Tuesday, March 26, 2013

School Year Ends Early For Quinn

Tonight at its March 26 business meeting, the Methacton School Board announced that they had held several executive sessions in February and March to review material gathered by the special investigative counsel hired November 1 2012  to look into allegations of an inappropriate relationship between superintendent Timothy Quinn and Director of Curriculum, Diane Barrie. Those allegations first came to light via a Fox 29 news report and which I’ve written about previously.   
The special investigative team spent more than 4 months gathering evidence. My understanding is that hearings for each to review the findings were to have been conducted in late February or this month, but that both elected to resign before those hearings could be held. Had they gone forward as scheduled, a report of the results would have been subject to public disclosure, which they presumably wanted to avoid.
In light of the findings of that investigation and the tendered resignations, the Board voted 8 to 0 (board member Cathy Barone was absent) to accept them.
Not all the legal bills are in, but the cost of this investigation is estimated to be over $20,000 at this point.  
Quinn’s tenure at Methacton since he arrived in 2008 was tumultuous. Many I’ve talked to while campaigning for office believed Quinn received the support of former school board president Jim Van Horn and the board at that time primarily because he supported the construction of the controversial 5/6 school, Skyview, circa 2007-2008 (completed in 2010) and which I understand sits half-empty today (while we don’t start paying down principal on the construction costs til 2018). Since then, Quinn was in the middle of the continuing debates over the need for, and cost of, new turf fields and lights for the football field. The prom drinking scandal two years ago, an unexpected change to the dress code and arrest of a teacher for having an inappropriate relationship with a student all occurred during his tenure.
Quinn’s original four year contract would have expired in 2012, but was renewed early in July 2010 for another five years, scheduled to end in August 2015. The Board indicated it would pay out both Quinn and Barrie’s contracts only through the end of this year.  As far as I am aware, Barrie has not been offered the position she applied for at the Intermediate Unit; I don't know if that has been filled or if it remains open.
No one was appointed acting superintendent. With a primary election coming in less than 8 weeks, perhaps the current board wants to await its outcome before deciding when to move forward with naming an acting superintendent or a replacement.
While Quinn undeniably had his strengths and accomplishments during his time at Methacton, it is unfortunate that his unceremonious departure and the reason behind it is likely to be what he is most remembered for.  
The Fox 29 update on this topic appears here:

Gone But Not Forgotten

Updated 9:20 pm

At tonight's school board  meeting it was announced that today was Quinn's last day and that Diane Barrie's will be June 13.

I am hearing from several reliable but as-yet unconfirmed sources that embattled Methacton superintendent Timothy Quinn has not only resigned (possibly as recently as Friday March 15) but that the school board has accepted it and that his last day was Friday March 22. Perhaps the school board will mention something about it at tonight's meeting - last week's work session and subcommittee meetings were all cancelled. I will update this post as more information becomes available.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Be My Guest

I've never permitted a guest writer on this blog, but as they say, there’s a first time for everything.  Lower Providence, meet Lisa Mossie.
While I’ve researched and written about our regional sewer authority and LP’s participation in it extensively over the past couple of years (here and here), and particularly the disagreements over the placement of the middle portion of the sewer interceptor project (can we all agree, at least, that we have to have SEWERS??)  I have long felt like the only person paying attention to - and reporting - ALL sides of the dispute.

That is, until Lisa, a supervisor in Upper Providence, the other primary municipality involved in the dispute, was elected in 2011. She quickly developed an understanding of this complex project of many moving parts and political layers and has been a welcome voice of reason. In a recent piece in the Times Herald, ("Lower Providence Contradicts Its Own Arguments",) she frames the status of the project and the disputes well.
With Ms. Mossie’s permission, below I am posting her original unedited piece, containing more details about LP's obviously hypocritical arguments, which were omitted from the Times Herald piece for brevity.  It's an excellent recap of the dispute and, more specifically, how LP officials’ changing positions  just  don’t hold water (pun intended) and don't work for all LP residents, the environment, or the larger community.

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The Lower Perkiomen Valley Regional Sewer Authority needs to construct a new sewer line known as the “middle interceptor” along the Perkiomen Creek in order to serve the needs of its six member municipalities, Trappe Borough, Collegeville Borough, Skippack Township, Perkiomen Township, Lower Providence Township and Upper Providence Township.  A dispute has arisen between the LPVRSA and Lower Providence Township as to which side of the creek an approximately 3,000 linear foot segment of the middle interceptor should be located.

