jenkintown's dubious achievements

A Jenkintown Christmas letter

Wondering what’s going on in Jenkintown? Glad you asked.

Thanks to six seasons of “The Goldbergs”, Bradley Cooper, and a glowing piece on the National Geographic website, Jenkintown often finds itself in the national spotlight. On paper, it sure looks like the type of town fit for a George Bailey and his savings and loan. Except that the deeper you dig, the more it looks like Pottersville.

Let’s take a look at Jenkintown’s dubious achievements of 2018:

Four of our major officials are being sued by a resident for civil rights violations for a bogus zoning violation because she had the audacity to run for mayor in defiance of the local Democratic political machine.

And what led us to this lawsuit? The Borough’s bogus zoning citation getting smacked down by the ZHB by a unanimous vote after nearly ten hours of testimony that starkly revealed not only George Locke’s incompetence, but Council leadership’s intolerance for dissent as well. Last we checked, the borough has spent more than $20,000 in defending its citation and prosecuting this resident. That number should increase almost exponentially by the end of next year.

Our Borough taxes are going up 5% this year. Despite this, Jenkintown Borough refuses to sell the property it bought two years ago for a quarter million dollars to build a park no one asked for and that will cost nearly a million dollars to complete.

School district taxes went up almost 4% to help pay off a debt load to buy things the district never really needed and for pensions enjoyed by teachers and staff no one can accuse of being underpaid. This comes after nearly five years of 3-4% annual hikes, so that Jenkintown now spends about $25,000 per pupil. Recently it announced plans to build a “security vestibule” to protect our kids from a shooter who won’t arrive for the next 10,000 years.

Our commercial district, long in the doldrums since on-street parking was removed to make our main street a four lane highway continues to molder, while surrounding towns have all fully revived since the Great Recession, becoming attractive destinations.

In November, we received the news that one of our major businesses, Glanzmann Subaru will leave town by the end of next year, leaving a huge gap in not only our commercial real estate market, but in our tax rolls as well. We can look forward to another significant tax hike next year as well.

Our borough manager who, thanks to his self-afflicted physical infirmities, can’t be bothered to get out of his Toyota Sequoia to perform actual inspections of properties he’s cited for violations received a 23% pay raise three years ago plus more since then. This year he stated under oath that putting a lawn mower in your pickup probably means you’re running a business.

Administrators of the Jenkintown Community Page on Facebook will turn off commenting on any posts that spread bad news because of the potential to scare away potential residents.

After more than thirty years of hand-wringing over what to do about residents parking on the Walnut Street sidewalks, we simply explained how the ongoing and documented non-enforcement of its own code exposed us to an ADA-related lawsuit. In a meeting, George Locke expressed his skepticism.

And prominent citizens who can afford to are getting out, usually right after their last kid graduates from school.

Bedford Falls or Pottersville? You decide.

Escape from Jenkintown

One now-former resident tells his story and why he waited to get out before telling it.

The hype that surrounds Jenkintown often describes it as a “A Big-Hearted, All-American Town“, and if you remove the politics or the insidious machinations of our public officials, and maybe it is.

We settled here in 2002 and in 2015 made the mistake of looking under the municipal rocks. It wasn’t pretty.

This reporter has heard from several hostile quarters, “Why don’t you just move?” or “If you don’t like it, leave,” or most famously, “Jenkintown isn’t for everyone,” as if other towns don’t have their fair share of Rick Bunkers, i.e. apathetic fools tone deaf to the needs of their constituents and unfit for public office.

Lucky is the person who has the resources to do exactly that. We receive emails, calls, and discrete taps on the shoulder on almost a monthly basis from people admitting to a fearful reluctance to speak out against our government. Indeed, we heard from Jim Smith much earlier this year who asked me not to convey his opinion about Jenkintown’s ongoing decline for fear of retaliation by George Locke.

Now safely ensconced in nearby Rydal, Jim posted the following on the Jenkintown Community Page:

We moved. Seriously. After 48 of 51 years in Jtown; my wife, kids, and I graduating from JHS; and our holding out hope that things would get better, we finally threw in the towel. Over the last few years especially, it appeared that the town was going in the wrong direction – increasing storefront vacancies; a school district running a deficit despite increasing taxes; spiteful Borough management; the ‘curb fiasco’; failure to see the ‘big picture’ and take actions beneficial for the future; and more, we finally decided that our dream of living happily ever after in the borough was just that – a dream.

