Forum Posts

pjdoehring
Jul 29, 2022
In Kennett Greenway
Gamble and Stevens voice concerns, but defend support claiming it is too late to change course Normally, a resolution to support a grant application to continue the development of a major public project is just a formality, barely noticed by the public. That is because most projects have a clear timeline, cost structure, and deliverables, all normally referenced in the application itself, and backed up by evidence that the project is on track towards its short- and long-term goals. That was not the case, however, for the resolution proposed for a application to the states Multimodal Transportation Fund (MTF) presented by the Kennett Trail Alliance (KTA) to the Kennett Township Board of Supervisors (KT BOS) on Wednesday July 20, seeking another $1.5M grant towards the $5.5M Chandler Mill Trail (CMT) project. Consider the glaring gaps in the resolution and accompanying materials presented at the KT-BOS meeting in a rush to meet the state’s deadline for MTF applications just 11 days later. The application: Provided no information about the size of the local match (the RFP specifies a minimum of 30%) Does not specify funds dedicated to already high design costs, which could drain local coffers still more. The RFP specifies a maximum of 10%, or $550k for the entire project, but the current CMT project is running almost twice that. Leaves open the possibility that not a single foot of trail would be open to the public once the $1.5M grant has been spent. Does not specify how much more money is needed to complete the overall $5.5M project, or offer any plan for obtaining those funds. Offers no timeline for the completion of CMT, or the remaining 1.4 miles into the Borough of Kennett Square. This kind of information is normally needed by local officials to gauge progress and the merits of continued investment in a major project. But not in Kennett, where supervisors appear determined to approve any proposal regardless of the plan, the budget, the timeline, or the actual deliverables. And they did so after virtually no debate, and completely ignoring important questions like those listed above that were posed prior to the vote. We disagree with this approach and so we begin to close this gap in another post by generating detailed projections of the overall cost of the western section of the Greenway - 2.8 miles likely costing $8.4-$12M and unlikely to be completed before 2030. Given the struggles of the Greenway overall and of the CMT in particular, it is no surprise that KTA left these critical details out. Despite claims that a ‘final design” had been presented and approved in June 2021, the planned “completion” of the design and permitting - as well as the start of construction itself - has now been delayed by almost a year, with no explanation whatsoever. At least some of these delays appear due to the failure to anticipate roadway modifications to ensure cyclist safety, and to secure the private land needed. We expect that most would have expected these kinds of important details to have been resolved before pushing for approval of a "final design" last June that now appears to have been far from final. Kennett Township Supervisor Richard Leff was also eager to suppress discussion of these gaps in the application. At the KT-BOS, he denied all requests to seek information about the overall status of the CMT project itself, repeatedly interrupting members of the public who sought any information reated to the overall plan, budget, or timeline. Instead, he sought to sow doubt about the credibility of those raising questions, or let former supervisor Whitney Hoffman do so herself through her public remarks. These gaps raise concerns not just about this particular grant application, but of the 2.8 mile southwestern section that includes CMT, and the entire Greenway planning process itself. Leff refused to allow any concerns about overall claims of progress for the Greenway to be raised prior to the vote, pushing these concerns to the public comment period. In subsequent comments and a later email chain, Leff attempted to characterize the insistence on budgets, timelines, and deliverables as "paralysis by analysis" and those questioning progress as confused. In fact, broad projections that the entire Greenway would cost no less than $40M and not be completed before 2060 seem likely to raise important concerns among residents. KTA appears to recognize the vulnerability of the proposal - and perhaps the Greenway itself. KTA continued their aggressive marketing of the Greenway through an application peppered with broad and often dubious claims, instead of critical details about overall cost, timelines, and deliverables. KTA marshaled letters of support from local residents and businesses, who are likely ignorant of the total cost, timeline, and likely outcomes. We also expect that at least some of those claiming support are not actually residents of the township and so will bear none of the $9M-$10M local tax burden for the Greenway. After the resolution had been passed, Supervisors Stevens and Gamble acknowledged some concerns and expressed interest in alternatives. It was clear from their remarks that they felt locked in to the current proposal because of the money already committed to designs - almost a million dollars and counting. It remains to be seen, however, whether Stevens and Gamble would entertain a public discussion of alternatives, or would continue to allow Supervisor Leff and KTA to simply suppress anything except for blind trust in the plan and design.
Supervisor Leff votes for $1.5M infusion into struggling Kennett Greenway without a plan, a budget, or a timeline content media
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pjdoehring
Jul 27, 2022
In Kennett Greenway
Our projected construction timeline for 20% of the 14 mile Greenway suggests just how just expensive the final product will be, just how long it might take, and why we might need to pivot to a Plan B For years, an aggressive marketing campaign for the Kennett Greenway by the Kennett Trail Alliance (KTA) has sought to convince project funders and the public that the Greenway is making excellent progress towards a wide range of deliverables: the Greenway is not just a path connecting residents to local shops and recreation, but promises to provide long-overdue social and environmental justice. In fact, little progress has been made on the path itself let alone towards the Greenway's broader aspirations, despite a million dollars committed to design fees and a million more in unspent funds. And KTA has pointedly avoided providing any estimates of progress towards the completion of the entire 14 mile Greenway, or even of the 1.4 mile Chandler Mill Trail (CMT) section currently in development. In fact, questions about actual progress, timelines, and deliverables are simply ignored by KTA or are countered with claims that prove to be misleading. This strategy has now been adopted by the Kennett Township (KT) Board of Supervisors (BOS). At a July 20th meeting to rush through an application for an additional $1.5 million in time for a July 31st deadline, Chairman Richard Leff simply ignored questions about costs, timelines, and deliverables for the application in question, and refused to allow broader concerns about the CMT section to be voiced prior to the vote. So if KTA and KT Supervisors reuse to offer any estimates of costs, timelines, or deliverables, how do we assess progress and then discuss whether we need a new approach? Consider the 2.8 mile section from Chandler Mill Bridge to Victory Brewery now in development. In the first of two posts, we begin by laying out a possible construction timeline. We conclude that the best case scenario projects completion by 2030 at a total cost no less than $8.4M, with $2.5M coming out of local coffers. But it is not difficult to imagine scenarios in which completion may be delayed until 2035, at a total cost no less than $12M, with more than $3.6M coming out of local coffers. This suggests that rest of the Greenway itself will not be completed for at least another 3o years -until 2060 or 2065 - and at an additional cost no less than $30M. This suggests that we need a new approach to meet the needs and desires of area residents. Tracking Progress It is difficult at this time to provide projections of the overall costs, timelines, and deliverables for the entire Greenway with any reasonable accuracy. One reason is that there is no master plan for the entire Greenway: a Master Plan developed after years of study was thrown out by KT Supervisors in 2019 with no public input after KTA raised concerns. Another reason is that the Greenway itself keeps shifting, as the failure to secure a right-of-way through private land forces KTA to radically re-route. This is evident in discrepancies between the general map on the Kennett Greenway website - unchanged for years - with another map that continues to plot sections of the route adjusted where negotiations with landowners have broken down. Nonetheless, we can develop some