Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Does not compute! Does not compute! Does not compute!

Edward Sieger's piece in the Express Times yesterday (10/25/2004) about the BoS (meeting) discussion of the proposed software package told you a lot more than we did in our meeting notes. One thing not in the article nor in our notes was that Supervisor Miller, when refusing to be on the software committee, also said that he did not want to cast the TIE BREAKING VOTE! Sieger also related that "Supervisor Donald Miller said he was willing to give Nicholas until the board's Nov. 4 meeting but will approve Applied Micro's proposal if a better option isn't offered." Yes, all of this is true! I, for one, am having trouble comprehending how Supervisor Miller, who refused to learn through research, and who does not want to break a tie, will be more informed and more qualified after two weeks of life as usual, to cast a vote in favor of the original package over another option. Yes, it might even be the tie breaking vote. Does it make sense that he WILL cast the tie breaking vote in favor of something he knows NOTHING about? I think, based on what Supervisor Miller avows, that he should abstain from this vote entirely. That way, he will not be voting in ignorance nor will he be casting the dreaded tie breaking vote.

Sieger also discussed auditor Alan France's letter in great detail. He must have picked up a copy. Kudos! According to Sieger's report, that letter was a month old. It was obviously in someone's possession for a month before most of the BoS got their copies. Supervisor Hoff said he only held it a "few days" before distributing it. Holy cow. What's going on in our township offices? How could a letter so important as to cause Supervisor Holmgaard to be "shaking" have been misplaced for so long? It should have been presented to the Board immediately! Among other things, the auditor(s) recommended:

  1. Hiring a Director of Finance. (Maybe the new software will take care of that need? Maybe not.) Won't the software help to alleviate the need for yet another manager?
  2. New record keeping and new accounting systems
  3. AND, proper training for the existing staff

Let's hope that the efforts by the new committee truly do come up with a good package that will handle the township's needs through its growth cycle and beyond. If the software is good enough, the township won't need two managers... one with versatility will do! Kudos to Edward Sieger and the Express Times for probing further into the auditor's letter. Perhaps auditor France should BE on that committee too! He seems to KNOW what we need. If he's not ON the committee, I hope the committee consults with him for recommendations and guidance.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Joint Meeting Cancelled! No Explanation!

Tonight's joint meeting of the Planning Commission & Board of Supervisors was cancelled. We just found out that there was a sign on the door. Yes, drive all the way over there, climb the stairs, and read the sign. In this day and age, there should be a better way of notifying the public. We are sorry to have urged you all to attend a meeting that didn't happen. We hope you were not too inconvenienced. The township solicitor, Karl Kline, announced the meeting at the Board meeting last week. What happened? Does anyone know?

Saturday, October 23, 2004

BoS Meeting 10/21/04

Once again the Express Times' Edward Sieger and the Morning Call's Joe Nixon did great jobs of reporting the meeting. Kudos to both of them. They both described the Public Comments discussions very well. However, our take on the outcome is not as upbeat. We lose. To avoid enduring one or two LONG speakers per year, all township residents have been muzzled. BONG. Time's up! At least we have not been relegated to the tail end of meetings as Holmgaard so cavalierly suggested. Our five minutes each comments will still be heard at the beginning of meetings. Oh yes, those of us who PLAN to speak must sign in (Supervisor Hoff's contribution) before the meeting starts. That's not to say that if someone does not plan to speak but feels compelled to comment on an issue under discussion that he/she cannot speak. They can. And, the chairman has the authority to allow speakers extra time. Let's hope John Ackerman stays as Chairman for a very LONG time!

Residents with major issues, like the residents of Heather Lane whose basements were flooded with raw sewage during Hurricane Ivan, should call the Township Manager and have their issues put on the agenda. Agenda items get more time allotted to them and, as we were told, will give the Board an opportunity to think about the issue before the meeting, thus making for more reasoned discussion.

Speaking of Heather Lane's residents, there was NO discussion of their problem/solution during this meeting. We wonder if the township helped them or not? We don't know. If you are one of those residents (or anyone else who knows the answer), perhaps you can enlighten us? Was there a special meeting for you? We hope everything worked out to your satisfaction.

There was NO discussion of the meeting notification GAFF last week. That was a surprise. It would seem that if we, the residents, are not going to mention it out loud then they, the officials/solicitor, are not going to mention it either. Looks like they won't be paying the $100/each fines for holding meetings without proper public notice(s). The meetings we are referring to were budget "worksessions" (sic) held on Oct. 18 & 19. The notice for these meetings appeared in the Express Times on October 19, 2004, a day late for the first meeting. We did expect an apology or an explanation. We did not expect payment of a fine. A simple, "We messed up. It was a mistake. It won't happen again," would have been fine. Our guess is that they WILL pay more attention in the future. There will be a budget "worksession" (sic) again this coming Monday (Oct. 25th) at 4:30. It was announced at this meeting and also appeared in yesterday's Express Times Classifieds.

