DO YOUR ELECTED OFFICIALS KNOW AND UNDERSTAND THE TOWNSHIP’S ORDINANCES?
A local ordinance is a law passed by a municipal government, in our case, the Berwick Township Board of Supervisors. Supervisors should be aware of the laws they have on the books and ensure they are current. And if they ignore or violate an ordinance, they are in violation of their own laws.
There are two examples we can provide to indicate that most members of the Board of Supervisors are not aware of what their own ordinances say – or else that they do not care about the law.
In December 2013, the Board of Supervisors voted to issue a renewal license to a mobile home park in Berwick Township. The park in question failed its last two inspections in 2010 and 2012 and a new inspection was not held prior to the issuance of the renewal license. This violated Section 902.B.4. of Article IX of Ordinance 41 as amended by Ordinance 62, which states, “It shall be unlawful for any person to operate a Mobile Home Park without a license to be renewed every three (3) years in the name of the landowner and manager.” The next sentence is the most critical language in this particular section and perhaps in the entirety of Article IX. The amended ordinance states, “Prior to the renewal of any Mobile Home Park License there shall be an inspection by the Township.” The ordinance states that the Township has the right to require that deficiencies be corrected to bring a park into compliance before issuing a renewal license.
Thus, the Berwick Township supervisors violated their own ordinances when they issued a renewal license to the landowner of the mobile home park in December 2013 without conducting an inspection. A mobile home park, mind you, that failed two previous inspections! Additionally, they ignored a motion they unanimously passed at their May 13, 2013, meeting that approved having an inspection of the said property for the purpose of determining whether a renewal license should be granted.
When questioned about their actions, the Township Solicitor replied that the park owner’s attorneys “certified” that all work had been done and the park was now in compliance. Nowhere on the website of the park owner’s attorneys does it say that they have engineers on staff who are qualified to certify that a mobile home park is in full compliance, having corrected all issues as cited in the report issued by the Township’s engineers in 2010 and 2012.
As of this posting, an inspection of the park in question still has not occurred and park residents still have no idea if the park is in compliance or not.
Ordinance 20, enacted in March 1991, established the Eastern Adams Regional Police Department, commonly known as EARP. In late 2012, in accordance with the contract then in place, Berwick Township notified EARP and the other participating municipalities that it would not renew the contract for EARP to provide police protection to the Township when the contract expired at the end of 2013.
At the May 1, 2015, Board of Supervisors’ meeting, a resident pointed out to the supervisors that Ordinance 20 had never been repealed. The resident asked the Township Solicitor to address this issue. The Solicitor replied that he could only research it if he was requested to do so by the board. No one on the board asked him to take on this research. Supervisor Cockley eventually said he would review the ordinance and report back.
At the June 8, 2015, meeting, Supervisor Cockley deferred to the Township Solicitor who reported that he had researched Ordinance 20 and other ordinances relating to the police department. He indicated there were some inconsistencies in the various ordinances, but stated that the ordinances could be repealed in part. The pension portions must remain in force, as the Township bears some responsibility for this long-term cost. The supervisors passed a motion for the Solicitor to prepare the repeal for Ordinance 20 and partial repeal for other ordinances. The Solicitor was not in attendance at the July 2015 meeting to present the repeal for approval.
We ask you, the residents of Berwick Township:
ARE YOUR SUPERVISORS LOOKING OUT FOR YOU, THEIR CONSTITUENTS?
At the March 9, 2015 Supervisors’ meeting, Supervisor Danner moved to reimburse the tax collector, Lori Foltz, for her 6 continuing education credits, the cost of which was $240.00. The motion was approved by Supervisors Socks, Danner and Cockley. Supervisor Foltz abstained as he is related to the tax collector and Supervisor Black was not present at the meeting.