projections for the southwestern section which includes CMT, based on the grants submitted and tentative plans discussed to date. Given the dearth of information about overall costs and timelines, these estimates may shift as more data become available or released by KTA. Understanding the basis for these projections can also help to shed some insight into how costs and timelines continue to spiral, and engage the public in considering alternatives. Western Section of the Greenway The section described here begins at Chandler Mill Bridge to the south, and ends at Victory Brewery to the north, about 2.3 miles as the crow flies but a bit less than 2.8 miles of actual trail. We can break this up into 4 sections: CMT (Red): About 1.4 miles from Chandler Mill Bridge to a point on Chandler Mill Road about 200’ south of Hillendale). We divide the $5.5M CMT proposal into 3 phases: Phase 1 covered under the 2017 MTF grant; Phase 2 covered under the recently submitted $1.5M application, and; Phase 3 covered in a future application WPP (Green): This includes the Whittle Section (500’ long, from the end of CMT to Hillendale just east of the bridge), the Parrish Trail (.8 miles long, from the end of Whittle to the sewage treatment facility on South St.), and Pennock Park (1000’ long, from the end of Parrish through the park to East Penn Railroad tracks) Underpass (Blue Circle): A 300’ section under the East Penn Railroad tracks NVF (Orange): About 1500’ through the to-be-developed NVF parcel from the underpass to the parking lot just west of Victory Brewery. This section can help with estimates of the overall progress. Representing about 20% of the overall length, we can can simply multiply costs and timelines by 5 to begin to broadly estimate what the entire Greenway will involve. Total Projected Costs Total projects costs are listed to the right, broken down by section (with the earliest date by which grant funding might be received in brackets). Overall designs and cost estimates are available for 2 of the 4 sections, together comprising about half the total distance: about $1M for the Underpass, and about $5.5M for CMT. There are different ways to project the costs for the remaining sections. While other shared use paths in the region have been coming in at about $1.5M/mile in 2022, CMT has come in at about $4M/mile. We project that the remaining 1.5 miles could come in at between $1.9M and $5M, but will set the upper limit at $4M, because the $1.5M/mile cost cited above is for trails built on an existing railroad bed which require significantly less design and site preparation. Given the shifting cost estimates offered by KTA, we believe that the total costs of the CMT section may will rise to $6M by the time the entre project is completed. This would also lead us to believe that the total cost could easily approach $40M. State versus Local Funding So far, projects in this section have been primarily funded through the state’s MultiModal Transportation Fund (MTF), awarded every November. This requires an additional match of at least 30% from local funds, an amount that may well increase if design and engineering costs exceed 10% of the total grant. So far, KT has received about $2.7M in MTF grants for this section ($1.7 for CMT and $1M for the Underpass), although less is actually available because of funds spent on the rehabilitation of Chandler Mill Bridge. While the local match so far should be about $.7M, it is likely to be far higher because design fees for CMT have approached 20% of total costs. While the total projected local costs that remain - $2.1M to $3.2M - might not appear exorbitant to some, note that only a small proportion of local funds have been spent on CMT Phase 1 so far. In fact, local costs will likely increase at least threefold once construction actually begins. This represents a significant increase in capital expenditures in KT; completing all of the remaining projects at the fastest pace (see below) will require that KT dedicates $2.1M to $3.2M in new taxes over the next 8 years. This also suggests that total local costs for the entire Greenway could easily exceed $9M-$10M. We characterize the local tax burden as significant, requiring an additional $200K-$400K in taxes each year. This is much greater than the most recent tax increase for 2022 (about $160,000) that raised barely enough to cover escalating Fire/EMS costs. This increase would also have to compete with other major capital projects, a challenge given that KT only began last year to create a major capital fund to support long-overdue upgrades to critical infrastructure like roads and sewers. Any unexpected increase in essential costs would necessarily crowd out spending on discretionary projects, like the Greenway. A long term commitment to the Greenway therefore requires sustained tax increases for the next 30-40 years, and assumes other capital expenditures an be accommodated. A long-term commitment also means the Greenway will remain KTs primary - and perhaps sole - major investment in parks and recreation for the foreseeable future. The delays in opening the $3+M Spar Hill preserve may well represent the struggles that lie ahead. Even in a year with no actual construction costs, KT could not come up with $50K to begin the stabilization of structures needed to begin to open this 100+ acre preserve to the public. Timeline In general, such a timeline would be determined by several factors; the success of grants submitted each year, the speed of the design / permitting / construction process, and the Township’s ability to absorb local costs in their budget. For purposes of our projections we have assumed an aggressive timeline in which KT submits an application to the state as soon as possible each year, and experiences no difficulties absorbing local costs. We project that the final design / permitting / construction process can be completed within 2 years of receipt of the grant but can easily take 3 years or more. This can be viewed as optimistic, given the 1.4 mile CMT section alone is likely to have taken at least 7 or 8 years to be completed. This timeline for this particular section includes a fourth factor; the rapidity with which the parcel including the former NVF site might be developed. Estimates here are complicated; this 23 acre parcel may still require significant remediation, and as the largest tract of undeveloped land in the Borough of Kennett Square, will take time to develop. We project a best-case scenario of a 2030 completion date, presuming that an overall design for the NVF site is completed within the next 5 to 6 years, and construction of the trail can begin early in the construction of the entire development. But it is also possible that an overall design for the former NVF site may not be ready for 10 years, and that construction of the trail occurs in a later phase, in which case completion of this section might easily wait until 2035. Even without the unique challenges of the NVF parcel, the timeline outlined above suggests that the 80% of the remaining Greenway cannot be completed in less that 30 years, once the southwestern section is completed between 2030 and 2035. Those just starting a family now might hope to enjoy the Greenway with their grandchildren. Our conclusion: The Greenway is only worth the cost and the wait if one believes that there are no alternatives.... but there are The sobering assessment outlined above offers important lessons for planners: while it may be possible to create medium- to long-distance shared-use paths with a combination of state and local funding by converting rails to trails or utilizing existing rights-of-way, it is simply to time-consuming, expensive, and complicated to create such a path under other conditions. Given that the 2.8 mile section described here represents about 20% of the overall route of the Greenway, it is clear that the completion of the Greenway as currently envisioned by KTA and the KT supervisors is simply unrealistic. This becomes even more clear when KTA's claims about the utility and the connectivity offered are considered more critically, as discussed elsewhere. We believe that many residents will agree once they understand these concerns about the feasibility and desirability of the Greenway. We also believe that it is time to consider a new model built around a network of paths - the Kennett Greenways. The Kennett Greenways pivot away from a single shared use path towards a network of paths tailored to the diverse interests, needs, and abilities of Kennett's residents and visitors. Such a network could include road-based cycling routes, paths through natural settings that are accessible to all, sidewalks and re-purposed alleys in the Borough, and natural trails. The Kennett Greenways could be anchored by two shared-use paths: a 2.8 mile accessible path envisioned above, and a 4 mile path connecting the Borough to Longwood Gardens. We believe that this can be completed much more quickly and at significantly lower cost that the Greenway proposed here. We will provide more details in the coming months.
