Monday, December 26, 2011

On Frozen Pond

Despite what the thermometer has been telling us lately, according to the calendar, winter officially began a few days ago. And, beginning in early October, so did the official start of the professional ice hockey season. In less than a week, the NHL's Winter Classic, an outdoor hockey game played on a specially constructed, temporary rink (this year, inside the Citizens Bank Park --normally the home of the Phillies) will be played between our home team Philadelphia Flyers and the New York Rangers. The Winter Classic was developed by the National Hockey League a few years ago to replicate the feel of how 'real hockey' originally was played, outside on a frozen lake, stream or pond.

What does any of this have to do with Lower Providence?

If you  have driven down Oakland Avenue on your way to or from Trooper Road recently, you might have noticed a curious new development taking shape over the past few weeks. On a private yard, outside a home situated where Oakland intersects with Clearfield, ice hockey rink.

Granted, it's nowhere near professional size, but it's serviceable enough. Being a devout hockey fan myself, I'd driven by it several times when my curiousity got the better of me, and I stopped in to talk to the owners and find out what possessed them to construct it.

The owners, Phillip and Kathy LeBoutillier, explained that their son, Phil, a senior at Methacton High School, plays as a forward for the Methacton Ice Hockey JV Team at Center Ice in Upper Providence Township, and wanted a place to lace up/warm up at home.

Mrs. LeBoutillier told me that her father had built similar backyard rinks himself in the past, and they asked him how it was done.  It soon became a family project as the LeBoutilliers tried to see if they could replicate the rink to the specifications provided by her father. If all else failed, an Internet search also turned up some sites that provide instructions. 

First the wooden frame (approx 20'x30') was built; then the liner was inserted. Last, about 6" of water was added and the waiting began. A week or so ago it had begun to freeze, but the arrival of 60 degree weather temporarily suspended that progress. Hopefully the arrival of January and February will bring weather cold enough to freeze it entirely.

Mrs. LeBoutillier said that the project has definitely generated interest. She joked, "People have asked if we're planning to hold our own version of the Winter Classic".  Of course, it's just temporary, and will be removed in the spring.

There are a couple of other families I'm aware of in our township that have built similar rinks in the recent past, but neither of them were in high-traffic areas such as this one; one was on Lloyd Lane and another on Breckenridge Boulevard (both in my neck of the woods in Trooper).

If you've lived around here long enough, you might remember that we used to have a real ice hockey rink in Lower Providence, at the old General Washington Country Club, where the Club at Shannondell/Chadwick's now sits. In later years numerous problems with the ice making machine and other components of the building caused it to be out of operation more often than not, and when it was finally closed down and reborn in its current form, the rink was not included in the plans. This rink used to be the home ice for the Methacton team, even back when I attended Methacton in the late 70's/early 80's, and a number of our former players still live in the area.

By the way, for whatever reason, Methacton doesn't officially recognize or support its hockey team like they do their football, baseball etc. teams, and didn't when I attended school there, either. They're a great bunch of kids who are playing an expensive, demanding, and exciting sport. I strongly encourage you to come out and root for them during their games (schedule can be found here) and whenever you see them holding a car wash or other fundraiser, to be as generous as you would to our other teams. The Varsity team is the defending PAC 10 champion, so you're missing some exciting hockey! 

Here's hoping that soon, we'll have a deep enough freeze to turn the 'pond'  into something solid enough to put skates on.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Shot Heard 'Round The Township

By now most of you have probably heard that long-time township manager Joe Dunbar was unexpectedly and unceremoniously dismissed from his duties late last week by the current Board of Supervisors.

Well, by most of them, anyway (Rick Brown, Chris DiPaolo, Don Thomas voted in favor). Mrs. Eckman voted against it. Mrs. Altieri didn’t even know it was coming;  she left after the public meeting adjourned and before the evening’s second executive session commenced. It wasn’t on the agenda, and apparently no one spoke to either of the women beforehand, so they appear to have been ambushed by it as much as Mr. Dunbar was.

There are all kinds of rumors swirling around as to why.  Officially, it was due to ‘personal reasons’ per the Times Herald. I don’t know or have any evidence as to whether any of those rumors are true or not, or what “personal” reasons are being referenced, so I’m not going to perpetuate them here. As with anyone who’s a public figure, you make friends and you make enemies in the course of doing your job, and Joe’s no exception.   Joe and I haven’t always agreed, but we did respect each other’s backgrounds and abilities and always remained friends over many years.

Personally, I doubt any alleged ‘personal’ reasons were to blame. Those stories were circulating long before Joe’s contract was renewed earlier this year, and those rumors did not prevent the supervisors from renewing it. Now we have to buy him out of his contract, for which two and a half years remain, AND hire someone else.  It just seems like a handy excuse to me. My guess is, Joe was dismissed purely to clear the position for a Rick Brown crony to take.

The timing is suspect to me, as is the ‘search committee’. 

With two new supervisors coming on board in a few short weeks, continuity is crucial, and Joe would have been the main person to help bring them up to speed on the processes and issues of immediate concern, educate them as to the practical rules and guidelines that apply to various scenarios, and ensure no balls are dropped during the transition.  

Then again, if you are expected to vote in unquestioning lockstep with the chairman, I suppose you really don’t need to know anything, or do anything other than answer your phone when called and told what to do. Independent thinkers need not apply.

The ‘search committee’ is comprised of not only both new supervisors (one of whom, Jill Zimmerman did not support the dismissal and one, Jason Sorgini, who did) but a supervisor (Chris DiPaolo)  who is not only stepping down in less than a month but who could not get re-endorsed by his own party to run again after the still-continuing fallout of the 2009 defamation lawsuit, in which court documents show he played a central role.  Why on earth is HE on this committee?

As to the timing, well, we just concluded an election less than a month ago in which I was a candidate, and I am all too aware of instances that got back to me where promises were made in exchange for certain people to do, or not do, certain things to advance my opponent’s cause, or to just stay home and not help me out, one of which was the promise of a particular seat on a particular township board if someone just changed their driver’s license address to their business address (which is located in LP).

The ‘bill’ for those favors comes due shortly.  It should be interesting to see who fills the vacancies.  It is, just as I said during my campaign, yet another example of putting personal agendas ahead of what – or WHO – is best for the Township, and whether you liked the guy or not, Joe WAS the best guy for that job.
As I wrote about in another post some time ago, the overwhelming consensus has been (both here and in other communities in our area) that Joe did an outstanding job as an ambassador for Lower Providence. Everywhere I went while campaigning this year, whether meeting with residents or business owners, with only one exception I heard nothing but rave reviews about him…how responsive he was to issues, how quickly he followed up, etc.  He is innovative and kept us on the cutting edge of best practices.  He was both knowledgeable and tirelessly devoted to his job and this community. He has great connections – something absolutely irreplaceable in an age where so many issues that affect us are regional -  and was a driving force in his ability to get things done. He’s a respected community leader and an excellent people manager, in my observation.  He knew how to motivate to get the best out of anyone, and the township staff was known to be exceptionally loyal to him.
 In short, if there is anyone more in love with this Township than I am, it would be Joe Dunbar.  We’ve had good ones and horrible one in our past, and a good township manager can really put you in the top tier of communities. Joe was one of those, and it’s truly a big loss for us.
Best of luck, Joe…our loss will be someone else’s gain.