Saturday, May 30, 2009

Middletown Township Earth Day

Check out the Middletown Dems at the township's Earth Day celebration. Ignore the chain saw that went all day in the booth next to ours. The vendor was sculpting tree trunks. Actually, I think it was a GOP conspiracy. (Only joking, Mr. Gallagher.)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Politics of Disruption

As we were leaving the township meeting Tuesday evening, a resident walking out with us said, “How do you guys manage to get anything done with that guy on the Board?” He was referring to Supervisor George Leonhauser, who takes every opportunity to disrupt or poison discussions of issues that are often vital to the efficient and cost-effective operation of government.

This gentleman, whom I had never met before, even went on to note that Leonhauser seems to “object to anything that may be good for the township.”

He doesn’t know the half of it. Leonhauser is a former Middletown Township police officer who retired on a disability and is being paid nearly $80,000 a year tax free. He’s a guy who sees nothing wrong with the fact that more than $1 million in overtime was paid to Middletown cops last year while all other departments combined only racked up $85,000 in OT. He’s a guy who has no problem with a police officer making over $160,000 a year and is always eager to thwart our efforts to bring the department under control.

When we were interviewing candidates for the new position of Public Safety Director – a move Leonhauser vehemently opposed – he did all in his power to sabotage the process, sending out e-mails to potential candidates to discourage them from coming here or to their superiors letting them know they had applied. His dissemination of confidential material has become so disruptive that it has become virtually impossible to hold executive sessions on personnel or contract matters.

It was Leonhauser who politicized the tragic death of Det. Chris Jones. Fortunately those who initially supported his efforts to demonize some elected and appointed public officials who haven’t bent to his will recognized how poorly this reflected on the memory of Det. Jones and the honor he deserves. Residents familiar with the controversy were almost uniformly appalled over his antics.

In the words of one of my colleagues, one can only conclude that Leonhauser’s sole motive “is to tear down the Board of Supervisors in some ill-contrived effort to elect more people like him.” Residents should be careful to identify those candidates with whom Leonhauser has aligned himself to protect their tax dollars and the integrity of their local government.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Meeting the Emergency Services Needs of the 21st Century

At last night’s meeting of the Board of Supervisors, we passed a resolution establishing an ad hoc Study Commission for the Long Range Planning of Emergency Services in Middletown Township. As Board chair, I was tasked with designating who should serve on this commission.

As our solicitor, Mike Savona, pointed out last night, it is the legal obligation of a second class township to provide the emergency services required to keep its citizens safe. The fire companies, police department and emergency medical service are the tools through which a township meets this obligation.

By setting up this study commission, we are setting out to determine if these services are functioning properly, if there is a unified command structure to meet any catastrophe and whether any actions are needed to improve on the delivery of these services. 

The creation earlier this year of the position of public safety director was the first step in providing unified oversight of all three services. The study commission will help establish a strategic plan to determine what, if any, other measures are needed as we move forward to meet all emergency needs in the 21st Century.

If you, as a citizen, have any comments or concerns, let us know. The safety of our community demands that we get it right.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Heroes We Grew Up With

I just returned from a four-day trip to Washington, D.C., to attend the 64th anniversary reunion of my father’s shipmates from WWII, all crew members on the USS Evans (DD552). I have been attending these every-other-year reunions for the past 12 years, ever since the offspring of shipmates began running them for their parents.

I have gotten to know and love these members of America’s “Greatest Generation.” So, while each reunion has been a joyous occasion for families of the shipmates to once again come together to honor these heroes, they are also bitter sweet since we all know that many will not return two years hence. World War II veterans are dying at a rate of 1,000 a day according to projections of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. When we hosted the reunion in Philadelphia six years ago, about 200 people attended, with slightly more than 30 who served as shipmates on the Evans. This past weekend, there were a mere 30 in the entire group, only six of whom were shipmates.

Typically a reunion consists of arriving on Thursday, scheduled site-seeing activities on Friday morning with the afternoon off for individuals to explore on their own. On Saturday morning we have the memorial service for the 33 crew members who were killed on May 11, 1945 and those shipmates – one of whom was my father – who have passed on since. On Saturday evening, we have a formal dinner.

The Evans was part of the famous Battle of Okinawa. Forty days into that campaign, on May 11, the Evans was attacked by approximately 100 Japanese aircraft. After 73 minutes of constant fighting, she was taken out of action as four kamikazes achieved direct hits on the ship. 

