A simple blueprint for a more transparent Jenkintown

A simple blueprint for a more transparent Jenkintown

What began as an effort to simply change the sidewalk ordinance so that it becomes more equitable and produces superior results has evolved into an investigation into the overall competence of Jenkintown government. The more you know, the less you like, sad to say. Indeed, it seems that at times Council makes things up as they go along, which we have to assume is a downside of all-volunteer governance.

What’s worse is that the more we try to shine some light on their activities, the more they tend to circle the wagons. The grapevine now tells us that despite Council’s assurances of openness and transparency, they have begun to consider prohibiting citizen live streaming their meetings. We hope this isn’t the case. With the Borough now considering a major move to sell its properties to a developer, a commitment to an open process is more vital than ever.
 To us, an open process means the following:


More timely email updates and announcements. Borough Hall still seems reluctant to release information much more than 48 hours in advance. We ask for a five-day notice minimum. Council President Deborrah Sines-Pancoe seems to struggle with procedure and resources, but regarding the latter, we have a non-profit client with two employees that manage to issue an email every month with little trouble.

Regarding the former, that’s for Borough Hall to work out, but we suggest that any issue that commits taxpayers in any substantial way, that may affect tax levies, the physical appearance of Jenkintown, and relevant public meeting should warrant a succinct blast, post on the Facebook page, and published on the Borough website five days in advance.

Electronic media

Anyone who compares meeting minutes with our recent YouTube postings will clearly see the discrepancy between the official record and reality. The minutes omit a great deal. The Borough must at the very least archive all recordings of its meetings. They can either do that on their own equipment, or they can upload the audio files to Archive.org, which will cost them nothing.

Currently, the Borough does generate an electronic audio recording of its meetings, but once the minutes are filed, they destroy the file. There’s no excuse for this.


The Borough must commit itself to live streaming its meetings. As we have proven, there remains no barrier, financial or technological, to doing this on a regular basis. All videos can both be streamed from and archived on YouTube or Facebook or both.


As we have pointed out on many occasions, with each ward represented by three council members, you’d think you might see them once in a while. In our ward, only now-former-councilor Laurie Durkin ever bothered to even leave a pamphlet on our door since we moved here. Our representatives are more than welcome to knock on our door and talk about anything with us. We guarantee a polite, intelligent discussion about what we think would make our community better.

Can the Borough finally admit to the inadequacy of its current procedure for dissemination, and that it must finally come into the 21st century? Doing this will go a long way to alleviating the Borough from the expense of fulfilling the spate of Right-To-Know requests it has endured of late.
The Myth of Main Street fails to explain Jenkintown's decline

The Myth of Main Street fails to explain Jenkintown’s decline

The New York Times recently published a widely shared article about Main Street and how some believe our new president will prove a boon to it. Louis Hyman lays the blame of for the decline of Main Street solely on its inherent economic inefficiencies.

It’s worth noting that the idealized Main Street is not a myth in some parts of America today. It exists, but only as a luxury consumer experience. Main Streets of small, independent boutiques and nonfranchised restaurants can be found in affluent college towns, in gentrified neighborhoods in Brooklyn and San Francisco, in tony suburbs — in any place where people have ample disposable income. Main Street requires shoppers who don’t really care about low prices. The dream of Main Street may be populist, but the reality is elitist. “Keep it local” campaigns are possible only when people are willing and able to pay to do so.

This otherwise fine article fails to cite the single most important factor in the decline of Main Street, which had nothing to do with the spread of big box retailers. Downtown’s fate became sealed after World War Two when government at all levels essentially subsidized the development of the suburbs, often the more far flung, the better. The blame for the decline of Main Street lies at the hands of government at all levels.

In Jenkintown’s case, PennDOT compounded this with policies that prioritized the movement of automobiles over the safety of pedestrians — something that too many in the Borough have yet to grasp. The construction of a $2.4 million parking lot attests to that, as does Borough Council’s continued failure to wrangle control of Old York Road back from PennDOT.

If one looks over vintage post cards of downtown America, they will see plenty of Sears & Roebucks, Walgreen’s, J.C. Penney’s, Kresge’s, W.T. Grant’s and other national or regional retail chains. Despite what this article says, Main Street viability did not depend upon economic ossification and the preference of local shops over national.

Viable downtowns require a better understanding of economic and environmental sustainability. When I lived in Worcester, Massachusetts, I used to say gladly that if Walmart ever opened a store on Main Street, I’d be among the first to step through its doors (not that I’d buy much). In the Clapham district of London, you’ll find the supermarket chain Sainsbury’s, a store nearly as large as any local ACME, right on its main street.