Upper Providence has historically not engaged in media campaigns to achieve political ends.  For the last year, our Board of Supervisors has chosen to remain on the sidelines of the dispute, while the various options were explored.  We remained confident that the decision would ultimately reflect the best possible alternative for all concerned.  Five of the six member municipalities agree that the middle interceptor’s best location is on the Lower Providence Township side of the creek, where it can be constructed as a simple gravity line.  This route is known as Arcola 1. 

Last month, we were informed that Lower Providence Township endorsed a gravity option for the middle interceptor to be placed on the Upper Providence side of the creek.  This route is known as Arcola 3.  Because so much precious time has been wasted in the political and legal maneuvering surrounding this issue, and because time is now of the essence with this project, and because more years of legal wrangling is promised from Lower Providence if their preferred option is not chosen by LPVRSA, as a member of the Upper Providence Board of Supervisors, I wish to provide my thoughts about the proposed interceptor’s location. 

The Arcola 1 route on the Lower Providence side of the creek is clearly the optimal path for the middle interceptor.  Engineering analyses have determined that, due to very steep topography, it would cost at least $2 million more to construct the middle interceptor on the Upper Providence side of the creek than on the Lower Providence side, even taking into account the costs to recover American Indian artifacts on the Lower Providence side.  These additional costs would, of course, be passed on to all of the LPVRSA’s customers, including those living in Lower Providence Township. Constructing the interceptor on the Upper Providence side would also mean that the LPVRSA would lose the additional capacity already provided by the existing interceptor.  This could require another sewer expansion project in the not too distant future, also at the expense of the LPVRSA’s customers.

Lower Providence and a small interest group of residents has waged a coordinated political and media campaign on ever-shifting grounds in an attempt to box in the LPVRSA’s viable options under the presumption that nobody is paying attention to the inconsistencies in their arguments.  It is my opinion that, by endorsing the Arcola 3 route on the Upper Providence side of the creek, Lower Providence effectively contradicts every previous public argument that it has been making for the last several years, in an effort to stall this project. 

At different times during the middle interceptor conflict, Lower Providence and its special interests have raised the following spurious objections:

·         The project is unnecessary.  As part of this process, the LPVRSA conducted an Act 537 study of the region’s sewer needs.  The study reflects the current flows of the six member municipalities and, based upon zoning and other considerations, anticipates future flows for the next 10 years.  This study clearly indicates that the middle interceptor is necessary, and that Lower Providence’s assertions otherwise are false.  Furthermore, Lower Providence’s endorsement of the Arcola 3 route tacitly acknowledges that they also believe the middle interceptor is necessary.

·         Pump station alternatives are better.  The LPVRSA examined several pump station alternatives to the Arcola 1 option.  None were feasible due to monetary and operating concerns related to the construction and ongoing maintenance of these pump stations.  Lower Providence’s endorsement of the Arcola 3 gravity option effectively acknowledges that Lower Providence agrees that a gravity option is the best solution.

·         No residences will be impacted by construction on the Upper Providence side of the creek.  (refer to comments by Catherine Beyer:  http://lowerprovidence.patch.com/articles/lpvrsa-releases-official-position-on-sewer-interceptor).  The map depicting the Arcola 3 route clearly shows that it will impact one residence on the Upper Providence side.  Furthermore, the impact of construction on that residence would be exponentially greater than the impact on any of the residences on the Lower Providence side.  The Upper Providence residence is on a very narrow lot, and the construction easements would have to come within 5 to 10 feet from his home.  Construction on the Upper Providence side will also necessitate 6 months of sewage bypass pumping with a pump placed on this resident’s property.  The lots along the Arcola 1c route on the Lower Providence side are all very deep, with construction activities taking place farther away from the homes. 

·         Placing the middle interceptor on the Lower Providence side of the creek would result in catastrophic damage to the environment.  All parties involved agree that there will be some temporary environmental impact due to the interceptor’s construction.  Everyone also agrees that measures need to be taken to ensure that these environmental impacts are minimized to the degree that they can be.  This has been the strongest and most persistent claim coming from both Lower Providence Township and its residents.  In fact, on May 18, 2012, Lower Providence Township Manager Richard Gestrich sent an urgent e-mail to the other member municipalities, stating that previous interceptor construction “resulted in very harsh environmental consequences” and that “[y]ou should be aware of all the adverse environmental impacts to the creek, before you reach a decision on the [resolution to undertake updated Act 537 planning].”  Yet, despite all of this concern, the environmental impacts resulting from construction on steep slopes on the Upper Providence side of the creek will be far greater than if the interceptor was constructed on the Lower Providence side.  If Lower Providence Township is truly concerned about the wildlife and the health of the Perkiomen Creek, why would they endorse a plan that is so much more impactful on the environment?