We stayed in the zip code (Rydal) and will continue to support the vendors in the borough as much as possible (filled with wonderful business owners who deserve our support), and we really hope our fears of continuing deterioration of the town don’t come to fruition, especially because what makes the town so special is the residents. Jenkintown is a very unique place… but as evidenced by how things are being run, it appears there is a major disconnect between what the residents want and deserve and those making the decisions.

So instead of voting with our mouths, we voted with our wallets. Instead of continually being angry over things like the Downs situation (just a microcosm of bigger issues), we can watch what happens without a ‘dog in the fight’, so to speak. We hope for the sake of all the great people in Jenkintown, present and future, that things change for the better – perhaps the elections next year will be a step in that direction. Kudos to all of you who are putting in the time and effort with the hope of making a difference – our hearts and hopes will be with you!

Having visited hundreds of similar small towns across this country and reporting upon those in varying degrees of decline or revival, we’ve come to the inexorable conclusion that the blame for decline — like ours — almost universally falls at the doorstep of borough/township/city hall.

Jenkintown’s motion to dismiss, strike one

Jenkintown’s attorney fails with first attempt to dismiss civil rights lawsuit but tries again

The Times-Chronicle recently reported that the Borough’s attempt to have the civil rights suit against it dismissed failed — and failed rather quickly. Three days later, the Borough and its co-defendants, Deborra Sines-Pancoe, Rick Bunker, George Locke, and Sean Kilkenny updated the motion and refiled it yesterday.

To update yesterday’s post about the court’s rejection of the Borough’s motion to dismiss, the defense attorney almost immediately redrafted and resubmitted the motion.

These filings take up over 30 pages and involve many hours of billable time, all paid for by you and me.

Also, I have posted something similar at the JCP, but the admin saw fit to turn off commenting, citing how such bad news might scare away prospective residents.

I don’t know about you, but if I were about to sink $300,000-plus into a new community, I’d appreciate knowing what crawls under the municipal rocks before I sign on the dotted lines.

You may download a copy of the second motion here

A simple request for Jenkintown’s next government

Dear fellow Jenkintown residents:

Consider this a modest request.

In a town as small and as charming as Jenkintown, you wouldn’t think we’d have to remind ourselves about how its government should treat us. Events of the past three or more years have proven otherwise.

We have an election coming up next year. Nearly half the members of Council will face reelection, and if past years provide any insight, those in power will stay in power.


Unless we can channel the outrage of the past fourteen months into something positive, such as showing the door to as many members of the current council as possible.

We recognize that some of the Volunteer Twelve actually serve with good intentions and bring some solid ideas, but we also know that any effort to loosen the grip of Jenkintown’s Gang of Four (Kilkenny, Pancoe, Bunker, and Locke) on our municipal agenda requires running a battering ram into what has become a brick wall of intransigence, incompetence, and corruption.

We need to see independently minded citizens, unaffiliated with the local Democratic party committee, on that board. These can be Democrats themselves or otherwise. The very future of this town depends upon it.

We need good people to step forward and challenge this ugly status quo. And if these people need an ideological blueprint befitting of the once and future great town of Jenkintown, we’re happy to get the discussion started.

Statement of Principles for the Future Governance of Jenkintown

We are citizens of Jenkintown concerned by the growing degree of discord in our community, by our government’s lack of transparency, and by the lack of professionalism and civility too-often displayed by those who represent us.

To ensure that Jenkintown remains a family-friendly, cohesive, inclusive, fiscally responsible, and viable community for generations to come, and because we do not believe our government has competently or honestly represented our community or stewarded its progress, we propose the following guiding principles for a future government. 

  • That our town benefits from its community enhancing attributes such as its small size, its fine schools, and its easy access to transit. We take pride in its diverse housing stock, its walkable town center, and traditional, timeless character.
  • That time does not stand still, and while we welcome progress that advances the Borough’s quality of life, we also expect a voice in how that progress develops and we expect our leaders, elected and otherwise, to listen to us.
  • That out tax dollars pay for professionalism and efficiency in our government, but not at the expense of transparency and responsiveness to our inquiries.
  • That any major commitment taken by our government is only made after timely and ordered public input sought out well in advance of any decision.
  • That our government engage us by making use of the latest technology as practical and allowable beyond what is strictly required for public notification, consideration, and participation.
  • That our leaders and council members present themselves with all necessary civility and deference as befitting of a public servant in any discussion of public matters in any public forum, electronic or otherwise.
  • That since ours is an unusually small town with an unusually large number of council representatives, we expect them to make all possible effort to actively seek input from their residents of their wards — much like a business would reach out to its customers to provide better service. 
  • That our representatives not only enact our ordinances, but fairly and consistently enforce them.