Also at the March 9, 2015 meeting, a Berwick Township resident commented on Lori Foltz’s reimbursement request for continuing education expenses, and the Supervisors’ approval, stating the expense does not directly benefit the entire community. Supervisor Foltz stated the Township previously reimbursed expenditures for Loretta Nace (the former Berwick Township Tax Collector).
As a Note: On April 23, 2015, subsequent to Mr. Foltz’s statement, a Right to Know (RTK) request was submitted to the Township, requesting copies of payments made to Loretta Nace, the former tax collector, exclusive of required reimbursements for collecting taxes from the year 2002 forward. On April 29, 2015, the RTK Officer (Supervisor Socks) advised that there were no records indicating such payments were ever made. That leaves the question, “to what was Supervisor Foltz referring?”
In April 2015, Citizens for Change made public the Supervisors’ actions in approving Ms. Foltz’s continuing education expenses in a mailing sent to the residents of Berwick Township.
At the May 11, 2015 Supervisors’ meeting, Supervisor Danner made a motion to send a letter to Adams County and the Conewago Valley School District asking if they would consider contributing to the tax collector’s continuing education expenses. The motion was seconded by Supervisor Cockley, which motion carried.
Also at the May 11, 2015 meeting, a letter from the tax collector, Lori Foltz, was read by Supervisor Danner. In part, the letter stated, “this is not something I am doing to better myself and I am aware this is not something that will better the community directly.” Ms. Foltz’s complete letter is available on this Website.
At the June 8, 2015 Supervisors’ meeting, the Supervisors announced that the Conewago Valley School District agreed to pay $125.00 towards Ms. Foltz’s continuing education fees. The Supervisors have not reported as to whether they received a reply from Adams County.
Do you Agree or Disagree that:
So, as a Berwick Township resident, who is looking out for you?
Why doesn’t Berwick Township have a community park? Does Berwick Township need a park? What happened to that Park Committee that was working on a Park?
In February 2013, a non-resident landowner contacted the Township indicating that she would like the Township to consider purchasing her 25+/- acre farm at a reasonable price for development into a community park. The Township, not having the funds to purchase the land nor the staff to work on this project, sat on the proposal for a while. Supervisor Pete Socks and Bea Haskins, an interested resident, felt that the Township should at the very least explore the possibilities for funding. They found that there are grants available for parks, including from the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Haskins participated in a webinar about grant applications with DCNR, where she learned that DCNR has Regional Advisors to assist applicants who are advised to get the Advisors involved early in the process.
In May 2013, a site visit of the land was held with DCNR Regional Advisor Jay Schreibman in attendance, along with Socks, Haskins and Township Zoning & Permits Officer Mike Hartman. Schreibman provided insight, materials and some guidance. One of the things he said was that municipalities applying for funds for its first community park have priority. He also said the entire acreage would not have to be developed at one time, but could be done over time. He was very encouraging. Based on his input, review of DCNR materials and other resources, the Township Board of Supervisors gave Supervisor Socks and Haskins permission to form a committee to explore the potential for a community park and what is involved in developing a park.
Through press releases and word of mouth, the Committee started with about six members. The first meeting of the new Park Committee was held in September 2013. The Committee met nine additional times through March 2014, and worked via email in between meetings. With the recommendation of Supervisor Socks, the Committee members agreed Haskins would chair the committee. Supervisor Socks would be the liaison to the Board of Supervisors. Additionally, Supervisor Socks set up a web site for the Park Committee, established a Committee email account and initially reviewed and approved all agendas and minutes. In November 2013, Supervisor Socks resigned from the Committee, citing personal reasons, but asked the Board of Supervisors to do what they could to make sure the Committee would have access to the municipal building for meetings.
The Committee conducted a very simple survey at the election polls in November 2013. The survey was approved by Supervisor Socks, who authorized the Township secretary to print as many copies as needed. The results indicated there was interest in and probable support for a community park in Berwick Township. Based on that, the Committee moved forward and developed a detailed Public Participation Plan. Meanwhile, the Committee regularly reported to the Board of Supervisors on its work and plans.