Downtown Jenkintown today is about as relevant to everyday life as a Charles Dickens novel. If I can’t buy a tube of toothpaste there, what’s the point?

jenkintown parking lot

The damage of Jenkintown’s $2.4 million lake of parking

The Congress for New Urbanism advocates for sustainable development — the type of development that Jenkintown has enjoyed since its founding. Unfortunately, our powers that be have little clue about the underlying reasons for why residents and visitors find our little borough so charming. Hint: It’s not the parking lots.

On-street parking does several good things, and its alternative (on-site parking lots) does nothing good. Google “sea of parking.” Are any of the hits positive? Of course not; a sea of parking is dreadful on all counts. Beyond the obvious ugliness, they heat the microclimate by absorbing solar radiation and heating the air above them. Heating the microclimate makes walking uncomfortable and so people drive, even if the parking lot is out of sight. More driving = more crashes and more deaths and injuries.

Source: How fire chiefs and traffic engineers make places less safe | CNU

Rockwell Road in Abington Township features new sidewalks paid for by the municipality.

Unlike Jenkintown, Abington Township will fix its own sidewalks

“This is the way we’ve always done it. This is the way everyone else does it.” Sorry, Rick. Not everyone.

So said Rick Bunker at a public works committee meeting in 2015 in response to my suggestion that Jenkintown find a better way to finance sidewalk repairs that does not overburden residents. Once again, I can report Mr. Bunker wrong.

Google Map: The sidewalk reconstruction paid for by Abington Township with help from a TCDI grant extends nearly a quarter mile.
The sidewalk reconstruction paid for by Abington Township with help from a TCDI grant extends nearly a quarter mile.

Yesterday, while driving up Rockwell Road in Abington, I noticed the recent sidewalk reconstruction between Roy Avenue and Welsh Road, nearly a quarter mile of contiguous sidewalk construction. Who paid for all that, I wondered?

Turns out that Abington Township did with considerable help from a Transportation and Community Development Initiative (TCDI) grant. Administered by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC), these grants “support smart growth in the individual municipalities of the Delaware Valley through initiatives that implement the region’s long-range plan…”

Among the stated goals of this initiative are:

  • Supporting local planning projects that will lead to more residential, employment or commercial opportunities in areas designated for growth or redevelopment;
  • Improving the overall character and quality of life within the region to retain and attract business and residents;

Emphasis mine.

Abington Township put this project out to bid, estimating a cost of $75,000. It applied for and received a grant of $60,000 to offset that cost on the basis that this would promote bicycling along the Route 611 corridor. (See here.) One bid, one contractor, with one-fifth the project cost split among all of Abington’s taxpayers. We have some residents that by themselves paid $15,000 to fix their frontage.

At that same public works meeting, I also asked if the Borough had researched the state’s Multi-Modal fund, a pot of money for pedestrian and bicycling infrastructure improvements that comes from our paying the highest gas taxes in the country. Borough Manager George Locke speculated that those grants were intended for commercial districts. To the best of my knowledge, he did not follow up on my suggestion, but I have shown that PennDOT has awarded grants to non-commercial districts.

I’ll leave the reader to come to their own conclusions about the level of vision, leadership, professionalism, and accountability of our public officials, but if like me you continue to feel overburdened by their actions, these missteps multiplied by the dozens will help you to understand why.

Does Brian McCrone own his own home? We doubt it.

Our response to Brian McCrone’s shoddy piece about the Cedar Street purchase:


I write this with some reluctance, but as a creative professional, I believe that feedback is an important part of our professions.

You should know that I’ve been the subject of stories published in the New York Times, The Boston Globe, the Wall Street Journal, Yankee Magazine, the NY Daily News, and many other papers, and I’ve appeared on the Food Network, the Discovery Channel, Channel 5 in Boston, as well as NPR — on some of these outlets more than a few times. So, I have some experience dealing with reporters and their agendas.

Simply put, your piece on Cedar Street was — to be diplomatic — disappointing. You said in our interview something about your sense of journalistic skepticism, and yet I saw none of that in your piece, which I can’t quite decide if it was actual reporting, an editorial, or a meandering thought piece.

I’m guessing that you don’t own your own home, and therefore do not have first-hand experience with the burdens that homeowners face in helping to finance the activities of our local government and school district. I make that assumption based on your snide closing line about the location of my house.

You should know that my wife and I own a house that is about 1500 square feet, and for the privilege of living here, we pay more than $7,000 per year in property taxes. To put that in perspective, if I had the same house in a similar community in my home state of Massachusetts, my house would be worth three times as much, and I’d be paying half the property tax.

If this strikes any chord with you, then you might better understand our objections to the Borough’s misadventures in park development.

Your article stated that the borough “saved” money with that purchase. It’s a common fallacy to think that you save money by spending it, especially when it is on something that no one wanted and that the Borough does not need.

If by any chance you are planning a follow up to your piece, I suggest you might sit and listen to those of us who are a little tired of watching our Borough government using slimy parliamentary maneuvers to further a hidden agenda.

In other words, apply that skepticism that you claim to have.


Randy Garbin