Saturday, February 26, 2011

Conduct Unbecoming

Typically local Planning Commission meetings are usually only slightly more exciting than watching paint dry, but they serve a necessary function in that the board members review land development plans submitted to the Township for approval, and make recommendations about them to the Board of Supervisors for action. The PC doesn’t have any binding authority but is merely an advisory board.

Their normal reorganization meeting having been cancelled due to snow last month, one of the items on the PC agenda February 23 was to appoint a new chair and vice chair for 2011. Longtime chairman (18 years) Warren Schlack had not sought reappointment.

Nominations were put on the floor to appoint Mike Comroe or Jill Zimmerman (a local attorney and candidate for supervisor this year) as the new chair. Before a vote could be taken, PC member Bill Brooke asked for the floor. He informed the other PC members that Mr. Comroe had called him back on January 24,  stated that the supervisors wanted him to be named chair, that they expected him to ‘clean house’, and threatened that if Mr. Brooke wanted to be reappointed in two years, he’d better support him for chairman, but that Mr. Comroe further indicated he ‘didn’t really need his [Brooke’s] vote anyway', begging the question as to why Comroe even bothered if this was the case.

Mike Comroe

Both supervisor liaisons to the PC, Colleen Eckman and Chris DiPaolo, were present, and Mr. Brooke took the opportunity to ask them point-blank if what Mr. Comroe had said were true, since he’d claimed to be speaking for them. While Mr. DiPaolo had nothing to say (or if he did, it could not be heard by the audience) Ms. Eckman went on at length, stating that she didn’t feel it was the supervisor’s place to tell a board or commission who their chairs should be. Neither supervisor directly denied Mr. Comroe’s assertion, however, nor did they indicate that they felt Mr. Comroe was out of line in speaking on their behalf.

Mr. Brooke said he was outraged and offended at Comroe’s attempted ‘muscling’ of him, and noted for the record that Mr. Comroe, an Army veteran, has a criminal record and has admitted guilt in at least two incidents involving the Township in the recent past.

One incident was theft/destruction of a campaign sign belonging to a 2009 candidate for supervisor – which he committed in front of an off-duty state trooper - and another was more serious, involving hacking into the Township’s email accounts and impersonating the township manager (the police reports are on file with the Township). In light of this, Mr. Brooke called on Mr. Comroe to resign; Comroe declined. When asked to respond to Mr. Brooke’s statements, Mr. Comroe only said that on the advice of his attorney (hopefully not the supervisors’ solicitor), he could not comment, and did not deny Mr. Brooke’s accusations.

When the vote was taken, Mr. Comroe was appointed chair by a vote of 5-4. PC members Satterwhite, LaPenta, Baird, Supplee and Comroe voted in support of Comroe; members Kuberski, Endlich, Brooke and Zimmerman supported Zimmerman (4 of the 5 who supported Comroe were appointed since 2010 by the current BOS). Upon the conclusion of the vote, PC member Tom Endlich, who has served approximately 15 years on the PC, got up and left the dias, stating ‘that’s it…I resign…I’m done…this is ridiculous’.

The PC then moved through the rest of their short agenda. Before the meeting concluded, former chair Schlack asked to speak. Among his comments, he said "this board has become political, loaded with political appointments" and is in his opinion "unable to do its job"...that it's 'sad and absolutely pathetic'.

New appointee Harold (Ted) Baird responded, stating that ‘there are no political appointments here’. Personally, I find that laughable – Mr. Baird, a retired plumber, is arguably the poster child for political appointments in Lower Providence. This is the same Mr. Baird who has gotten the Township to fight his zoning appeal against the DeLuca property on Pawlings Road (which you can read  more about herehere, and here ) for him, at taxpayer expense and who was instrumental in getting out the vote in Audubon for candidates Eckman and Thomas in 2009.

Mr. Baird opined that ‘it doesn’t matter who is the chairman’, and, if all members are equal,  I have to agree.  If it doesn’t matter, why then did Mr. Comroe feel the need to strong-arm a board member? (it was unclear whether Comroe had tried to reach, or did reach, any of the other three who supported Zimmerman and made similar threats). It’s customary if you want to be chair to call around to members and ask for their support. It’s certainly not customary to bully or threaten them for it. I do think, however, it does matter who's chair, in that it doesn’t send a great message to the community to have an apparently ego-driven bully with the lack of character Mr.Comroe evidently has on a board or commission at all, let alone in a position of leadership.

It should be obvious that anyone who's a bully and who has demonstrated that they do not have the best interests of all the Township’s residents at heart over their own vested interests does not belong on a commission making recommendations about anything to the governing body (nor does someone with a criminal record of offenses against the very community he’s supposedly serving), but lately it seems that these may be prerequisites for consideration. Regrettably, Mr. Baird is hardly the only recent board or commission appointment that’s political in nature; there are others. Several recent appointees in LP are or were involved in litigation against the township – a blatant conflict of interest if ever there was one.  Indeed, Mr. Comroe was reappointed to the PC last year by the current board in a 4-1 vote (from the minutes  of that meeting; Ms.Altieri voted against); presumably Ms. Altieri was not the only supervisor aware of Mr. Comroe's history.

For a BOS who supposedly wanted to do away with alleged ‘cronyism’ in the past, it seems rather hypocritical. It would appear that people who have been politically useful, regardless of qualifications, integrity or conflict of interest, are fit to do the business of the township and represent its interests.  And that is the face that the majority of our township’s leaders want to put forward to its residents, businesses, and community neighbors.