Jenkintown Council President Deborra Sines-Pancoe

Lateral damages

The town that works harder to attract visitors than it does to keep its own residents eventually loses both. 

We keep sending that memo to Jenkintown, and it stubbornly refuses to read it. This week, realtor Andrew Smith sent out a memo of his own that asks Council to reconsider a 2017 ordinance requiring inspection of sewer laterals before a property sale. Of all the claims made, the assertion that these inspections waste large, equity-devouring sums of money and do no good should resonate the loudest.

Our borough council has a real problem truly understanding the concept of financial hardship. They pay lip service, but they do not act upon their feeble expressions of empathy. It makes one want to call for them to release their tax returns if only to show the hypocrisy of joining a party that blames the nation’s ills on the apathy of the one-percent.

With this ordinance, rarely does a “For Sale” sign pop up in Jenkintown without a backhoe appearing to dig up the front yard, a brand-new sidewalk, and sometimes a chunk of a freshly paved street. Don’t move here unless you can afford this council’s unsubstantiated environmental agenda.

The lateral ordinance was snuck onto the agenda and passed in 2017 despite Cheltenham’s eventual abandonment of a similar program that they found fixed nothing and cost too much.

This latest example of expensive municipal folly follows the surreptitious acquisition of the Cedar Street property, the vindictive persecution of Peggy and Dave Downs and their subsequent lawsuit, and the grossly mismanaged sidewalk repair “program”. In all three cases, the Council ignored the facts, leaving onerous and unnecessary burdens upon hapless homeowners. 

It’s no coincidence that this municipal dysfunction started about the same time Deborra Sines-Pancoe ascended to Council leadership. It’s also no coincidence that council has become a revolving door or that it has an open seat going into the general election. People who value their time do not want to share that board with her. 

Pancoe has not contented herself with running the main meeting, but she now exerts undue influence into the committees as well. Rick Bunker quit his seat in a huff during a fire commission meeting after Pancoe, who wasn’t even a member, hijacked it. She has even gone so far as to refer to herself alternately as Jenkintown’s manager and its leader. As Council President, she has no managerial authority at all. Officially, Jenkintown has no leader.

Pancoe, a Quaker, serves also as a director for Abington Friends Academy. Quakerism’s central tenet of non-violence should make one wonder how a professed believer can be so blind to the violence that financial disaster can bring to struggling families, the elderly, or anyone who desperately wants to jump ship before she steers it into the iceberg.

Twenty years from now, when the history of Jenkintown’s decline and annexation by Abington is written, look forward to an entire chapter devoted to Deborra Sines-Pancoe’s role in this sad development.

Video of Jenkintown School Board Meeting

Our efforts in the name of transparency eventually prompted Jenkintown Borough Council to livestream its monthly meeting. Now it’s the School Board’s turn.

For well over a year, the JSD tip-toed into the 21st century by providing audio archives of its meetings. At the time, that was much more than its Borough counterpart bothered to do, it’s become painfully obvious that their effort is insufficient. While audio does provide a record of what was said, it does not make it clear who is saying it. It still does not indicate the nuances of the meetings, the expressions, the glances, the body language.

It does not show who actually pledges allegiance and who, like Council President Deborra Sines-Panco, simply stands mum with their hands at their sides.

It’s our intention to start a livestream of the meetings, but the meeting room works like a Faraday cage, inhibiting the cellular signal. In the meantime, please enjoy our archived video of this week’s School Board Business meeting.

yard sign

For the good of the Boro, sit out the primary

Something curious has sprung up on many front lawns here in Jenkintown. Yard signs advertising our incumbent council members, none of whom have any competition, have infested the town. I’ve lived here for 19 years, and until 2017, I never voted in a municipal election — not because I don’t vote — but because I never saw any evidence that one was going on.

When you live in a town with a voting block about 75% Democratic, why bother going through the trouble of campaigning? Indeed, why bother with outreach and town halls or, even in the era of social media, any public discussion about the issues? Council and committee meetings are open to the public, after all, so for what purpose would it serve to spend a day a month on outreach?

The yard signs I’ve seen so far support the reelections of Jay Conners, Jennifer Lugar, and David Ballard (at this writing). Let’s consider their records.

