Watch the Jenkintown Borough Council Meeting, May 22, 2017

This month’s meeting includes some interesting public comment, and more arrogant, tone-deaf responses from our representatives.

Don’t miss hearing Rick Bunker’s fuzzy math as he falsely describes how the new park on Cedar Street will not result in a tax increase for residents. The only thing missing from his assertion was a “Ready my lips.” Sadly, he does not speak for the School District, which is vehemently against this park and will take the biggest hit from this folly.

Mr. Bunker’s claims omit the loss of tax revenue not just for the Borough for years to come, but the potential loss of revenue from a properly developed parcel. His part in this false narrative also omit upkeep, insurance, and more. Just the development of this parcel will cost ten percent of the current budget, or about $700,000.

Might we suggest to the Council that they launch a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for this park, and see its supporters bother to donate enough money to cover the ceremonial ground-breaking shovel.

Jenkintown Council and the Big Lie of property boundaries

Jenkintown Council, property boundaries, and the dangers of assumptions

Who owns what? No one knows.

That’s the question we keep coming back to in our ongoing campaign to change the sidewalk ordinance. As we have found at the outset of this campaign, the Borough, and especially Rick Bunker, Sean Kilkenny, and Michael Golden continue to believe that the current ordinance is completely justified because the homeowner also owns the land underneath the sidewalk.

Borough Solicitor Sean Kilkenny, at the Council meeting where we first brought this up, stated quite confidently that “It’s an easement.”

Council Vice-President Rick Bunker replied to an earlier posting saying that according to a lawyer friend of his, our property lines are determined by the markers.

In a one-on-one discussion, Michael Golden stated in a matter-of-fact manner, “But the Borough doesn’t own that land.”

The fact is, none of our public servants really know. Everyone keeps repeating some misinformation they received from those that preceded them or from those they assume should know.

The fact is this: The county does not archive residential site plans. Your deed does indeed have coordinates that a surveyor will use to determine your exact property boundaries, but it’s likely you have never employed one. Despite the fact that your bank will loan you hundreds of thousands of dollars for your home purchase, it will not require a site plan as part of the transaction. You may not own what you think you own. Surveyors all have a story that attests to this.

In an effort to get to the truth, I filed a Right to Know request with both the borough and the county, asking for any documentation that proves Mr. Kilkenny’s assertion. The Borough said they had no such documentation, and the county directed me to their public records website. I had already researched this site and paid a visit to their office where I found only tax maps that show the borough considered three feet of my front yard beyond the sidewalk as a public right of way. Why Mr. Kilkenny thinks there’s an easement, we don’t know. Please show us the proof.

Our property is indeed delineated by markers placed just on my side of the sidewalk. Beyond those markers, we assume belongs to the borough.

We bring this up again, because at public hearings, we’ve heard Mr. Bunker repeat what sounds now like a Big Lie. At the corner of Walnut and Runnymede, PennDOT has replaced or repaired a traffic signal which required work done to the sidewalk. In the discussion about its status, Mr. Bunker asserted that the owner owns that sidewalk, after all. How does he know that?

We appreciate the fact that a re-survey of every residential parcels in this or any town would prove prohibitively expensive, but it would cost nothing for our public officials to stop spreading misinformation.

A simple blueprint for a more transparent Jenkintown

A simple blueprint for a more transparent Jenkintown

What began as an effort to simply change the sidewalk ordinance so that it becomes more equitable and produces superior results has evolved into an investigation into the overall competence of Jenkintown government. The more you know, the less you like, sad to say. Indeed, it seems that at times Council makes things up as they go along, which we have to assume is a downside of all-volunteer governance.

What’s worse is that the more we try to shine some light on their activities, the more they tend to circle the wagons. The grapevine now tells us that despite Council’s assurances of openness and transparency, they have begun to consider prohibiting citizen live streaming their meetings. We hope this isn’t the case. With the Borough now considering a major move to sell its properties to a developer, a commitment to an open process is more vital than ever.
 To us, an open process means the following:

E-blasts

More timely email updates and announcements. Borough Hall still seems reluctant to release information much more than 48 hours in advance. We ask for a five-day notice minimum. Council President Deborrah Sines-Pancoe seems to struggle with procedure and resources, but regarding the latter, we have a non-profit client with two employees that manage to issue an email every month with little trouble.

Regarding the former, that’s for Borough Hall to work out, but we suggest that any issue that commits taxpayers in any substantial way, that may affect tax levies, the physical appearance of Jenkintown, and relevant public meeting should warrant a succinct blast, post on the Facebook page, and published on the Borough website five days in advance.

Electronic media

Anyone who compares meeting minutes with our recent YouTube postings will clearly see the discrepancy between the official record and reality. The minutes omit a great deal. The Borough must at the very least archive all recordings of its meetings. They can either do that on their own equipment, or they can upload the audio files to Archive.org, which will cost them nothing.

Currently, the Borough does generate an electronic audio recording of its meetings, but once the minutes are filed, they destroy the file. There’s no excuse for this.

Live-streaming.

The Borough must commit itself to live streaming its meetings. As we have proven, there remains no barrier, financial or technological, to doing this on a regular basis. All videos can both be streamed from and archived on YouTube or Facebook or both.

Outreach

As we have pointed out on many occasions, with each ward represented by three council members, you’d think you might see them once in a while. In our ward, only now-former-councilor Laurie Durkin ever bothered to even leave a pamphlet on our door since we moved here. Our representatives are more than welcome to knock on our door and talk about anything with us. We guarantee a polite, intelligent discussion about what we think would make our community better.

