residents of west vincent: fight for your right to speak at public meetings

Chickenman has sent out a rather important e-mail within the last hour.  Allow me to share:

I received Monday evening’s Agenda for West Vincent Township. It looks interesting.

Especially # 11 Meeting Policy. According to David Brown, this is an issue where the Supervisors want to limit Public comment from the audience. The Supervisors say time and time again that they want more people to attend the meetings so that they participate in what goes on. Now that the room is filling up and people are commenting, asking questions and pointing out the conflicts, contradictions and mistruths of the Supervisors, it is time to muzzle the mouths of the people that dare speak up. What the Supervisors say and what they mean is two entirely different issues. I recommend going to the meeting on Monday night at 7:30.
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Why Supervisor David Brown, how very Lawyer err Lower Merion Township of you.  Is that where you learned this?  It was from whence came you, is it not?  Before you adopted the mantle of country gent?

This is wrong.   Public participation is a hallmark of American  government  and politics, like it or not.  To muzzle the public to me = government with a huge problem = NOT good government.

Take where I have spent the last 30 some odd years: Lower Merion Township on the Main Line.   At the commissioners meetings (you have supervisors, they commissioners) the public is often quite constrained on not only what they can say, but how long they can say it.

Generally speaking, you get 3 minutes to speak as an individual and 5 if you are representing a group or organization.   You are not supposed to address figures like the Township Solicitor and the Township Manager, and if you do that, you are generally chided like a child in elementary school.  You are not allowed to have back and forth conversation on a topic with the commissioners.

Basically you speak and they have a timer on you.  When the buzzer sounds, you are done.  If a commissioner chooses to respond to something a member of the public says, they can say what ever they want, and you can’t respond back.  No matter what they say. I have attended a couple of public meetings where they have decided there was to be no public comment whatsoever.  In essence the public was allowed to watch, thereby making the meeting open, but there was not public comment.  And in Lower Merion, there are recurring issues with sunshine.  The commissioners, however, have no restraints on what they can say, how long they can say it.

Is that what you in West Vincent want?  I have been told by long-term residents that things in your local government were not so bad when Proctor Wetherill was alive.  I know little about him, other that it is a fine Philadelphia name. I found some history on him on :

Philadelphia Inquirer, 18 Jan 1985:


Proctor Wetherill, 73, one of the Philadelphia area’s leading Christmas tree growers, collapsed Wednesday evening at the wheel of his truck. Found in the parking lot of the Limerick Diner, he was pronounced dead, apparently of a heart attack, at Pottown Memorial Medical Center.

Note:Mr. Wetherill, who lived at Wetherhold, his tree plantation near Chester Springs in Chester County, was active in conservation and environmental- preservation efforts in the area.

Note: Socially prominent, he rode to the hounds and lent his support to historic- preservation efforts.

He was active in political and civic affairs as well, serving as a supervisor in West Vincent Township. He was active in the Ludwig’s Corner Horse Show Association, a group producing annual horse shows for the benefit of Paoli Memorial Hospital.

Note: He served on the boards of the Pickering Hunt Club and the Historic Yellow Springs Association, and he was a member of the board of the Green Valleys Association.

So, is this what Proctor Wetherill would want for his community if still alive? Would he have allowed an eminent domain attempt on Ludwig’s Corner Horse Show Grounds?

And for just a minute, let me share another bit of interesting:

Developer, Officials Disagree On Future Of Evergreen Farm The Project Would Keep The Trees. The Pines, Not Native To The Township, Are Ecologically Incorrect.

August 02, 1992 | By Nancy Petersen, INQUIRER CORRESPONDENT

Exton developer Jack Loew thinks the thousands of pine trees in his tree farm are just fine. They’re green, they’ve been there for years and they’ll look great in his new subdivsion.

Not everybody agrees with him. The trees are basically outsiders and as such do nothing for the ecology of the township, said David Harper, a student of landscape architecture. Harper surveyed Loew’s pine tree-laden 151 acres in West Vincent Township and wrote:

“The evergreen plantation should be removed . . . to allow for the establishment of ecologically functional native plant communities.”

Loew said that was open-space planning gone amok.

“If it is the intent of the open-space plan to replace existing vegetation,” said Loew, “it may go beyond what is prudent.”

Loew and West Vincent Township officials are sparring over the arboreal future of Loew’s development, called Wetherill Estates, a 74-lot development that Loew has proposed for a former Christmas tree plantation operated for decades by Proctor Wetherill.

“The pine forest is what will make the community special,” said Loew.

He thinks the township’s newly adopted open-space plan is going a little too far, if it requires developers to remove a perfectly decent, maturing pine forest in favor of planting native saplings.

So.  Who were your supervisors back then, West Vincent?   People in communities all over would love developers that wanted to actually preserve trees, so this seems nuts to an outsider like myself.

Back to the present: David Brown, formerly of Lawyer Merion Township, who wants to limit public comment at meetings.  Can it be supposed they think you all too ill-informed to participate in your own government?  Good residents are seen and not heard?  I find it curious that in West Vincent less seems to be more with this township as far as posting things on their pretty and I am sure over-priced website.  Here’s the link I found to February 27th’s agenda which is in draft form.

Chickenman would like you all to be reminded that  tomorrow night, Monday, at 7:30 PM, there is a West Vincent Township Supervisor’s meeting at the West Vincent Township Building 729 St. Matthews Road Chester Springs, PA.

I am going to cross-post a topic from the SAC site having to do with Radnor Township.  There is an issue or two brewing between Radnor Township residents and Villanova University.  Here’s the LINK, and the reason I am doing this is to point out that there are local municipalities in SE PA that actually try to do the best by residents.  Seriously, Radnor Township residents got lucky when Dave Bashore was exited and Bob Zienkowski  was hired as Township Manager.

And while we are speaking about Radnor, let’s talk about what I know about their policy on public speaking.  In Radnor, they not only do not limit residents as to speaking at meetings, they also allow interaction.  The public can ask questions of township commissioners and public officials.  Mind you, I have seen them corral people once in a while who were kinda filibustering (and it was darn entertaining public access television viewing), and some joke their current Board of Commissioners President would have five-minute meetings with everything decided ahead of time if it were legal (he likes to run meetings like a geriatric Speed Racer) , but Radnor (generally speaking) are among the most encouraging municipalities when it comes to public participation and public comment.

I can’t help but wonder what West Vincent is so nervous about that they would wish to limit public comment? It’s where you the good people of West Vincent call home, and if I were a resident I would fight this tooth and nail just like eminent domain.  And out of curiosity, how can you legally recall any or all of your supervisors and all that good stuff?