Another item that we expected to be more of an issue was the fact that two meetings in a row had Agenda additions after the Tuesday 2:30 PM cut-off time. A resident, Gretchen Gerstel, made it clear during the Comments session that that was a no-no and that it was noticed and not appreciated. (ERROR: In fact, we were told by someone in the know that the item added to this meeting's Agenda (after Tuesday at 2:30), Steeplechase North, was tabled because Supervisor Nicholas felt that adding it was in violation of the rules.) CORRECTION (10/30/2004): Supervisor Nicholas voted to TABLE Steeplechase because Solicitor Kline was discussing a letter that none of the Board had seen.

Also during the Comments session, resident Scott Gingold asked if the township had a Sinkhole Trust Fund. He was told "NO." He expressed concern about all the sinkholes recently found and what the township's future liability may be. He also suggested that since all residents who comment must give their names and home addresses, that all speakers/developers do the same (that is state their names and home addresses). After that, each one did! Kudos!

Other items of note:

  1. Stan Kocher asked to have a statement added to the minutes describing the planning and hours that went into the 250th celebration so that people reading the minutes 50 years from now will see that the township did indeed try to celebrate properly and that it took a hurricane to keep them from it.
  2. A Forks police officer (name missed, sorry) was named Top Cop for giving out more DUI's than any other. One officer (in addition to Chief Dorney) was in the audience for the reading of the award letter.
  3. FEMA met with PennDot re. the Frost Hollow swale. Repairs to the area at Route 611 are underway. Chairman Ackerman expressed concern that the garage that is in danger be protected and asked that the Township Manager check into that.
  4. Solicitor Kline reported that several potential new businesses (in the township) are concerned about initial fees.
  5. The township newsletter will no longer be mailed to every household. It will be available online. If requested, a newsletter will be mailed. Contact the township office if you need it the "old fashioned way," in print.
  6. A joint Planning Commission/Supervisors meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, October 26, 2004 at 7:00 PM to review the text additions to the SALDO (Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance). Important! Try to attend!
  7. Kline reported that before a CO (Certificate of Occupancy) is issued for a development, street signs should be in place. This is a safety issue. We are not sure, but we think this is to be added to the stop sign ordinance (#288) adopted last meeting.
  8. Alex Gale reported that the paving around the new municipal building was slowed last week due to rain and that the insulation for the PD is late because of high demand both in southern states hit by the hurricanes and in China. Also... yes... more "extra" money spent! $27,000 was the cost to stabilize part of the site. Apparently there was an old dry well and a wet spot that were not noticed on the original site inspection.
  9. Supervisor Nicholas raised the issue of all the changes to the original municipal building plan. She provided each of the Board with copies of the building drawing that THEY approved. She alleged that it has been changed considerably. Gale said that the "footprint" had not changed. Barb Bartek (Secretary to the Board/Office Manager) was directed to find the minutes from the meeting in which the plans were approved. It will be discussed at the next meeting (Nov. 4).
  10. SOMERSET MEADOWS (north of Newlins Road) was under discussion. The developer was not present. Solicitor Kline explained that this project was proposed in 1997 and the developer paid $73K to cover improvements to Newlins Road (within a 10 year period). The project is dead. The developer wants his money back a few years early. Engineer Hay suggests giving back $10K and using the balance to improve Newlins as soon as Riverview West is completed. Hay said that Riverview West should be completed within 1-1/2 years.
  11. The Park Maintenance Building low bidder was Kistler at $148,000. It is $16,500 more than budgeted and includes only the shell building. The interior work will take another $73,000. The interior costs, suggested Hoff, could be added to next year's budget and the overage can be funded from this year's capital improvement fund.
  12. A Tom Cat Scrubber to clean the floor in the Community Center will be purchased for $12,490. Supervisor/Community Center Manager Miller said that there is too much floor there now to continue cleaning it by hand. This is a riding scrubber.
  13. The Municipal Software Package purchase was tabled until next meeting. There was a contentious discussion between the Township Manager and Supervisors Nicholas, Hoff, and Holmgaard. Nicholas suggested that a package that other townships and municipalities of our size use also be considered. Holmgaard said that they were all the same so they should award the bid now to the company that the TM wanted (for $70K plus a $450/mthly fee). There was pre-meeting demo at 6 PM of the pre-selected package. It was the first time that Nicholas had seen it and she did not know what other options were out there. She expressed her concerns. The upshot is that a committee consisting of Nicholas, Ackerman, Office Manager Barb Bartek, and Township Manager Kichline will view a demo of the alternate package (one found by Nicholas after making a few calls to Bethlehem Township, Palmer Township and the City of Easton) and present their findings at the next meeting.