We welcome your comments and any effort you might suggest to finally get this town back on track.

Sean Kilkenny, Deborra Sines-Pancoe, Rick Bunker, George Locke
Clockwise from top left: Sean Kilkenny, Deborra Sines-Pancoe, George Locke, and Rick Bunker.

Jenkintown and its leadership hit with civil rights lawsuit

Dave and Peggy Downs have served the Borough of Jenkintown and its four de facto leaders with a Federal civil rights lawsuit.

The suit filed in Pennsylvania’s Eastern District Court, names the borough along with Council President Deborra Sines-Pancoe, Council Vice-President Rick Bunker, Borough Manager George Locke, and Borough Solicitor and Montgomery County Sheriff Sean Kilkenny.

The suit alleges that these four were responsible for prosecuting the Downs family for zoning code violation in retaliation for Peggy’s decision to run for mayor in 2017 against the wishes of the local Democratic Party committee. Peggy’s write-in campaigned garnered more than 35% of the vote.

The complaint alleges that:

Defendants engaged in multiple corrupt actions, conspired with one another against Plaintiffs and, after Plaintiff, Margaret A. Downs, exercised her First Amendment Rights to participate as a candidate and run for election for the public office of Mayor of Jenkintown Borough, Defendants used the Jenkintown Borough Zoning Code as a weapon to retaliate against Plaintiffs by falsely accusing them of operating an impact business, in violation of the Jenkintown Zoning Code, out of their residence and further trumping up evidence Defendants knew was false for the sole purpose to harass, intimidate, punish, embarrass and humiliate Plaintiffs and to cause great economic harm to Plaintiffs by forcing them to undergo the expense of appealing trumped-up zoning violations.

Specifically it cites that the “Defendants conspired to retaliate against Plaintiff by trumping up false evidence, including suborning perjured testimony from witnesses, and falsely alleging that Plaintiffs were operating an impact business from their home … in violation of the Jenkintown Borough Zoning Code.”

downs v. jenkintown lawsuit
Download the complaint here.

And further that, “Defendants did nothing to investigate and obtain evidence of the alleged violation because they knew that Plaintiffs did not operate a business out of their home.”

While the Borough is insured against the threat of such lawsuits, the insurer is not obligated to cover damages awarded in the event of “deliberate violation of any federal, state, or local statute, ordinance, rule or regulation committed by or with the knowledge and consent of the insured.” Courts typically award plaintiffs in such cases amounts extending into the high six figures.

The lawsuit caps off more than two years of contention between the Downs family and the borough, starting with a complaint the Downses filed with the borough against a neighbor who eventually was found guilty of not only running an impact business from his property, but also criminal harassment against the Downses after they filed the complaint.

You will find Peggy’s account of the events up until March, 2018 here.

A month after the election, the Downs were called to meet with Kilkenny and Locke under the pretext of discussing an ongoing dispute with the next door neighbor. Instead, they were handed a letter of complaint citing the operation of an unspecified business in violation of the zoning code.

When the county judge dismissed the violation for lacking detail, the Borough returned with a redrafted notice citing the operation of a landscaping business. The Jenkintown Zoning Hearing Board would later dismiss the complaint after nine hours of testimony in three hearings by a vote of 5-0.

To date, the Borough has expended more than $21,000 pursuing of this complaint, most of which benefitted Sean Kilkenny’s law firm, Kilkenny Law. Naming Kilkenny as a dependent precludes his firm from representing the Borough in this matter. The Borough has retained Suzanne McDonough from the law firm of Holsten & Associates of Media, Pennsylvania as outside counsel.

Deborra Sines-Pancoe is Associate Director for the Friends Council on Education. Sean Kilkenny is not only Jenkintown’s borough solicitor, he also serves as the Montgomery County Sheriff. Rick Bunker is president of Prescription Advisory Systems. George Locke has served as Jenkintown’s Borough Manager since 2013.

Read more here:

Jenkintown Lawsuit Complaint