Can the Borough finally admit to the inadequacy of its current procedure for dissemination, and that it must finally come into the 21st century? Doing this will go a long way to alleviating the Borough from the expense of fulfilling the spate of Right-To-Know requests it has endured of late.
Did Kilkenny lie Jenkintown Council, why is he our solicitor?

Did Sean Kilkenny lie to Jenkintown Council?

And if so, why is he still our solicitor?

Did you know that Jenkintown Borough Council creates an audio recording of all their meetings to use in the generation of its official minutes? Given that you no longer see anyone at the meeting typing a transcription, this makes sense.

Did you also know that once the Borough creates the minutes document it destroys the audio recording? News to us as well, and given that these recordings create an MP3 file less than 150 megabytes in size, a one terabyte hard drive could hold more than 6500 recordings, or about 125 years worth of Council meetings.

Right now, you can buy a one terabyte external hard drive on Amazon for $55.00. Why does the Borough delete these historical records?

Enclosed is one such historical record from March 27, where you can hear at least three Jenkintown residents put Borough Solicitor Sean Kilkenny in his place, and even catch him in a lie. Mr. Kilkenny states on several occasions in this recording alone that he is not allowed to give legal advice on criminal matters, and yet we hear Chief of Police Albert DiValentino revealing that his office did just that.

The comment period of this particular meeting largely involves the ongoing ordeal at 303 Runnymede, for which the Borough has dragged its feet for an interminable amount of time. Judge for yourself.

Jenkintown Borough Transparency, Sines-Pancoe style

Jenkintown Borough Transparency, Sines-Pancoe style

Deborra Sines-Pancoe extolls the virtues of transparency, but her actions drown out her four minute statement.

Council President Deborra Sines-Pancoe delivered a rambling four-and-a-half-minute statement last Monday that considered some of the controversies currently swirling around 700 Summit Avenue. Much of this statement sounded like a defense of her and her colleagues on the board, but she also took some swipes at the “inordinate” number of Right to Know requests, and the verbal attacks that she and others in Borough Hall have had to endure in the past several months.

We’ve taken Ms. Sines-Pancoe to task in the past for her curious cluelessness, which she exemplified last Monday when she observed a “full house” at the meeting, when in fact only eight people turned up. In the past, she told Borough Manager George Locke that she thought the sidewalks “looked great,” when in fact they look like a sloppy hodgepodge.

Like George W. Bush telling former FEMA head “Brownie” he was doing a “great job,” we start to wonder about Ms. Sines-Pancoe’s comprehension of the realities that confront this borough.

Most of her statement addressed her commitment to transparency and openness, especially in light of recent developments and the announcement that the Borough may sell its properties for redevelopment. This assertion flies in the face of her actions in the recent past where she:

  • Did not dismiss George Locke’s request withhold posting the Borough’s full budget on the website because it shows the line-item with Mr. Locke’s current salary ($115,000) and the percentage increase (23.5%).
  • Held a public hearing about the Cedar Street acquisition advertised only in the legal notice section of the Times-Chronicle just barely before the 48-hour deadline, and posting the agenda on the website a half-hour before the actual hearing.
  • Continues to hinder the effort to set up procedures for community e-blasts informing of major announcements, especially those that affect the broader community and/or would commit it in a financially significant manner.
  • Refuses to ride herd on the Borough Manager to put an end, once and for all, to the egregious and flagrant zoning violations taking place at 303 Runnymede and the criminal activities of its occupant.
  • Defends Borough Solicitor Sean Kilkenny despite the fact that he was caught in a lie providing prohibited advice on a criminal matter with regards to 303 Runnymede during the March 27 council meeting, at which she should have asked for Kilkenny’s resignation right on the spot.

Ms. Sines-Pancoe also took great pains to remind us all that she, her fellow council members, and the mayor serve as volunteers. “We are performing community service,” she stressed. The implication being, of course, was “You should all stop being so critical.”

As previously stated, I applaud anyone’s sense of volunteerism, but just because you do not accept compensation for your efforts does not put you beyond reproach — especially when you assume the reigns of power. For many people, power is its own reward. Our volunteer council has the power to take our homes, to put it bluntly. Volunteers that don’t know how to do their jobs or who abuse their positions do us no favors.

Finally, with regard to the Right-To-Know requests, I myself have filed maybe a dozen in the past six months. I know for a fact that two other residents have also busied themselves filing requests as well, mostly to learn more about Borough activities.

Speaking for myself, I file them because there is simply no other way to get the information I need to draft proposals for improving my community or to build a case illustrating Borough ineptitudes. Ms. Sines-Pancoe complained about the cost to the Borough of these requests, but I can assure her that if the Borough was indeed transparent, we would’t need to file the requests for the information.

I am currently engaged in an effort to receive official information about a one particular Council member, and the Borough has retained Kilkenny’s office to cynically and illegally obstruct this request with prohibitive demands.

The grapevine tells me that Deborra Sines-Pancoe plans to run for reelection, but to paraphrase Henry II, will no one rid us of this meddlesome councilor? I rather that she would spare us any further lip service to providing the good government she falsely asserts she is providing.

As I have stated numerous times before: This is a tiny borough. There is simply no excuse for our government to serve us so poorly and to work so hard to keep us in the dark.

Listen to the full statement here: