Why vote for Jenkintown’s write-ins?

Because Jenkintown deserves discussion, civility, and disclosure from our Borough government.

The three write-in candidates for office here in Jenkintown have issued their talking points explaining their positions. These fully explain why Walkable Jenkintown fully supports this write-in effort, if for no other reason than to remind the entrenched council that too many Jenkintonians can’t count on a fair hearing or even basic respect from our Council. We are dismissed, shut out, and even bullied for daring to question the party line.

Jenkintown Borough Council has cast 112 votes in a row without a single nay. That should give anyone some concern about the tolerance for debate on that board and in the general community. Twelve people on the board and no one disagrees? Ever?

Why vote for the write-ins, Peggy Downs for Mayor, Ryan Cella for Council, Ward 4, and Ted Histand, for Ward 3?

1.Time for new leadership and fresh voices…

  • To be in service to the community, rather than to party politics
  • Changing the culture to encourage community involvement
  • Acting as a voice of the residents and business operators

2.Time for our government to enforce our codes and laws in a fair, consistent, and timely fashion…

  • In order to maintain and preserve the character of our community, our public safety, our property values and our historic and diverse housing stock

3. Time for our policy decisions and budgeting to be fully transparent.

  • Detailed Agendas in advance
  • live stream of EVERY meeting
  • Detailed minutes and accessibility to recordings of every council session
  • Proposed Budgets posted online BEFORE they are approved

4. Time to Follow the priorities of our newly developed 2035 Comprehensive Plan…

  • Which clearly sets forth revitalization of our Town Center as the top priority for our limited investment resources (supported by survey data)

Download a PDF of these talking points and feel free to spread them around.

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.

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.

A cautionary tale for anyone thinking they can make a difference

Left in the dark by the Right to Know

A cautionary tale for anyone hoping to make a difference

A friend of of mine who follows my dealings with Jenkintown Borough recently related his own experience that spoke to the futility of civic engagement. An attorney and a one-time senior official in state government, he’s a guy that possesses considerable political acumen. Earlier in his adult life, he and his wife also decided to get very much involved in their own bucolic community just north of Boston. After months of frustration, they decided instead to just move.

Luckily for my friend, his current financial status insulates him from municipal shenanigans. My family? Not so much. Decisions made by Jenkintown Borough and Jenkintown School District affect us profoundly. We therefore have incentive to get involved and to make our positions known, but after our experiences of the past couple of years, rubber mallets to our heads would produce much the same result and take far less time.

Not here, not now, not ever

While our story began with a campaign to discuss the rationality of Jenkintown’s sidewalk ordinance, it evolved into a tale with a familiar theme; that familiarity breeds contempt. We approached the Borough not only asking for help, but we also presented an alternative plan that we thought was a well-reasoned and researched.

The Borough not only expressed no interest in discussing the matter, they took action to actually make matters worse for us. Meanwhile Rick Bunker publicly disparaged us on social media as crackpots, calling our ideas “quixotic”. We were not asking for the Borough to build a protective dome or to mow our lawn. We were asking it to reconsider an ordinance that hurt people financially and produced substandard results. We characterized it as paying for steak and getting McNuggets.

Since this began, here’s a short list of what we experienced:

  • Neighbors falsely accusing us of trying to evade our responsibilities
  • Rick Bunker flatly proclaiming, “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.
  • Rick Bunker trolling my Facebook page and posting a comment on this website saying, among other things, “I pity your family.”
  • Borough Manager George Locke conveying false information to a judge about a decision to rescind the lien process used to pay for work the resident couldn’t afford
  • The threat of fines amounting to $185 per day for non-compliance
  • Neighbors accusing us of misrepresenting ourselves in a GoFundMe campaign we launched to pay for the work
  • The Mayor of Jenkintown, Ed Foley, blocking me Trump-style from seeing any of his Facebook posts, including those that conveyed official information on the Jenkintown Community Page

A right to know (what we want you to know)

And finally, in an attempt to investigate possible improprieties of Rick Bunker, I filed a Right-To-Know request for emails sent to and from his borough email address. The Borough invoked their right to a 30-day extension, which I believed meant they needed time to assemble the files and redact them for reasons related to privacy.

Instead, I received a letter from the Borough with an estimate for computer forensic services for the amount of $3,800 to retrieve these emails. As an IT professional myself, I knew that such services would only be required if the Borough not only deleted those emails, but wiped them clean from the server.

This made little sense, for a couple of reasons. First, the Borough apparently employs the use of Microsoft Outlook cloud services to administer their email, which means that the emails never really go away. Second, I had already spoken with a sympathetic Council member about this, and he offered to let me see his email account anytime.

No connections, no consideration, no service

The Borough’s letter suggested that I should write the the office of our borough solicitor, Sean Kilkenny, with any questions or concerns, and of course I had questions. The Borough’s letter stated that the estimate I received was the lowest of three, so I asked for the other two. Also, I wondered why I should even need a forensics firm for this, as it would imply that they deleted their emails. I wrote three letters over the course of a month, and I received no reply.

Further research into the document archival guidelines established by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission determines that administrative correspondence, which includes emails, only need to be retained for “as long as administratively useful.” In other words, if Jenkintown lies and says that the emails don’t exist, they have legal cover.

This is obstruction plain and simple. If a citizen has cause to believe that a borough official is up to no good, they have no recourse and no right to access any official correspondence that might support that suspicion. However, you can bet that if the FBI comes calling, those emails will magically reappear.

Our tiny little borough would have you think that its size, demographics, and location would make it an almost idyllic community. Good school, easy access to transit, and a rich mix of housing types should make it the poster-community for small-town living. The dream of such a lifestyle does exist here, but it requires a substantial financial cushion and steering clear of any interaction with its government or calling attention to any issue not already on its agenda.

Welcome to small-town politics at its smallest.