Kennett Greenway's western section: $8.4-$12M for 2.8 miles, completed between 2030 & 2035, and requiring $2-$3M in new local taxes content media
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pjdoehring
Apr 15, 2022
In Kennett area Fire/EMS
Our detailed review of $127K charged by BlankRome to the Kennett Township Board of Supervisors (KT-BoS) for a review of the ethics complaint against Township manager Eden Ratliff revealed $27K of work before the “independent” investigation even started. Why is this a problem? Much of the credibility of the review rested on the assumption that BlankRome brought a fresh, unbiased perspective on the concerns captured in the ethics complaint filed against Ratliff by Township resident Peter Doehring. We have concluded that BlankRome's had a conflict of interest when they proposed an "independent" ethics review, because their earlier involvement suggested that they were far from unbiased, and that such a review would lead only to one conclusion: that Ratliff had broken no laws. What is the evidence? Right to Know (RTK) requests filed by OpenKennett revealed that BlankRome had in fact participated in reviewing the special press release authored by Supervisors Richard Leff and Whitney Hoffman on December 20. While BlankRome lawyers had denied any such involvement when initially questioned by residents, emails uncovered through RTK requests confirmed BlankRome's role. We believe that BlankRome, in reviewing the press release, had an obligation to indicate any concerns about whether the press release was in fact truthful. We therefore consider the review to also imply some level of approval. BlankRome’s role in reviewing and likely approving the special press release is especially problematic given other concerns described elsewhere The press release included many falsehoods and misleading statements. BlankRome proposed to undertake an independent review after supporting efforts to exonerate Ratliff in the press release they reviewed. Just seven days after approving a press release that appeared to conclude that Ratliff was innocent of all charges, BlankRome lawyers turned around and offered to “perform an internal review regarding the facts and circumstances of alleged conflict-of-interest violations” (p.1) in the engagement letter submitted to Township supervisors. BlankRome proposed to charge $625/hour to investigate allegations characterized as “irresponsible” in the press release they reviewed just seven days earlier. One week after approving a press release exhorting everyone to be cautious in “believing Peter Doehring’s irresponsible allegations” that represent “unfair and personal attacks”, BlankRome submitted a proposal expressing that they were “pleased to offer” a rate of $625/hour to Kennett Township to review scores of documents (p. 2). Moreover, many of the documents that BlankRomes subsequently relied upon for its review were already identified if not made available by OpenKennett (e.g., in the 80 page Ethics Complaint, assembled and often posted by OpenKennett, or unsuccessfully sought through Right to Know requests).
Over $27K in fees before onset of ethics review raises questions about BlankRome’s independence content media
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pjdoehring
Apr 15, 2022
In Kennett area Fire/EMS
Kennett Township residents are likely aghast at the bill for BlankRome's legal services associated with the "Ethics Review" released by Kennett Township on April 4th. The review was prompted by the 80-page Ethics Complaint filed by Kennett Township resident Peter Doehring. At the Kennett Township Board of Supervisors (KT BoS) meeting on April 6th, Township officials acknowledged that BlankRome had billed over $127K through the end of February alone. Right to Know requests filed by OpenKennett have uncovered detailed legal billing records for December 2021 and January 2022 related to the December 20 special press release and subsequent ethics review. These records indicate that the total cost of the press releases and review will be even higher - at least $140K and climbing. The billing record reveals just how quickly the costs of the Ethics Review pushed by Kennett Township Supervisors Leff and Hoffman began to pile up. The detailed record also offers new insights into the nature of the review centered on conflicts of interest for Kennett Township Manager Eden Ratliff. Most of the expenses incurred centered on BlankRome’s work on the Ethic’s review. Assuming that initial negotiations for the review began on December 27, their bill to date for the review is over $104K BlankRome incurred significant expenses prior to beginning their review this period that can be broken down into two phases. The initial review of the Ethics Complaint cost over $9K between December 6-13. Consultation surrounding the Kennett Township special press release on December 20 cost almost $14K between December 14-23. The full costs of this press release seeking to exonerate Ratliff and discredit Doehring are unknown, because the two public relations consultants (Carl Francis and Bruce Mowdrey) have apparently yet to bill (?) the Township for their work. The extent of BlankRome’s involvement in the special press release raises new questions about the independence of the subsequent review Though redacted, the billing record reveals the Kennett Township supervisor Richard Leff appears to have orchestrated all activities. This is not surprising given his role as Chair of the KT-BoS, and may simply reflect his dedication to defending Ratliff. Given Hoffman's vigorous defense of Ratliff and attacks on Doehring throughout this process, we would expect her to have fully supported Leff in his campaign to exonerate Ratliff. The billing record also reveals Ratliff’s extensive involvement in the days surrounding the special press statement that sought to exonerate him. The billing record for Township Solicitors Kilkenny suggests that Kennett Township’s campaign to delay or deny OpenKennett’s Right to Know requests has cost over $14K in January and February. The exorbitant costs of BlankRome’s work results from their $625 “blended” hourly rate, which BlankRome was “pleased to offer” in their 7 page proposal to the KT BoS on December 27, 2021. There were many instances in which at least 2 BlankRome attorneys worked at the same time on the same issues or consulted with one another, resulting in an eye-popping hourly rate of $1350. Blank Rome attorneys wasted no time, racking up over $7K in fees on the first day after the contract was approved by the KT BoS.
How do you spend $140+K on an "Ethics Review?" See the detailed billing record content media
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pjdoehring
Apr 06, 2022
In Kennett area Fire/EMS
We have participated in a number of discussions over the past two months about the need for - and benefits of - clear standards of conduct. We have also heard concerns that it would take many months before such standards could guide the actions taken of supervisors to ensure that every Kennett Township employee always behaves with integrity. We disagree. We believe that the process of establishing standards of conduct could begin tomorrow, and could draw together Township leaders, employees, and residents in a way that restores trust in our public institutions. We base this on collective experience leading a range of programs across the public and private sectors. Some might argue that standards must be codified in ordinances to be effective, adding months to the process. We disagree. Any written statement - a resolution or even just an internal memo - can begin to define standards of conduct and offer clear guidance regarding employee behavior. Some might argue that only written ordinances or a formally adopted code of conduct can be cited as the basis for terminating employment. We disagree, from both an ethical and a legal standpoint. Ethically, we argue that employees can - and should - be held immediately accountable for meeting any standard that has been clearly presented to them. Legally, Pennsylvania is an “at will” state, meaning that “an employer can fire an employee at any time and for any reason without recourse by the employee”, “unless they have an employment contract or statutory right that provides otherwise”. Some might argue that it is best to develop an entire code of conduct and only then formally adopt it. We have found it can be very helpful to develop written standards incrementally, and capture these standards in an employee handbook that grows organically, as issues arise. Leaders can then discuss these real-life examples with employees (like decisions about when to disclose conflicts of interest discussed elsewhere), and draft language with their input. Some might argue that the decision to invest in the development of an employee handbook sends a damaging message that employees cannot be trusted. Our experience tells us otherwise. Almost all employees behave ethically, but quickly identify those who do not, and can grow to distrust leaders who turn a blind eye to transgressions. Inviting employees to help develop standards builds trust in the workplace. Employees who are involved in the development of standards will buy into them, especially those standards that are relevant to their day-to-day work, and that hold transgressors accountable. Supervisors who want to share the standard with the public can always capture it in a resolution. Involving members of the community in the development of the resolution establishing standards can help to restore public trust. Some core standards can be established immediately. As discussed elsewhere, leaders should clarify that they have zero tolerance for lying, and for covering up mistakes. If leaders insist on pursuing the development of a more formal code of conduct and related documents, they need not re-invent the wheel. Other Pennsylvania municipalities that have made significant progress in this area include Eastown Township, Whitehall Township, Upper Merion Township, and East Bradford Township. In the coming weeks, we will post on OpenKennett a timeline indicating precisely how a more pro-active response could have resolved the concerns captured in the complaint within a matter of 1-2 weeks. We will also demonstrate how the implementation of a simple series of guidelines for staff regarding conflicts of interest could have easily prevented even the appearance of a conflict. Of course, the challenge often lies not in setting standards but in implementing them consistently. We have seen too many leaders turn a blind eye to possible transgressions - sometimes even major ones. Sometimes leaders fail to act because clear expectations have not been set or communicated to staff, because they are uncomfortable confronting staff, or because documenting transgressions is painstaking - and painful - work. But in our experience, effective leaders must act quickly and decisively, because sometimes even apparently small transgressions discovered by a supervisor can signal a pattern of much more significant transgressions that can be toxic to an organization, and can take months (and tens of thousands of dollars) to clean up....