Notable also were:

  • Supervisor Holmgaard made reference to a letter sent to the Board that was only presented to them that evening. Supervisor Hoff said that the Township Manager gave it to him after she received it and he held it for a "few" days before giving it to them. Holmgaard was angry. He said he was "shaking." Kline said that it could be discussed as it was not marked CONFIDENTIAL and was now public record. It was only discussed like that. It was not read. We learned that it was written by the township auditors and that it discussed the need for better record keeping. It made suggestions too.
  • Supervisor Miller refused to be appointed to the committee to review the software stating that he knew nothing about computers and software.

There was an Executive Session at the end of the meeting to discuss a personnel issue. (ERROR: Afterwards, (we heard) a vote was taken to affirm that the Municipal Building plans that were voted on originally are the plans that are being built. Period.) CORRECTION (10/30/04): WE HAVE SINCE LEARNED that the plans for the Municipal Complex were changed by Mr. Gale and because contractors have bid on these changes, the Supervisors were forced to vote on the NEW plan in order to make the changes/bids legal. Supervisor Nicholas is/was not in agreement with Mr. Gale's belief that he could make changes to the plans without the Supervisors' vote on it. Mr. Gale is a Field Construction Manager and not a Supervisor. This vote was taken after the Executive Session.

We urge all interested residents to attend the upcoming meetings. Much is going on! Again, they are:

  1. Monday, October 25, 2004 at 4:30 PM - Budget "worksession" (sic)
  2. Tuesday, October 26, 2004 at 7:00 PM - Joint Planning Commission & Supervisors to discuss text additions to the SALDO

Our objective is to relate what is experienced at Forks Township meetings for those who cannot attend. We are attempting to be as factual as we can. If we make a mistake, tell us via email or Comment here in the blog, and we will do our best to correct it. We are not perfect. We want to get it right.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Better Than THE PRODUCERS! How to Guarantee NO AUDIENCE!

Today's (10/19/2004) Express Times had the following notice in the Classifieds:

Legal-Public Notices
LEGAL NOTICE FORKS TOWNSHIP The Forks Township Board of Supervisors have scheduled two worksessions with Department Heads on Monday, October 18, 2004 and Tuesday, October 19, 2004 at 4:30 PM. Worksessions will be held to discuss the 2005 Operating Budgets. Meetings will be held at the Forks Township Municipal Building, 1606 Sullivan Trail, Easton, PA. Forks Township Board of Supervisors Published in The Express-Times on 10/19


I, for one, cannot tell if these meetings are open to the public or not. I am guessing they are since there is an announcement in the paper. Notifying township residents of a meeting the day AFTER it happened seems odd. Of course, we are being told (in time) of the second meeting, scheduled for this afternoon. It's hard to plan time away from work for a 4:30 meeting on such short notice. Since this is a worksession with Department Heads, I imagine they are trying to avoid paying overtime. That's admirable. But such short notice to the public, that's NOT admirable at all. Just my opinion of course!

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

YOUR TIME IS UP!

There is nothing more that a teenager likes to do than speak their mind. Whether they discuss their views on dates, school, sports, or politics depends on the interest of the teen, but there is one thing that they all have in common: they all demand the right to speak freely. And why wouldn’t they? This is one of the many rights that are guaranteed to the American teenager in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Forks Township has recently found a loophole around this amendment though. They would never take away a citizen’s right to free speech, because that would be wrong, but they would restrict it. Their newest innovative idea for township meetings is to give each citizen a certain amount of time to speak their mind. No matter what the degree of their problem or concern is, each resident will have the same amount of time to discuss and resolve their issue with the board of supervisors. So, basically, if someone comes to a meeting to discuss trick-or-treat, they get the same amount of time as someone who is trying to get money to cover the damage done to their house by a backed-up sewage system during hurricane Ivan.
Being a teenager in Forks Township disgusts me. If I feel the need to speak my mind, I want to be heard. We should have unlimited time to articulate our views because those are what help improve our community. I am a part of the next generation of Forks Township and my opinion can make a difference for the future. Is this not what the board of supervisors is here for? We elected them to this position to listen to us, whether we are young or old, and in return they should let us help them to help our community. Somehow, I do not see this happening when our opinions are put under time restrictions.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

BoS Meeting 10/7/04

Both the Express Times' Edward Sieger and the Morning Call's Joe Nixon did excellent reports (Oct. 8, 2004) of this most INTENSE meeting. Thank you both. We'll relate the meeting goings-on in a little more detail and will try not to repeat what you can read in the newspapers. Warning! This is a LONG post. The meeting was very important to Forks residents.

