Jenkintown Borough Hall

The costs of Jenkintown’s political vendetta

Even in little Jenkintown, it costs big money to carry out a political vendetta by weaponizing your zoning code, especially if your victim has the nerve to fight back.

Jenkintown’s ongoing political drama turned circus turned fiasco has hopefully come to a close. On July 12, the Zoning Hearing Board unanimously dismissed the notice of violation the Borough served against the Downses. I think I assumed like most in this town that the matter had finally ended, but upon review of the invoices submitted by Rudolph Clarke LLC, the firm representing the ZHB, the Borough spent the rest of July (at least) investigating the possibility of an appeal. This exploration cost taxpayers another $1162.

So far, the final bill to Jenkintown taxpayers for this affair looks like this:

December 1, 2017 to March 31, 2018

The Borough cited the Downses in December for running an unspecified, non-compliant business which on March 28 Judge Elizabeth McHugh dismissed for failing to cite the business.

Offices of Sean Kilkenny: $5273.00

April

The Borough decided to reissue the citation inserting the word “Landscaping” to describe the type of business they believed the Downses ran. Rather than pay the fine and end the matter, the Downses instead brought the matter before the Zoning Hearing Board, and in doing so, paid the filing fee of $1,000. The hearing was set for May 30.

Offices of Sean Kilkenny: $418.50
Offices of Rudolph Clarke LLC: $98.00

May

Offices of Sean Kilkenny: $2185.50
Offices of Rudolph Clarke, LLC: $1232.00
Mark Manjardi, Court Reporter: $1554.00
Newspaper Advertising (Legal notice required by state law): $246.00

June

After the initial three-hour hearing, the ZHB needed to continue proceedings and set for June 7.

Offices of Sean Kilkenny: $1069.50
Offices of Rudolph Clarke, LLC: $1218.00
Mark Manjardi, Court Reporter: $1264.00

July

Kilkenny’s invoice this month had one curious line item: A $46.50 charge for a half-hour phone call FROM Frank Reilley, the owner of 303 Runnymede Avenue. Our inquiry to the Borough as to why we should be charged for this have so far gone unanswered.

Offices of Sean Kilkenny: $744.50
Offices of Rudolph Clarke, LLC: $1820.00
Mark Manjardi, Court Reporter: $970.00

Police overtime: $1,248.00
This information was supplied at our request by Chief DiValentino via email. 

Total: $19,341.00

These totals, especially the numbers from Kilkenny’s office, reflect only those line items that plainly refer to 301 or 303 Runnymede or mentions the names of the occupants.

It’s possible the total amount is higher for the following reasons:

  • The invoices document conversations with Noah Marlier, the attorney working for Rudolph Clarke LLC, to discuss matters relating to the zoning code. It’s possible and even likely that Mr. Marlier was consulted before the Borough issued the original citation. We don’t yet have invoices from Rudolph Clarke for those months.
  • Kilkenny’s July invoices have several redacted items of email exchanges with Patrick Hitchens. On July 12, the day of the third hearing, one such email exchange charged the Borough $46.50.
  • The July invoice from Rudolph Clarke contain several post-hearing line items regarding appellate rights (of the Borough). Two of those items mention telephone calls to or from Patrick Hitchens, the prosecuting attorney working for Sean Kilkenny. Neither of those items are reflected in the Kilkenny invoices.
  • These totals only reflect the invoices we thought to ask for. Not having worked in government nor participated in a political vendetta, we don’t know all the tools the Borough had at its disposal or what it used.
  • The Borough does not expect employees to track their time and so does not require time sheets. The amount of non-billable resources the borough has expensed will never be known.
  • Employee overtime: At least two of the borough’s non-salaried employees attended the hearings in an official capacity. We did not ask for the overtime paid to them.

As we’ve mentioned before the initial copies of Kilkenny’s invoices were heavily redacted, initially without explanation. The law requires the Borough to redact personal information or references to Borough personnel or confidential legal matters. We asked Rick Ware if those massive black blocks hid only that information. Mr. Ware interpreted our Right-to-Know request as a request for information exclusively related to the Downs citation and nothing else.

We suggested to Mr. Ware that we wouldn’t mind seeing the rest of the invoices either, since that would save everyone the time and expense of refiling for the same invoices without any specific stipulation. Kilkenny’s July invoice appears more appropriately redacted.

Jenkintown Borough leadership may appeal Downs ZHB decision

Jenkintown Borough leadership considered appeal of Downs ZHB decision

[Update: The Borough had 30 days to appeal, and the window has closed. Nonetheless, it is our opinion that the Borough should have shut down this this matter well before the first hearing.]