This reunion in Washington had its particularly heart warming moments. On Friday morning we visited the National WWII Memorial and the Marine Corps War Memorial, also known as the Iwo Jima Memorial. At both sites, young children on tours with their schools flocked around our shipmates (all of whom had Evans’ caps on, which probably identified them as veterans), asking to have their pictures taken with them. Several actually asked for autographs. The shipmates – who became known for the remainder of the reunion as “rock stars” – were thoroughly surprised but obviously pleased. These are people who rarely talked about their experiences in the war until they began getting together for these reunions. 

On Saturday afternoon, Chris and I were joined on a trip to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum by one of the Evans crew and his nephew, and a Marine fighter pilot and his wife. After the Evans was dead in the water from the four kamikaze hits, this Marine pilot took out a kamikaze just before it would have crashed into the Evans, most assuredly sinking her and leading to the deaths of many more sailors. He has since become the only honorary member of the Evans crew.

During our tour of the Air and Space Museum, two college students came up to us, apologized for interrupting, and said they just wanted to shake the hands of our two shipmates and thank them for their service. Nothing like this has happened on any other reunion I attended. Hopefully it is happening to other WWII vets all over America – their time is short and they deserve every tribute they receive.

Nancy Wilson, who hosted this reunion for her father, had a very appropriate toast to the shipmates attending – and all other crew members who departed: “To the heroes we grew up with.”

I wholeheartedly concur.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Lack of Respect "Ugly" and Must be Changed

Recently Middletown Township entered into an agreement with the Pennsylvania Governor’s Center for Local Government Services to conduct a management review of the Middletown Township Police Department. 

The basic reason for the review was to provide some assistance to the Board of Supervisors to improve the working relationship between it and the members of the police department. To get there, some of the chronic problems that are part of the current culture of the department needed to be identified and, ultimately, addressed.

The review was completed approximately a month ago and presented to the Board of Supervisors following its April 28, 2009 regular meeting.

The peer-to-peer consultant for the project was Richard F. Garipoli, who is a 33-year veteran of municipal law enforcement in Pennsylvania with a long list of credentials. In a pre-release discussion of the findings with Township Manager Raymond Stepnoski, acting Public Safety Director Patrick McGinty, and  chairman of the Board of Supervisors Chuck Thompson, Mr. Garipoli opened the review of the “Organization and Management Principles” section with the following statement:

“There is a lack of respect (for the current PSD). It is ugly and it needs to be changed.”

In his review, Mr. Garipoli pointed out that “someone must inspect the various people  and functions to confirm that duties are being performed and to insure that quality service is delivered. This responsibility falls upon the top executive of the department, which in this case [is] the new PSD, the lieutenants (command or mid-level managers), and sergeants (first line supervisors).”

Because of the “ugly” lack of respect being accorded PSD McGinty, the report said the “supervisors of the Middletown Township Police Department need to reinstitute this culture back to the officers. Officers should be respectful at all times.”

The emphasis is mine. The reason for this statement is that Mr. Garipoli states elsewhere in his report that he “was shown e-mails from officers to the township administration staffs that were inappropriate and unkind.” That is bureaucrat-speak for arrogant and outrageous.

Mr. Garipoli also reports that “During my visits I had opportunities to see numerous officers gathered for long periods of time and wondered why. When I asked, I was told they had nothing to do.” Standing around for long periods of time with nothing to do is not unusual for the Middletown PD. It is part of the culture PSD McGinty inherited and it is part of why overtime for the department has exploded – to the point where one officer was paid more than $160,000 last year. 

Additionally, Mr. Garipoli pointed out that:

  • “Arrests are not done in a timely manner. Lab reports indicate that arrest can be made; however, many cases are not followed up and prosecuted. … Officers must be held accountable for finishing their reports and arrests.”
  • “…Sergeants should watch how arrests are made and that the number of officers involved with a case is held to a minimum. …Somewhere in this process there should be a check by a supervisor to make sure that unnecessary witnesses are taken off the paperwork for courts.”

This second bullet point is what is driving the overtime to such extraordinary heights. In some cases, as many as five officers show up at a traffic stop and all “sign on” to the case. Each must then go to court and rack up the 6 hours of overtime this entails.

This report will go a long way in helping us solve the long-festering problems that plague our police department and will not only lead to better relations between the PD and BOS but will also create a much safer community.