How Kennett can start establishing standards of conduct content media
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pjdoehring
Apr 06, 2022
In Kennett area Fire/EMS
The headlines are jarring: “No evidence to support any violation of PA Ethics Act by Kennett Township Manager Eden Ratliff ”. What township celebrates the fact that its current manager did not break any laws? A township whose previous manager had just been convicted of embezzling $3.2M. Kennett needs employees to do far more than not violate ethics laws: it needs employees whose integrity is beyond question. It needs employees who are always honest, open, tolerant of differences, and ready to be accountable. To ensure that, Kennett needs to establish clear standards of conduct, to ensure that expectations for employees are clear, and to fire employees whose behavior violates these standards. There is a huge difference between someone who does not break the law and someone whose integrity is beyond question. For example, someone who lies is rarely charged with a crime, but honesty is the cornerstone of integrity. Lies will quickly destroy public trust. A plan based on lies will surely fail, sometimes at great cost. A supervisor will be driven crazy by an employee whose claims the supervisor must always double-check. An employee who lies and then tries to cover the lies up is toxic to an organization. So an employee who lies repeatedly should be immediately terminated…. even though no laws were broken. Consider this question: Did Kennett Township Manager Eden Ratliff break Pennsylvania Ethics Laws when he failed to disclose that his wife Gabby had accepted a lucrative position with a major township vendor, made possible by a monopoly he negotiated months earlier, and then being immediately involved in a proposal to direct an unprecedented level of new funding to that vendor? The review concluded that Ratliff had not broken any laws, because he did not have the power to vote on the decision to direct funding, because he apparently did not say anything at the meeting at which votes were taken, and because Gabby Ratliff’s first day of work (i.e., when she began to receive a “private pecuniary benefit”) was two days after one of the critical votes to direct new funding. Using these specific standards, Ratliff did not break any laws… but do Kennett Township Supervisors consider this behavior really acceptable? We hope not. One problem is that standards of conduct are often much fuzzier than laws, which is why they must be clarified in writing to be truly effective. Consider the above example: Over a period of 6 weeks, Gabby Ratliff applied for a position with a major vendor, was interviewed, was offered a position, accepted the offer, and then began work. Over that same period of time, we expect that her husband was involved in budget discussions to establish whether more funding should be sought, contributed to the development of the proposal to direct new funding to the vendor, and participated actively in meetings at which votes were held to approve the funding. So when should Ratliff have notified his supervisors of his wife’s actions and recused himself from all Fire/EMS discussions? At the very least, we think he should have disclosed this as soon as his wife had been offered the position. Given Ratliff’s role in negotiating the lucrative monopoly now enjoyed by the vendor, we think that he should have notified the supervisors and recused himself as soon as she knew she was being interviewed. But we recognize that there is room for discussion here, an instructive discussion that begins through the process of defining standards, and that, when properly designed, can begin to restore trust in public leaders and institutions. In this respect, the $100K review was a waste of money because it said absolutely nothing about the need for clear standards. When township leaders fail to establish standards, employees often pay the price. Without clear guidance, employees will make unnecessary - and potentially costly - mistakes they might come to regret. Without a clear standard, they might find themselves out of job with no clear explanation. And here in Kennett, their behavior becomes the object of public scrutiny by residents desperate for standards three years after a former employee’s massive embezzlement was revealed. The responsibility for developing such standards falls squarely on Township leaders - the Township manager, and Township Supervisors. To be clear, they should get full credit for identifying and implementing gaps in accounting standards that made Lisa Moore’s massive embezzlement possible. But now $100k poorer, they have made no discernable progress towards any other standards.
Why Kennett Township desperately needs standards of conduct content media
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pjdoehring
Apr 06, 2022
In Kennett area Fire/EMS
We believe that the conclusions in a review commissioned by Kennett Township Board of Supervisors (KT-BoS) and work conducted by BlankRome at a cost of over $127K could have been completed in one day. How? It all hinges on the decision by the KT-BoS to effectively restrict the review to answer one question: did Kennett Township Manager Eden Ratliff violate the PA Ethics Act, based on the standards of evidence established by the PA Ethics Commission? It also hinges on the fact that almost every fact of significance had been referenced and/or posted on OpenKennett (in some cases, months earlier), or had been sought by open records requests, all of which had been either delayed or denied by Ratliff. We consider the PA Ethics Commission to be the experts in interpreting the act itself, especially since they would render any rulings. We understand that the Ethics Commission does not undertake its own fact finding, but renders its decision based solely on evidence gathered by others - in this case, the 80 page complaint (including supporting documents) submitted on December 1st. The Commission's response to the Complaint, and to Ratliff's Advisory Opinion Request provided a roadmap for any investigations. Most significantly, the Commission clearly specified that only an investigation that uncovered new evidence pertaining to conflicts of interest as defined by the Commission could change their ruling. The response to Ratliff’s Advisory Opinion made it clear that the Commission would be extremely unlikely to conclude that Ratliff’s volunteer work was problematic. Ratliff's apparent failure to disclose his volunteer work for Longwood Fire Company (LFC) did not constitute a conflict because there was no “private pecuniary benefit” to Ratliff - e.g., some significant personal financial gain (the Commission pointedly turns a blind eye to influence-peddling). Therefore, the Commission would never change their ruling unless BlankRome somehow uncovered evidence that Ratliff received money as a volunteer. This effectively rendered the first 3 of the 5 “questions” and almost ⅓ of BlankRome’s report (from p. 10-18) irrelevant. With respect to the potential conflicts created when Ratliff’s wife was hired by LFC, the Commission indicated in their response to the Complaint that they would not pursue an investigation without evidence that “Mr. Ratliff used his position to secure employment for his spouse” (p. 6). Our conversations with the Commission indicated that only a “smoking gun” - e.g., some communication in which Ratliff attempted to influence LFC with regards to his wife’s application - might be enough to spark an investigation by the Commission. A simple review of all email and written communication between Ratliff and LFC between August 31, 2021 (when the position in question was posted) and October 28, 2021 (when Ratliff’s wife began her employment) would have revealed any such attempts at influence… a review which could have been completed in one afternoon. In the coming weeks, we will post on OpenKennett a timeline indicating precisely how a more pro-active response would have resolved the concerns captured in the complaint within a matter of 1-2 weeks. We will also demonstrate how the implementation of a simple series of guidelines for staff regarding conflicts of interest could have easily prevented even the appearance of a conflict, or protected against any meaningful impact . But neither happened. Instead, Kennett Township Supervisors Richard Leff and Whitney Hoffman failed to take our concerns seriously, setting off a chain of events that will have cost the Township more than $140K to clean up. Consider this brief timeline of opportunities missed by the KT-BoS to address our concerns and prevent the need for an investigation. They could taken our concerns seriously when we first raised concerns last April, or when we flagged the conflict of interest in early November, or when they learned three weeks later that we were considering a formal complaint. We filed the complaint because the KT-BoS did not respond. The next opportunity came around Dec. 20, after the Commission ruled on both the complaint and Ratliff's advisory opinion, providing the supervisors with a clear roadmap for the kind of very targeted investigation described above. We would have made it clear that, if the KT-BoS was determined to focus solely on the question of whether Ratliff broke any laws, such an investigation completed in one day, would have been adequate. Instead, Supervisors Hoffman and Leff focused on exonerating Ratliff and discrediting Doehring through an official Township press statement released on December 20, a press release peppered with falsehoods and misleading claims that alone cost at least $10k to craft. But just 1o days later, Hoffman and Leff apparently decided to reverse course, retract the statement, and finally take the allegations seriously. Leff and Hoffman proved to be the majority vote in commissioning BlankRome's unnecessarily broad review, resulting in an investigation that revealed few new facts and no recommendations, but that has cost taxpayers more than $127K (and counting). At no point over this 7 week period did any supervisor take Doehring up on his invitation to meet with them individually to understand any of his concerns and discuss a possible course of action.