·         The DEP never approved the placement of the middle interceptor on the Lower Providence side of the creek.  This is basis upon which many of the legal battles have been fought and the reason for the member municipalities’ requirement to undertake updated Act 537 planning.  In the original Act 537 plan, the path for the middle interceptor was drawn as a thick blue line down the middle of the Perkiomen Creek, and the intended location was described as “parallel” to the existing interceptor, which is on the Upper Providence side of the creek.  Lower Providence’s attempts to delay member municipalities’ commencement of the Act 537 update was yet another effective stall tactic.  Because DEP determined that there was “wiggle room” in the definition of “parallel,” at the recommendation of LPVRSA and DEP, all member municipalities, with the exception of Lower Providence, have undertaken the project to update their Act 537 plans, and they have shouldered the costs associated with that project.

·         The existence of historical artifacts precludes placement on the Lower Providence side of the creek.  The existence of artifacts from ancient Indians is not in dispute.  However, the commissioned Archeological study of the site indicates that “the archeological deposits are significant only for their informational value and do not warrant preservation in place.”  The cost of excavating these artifacts has been built in to the cost of the Arcola 1 option, and is estimated at $66,000.  Furthermore, Lower Providence has not indicated what the status of these valuable artifacts will be if LPVRSA does not undertake the archeological excavation.  Will they be recovered for posterity to enjoy and learn from, or will they remain in the ground, of no value to anyone?

·         Additionally, Upper Providence Township and the LVPRSA proposed the Arcola 1c option, which would run the middle interceptor further down the Upper Providence side of the creek to avoid the historical area.  In an email dated May 25, 2012, the Chairman of the Lower Providence Board of Supervisors, Rick Brown, responded that this proposal “[w]ould mean extending the sewer upstream along the Perkiomen Creek in Upper Providence Township from the former Proffit property (+- 500 feet) to a new point where we cross the stream into Lower Providence.  The route requires more extensive earth work.  According to my sources the Army Corp of Engineers would not approve this plan.”  In other words, locating the middle interceptor on the Upper Providence side of the creek , even for a mere additional 500 feet, is not feasible because of the impact to the environment.

The LPVRSA has satisfactorily and comprehensively addressed all of the objections raised by Lower Providence Township and its special interest group of residents.  I believe that the best all-around alternative remains the original Arcola 1 or 1c option, as it has all along.  The numerous stall tactics and delays undertaken by Lower Providence have effectively made time a critical issue in reaching a solution on the middle interceptor, and the LPVRSA is now looking for Upper Providence to assess to the Arcola 3 option in an effort to keep the project moving forward.

We have all been hit by increased sewer rates as a direct result of the years of legal wrangling over this issue.  The residents of Lower Providence have been hit doubly-hard, since they are also funding the lawsuits that have caused the rate increases.  While I have absolutely no wish to unnecessarily expend further taxpayer dollars on this project, nor do I wish to further delay this project more than it has already been by this media and legal circus, I can’t help but conclude that there is absolutely no reason not to place the interceptor in the Arcola 1 area on the Lower Providence side of the creek where LPVRSA has always recommended, except to avoid further lawsuits and delays from Lower Providence.  These lawsuits would only benefit a small handful of residents, would result in greater environmental impacts to the Perkiomen Creek, would leave valuable historical artifacts unrecovered, would result in a vastly greater impact on one of our residents and would cost every resident in the member municipalities more money in increased sewer fees.

It is not too late to purge the bad blood that has been accumulated during this protracted and sometimes ugly process.  It is my hope that the residents of all six member municipalities will join me in calling on Lower Providence officials to look beyond the immediate political considerations, and in calling on our state elected officials, John Rafferty and Mike Vereb, to do what is in the best interests of all parties concerned: end this senseless legal and political maneuvering and agree to let the middle interceptor be installed where the impact on the health of the Perkiomen can be minimized: on the Lower Providence side of the creek.
Call these state elected officials and let them know that enough time has been wasted on the middle interceptor battle:

John Rafferty Ph: (610)-831-8830
Mike Vereb Ph: (610) 409-2615