MANAGER'S REPORT: The Township Manager reported that Supervisors Holmgaard and Hoff were interviewed by PBS Channel 39. The interview will be aired on 10/12/04 and 10/15/04 at 7:30 PM. She also reported that Baseline Construction's repair to Bushkill Drive will take another 2 months and that Bi-State Construction's work on the Frost Hollow swale must be completed by July 9, 2005.

DEPARTMENT REPORTS: Tim Weis, Emergency Management Coordinator, reported that Hurricane Ivan was the first declared township emergency in which the disaster plans were used. The plans worked. Peter Gheller, Public Works, reported that leaf collections will begin slowly (one truck) next week. Karl Kline, Solicitor, reported that he met with Tioga Pipe and that they will be moving into the industrial park.

ENGINEER'S REPORT: The township engineers' office reported that it will cost approximately $115,000 to replace the 48" storm sewer with a 60" one. This is the storm sewer pipe that overflowed into the sanitary sewer line and backed up into the homes on Heather Lane.

The engineer went on to say that this pipe will not handle a problem like the one the residents of Heather Lane faced. Amy Hummer, a Heather Lane resident whose basement had 3-1/2 feet of raw sewage in it, described how it felt to watch people walking by her house on their way to the park for the 250th while she was trying desperately to get the stuff out of her basement. She was near tears. It is a situation that none of us can really imagine. She, and other residents whose basements were flooded with sewage by the overflow of the Giant's detention (retention?) pond into the storm sewer (which then flooded into the sanitary sewer pipe), related that FEMA offered them loans (Hummer's estimate alone is $30,000!) to get the work done. They don't want LOANS. The residents did nothing wrong. They do not live in a flood plain. They expected NO flooding. And, now they have learned that the township's insurer will NOT cover the damage to their properties.

Holmgaard said that he was on the (now defunct) Sewer Authority and was certain that letters were sent to the residents of that area with guidelines for them (install check valves and no sump pumps draining into the sanitary sewers) to help prevent future flooding. So far no one at the township can find a copy of that letter. A long time resident says that he did not get one. The area has flooded three times, in 1984, in 1996, and now. Holmgaard said that the other floods had something to do with residents draining sump pumps into the sanitary sewer line and he asked a long time resident (and now victim) if his sump pump was going into the sewer. The resident said he did not have a sump pump. Tim Weis (Zoning Officer) said that there is a $1000 fine imposable by the township should a resident have such a hookup. The Township Manager said that there was a to-do list developed after the 1996 flooding and that the township had done most of the items on it. They did not do them all. One of the BoS asked which items were NOT done. It will be looked into further. Meanwhile, the reason that the township insurer will NOT cover the cleanup and repair to the residents' homes is because the township did SOME and NOT ALL of the items on the list. This is worse than AWFUL! This issue has been tabled for discussion at the next meeting (10/21/04) or, possibly at an emergency meeting before that. All those impacted were asked by Chairman Ackerman to provide the Supervisors with a list of damages, photos, and cost estimates so that they can better consider the problem and solution.

CORRESPONDENCE: Supervisor Holmgaard read a letter from a township resident commending two police officers for bravery and heroism during the flooding on Bushkill Drive. The officers were present at the meeting, as were one or two others who we are sure were there to help congratulate the two heroes. We were unable to hear their names, nor the name of the grateful resident. The resident sent along a check for $1000 for the police department. Kudos all around!

COMMENTS FROM THE FLOOR (NOT AGENDA ITEMS): (This was not the discussion about the format but the old format in action.)