How Kennett’s $100K Ethics review could have been completed in 1 day, by the Supervisors themselves! content media
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pjdoehring
Apr 06, 2022
In Kennett area Fire/EMS
Over the past four months, OpenKennett reviewed and posted many documents, and submitted requests for many more. We were eager to see what else Blank/Rome discovered through the $127k+ of work billed through the end of February. The answer… not too much. In effect, the report confirms the thoroughness of OpenKennett’s research, because almost every significant fact cited here had either already been revealed by OpenKennett (in some cases, months ago), or sought by OpenKennett through open records requests consistently denied by Kennett Township Manager Eden Ratliff. Indeed, about ¾’s of the 38 page report either reprinted or summarized other documents, or addressed questions which were largely irrelevant given the conditions under which the Ethics Commission had already indicated it would initiate an investigation. The new information contained in the report did little to strengthen Ratliff’s defense. In fact, some of this new information raised still more questions which the report either conveniently side steps, or pointedly ignores, apparently to avoid casting Ratliff in a negative light. Consider these examples The report reveals that two other people were interviewed for the position at Longwood Fire Company (LFC) now occupied by Ratliff’s wife Gabby (see p. 19), providing some assurance that the position was not created solely for her. The report fails to note, however, that the unusual decision to include certain desired qualifications would have clearly favored her application. While the report also notes that LFC had tried to fill this position for many years but kept cutting it from their budget (see p. 19), the report fails to make any mention whatsoever of LFC’s dire financial situation and its role in decisions to leave the position unfilled… a situation rectified by the windfalls engineered just two days prior to Gabby’s first day on the job, by her husband. The report includes the official unredacted request for an advisory opinion submitted by Ratliff to the PA Ethics Commission, which Ratliff refused to release in response to our Right to Know request. The report relies heavily on this request to claim that Ratliff had no conflicts. But this release confirms that our reconstruction (posted on OpenKennett almost 2 months ago) and analysis was accurate: namely, that Ratliff carefully crafted his request to avoid raising questions about what may well be his most significant - and as yet unresolved - conflict of interest: his work for Kennett Township on Fire/EMS services. There is no record that Ratliff has recused himself from this work. The report describes conversations Ratliff now claims he had during which he notified key persons that he was thinking of becoming a member of LFC (see p. 18), thus appearing to confirm that he was conscientious about potential conflicts. But this revelation is damning because Ratliff reports no such conversations related to the much more significant conflicts created once his wife applied for the position at LFC….oops! These last two issues raise significant concerns about Ratliff’s transparency: how does Ratliff decide when and to whom to release important information? Consider #3: Ratliff’s undisclosed membership in LFC is revealed in an April 2021 meeting; shortly thereafter it becomes a campaign issue; it is echoed in allegations of a new conflict of interest in November, and; it resurfaces again in Doehring’s December ethics complaint. Ratliff could have dispelled these concerns one year ago, simply by disclosing the “conversations” reported in the review. But Ratliff apparently chooses to release information only when it suits him, and only to those who prove to rule in his favor. Ratliff has worked with township lawyers to identify and exploit every legal maneuver to delay or deny responding to every Right to Know request submitted for information regarding these issues, at a cost to taxpayers that we expect will exceed $20k.
Ethics Review yields few new facts, but raises new questions about Ratliff’s transparency content media
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pjdoehring
Apr 06, 2022
In Kennett area Fire/EMS
While the supervisors and some residents might appreciate the details in BlankRome’s 38 page report exonerating Kennett Township Manager Eden Ratliff of violations of Pennsylvania's Ethics Act, they might not appreciate how much all this cost the Township: based on new information received at the April 6th meeting of the Kennett Township Board of Supervisors (KT-BoS), we project that the total bill for legal and public relations consultants has already exceeded $140K. This includes costs incurred since the first week of December (when the Supervisors received the complete ethics complaint filed by Township resident Peter Doehring). This also includes Supervisor Richard Leff’s illegally crafted Dec. 20 press release seeking to exonerate Ratliff and discredit Doehring, which will likely set taxpayers back at least $10-15K. $127K in legal bills from the firm undertaking the review have been received through the end of February. The total costs are even more concerning given that the value of the report was limited by its exceedingly narrow focus and outcomes. The report uncovers little new information of significance not already revealed by OpenKennett months ago, or sought by OpenKennett through open records requests consistently denied by Ratliff. The report's value is limited from the outset by the decision of the previous KT-BoS to focus solely on the question of whether Ratliff violated any laws. One consequence is that the review relies on the extremely high evidentiary standards established by the PA Ethics Commission, and so the report's exoneration of Ratliff was a foregone conclusion given the unlikelihood of uncovering new evidence that would have changed the Commission’s response from 3 months ago. We argue elsewhere that the only new evidence likely uncovered through the Kennett review that could have changed the Commission's response could have been gathered in one day. Perhsp most significant was the decision by the KT-BoS to seek no guidance about how Kennett might prevent or respond to ethical concerns in the future, leaving us open to spending another $140K or more to resolve the next set of ethical concerns that arise.