Jay Conners (Ward 4) currently serves as the Council’s Vice President, and he leads the public works committee. On his watch, George Locke turned our sidewalks into a joke thanks to the ill-advised policy of random inspection causing a contractor free-for-all where we all paid double to triple a fair price for sidewalks that are already crumbling. Mr. Locke’s public works department has become the Gang that Can’t Dig Straight as evidenced by the shoddy stormwater work on the 200 block of Runnymede that left brand new curbs and pavement severely damaged. The town is riddled with code violations, embroiled in a civil rights lawsuit, but that doesn’t stop Jay from voting in favor of a 23% pay raise.

Jennifer Lugar (Ward 4) has barely spoken a half-dozen sentences on Council during her tenure. She’s a lovely person, and someone I’ve had in my house, but she fills her Twitter feed with nothing but her gun control advocacy. I understand her very personal motivations for this, but how does gun control bring more business to the commercial district? How does gun control solve our looming sewer issues? 

David Ballard (Ward 3) occasionally posts interesting trivia on the Jenkintown Community page but advances little except voting in lock-step with Deborra Sines-Pancoe’s self-serving agenda of opacity.

And all three of them support George Locke, Sean Kilkenny, and Deborra Sines-Pancoe, one of whom really runs the show. 

This is, frankly, the most do-nothing, rubber-stamping group of party sycophants I’ve witnessed in my long-time observation of local affairs, here and elsewhere. That all said, twelve Republicans would do no better. 

Make no mistake, Jenkintonians: We are sailing into some stormy seas. We ended the last fiscal year with a half-million dollar deficit, this despite ten years of national economic expansion. Our business district, which the entire community depends upon to stay afloat, limps along. A weaker town center means higher school tax. High school tax means lower property values. 

Surrounding towns have left us in the dust. Right now, I hear no one wanting their town to be the “next Jenkintown.” 

I believe that more democracy is better than less. More debate is better, as is more transparency and more outreach. Few things damage a society more than denying its people a voice on issues that affect them directly, and few things threaten Jenkintown’s delicate viability than Council’s endemic floundering. 

What do do? It pains me to suggest this but since a trip to the polls will change nothing, I see little point in going. Please sit out this plebiscite. If you really want to make a statement, then write in “Anyone Else” or perhaps “No One”. 

Jenkintown experiencing the lowest voter turnout in its history could be the best way to send a message to the Machine, which is this: Maybe we can’t get rid you, but we will not support you. 

Less local news coverage = more municipal monkey business

Jenkintown residents should easily identify with a segment aired on today’s Saturday Weekend Edition with Scott Simon. In that segment Scott spoke with professor Meghan Rubado, who explained how shrinking newsrooms can potentially impact the number of candidates who run not just for mayor, but for any local elected position.

After the remarkable election Jenkintown had two years ago where a write-in candidate for mayor garnered more than 35% of the vote, it looks like we’ll be getting back to normal this November. In Jenkintown, no one runs for office. They are appointed and serve until they’re sick of serving. This describes both Borough Council AND the Jenkintown school board.

Ms. Rubado’s study asserts citizens left unaware of their officials activities won’t find motivation to launch a challenge. Sound familiar, Jenkintown?

Runnymede storm drain fixes break sidewalk and curb work

Last week, Jenkintown Public Works under the supervision of George Locke made an attempt to address an ongoing water drainage issue on Runnymede Avenue. According to the Borough, it seems that a spring somewhere between Hillside Avenue and the 200 block of Rodman gets expecially overactive after snowmelts and rainstorms and gushes water down the hill and into the yards of properties on the 200 block of Runnymede. In the winter, this is especially problematic since the water that pours into the street tends to freeze, creating a hazardous condition.

Mr. Locke proposed expanding the capacity of the storm drains on the 200 block of Runnymede to handle the overflow. I’ll be the first to admit I’m not civil engineer, but it seems to me that it might make more sense to address the water at its source.

That said, JPW dug into the street to lay pipe and to install new drains. The work caused damage to existing and recently repaired sidewalks, aprons, and curbs — some of it severe. This section of Runnymede was repaved in 2015, and the patch applied promises to accelerate the eventual deterioration of the street.

We’ve stated this on many occasions: For a town that prides itself on its walkability, it seems to actually care little about it. This is not workmanship worthy of such a town.

For the record, George Locke earns a salary of more than $125,000/year plus benefits.

This gallery shows some of that work.