Thursday, July 30, 2009

Committee, unions, government work to make park reality

All five Township supervisors agreed to lend the Veterans Memorial Park committee the $250,000 it needs to complete the facility located on Veterans Highway next to the new municipal Department of Public Works building.

The loan will be paid back by the committee through fundraising at the rate of $50,000 a year for five years.

Members of the local carpenters, operating engineers, electricians and other unions have donated about 1,000 hours of labor to the park, and other volunteers have donated another 1,000. We are really lucky to have such public spirited unions in our area – if you see them working in the park, stop by and say thanks.

This is going to be a beautiful facility and I for one am looking forward to seeing it completed by the end of the year.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Making government work

Because of the action we took at last night’s Board of Supervisors’ meeting, an untold number of residents of the Levittown section of Middletown Township will be saved from paying a $135 fee and appearing before the Zoning Hearing Board before they can apply for a building permit.

This problem was brought to our attention by Harry Arnold, a member of the ZHB and my running mate in this year’s election.

The problem is the fact that nearly every home in Levittown is designated as “non-conforming” because, by the current codes, the lot sizes are too small for the homes that sit on them. A strict reading of the codes indicates that people whose homes are deemed as non-conforming must apply to the ZHB for a “certificate of non-conformance” before they can apply for a building permit, even if the permit application wouldn’t require a variance of any kind.

For years, this provision was just ignored by the zoning officer. Recently a new zoning officer was appointed and began to enforce this provision. Mr. Arnold told the supervisors last evening that he felt this was both unfair and unnecessary. We agreed.

The Township has been working on codifying the ordinances and Manager Ray Stepnoski and Solicitor Mike Savona agreed that this stipulation could be removed during the codification. Vice Chair Robert McMonagle successfully motioned to direct the zoning officer, in the meantime, not to enforce this requirement and for the Township to reimburse those who have paid the fee.

This is a prime example of why I ran for office in the first place and am running again in November – making government work for the citizens it serves.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Wet and Happy

Well, it’s over. The Middletown Township Parks and Recreation Department’s Second Annual Lake Luxembourg Paddle Boat Regatta has come to a successful conclusion. And, while there was some confusion, I think everyone had a good time.

There was one aspect I did find interesting. While there were several politicians who entered the race, only the Democrats actually got into the boats and did the paddling. That was kind of a metaphor on the difference in the two parties. While our opponents stand around – or, in the case of a few here in Middletown, sit around – and bask in their own glory, the Democrats dig in and do the hard work that can help improve their community. One need only watch the Middletown Township Board of Supervisors’ meetings to see what I mean.

Democratic supporter Nicole Palfy with
Supervisor candidates
Harry Arnold, Julie Sauerbry-Smith
and Chuck Thompson.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

A Culture of Entitlement

At the June 23, 2009 meeting of the Middletown Board of Supervisors, the Middletown Policeman’s Benevolent Association, (PBA), filed four grievances on behalf of their members. These grievances helped illuminate, for the public, a systemic pattern of abuse of the PBA contract – abuses that may explain why there is a culture of entitlement within the police department.

First, I should explain how retirement pensions and permanent disability pensions are addressed in the PBA contract. If an officer has served enough time to retire, he or she will receive a pension equal to 55 percent of wages earned, averaged over the last three years of service, much like the rest of the U.S. workforce.

If, on the other hand, an officer is retired on permanent disability, this pension goes up to 75 percent of the three-year average, which the retiree receives for life – tax free. A prime example of this is Supervisor George Leonhauser who receives about $80,000 a year on a disability pension. The disability-pensioner is free to secure other employment; Leonhauser, for example, has a full-time position with the Bucks County Tech School.

More on Leonhauser, later in this post.

Of the last 18 retirements from the Middletown PD, all 18 retirements were permanent disability retirements – not one of them merely served his/her time until reaching retirement age. Coincidence? Or abuse of the system?

A now-common grievance came in the request for a permanent disability at the June 23 meeting from Detective Brian McDonough, who allegedly tore his rotator cuff while moving a treadmill while he was on a county detail, although it is unclear why he was needed by the county to move a treadmill.

I have known a number of people who have torn their rotator cuffs, including my mother, brother-in-law and half-a-dozen friends. All had them repaired with routine surgery and have no further problems today. McDonough, however, is refusing surgery and the township cannot order him to undergo it.

Had the Board of Supervisors approved McDonough’s grievance, he would begin receiving a tax-free, lifetime pension of $89,595.89 per year. McDonough turned 38 less than a month earlier; at a life-expectancy of 77 years(1), the cost of this one pension would be well-over $3-million(2).
Further, there is no contractual provision for recompense to the township if, in the future, McDonough elected to have surgery to correct his rotator cuff. Not a bad deal, huh? And, just because this grievance was denied by the Board of Supervisors does not preclude an arbitrator from granting the request.

The second grievance pertained to a new policy that prohibits officers from using the Township gym and weight-lifting equipment while on-duty. Under the former rules allowing gym use during lunch, officers were prohibited from changing or showering after workouts because they are always on-duty – including while on lunch break. The administration thought the liability was too great to continue to allow this practice.

More light was shed on that liability in the next grievance considered. Officer Michael Rosenstein requested a permanent disability pension after injuring his rotator cuff – yes, one of those again – and tearing his right pectoral muscle – while working out in the gym during his lunch break. (There have been conflicting stories about exactly which gym it was.)

The last grievance under consideration was lodged by Officer Michael Stum who was injured during a training exercise in Doylestown. Because the injury was not serious, Stum was put on light duty over the next three working days. The PBA, however, argued that since he should have been home on injured-on-duty, (IOD), status, the three days of light-duty should have been paid at overtime, or, time-and-a-half, rate, in addition to his straight salary. Yes – you read that correctly, and if the PBA’s position sounds backward, or upside-down, that is because it is, relative to the real world, where you and I live and work.

It is this culture of entitlement that we expect to change under the direction of the new Director of Public Safety. It is also this culture that Supervisor Leonhauser is fighting so hard to protect. Anyone who has attended or watched our meetings over the last year-and-a-half cannot help but notice that the only issues Leonhauser addresses are those involving the police. He doesn’t care what a policy costs the taxpayer, whom he is sworn to represent, as long as all benefits, no matter how ridiculous or absurd, are preserved.

One might wonder why he would be so strident now that he is out and enjoying his own 75-percent-for-life salary benefit. Might it have to do with the fact that he has two sons and a son-in-law on the force?

One also might wonder why Leonhauser – a lifetime member of the PBA with three family members on the force – is even allowed to vote on issues concerning the police department. Where is the outrage from Leonhauser’s co-conspirators, including attorney Michael Fitzpatrick, who worked so hard to get rid of Supervisor Kathy Heuer last year, filing four frivolous, but costly, lawsuits, under the guise that they were “only trying to protect the taxpayers”?

Maybe this cabal sees their culture of entitlement, built so assiduously over the past couple of decades, under attack and crumbling. The best thing taxpayers can do to protect themselves from this wanton abuse and corruption is to find out who these people are supporting in the November election, because, if elected, they will not be working in your best interests.
2 Avg Salary over three years = $107,461.18 x .75 = $80,595.89 x 39 years = $3,143,239.70