Total cost of Kennett’s “ethics review” to date? More than $140K, and counting content media
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pjdoehring
Mar 16, 2022
In Kennett Greenway
In another post, we described Kennett Township (KT) manager Eden Ratliff’s empty promises to better understand the options for the $5M Chandler Mill Road (CMR) trail. This episode highlighted another factor contributing to years of delays and skyrocketing costs: Ratliff’s remarkable decision to effectively delegate management of the Kennett Greenway to an unpaid “volunteer” from the Kennett Trails Alliance (KTA). The result? There is no clear accountability or transparency, and tremendous potential for conflicts of interest. Some context... Under normal circumstances, day-to-day responsibility for a township project would typically be expected to fall to a Township-paid professional employee or consultant supervised by the manager, who could be held accountable by the Board of Supervisors (BoS) for any problems. This is especially true for a large-scale capital project like the Greenway, which is projected to draw on almost over $8M in public funds over the next decade. But the last two years have been anything but normal. Throughout this time, Ratliff and the BoS have effectively turned over full control of all Greenway-related projects like CMR to an employee of a local business - in this case, the Chair of the KT’s Trails and Sidewalks Committee (TSC), Christina Norland. Norland is not contracted to perform this service, but represents the “Kennett Trails Alliance” (KTA) on TSC and, like the other members of TSC, is acting as a “volunteer”. This arrangement is even more unusual because Norland is not a KT resident, and KTA’s parent organization (Square Roots Collective) is a private business located outside of KT. The degree to Ratliff has allowed KTA to control the multi-million dollar Greenway projects was made abundantly clear in the recent questions surrounding the optimal width for the CMR trail. During a public meeting on February 16, Ratliff and a majority of KT Supervisors agreed that “we should look into” our question about optimal width of the path. But in a TSC meeting just two weeks after that, Norland used her influence as Chair of TSC to lead the committee to summarily reject any such plan regardless of the potential benefits, after sowing confusion about the request with what we consider to be patently false claims (you can read the original email exchange here including Norland’s response to the TSC and the KT BoS, the general response to Norland’s claims, and the document fact-checking Norland’s specific claims). In these subsequent email communications, Norland was effectively speaking for the Township, with Ratliff serving only as a messenger. The result? KTA was allowed to completely ignore the stated wishes of the majority of the KT BoS to look into these options. The decision to allow a private business to control multi-million dollar, publicly funded projects creates serious problems of public accountability and transparency. Without a contractual arrangement, for example, there is no way to hold a private business accountable for its actions. Without a contract, a private agency cannot be compelled to divulge any of its communications through Right to Know requests - for example, such requests could not compel KTA to release Greenway-related communications. And as a private business, there is no obligation to be transparent about its finances, its structure, and its interests, important questions which we will have to save for another post. In sum, Square Roots has all of the benefits of directing the project, without any of the responsibilities. Perhaps the most significant risk of this kind of arrangement is, however, the potential for conflicts of interest. Do the interests of Square Roots diverge from those of Kennett Township? We believe that they do, and will begin to explore this in future posts. But you need look no further than the response to the escalating price tag. As the party responsible for paying for the bills, Kennett Township has an interest in controlling costs, even if this means reversing course and admitting that previous proposals for CMR were not realistic. Square Roots seems unlikely to have a comparable level of interest in cost control, but seems much more likely to have a much stronger interest in continuing to protect its brand by refusing to recognize that its “vision” for CMR or the Greenway were not realistic. So we believe that the costs to taxpayers will continue to increase as long as KTA remains in charge. This conflict conflict of interest may also influence the guidance KT is getting from the design team. With KTA managing the CMR project, the trail design team is effectively reporting to Square Roots. Indeed, the design team never would have won their lucrative contract ($800K and counting in less than 12 months) had Square Roots not connected with and then promoted the team. Square Roots' recently proposed Red Clay Park promises to bring in even more money to the design team. Square Roots - not Kennett Township - has become the client of the design team, and so it seems reasonable to conclude that the design team may be more concerned about satisfying Square Roots than Kennett Township.
Why is an unpaid “volunteer” representing a private business managing the $5M Chandler Mill project? content media
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pjdoehring
Mar 16, 2022
In Kennett Greenway
Many residents are beginning to wonder how we ended up with years of delays and skyrocketing costs for the $5M Chandler Mill Road (CMR) trail project. It turns out that one of the factors is the complete mismanagement of the project by KT Manager Eden Ratliff. Ratliff’s lack of interest in - or understanding of - the basic facts of the CMR project were on full display during an exchange at the Kennett Township Board of Supervisors (KT BoS) meeting on February 16. A question was asked about why the width of the trail could not be narrowed from 6-8’ to as little as 3’ as needed to avoid trees and sensitive areas. Ratliff initially responded with “I believe that the path is only 4’ wide” but allowed himself to be corrected shortly afterwards by the KTA representative (you can read the question here). Some context… The width of the proposed path alongside CMR has been one of the principle drivers of cost, comfort, delays, and environmental impact of the project. The path initially funded as part of the 2017 grant was 8’ wide, narrowing to as little as 3’ whenever this helped prevent the need to cut down up to 100 mature and healthy trees, intrude on sensitive wetlands, or squeeze the path in when there was little room on the shoulder. Such a design is entirely consistent with state and federal standards for wheelchair access (once other criteria are met). KTA’s unilateral rejection of this proposal and insistence on a 10’ width path initially led to almost two years of delays, causing KT to nearly lose the grant. KTA now insists on a 6 -8’ wide path plus 2-4’ buffer, requiring the destruction of almost 300 trees at a total estimated project cost of $5M. The width of the path has been a subject of some debate since October, with discussions intensifying over the past several weeks (go to our Kennett Greenway page and click on the timeline button for more details). Back to Ratliff’s mismanagement…. After being corrected at the 2/16 KT BoS meeting, Ratliff proclaimed “We will look into that” (e.g., the benefits of narrowing the path as needed), an idea endorsed by the majority of supervisors. At a meeting of the Trails and Sidewalks Committee (TSC) just two weeks later, however, KTA summarily dismissed even just the idea of a plan to understand the potential benefits, cost-savings, and challenges of narrowing the path as needed. Ratliff did not even bother to show up (sending KTs finance director instead, who stayed quiet throughout most of the discussion), and clearly had never instructed KTA to “look into it”. Of course, it is possible that Ratliff never planned on “looking onto it” but was just looking to deflect still more public criticism of the CMR project. In any case, it hardly seems like the most effective management of one of KT’s most expensive projects.
