a couple of commissioners went to Washington DC many years ago to get has basically been frittered away, and while places like Malvern and Wayne have a new train station, all Lower Merion has are plans.

Read here about Ardmore’s and other Lower Merion development woes in this week’s Main Line Media News.

Also in Lower Merion, there is crazy zoning being planned for around City Avenue.  So if you think it’s fun now when you get caught in traffic around there, just wait.

Lower Merion loves infill development plans.  The more congested the better.  When I was a child growing up there, like I do now here in Chester County, then I also heard birds and nature as my waking sounds.  It is so much less stressful to hear birds versus construction.

Radnor is not so problematic since they got a new Township Manager and some new commissioners.  Of course, their current president, Bill Spingler is more like old school Delco politics and we’ll leave it at that….hopefully he won’t be president too long.  But Radnor’s new manager,  Bob Zienkowski, as opposed to the old one who made headlines and got relieved of his duties (Dave Bashore), is an accessible advocate for his residents.  It makes a huge difference.  Which is why I am hopeful that Radnor residents will be heard fairly as Villanova attempts to supersize the university (read about Villanova’s expansion plans here ).  It won’t be easy since one commissioner has had to recuse herself, and given Bill Spingler’s cozy personal relationship with the attorney on this project, should this in fact be the commissioner who recuses? After all sometimes isn’t it hard to feel secure around a career politician like Spingler, who offered once upon a time to write a reccomendation letter for the manager the township fired (Dave Bashore)?

One thing that bears watching in Radnor are residents taking up their proverbial pitch forks against storm water issues in North Wayne. (Check out this YouTube from a recent meeting.) What cracks me up here is the woman with dark hair and pony tail.  She wants to sue, sue, sue and all the storm water issues stem from AT&T in Wayne and so on.  While the storm water issues are indeed large and increasingly problematic, truthfully they don’t even realize how people have been working for years on this.  She isn’t breaking new ground so to speak.

In February of 2009, a situation created by the railroad in North Wayne bugged me enough that I wrote an editorial for Main Line Media News about it. The end result was, a Septa engineer high on the food chain contacted me, and without even having to deal with Radnor’s old regime, they actually built some storm water management into the station makeover in Wayne.

It’s not perfect, but better than it used to be.

And this woman who did the presentation at the Radnor commissioners’ meeting (Channel 30 on FiOs FYI)  and a neighbor who says she lives next to a field and the Gulph Creek (wonder if she’s the one who built an addition to a carriage house where the outside door in the rear basically looks like if you open it the creek can just come on in?) who are in this meeting tape, well I get why they are upset, as I have seen first hand the flooding in North Wayne, but as they rant and rail against Radnor, they also need to consider a neighboring municipality.

Ahhh, there is some Chester County of it all in this post, isn’t there?

I am talking about Tredyffrin.  Tredyffrin is upstream on the Gulph Creek from this flood zone in Radnor.   Now Tredyffrin is also in the paper this week talking about some focus group and needing storm water solutions. Fabulous!  However, while the article talks about the need to make sure the storm water stuff is tough enough when it comes to Joe Duckworth’s plans for the Richter tract, nowhere have I seen Tredyffrin talk about the trickle down effect of their prior poor planning in neighboring municipalities.  I am talking in part about Church of the Savior in Tredyffrin.    A lot of issues occur UPstream.  Just check out this document I found from 2000 about storm water.

I guess from the Church of the Savior’s perspective and Tredyffrin’s it is holier to flood your neighbors?  Now granted, I find Church of the Savior to be in the category of religiously creepy, so some could say I have a bias, but Tredyffrin to me always seems a little kooky on the development front and in some other areas.  And if they can’t see it from the township building windows in Tredyffrin, more the better.  Just look at how long it took Tredyffrin to deal with things like off campus student housing.  After all, they couldn’t see historic Mt. Pleasant from the Township Building, could they?

I guess what I am saying is, I have seen and lived what poor development and land planning causes communities (along with the politcs of political favoritism and one party rule run amok), so maybe once in a while, I might point them out.  After all, would you rather listen to birds or bulldozers? Wouldn’t you rather hear about politicians and officials that care about their communities and not just during election cycles?

If you are a person interested in issues Tredyffrin, please check out my pal Pattye Benson’s blog Community Matters.  She also happens to be innkeeper at The Great Valley House of Valley Forge.  She wrote about the recent stormwater meeting that includes discussion of the latest New Urbanism Disneyland Joe Duckworth might do.  If you are interested in the Richter Tract plans put Richter in the search box on her blog. A post she wrote on conflict of interest is well worth your time in addition to other posts.

Above all else, take an interest in where you live.  It’s a good thing.