  1. Ms. Coxe had copies of her list of questions from the 9/2/04 meeting for each of the Supervisors, the Solicitor, the Township Manager, and the Chief of Police. She stated that Chairman Ackerman had answered some of the questions and that his answers were on the list so that they could all see them. She said that she indicated which questions she thought each should answer and she requested the answers in writing. Hoff said that he already answered and wouldn't answer again. Holmgaard said that he wouldn't permit HIS police chief to answer. Kline stated that he would not answer without permission from the BoS since the time spent would be billable to the township. It was decided that the Township Manager should answer Kline's questions since she has access to the records of the Solicitor's billable hours. Supervisor Hoff was asked if he had any signs posted during his last election bid. He said that he had five of them. He was informed there is no record of him having paid his (refundable) sign permit fee. Also, the Board was asked if they approved a special edition of the township newsletter (in which Hoff was praised heavily) that went out to all residents on the Friday before the election. Ms. Coxe was calm and polite. Those same characteristics can not be attributed to one of the Supervisors in particular.
  2. Stan Kocher (former Supervisor) expressed his hope that the LIME KILN on Frost Hollow Rd. will be preserved during the reconstruction of that roadway.
  3. Morris Metz (former Supervisor, former Planning commission member, and former editor of the newsletter) praised the 250th committee for the professional job they did. He then said that he was the editor of the newsletter at the time Ms. Coxe referred to (October 2001) and that George Gemmel (former Township Manager) made him do it. He (Gemmel) provided all the copy. He also said that in all his years of service in the township, there was never an incident lacking integrity. He urged the Supervisors to address Ms. Coxe's questions (implying this situation did lack integrity.)

STATUS UPDATE - ALEX GALE/MUNICIPAL COMPLEX: Gale reported that paving will begin next week and it's likely to make flooding problems in the area worse. (HELLO... IMHO, this is enough reason to hold off on the paving until the stormwater/sewage issue is under control! Liability?) Also, Gale presented the Supervisors with individual binders of the project containing cost estimates of each phase. These estimates will be replaced by real costs as the segments are completed and billings are received. He presented the estimates to demolish the old (current) municipal building, including the asbestos (small amount in the basement boiler area) removal. The Supervisors were surprised that these numbers were NOT included in the $10 million plus. Gale said that THEY had the numbers removed from the original contracts. Looks like there is no hope of re-using the current building.

NEW BUSINESS:

  • Authorization to Advertise an ordinance entering the township into the PA Municipal Health Insurance Cooperative was approved. This is a central PA group and will cover the dental and vision portions of the health plan.
  • The township is considering purchasing a Municipal Software package from Applied Microsystems. Supervisors Holmgaard and Hoff saw it at a PSATS conference. At Supervisor Nicholas' request, she and Miller will get a hands-on demonstration soon. The Township Manager said that the office staff each had 2-3 hours to check it out. The package will cost more than $60,000 and will also do the Earned Income Taxes (EIT). It was unclear whether the EIT module would entail an additional fee. Six months of training for township employees is included In the purchase price. The purchase discussion (and decision) has been tabled until the next meeting on the 21st.
  • The Public Comments Procedure was discussed briefly before being tabled until the next meeting. Holmgaard wants the public to submit their comment requests to the township before the 2:30 PM Tuesday deadlines (the week of a meeting), or to wait until the end of the meeting to speak. Holmgaard didn't say when the end of the meeting would be... there seem to be two ends, one when the New Business is over and one AFTER the Executive Session. Ackerman and Nicholas said that other municipalities are invoking time limits. Ackerman also said that this was the first time he saw this item (and the software one too). It was not on the Agenda he had. Oh oh... someone's breaking the rules! Meanwhile, Gretchen Gerstel, resident and former Planning Commission member, said that she objected to the residents issues being relegated to the end of the meeting and that if the comments were important enough then the developers could wait. This topic earned Forks Township a TURKEY in the (10/9/04) edition!
  • The Current Budget Review was not discussed.

At the end of the New Business section Holmgaard announced that there has been 36% growth in Northampton County. He didn't say over what period. An Executive Session followed (to discuss a personnel matter and litigation.)

Our objective is to relate what is experienced at Forks Township meetings for those who cannot attend. We are attempting to be as factual as we can. If we make a mistake, tell us via email or Comment here in the blog, and we will do our best to correct it. We are not perfect. We want to get it right.

Friday, October 01, 2004

"Flooding analysis may usher in changes"

This is such good news! An article in today's (10/1/04) Express Times said that the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission is going to study why the flooding from Hurricane Ivan was so bad in the LV. They are right to say that it needs study. The answers, of course, will be complex... likely a weather fluke with some relation to the rapid expansion of pavement and roofs in the valley. There are a couple of TRUTHS involved:
  1. The development isn't going to go away.
  2. It isn't going to stop (until there is no place left to build that is.)

Given these two facts, it behooves the Master Planners to come up with solid infrastructure recommendations. There are lots of us depending on this for our safety and the safety of our major financial investments (homes). Perhaps they will recommend a PAUSE in it all until roads and drainage systems can be redesigned to handle stormwater runoff? Or, at least until plans are developed for the redesigns? My fingers are crossed!