“We will have to look into that”: Ratliff’s empty promises to get a handle on the $5M Chandler Mill project  content media
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pjdoehring
Mar 16, 2022
In Kennett Greenway
We understand that Borough Council meetings can sometimes be quiet - even sleepy - affairs. The Council arraigned at a table in front, with supporting staff close at hand, often outnumbering those in the audience. A handful of stalwart citizens eager to press the Council once again on issues dear to them, through statements read during the initial public comment period. Not so at the March 7 work session of the Kennett Square Borough Council. Kennett Trails Alliance hosted a pizza party to promote projects they dearly hope to sell to Council. We understand that supporters met at Square Roots Collective before the Council meeting, where they were presented with an ambitious vision for the Red Clay Park and a specific $800K demonstration project Square Roots had proposed to fully fund. They were then asked to draft signs and letters extolling the potential of the Greenway while their kids drew pictures. And then they marched over to Borough Council to read statements in support of the Greenway. We could not count all those in attendance, but it seemed like more than 50 stood up in support of the Greenway when asked. An outpouring of public support, or a campaign by a local business? One might conclude that this is the kind of spontaneous and positive public support, facilitated by a partnership between the business and non-profit sector, that can energize public leaders to think big about community projects and accomplish something great right here in Kennett. One might also conclude, however, that this is another step in a long campaign by a local business, in this case to promote a pet project that the rest of us certainly cannot afford, that will never be completed, and that we might not actually need … hence, the pizza party pipe dream. Borough council members, inspired by Monday night’s spirit of “we can accomplish this together if we only try” (or perhaps just the pizza!) might want to think about this: will these projects slowly pull Borough Council into a no win scenario that will deplete public coffers, anger residents, and leave us with trails to nowhere for years to come while critical public infrastructure languishes? Consider the Greenway. As we are beginning to detail elsewhere on OpenKennett.org, the Greenway will never be completed as envisioned by Square Roots. But that is not what residents who came out Monday night have been led to believe. One after the other, they read statements that in most (though arguably not all) cases addressed needs that the Greenway might never meet, that could be met by other paths within an easy drive, or that could be met more effectively with other, lower cost options. Perhaps Council members professed their public support now, hoping that residents lose interest later. Otherwise, residents will blame Council when they fail to make any real progress, a scenario that may soon begin to play out in Kennett Township with the Chandler Mill Trail, as the trees come down and the bills come due. Consider the proposed Red Clay Park, first described in an earlier post. The additional details provided this week certainly suggest some elements worth considering (reforestation, streamside repair, flood control measures) that could vastly beautify the space and improve the environment, at a fraction of the cost of the overall project. But does the Borough need all the baubles included in the Red Clay Park proposal? Is a Boardwalk Loop worth $5-800K? Are we going to get so many more users that we have to replace 2-3 current bridges with wider ones at $500K each? And while the generous $800K funding offered by Square Roots is certainly welcome, the additional details make it even clearer that this initial gift from Square Roots will be dwarfed by total project costs - how many millions more will have to be drawn from public coffers? Make no mistake - local businesses intent on improving their community - like Square Roots - can become the catalyst for transformative projects. But this only works where projects are right-sized for the community's character - and budget. While the $20-30M 14 mile Greenway or a $2-3M pocket park envisioned by Square Roots might be a good fit for a big city and its budgets, it just seems out of place for Kennett, and certainly far beyond what we can afford. So it was fitting that the Monday night pizza extravaganza was followed by Wednesday’s sobering sewer presentation… the pipes and pumping stations needed to convey what remained of Monday’s “used” pizza. There was no party beforehand where patrons drafted letters of support extolling the need to address “infiltration and inflow”. That is a shame, it is likely that the drawings produced by the kids would have been wonderfully detailed. But perhaps we can be optimistic that Wednesday’s discussion will help remind the Borough why it must take a hard look at the Red Clay Park proposal to decide which elements are truly worth pursuing, and focus public dollars on priorities to sustain responsible growth.
Has a pizza party pipe dream set the Borough Council of Kennett Square to take the fall for the doomed Kennett Greenway? content media
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pjdoehring
Mar 04, 2022
In Kennett Greenway
Right-of-way: “the legal right, established by usage or grant, to pass along a specific route through grounds or property belonging to another.” As described elsewhere, there has been little real progress over the past two years on the Kennett Greenway, despite the expenditure of hundreds of thousands of public dollars in design and legal fees, and hundreds of staff hours. Despite this lack of progress, the agency currently leading these efforts on behalf of Kennett Township - the Kennett Trails Alliance (KTA) - has been reluctant to deviate from its own “vision” for the Greenway. At the heart of the matter is KTA’s insistence that Greenway should predominantly be a 10’ wide paved path (“shared-use path”) that winds about 14 miles through the countryside. Besides being a very expensive proposition, there would be nothing wrong with this vision IF the Township had - or could readily obtain - the necessary rights-of-way to implement it. But at least 2 miles of the likely route of the Greenway will of necessity go through private land, where in most cases there is little hope the Township can acquire the rights-of-way, even over time. To be blunt, we don’t know of a single case where private landowners has agreed to allow a ten-foot-wide paved public trail through their otherwise pristine country property - and who could really blame them? But even where the Township owns a right-of-way - for example, alongside a Township road - the conditions along that road may require additional easements to accommodate such a wide, paved path. A perfect example is Chandler Mill Road, where the Township is currently trying to implement such a shared-use trail as part of the Kennett Greenway. Despite two years of effort, the KTA and TSC are still not able to come up with a design for the Chandler Mill Trail that can be implemented without acquiring additional rights-of-way from private residents, some of whom are strongly opposed to this particular trail design. Despite the lack of progress implementing this ‘vision’ in Kennett Township, KTA has systematically rejected efforts to change course. We believe that this arises from KTA’s mistaken belief that they will somehow be able acquire the right of way through private lands needed for the route. In this post, we illustrate how KTA’s misplaced assumptions, unrealistic expectations, and refusal to consider alternatives have been very costly, leading to years of delays, and now tens - if not hundreds - of thousands of public dollars on designs that may never be realized. And that this should raise doubts about whether other plans promoted by KTA are realistic, like the proposed Red Clay Park. Go the home page for the Kennett Greenway on OpenKennett and click on the Greenway Timeline button, for more details on the chain of events since 2014. The basics: How to acquire the Right of Way for a trail or path The first thing to understand in planning any path or trail is that you must acquire the right to build the trail on the properties along the route… the right of way. The path forward is easiest if you already own the property. Otherwise you must either buy the property, or ask the property owner to give or sell you that right in the form of a trail easement. Regardless, no trail can legally be built through environmentally sensitive lands that have already been protected through a conservation easement. These are the constraints that trail designers face everywhere. The fundamental challenge with the route proposed for the Kennett Greenway? It has included significant sections through private land. Make no mistake - the failure to acquire the right of way through one small private property can derail the best trail. Consider the Struble Trail, a very pretty and very popular 2.6 mile trail along an almost continuous 6.3 mile stretch of abandoned rail owned by Chester County. The problem is a 700 foot gap through a 6 acre privately owned parcel that bisects the route north of Dorlan Mills Road, For more than a decade, this gap has prevented the trail from connecting to the immediately adjacent, 1800 acre Marsh Creek State Park, and stalled Chester County’s wonderfully detailed plans for an extension totalling 13.7 miles. Up until about two years ago, many advocates of the Kennett Greenway still assumed that it might still be possible to complete it over time to include a continuous shared-use loop trail by gradually acquiring the necessary rights-of-way through acquisitions and easements. But as various acquisition attempts at key sections of the proposed route fell flat, some of us began to recognize that this assumption might not be realistic, and we might need to change course. But not KTA, which continued to make unrealistic and costly assumptions about the likelihood of ultimately securing the rights-of-way, despite the lack of