A Final Word about Rick Bunker

“Think about it. We have a president who is so easily played by a cable news host. What does that say to our allies?” — Mika Brzezinski

I heard that this morning as I sat down to write this. Replace “a president” with “Rick Bunker”, and “cable news host” with “blogger” you have some idea of Mr. Bunker’s thin skin,$general demeanor, and disregard for his position and his community.

Our beef with Rick Bunker began when he made the following remark about our suggestion to find a better way to maintain our sidewalks:

“This is the we’ve always done it, and it’s the way the rest of the state does it. I see no reason to support this change. No one is complaining about the way we’re doing this.”

Even when presented with overwhelming evidence of this ordinance’s waste and the hardship it imposes, all Mr. Bunker wanted to do was shut down the conversation. I knew nothing of Rick Bunker at that point (except that he owned a gun), but I knew then that I had found Jenkintown’s bette noir.

Forgive me, but when I hear a politician so emphatic in his opposition to a simple request to discuss a matter of importance, I wonder about possible corruption. For what reason would someone in a position to help be so blatantly obstructionist and hard hearted? 

We began this effort not only because we thought a wholesale method of sidewalk remediation made better sense from a financial and engineering standpoint, but admittedly because it was going to profoundly hurt our own financial situation. We went to the Borough and asked them to help us, and Rick Bunker said to suck it up.

So, we dug in and went to work. Employing the Right to Know law, we researched what the community paid for all the recent sidewalk work. Mr. Bunker called our efforts a waste of taxpayer money, except that several taxpayers wanted to know who paid what? Unlike the Borough, we could tell them. This was information that should have been readily available since the Borough asked for it on two of the four permits it used. After all, you did pay a filing fee. 

Then the Borough entirely eliminated the contractor’s estimate line item right about the time we raised this issue. Why?

Final finding? You got fleeced, our sidewalks are a mess, and Rick Bunker doesn’t care. For my efforts, he branded me a “mentally unhinged loser”.

Mr. Bunker began his attacks in earnest last summer after we began to research and report not just sidewalks, but the Borough’s governance as well.

To be fair, Mr. Bunker originally posted an unsolicited, voluminous, and rather thoughtful response on my personal Facebook page where he explains why the current ordinance makes perfect sense to him. However, no part of it addressed the unnecessary expense of the policy to homeowners or the poor results for the community. Instead he speciously justified it claiming, among other reasons, that people might want their sidewalks to look distinctive.

He also made unsupportable claims that homeowners owned the sidewalk. He might also say that homeowners own to the middle of the street (and maybe we do), but yet the Borough paves that. Trouble is, no one seems to know for sure, and least of all Rick Bunker.

Last December, I wrote about my experience interviewing for a council seat, and on January 2 of this year at 1:43 in the morning, Rick Bunker left this message on my website:

After that inexplicable, and possibly drunken post, I decided to just move on. I was done with Rick Bunker and would not engage with him. Hopefully, he would get the message and do the same. Not a chance.

We posted our article about “found money”, and Mr. Bunker left a lengthy response in the comments on the web page. I decided to withhold response. Honestly, I didn’t care what he thought. Mr. Bunker’s hypocrisy seems to know no bounds. My personal experience with the Council VP forcefully illustrates that pretense. One would think this self-proclaimed “lefty liberal” would concern himself with the plight of the little guy and with government transparency. Mr. Bunker doesn’t appear to care about either.

Finally, Mr. Bunker wrote within the Facebook page comments for that story:

Against my better judgement, I had respectfully challenged Mr. Bunker on his assertion that spending the $11,000 recycling grant “correlates” to more recycling. Mind you, we gladly recycle, but as taxpayers, we merely presented a reasonable question to a public official. Rick Bunker’s response was to call me a “mental defective”.

I have since politely asked Mr. Bunker to refrain from posting anything on our page. I don’t wish to stoop as low as our Mayor Ed Foley has with me and actually ban him. Instead, I leave it up to Mr. Bunker to see if he can maintain a modicum of civility and restraint and just leave us alone. Instead he has threatened to continue with his attacks.

Rick Bunker is unfit for public service, and I’ve spoken privately with others on the Council feel the same way. I do think that he’s an extremely intelligent person. Unlike our current president, he speaks and writes with great eloquence, but like Donald Trump, he does not suffer dissent with any civility. He displays a thin skin and a penchant for viciously attacking his opponents on social media — even at early morning hours. Yes, I’ve referred to him as a pompous bloviator, but Mr. Bunker himself agreed that the appellation suited him.