Apparently a unanimous vote against them failed to convince the Borough to stand down after all. According to documents we’ve received today via a Right-to-Know request, Jenkintown Borough is or was considering an appeal of the ZHB vote taken last month regarding the notice of violation against the Downses.

I just received copies of the July invoices pertaining to the Downs ZHB hearing. What I’ve included here is the invoice from Rudolph Clarke, the firm representing the ZHB. The total for that month from all the invoices amount to another $3500. What stands out is the $1162 the Borough spent AFTER the vote researching a possible appeal. If the appeal window has not closed, this ordeal might not be over after all. If it has, another $1162 in taxpayer money just went up in smoke.

Question: Has Jenkintown Borough leadership gone insane?

Rudolph Clark invoice to Jenkintown for July 2018
f=”https://www.walkablejenkintown.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/ClarkeInvoice.png”> Rudolph Clark invoice to Jenkintown for July 2018[/capt
The notes over the redactions reveal the easily discerned text under the marker ink. Click the image for a larger view.

ADA requires four feet of space to allow for wheelchair access. This ongoing problem violates that requirement and the Borough is doing nothing to stop it.
ADA requires four feet of space to allow for wheelchair access. This ongoing problem violates that requirement and the Borough is doing nothing to stop it.

Bring Walnut Street parking into compliance before a lawsuit does

Jenkintown’s selective enforcement of its own laws risks expensive litigation.

As most people who live in Jenkintown know, the sidewalk along the 300 and 400 block on the south side of Walnut Street exists primarily as a parking spot for the residents who live along that road. Of course, this is not actually the case. Jenkintown regulations, as they do in most cities and towns, prohibit cars from parking on a sidewalk. Jenkintown, however, chooses to selectively enforce this ordinance — as they have with others — because they simply don’t know what do do without causing a firestorm of protest from those offenders.

What those residents don’t seem to understand and what Jenkintown has chosen to ignore is that the Americans with Disabilities Act requires 100% compliance in all public buildings and spaces. Public sidewalks must be four feet wide, and those along Walnut do meet that requirement. Exceptions might include areas with existing and long-standing obstructions such as telephone poles, but they do not include illegally parked vehicles. The ADA does not consider the inconvenience of the able-bodied.

As someone who has counseled private businesses about the necessity for compliance, I know not only something about the law, but also the risks of ignoring it. In 1999, the City of Worcester, Massachusetts faced a lawsuit for its failure to provide 100% compliance during renovations of its historic train station. The ADA accessible platforms did not extend the full length of the train. The suit halted construction on the $60 million project and delayed its opening by several months.

As a consultant for the restaurant industry, I’ve met with people seeking to restore historic structures and put them back into service. They would often bristle at the notion of expanding doorways to accommodate wheelchairs or to build obtrusive ramps which would harm the historic nature of the structure. My advice was always the same: Do not even think about trying to get a waiver. It only takes one guy in a wheelchair to show up at your permit hearing to stop your project cold and invite litigation.

The power of the ADA is not something to be trifled with, and indeed, the Borough spends significant money on building accessible sidewalk ramps. That’s the law. They have no choice.

The ADA doesn’t care about your sideview mirror

However, the situation on Walnut Street is not only a safety hazard for able-bodied pedestrians, it is impassible for the disabled. Eventually, the Borough could find itself embroiled in litigation that will demand enforcement of the law with significant fines by the state for its ongoing failure to comply with the ADA. That is simple reality.

Residents have complained online that they don’t want to pay for $400 mirrors; that this is a town from the “horse and buggy days,” and worse, that anyone who dares suggest the Borough actually enforce its own ordinances must be “an idiot.”

Don’t shoot the messenger, Jenkintonians. I sympathize with residents and understand their frustrations. I too have lived in areas with horrible parking, but I never dared to flout the law or claim a right to do so.

If you want to safely park your car somewhere, may I respectfully suggest purchasing a house with a driveway or access to a parking lot. The sidewalk does not belong to you. It is, as we have always maintained, a public resource reserved for the pedestrian.

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.

Jenkintown Borough

Lock Haven provides for hardship

It’s still bad policy, but at least the City of Lock Haven makes provisions for hardship within their sidewalk maintenance ordinances. In Jenkintown Borough, it’s pay up or go to jail.

Grants for sidewalk  repairs are available to qualifying low income single family, owner-occupied homeowners funded the city’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program.  Should the cost of the sidewalk repair exceed the grant amount, the homeowner may be eligible to receive a city-funded loan.  More info (click here).

Source: Sidewalk Replacement Program – City of Lock Haven, PA