According to the DCNR, Bureau of Recreation and Conservation, “A critical element of any planning project is to determine the public’s recreational needs and interests. Through a well-designed public participation process, the attributes, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors of community residents are identified. Also, involving residents in the beginning of the project assists with decreasing opposition and increasing volunteer participation. After years of funding planning projects, the Bureau has found that substantial public involvement at the planning stage increases the likelihood that recreation projects will go beyond the planning stage to implementation. These experiences have promoted the Bureau to require significant public participation throughout the planning process. [Italics added.]
“Through previously funded projects, we have found that public participation is important because it:
Provides the community residents and community leaders an opportunity to voice their opinions;
Informs the elected officials of citizen attitudes and needs;
Helps to express broad-based public support for the planning process and the plan proposals; and,
Provides the general public and community leaders with an opportunity to support and be involved with the execution of the plan.”
Source: Public Participation Guide, provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), Bureau of Recreation and Conservation
The DCNR’s template for the plan included interviews with “Key Persons,” such as elected officials, religious and business leaders, school district administrators and non-profit leaders, e.g., scout troops. It is significant to note that the Park Committee, which became the Park Study Committee, included all members of the Board of Supervisors in their list of Key Persons to interview, which would have given any supervisors opposed to a community park a chance to state the reasons for their opposition.
In addition to the Key Person Interviews, the Public Participation Plan included a citizen survey, public meetings, periodic reports and a final report to the Board of Supervisors with findings from the Plan, a budget and a timeline. This was a well thought out plan with minimal costs to the Township (less than $1,000) associated with it. The Plan required a dedicated group of volunteers to carry it out and the Park Study Committee was that group.
The Public Participation Plan was sent to the Board of Supervisors in advance of their public meeting on March 24, 2014. At that meeting, Chairman Bob Foltz presented signatures he personally collected of residents who were opposed to the community park. Until that meeting, no residents opposed to the park appeared at the Board of Supervisors’ meetings. It was only after Chairman Foltz collected signatures that opponents came to this specific meeting where the Park Participation Plan was to be discussed and voted on. Coincidence or not? Those opponents were allowed to shout down the Park Study Committee’s spokesperson and the Board of Supervisors voted 4 to 1 to stop the Park Study Committee from doing any further work.
Haskins filed a Right to Know Request for copies of the petitions with the signatures, which was denied. The reason for the denial was that the residents’ signatures that Chairman Foltz personally collected were purportedly Foltz’s personal documents, even though he waved them around at a public meeting and were used by the supervisors as one of the reasons for their decision to stop the exploration of a community park for Berwick Township residents.
Thus, the Park Study Committee was denied the opportunity to conduct a comprehensive public participation study that would have reflected the views of the entire populace, not just those of supervisors who for their own personal and/or uninformed reasons did not want a community park. Without the Board’s support, there was no way a community park could be developed. Months of hard work by volunteers dedicated to improving the quality of life in Berwick Township were ignored by the supervisors. The process, however, gave Committee members valuable insight into how Township business is conducted by our elected officials.
Interestingly, Supervisor Socks was an initial supporter of the community park who later became an opponent. He said in a Board of Supervisors meeting that the only reason he ever supported the park was when he thought the land was going to be donated. Bea Haskins subsequently challenged him on that point, citing all the ways he had been a supporter of the park and the committee.
Long after he had achieved his goal of ensuring there would be no community park in Berwick Township, Chairman Foltz continued to harangue Haskins and others on the Park Study Committee about the park. His tirades during public meetings only stopped when Haskins told him that he clearly did not know how to be a gracious winner.
As a result of this entire process, citizens involved in the community park project and others saw the arbitrary way Chairman Foltz does business and the confrontational attitudes of three of the supervisors: Bob Foltz, Pete Socks and Tom Danner. Is their lack of foresight regarding positive community improvements a detriment to the Township and its residents? You be the judge.