I do ask that at the very least, Council remove Mr. Bunker from his position of Vice President. He’s simply making Jenkintown look awful, and I would hope that the good people in Ward 3 would vote for his replacement.

Otherwise, Rick, Walkable Jenkintown is done with you. Hopefully, the rest of Jenkintown to follow.

This is the area where SEPTA plans to build ADA-compliant platforms.

Is SEPTA leaving the station?

SEPTA’s proposed ADA-compliant platforms diminishes the future of the train station

The last time that SEPTA announced a major development at the Jenkintown-Wyncote station back in 2009, it raised quite the outcry in the neighborhood. At the time, SEPTA proposed building a new garage for the area, and mostly Cheltenham residents mobilized to stop the project in its tracks. I attended one hearing agnostic on the matter, and that night I came away unconvinced by the arguments of either side.

One the one hand, I mostly favor any effort to put more people on more trains. On the other, I don’t particularly care for single use-parking structures. Cheltenham residents seemed to take on the NIMBY position, but it would be built in my “back yard” as well. As I saw it, we live in a densely developed area. We chose to live very close to SEPTA’s busiest station outside of Center City, and for many reasons, we want it to stay that way.

Eventually, I spoke with a resident who put the issue into what I believed then — and believe now — is the proper perspective: When the real cost of an all-day-parking space near a train station stands at probably more than six dollars, a two-dollar-a-day parking garage only adds to SEPTA’s perennial financial woes.

That and the fact that SEPTA presented no plans to make the station even more of a transportation hub supporting more bus routes, or that it would better service the outlying suburbs where most of those cars originate. I then fell in line with the opposition.

SEPTA rendering of the proposed ADA compliant platforms and elevator towers.
SEPTA rendering of the proposed ADA compliant platforms and elevator towers.

At last week’s Business Zoning, and Redevelopment meeting, SEPTA’s latest development effort came to light. In order to fully comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, SEPTA must (literally) upgrade the platforms for wheelchair access. In order to do that, it proposes to build new platforms south of Curry Bridge, and in the process, remove at least 30 parking spaces from that lot.

Further, it will construct two elevator towers and a bridge over the tracks and catenaries that will, according to the Cheltenham Chamber of Citizens, rise 18 feet above the bridge.

Worst of all, SEPTA will move all ticketing operations into a new structure on the new platforms, effectively abandoning the original train station. This project has a budget of more than $23 million.

Rick Bunker earns his broken clock award

I almost hate to say it, but in the latest committee and council meetings, Rick Bunker takes the correct stance on this issue. SEPTA’s proposal will likely lead to further disuse and the historic station’s slow but inevitable decline. SEPTA has also sent mixed signals about what it wants in that station. To one group, they claim to want a new restaurant. To another, they will say they have no plans.

The Trumbauer-designed station is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and just last year, SEPTA repaired the roof with funds awarded in part because of that status. Its spacious interior would easily allow for more than just a restaurant. Certainly someone wanting to serve coffee and pastries could make a go there — at the very least.

Our community and government needs to respond to forcefully. We recognize the importance of ADA compliance, but SEPTA must find a better way to accommodate the disabled without abandoning one of its crown jewels. The station serves as its symbol and the catalyst for our very existence as a town. The fact that we have such a landmark here helps to sell Jenkintown and Cheltenham as great places to live (as long as you can afford the taxes).

To learn more about this issue, visit the OneCheltenham.com. They have images showing the project and other details.

Jenkintown Borough Council Meeting, June 26, 2017

In June’s meeting Council discusses ice cream trucks, appoints two new part-time police officers (welcome!), and listens to a presentation from Marley Bice about the Jenkintown 2035 Plan. Sadly, the presentation slides make for poor viewing, and the report provided by Ms. Bice has not appeared on the web just yet. Suffice to say, it does a fine job singing the praises and potentials of Jenkintown, even if it does fail to suggest that parking must be restored to Old York Road.

Your feedback is welcome.

Jenkintown faces a Sophie's choice: Which do we love more? Our cars or our community?

Jenkintown faces a Sophie’s choice: Our cars or our community?

It’s time to decide whether we want nice places to walk or fast places to drive

Last Monday’s Business Zoning, and Redevelopment Committees brought Graham Copeland pitching his services as a business development consultant to Jenkintown Borough. Mr. Graham seemed like an earnest guy and who brought with him at least one solid credential in the field of revitalization; the ongoing redevelopment of Fort Washington, of all places.

Most of us probably think of Fort Washington as little more than an exit off the turnpike into a soulless, flood-prone 1950s-vintage office park and little else. That looks very likely to change.

Mr. Copeland came to the BZR meeting with few specifics for Jenkintown. Yes, we want to fill the empty storefronts, and Mr. Copeland spoke of “public-private partnerships” and how he preferred targeting “mature businesses” that might open a new branch store over startup businesses. The new brewery might offer evidence for this approach. We also already have the 2035 Plan in place, for what it’s worth.

Unfortunately, the meeting barely acknowledged the 800 pound gorilla in the room. With Old York Road making our downtown a pedestrian wasteland, Mr. Copeland didn’t tell the committee what it really needs to hear: Downtown Jenkintown will never be revitalized until parking is restored on Old York Road. Of course, that won’t happen until PennDOT gives the idea its blessing, and that won’t happen until someone in power in Harrisburg orders PennDOT to do so. Any money spent on Mr. Copeland’s services is money down the drain until the state tames Old York Road.

Let’s give pedestrians their own Jenkintown

Jenkintown Plaza
We can easily imagine Jenkintown Plaza with ground floor shops.

Alternatively, we could just rezone a chunk of Jenkintown and foster commercial development there. This is not a new idea. Historically, centers of commerce have shifted within municipal borders thanks to the establishment of transportation, business, or government hubs. It happened in New York with the construction of Grand Central Terminal. In Framingham, Massachusetts, the established stagecoach services forced the route of the railroad to the south, where a new downtown quickly sprouted. Keswick Village grew up around the trolley line that took riders out to Willow Grove Park.

Why Jenkintown’s commercial district didn’t gravitate toward its train station remains something of a mystery. as are many things about Pennsylvania. When developers replaced the factories along the tracks with single-purpose office structures, Jenkintown missed a major opportunity. Imagine instead our own Keswick Village filled with shops, offices, and residences, seamlessly connected to SEPTA’s far-flung transportation network. Imagine a real transit village, and we could happily concede Old York Road to the traffic gods.

We appreciate the fact that most if not all of the people in this town would like to see Old York Road returned to its former glory. Concerts, banners, and lip service won’t do it, however. Someone needs to step up and finally slay the dragon that has stretched across our town since the day PennDOT ripped out the parking meters.

Not found money, real money, our money.

Jenkintown Government and the “cost of a cup of coffee a day” fallacy

Last Monday night, Jenkintown’s Finance Committee and Business Development Committee held their monthly meetings. I attended because I saw an item about a discussion to update the Borough’s sidewalk and street codes on the agenda, but I came away with a more lasting impression about our government’s fiscal attitude.

In short, the Borough needs to borrow $1.5 million to pay for sewer upgrades. Remember that it has already borrowed $1.4 million for the parking lot it built in 2009. While I don’t have the budget handy, this means that Jenkintown already services at least $1 million in debt which this would double.

Think about that when you consider the Borough just bought chunk of property for $250,000 and will likely spend at least another $650,000 to develop it into a park (that no one asked for). While Rick Bunker’s fuzzy math says that taxpayers will not even notice the financial impact of that park project, it fails to consider the loss of not just actual tax revenue, but of potential tax revenue if they sold the site to a developer. And none of this considers the impact to the School District. Logic would dictate that this pocket park commits the Borough for yet another million dollars over the course of the next five years.

The Borough has little choice but to upgrade its sewers, and it deserves credit for some considerable savings on infrastructure maintenance in general. Unfortunately, it also appears to have adopted this attitude that the money it manages belongs not to us, the taxpayers. If the Borough manages to save $15,000 on something, it looks for ways to spend that $15,000 on a pet project. Savings should not translate into “found money”.

One of the bits of savings reported in last night’s meeting was an unexpected recycling grant for $11,589. Committee Chair Kieran Farrell immediately found a use for that money to print more flyers to educate us about recycling, augmenting the thousands spent on refrigerator magnets. Funny me, I looked at that money as something to return to the taxpayers — or perhaps to pay for sidewalk repairs in front of three properties.

To Borough officials, eleven grand seems like chump change, like those ads that say “It’s only a cup of coffee a day!” Except that by the end of the day, we could find ourselves swimming in coffee.

Municipal government has only three legitimate functions: Secure the streets, clean the parks, and fix the schools. It’s not supposed to be a piggy bank for pols eager to plunk feathers in their caps. For Jenkintown that means keep us safe, maintain our infrastructure, and educate our kids.  Everything else is mostly nonsense or better handled by private efforts. That includes — but is not limited to — leaf collection, movie theaters, and recycling education.

A million here, a million there, as they say.