progress. Unfortunately, our Township Manager and BOS have continued to entertain this delusion for the last two years. KTA discards two years of planning Evidence of KTA’s unrealistic assumptions emerged more than 5 years ago, soon after the first multimillion dollar grant for the Greenway was received for the Chandler Mill Road section. Consistent with its unrealistic “vision” for the Greenway, KTA insisted on developing plans that would include a 10’ wide paved path through a particular private property protected with a conservation easement. KTA claimed repeatedly that this was feasible and appropriate, despite the objections of other members of the Kennett Township Trails and Sidewalks Committee (Trail Committee), the community at large, the easement holder, and even the property owners themselves. After holding up work on more realistic options for over two years to pursue their “vision” for the Greenway, and wasting thousands of public dollars on trail designers in the process, KTA finally relented, leaving less than a year to complete the grant before the Township would lose $2M in state grants. KTA’s refusal to change course became even more evident in 2019 when the trail designers at that time (PennTrails) and the TSC considered whether we might bypass sections where the right-of-way could not be acquired by running portions of the Greenway within the very narrow right-of-way corridors that our Township already controlled. And so the 2019 Master Plan for the Greenway developed by designers at the time (PennTrails) included such sections likely to run alongside roadways. KTA vigorously objected to these sections. With a new ally in Eden Ratliff (newly installed as Kennett Township manager), KTA blocked all further work on the master plan. The complete master plan has been sealed from public view, and Ratliff has refused to release plans in response to a Right to Know request. KTA then moved behind the scenes to quietly replace PennTrails with designers more amenable to their vision, a decision that was both costly and risky, with the deadlines for completing the grant now less than 18 months away. With their newly installed (and much more expensive) design team, KTA continued to reject any suggestion that their expectations for the Greenway might be unrealistic. So we gathered our own data, reviewing every other shared-use path like the Greenway that was at least 5 miles long and within a 90-minute drive of Kennett. We discovered very few that seemed to have required any significant acquisitions or easements to secure the right-of-way. We also reviewed every shared-use path completed or in development in the portfolios of the new trail design team, and found none for which more than 10% of the right-of-way had yet to be acquired. Even after being presented with these data, neither KTA nor their supporters (Township Manager Ratliff and Kennett Township Supervisors Richard Leff and Whitney Hoffman) accepted our conclusions that KTA’s expectations for the Greenway were unrealistic. The costs of KTA’s unrealistic expectations continue to mount on Chandler Mill Trail The costs of KTA’s unrealistic expectations about the right-of-way were evident again in planning for the proposed trail alongside Chandler Mill Road. Between January and June 2021, the designers developed a proposal for the path alongside Chandler Mill Road requiring an 8-12 foot right-of-way to accommodate a 6-8’ path and a 2-4’ buffer. The problem? The right-of-way owned by Kennett Township was only about 7’ wide. At some point, the KTA, the trail designers, and Township Manager Ratliff realized that landowners would either have to cede land to the Township for the path or that the Township would have to effectively seize land by asserting an increased or “ultimate” right-of-way. The latter refers to a relatively recent provision in the Township code subsequently applied to newer developments that reserved the right to extend the designated right-of-way when it became necessary to widen roads. This assumption was unrealistic, however, because it was unclear if the ordinance could be applied retroactively to allow the Township to effectively “seize” land for public use. This assumption was especially unrealistic because it was clear that one of the larger landowners in question was known to be dedicated to preserving their lands, and to have successfully fought off previous attempts to seize their land. Nonetheless, the proposal included sections of path requiring the seizure of this family’s land, constructing a large overlook on the family’s property that required cutting down dozens of the family’s trees to give the public the opportunity to admire other trees that the family has worked for years to diligently protect. KTA (with Ratliff’s support) allowed tens of thousands of dollars to be spent on the development of a 350-page proposal for a “final design”, even though KTA had failed to make the kinds of progress through negotiations needed to be confident that all of the landowners in question were likely to allow the path to proceed. The potential costs of KTA’s unrealistic expectations have continued to mount. Based on the recommendations of KTA and Township Manager Ratliff, Kennett Township Supervisors voted in June 2021 to approve the designer’s $628,000 proposal to undertake the “final design”. The final design guides the permitting process and is the last step before seeking bids for construction to begin, at a projected additional cost of more than $4 million. The problem? The failure to secure the right-of-way for the proposed route of the path - even for a relatively small section - could derail the entire project, or require major changes to the “final” design, wasting potentially tens of thousands of dollars in design fees. Nonetheless, KTA continued with their public outreach, including an open house attended by the designers and complete with full-color posters depicting a path based on a right-of-way that had yet to be fully acquired. We do not know what other changes might be necessitated - and what other costs might be accrued - if the necessary right-of-way cannot be acquired. If one accepts the argument presented here - namely, that KTAs unrealistic assumptions and expectations have resulted in very costly delays on the Chandler Mill Trail - then questions must be asked of other projects which KTA has advanced. For example, KTA has advanced a proposal for Red Clay Park that promises a lot but specifies very little with respect to overall timelines and costs. Without a clear plan or budget or timeline, the public - and especially our elected leaders - must question the feasibility of projects like this.
No way around the Right-of-Way: How a fundamental flaw in Greenway planning ignored by KTA adds new costs and delays to Chandler Mill Trail content media
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pjdoehring
Feb 17, 2022
In Kennett area Fire/EMS
Last week, we noted that the reconstructed response to the Ethics Commission indicated that Ratliff appeared remarkably to have completely ignored his most serious conflict of interest; namely, his role advising Kennett Township regarding Fire/EMS services. We also noted that the Commission’s response clearly indicated that this would constitute a conflict of interest in the light of his wife’s position with Longwood Fire. This raised an interesting question; has Ratliff actually agreed to recuse himself from advising Kennett Township regarding Fire-EMS issues, as he claimed in an earlier newspaper report?: We submitted a Right to Know request to clarify when and how Ratliff announced his wife’s employment with Longwood Fire and then announced his intent to recuse himself. Like all other RTK requests, Ratliff has delayed responding to this request citing the “need for legal review”. In the meantime, we have obtained a copy of the email dated November 8th., with relevant sections below. This confirms that Ratliff did not seek to recuse himself from advising Kennett Township in his role as Township Manager "As you know, from time to time I have provided research and analysis to the Kennett Fire and EMS Regional Commission to assist them in decision making processes that they embark upon. My work has been at the approval of the majority of the Board of Supervisors. Gabby’s new employment could lead someone to believe that there is a potential for a conflict of interest due to the work I preform (sic) for the Commission. While I believe the potential presence of a conflict may not be rooted in facts, it is my opinion that any potential conflict of interest needs to be handled appropriately. As such, I am abstaining from preforming (sic) any work including analysis, research, and providing recommendations, to the Kennett Fire and EMS Regional Commission (emphasis ours) until the Board of Supervisors and I can professionally address any potential conflict. Kennett Township Supervisors refused to clarify this issue when it was raised in the public meeting of February 16. As far as we know, Ratliff remains free to influence township discussions to favor his wife’s employer. Taken together with Ratliff’s very public claims that he was “prudent and proactive” in dealing with these conflicts of interest, this reveals that Ratliff is quite willing to use carefully crafted statements to mislead the public - and his supervisors - about his intent.
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pjdoehring
Feb 14, 2022
In Kennett Greenway
On February 7, 2022, we learned about a proposal submitted by the Square Roots Collective, seeking the blessing of Kennett Borough Council to submit an application on behalf of the Borough for a $460,000 grant from the state to begin to build the “Red Clay Park”, apparently with a $300,000 “match” from Square Roots. The motion passed without any discussion at the Borough Council meeting 2 days later. Here are links to the proposed resolution and the grant summary, with the conceptual drawing of the overall plan provided below. The short notice, the lack of detail available to the public, and the format of the Borough Council Meeting itself precluded any meaningful debate on the merits of the proposal. Our goal is to host a more detailed discussion here at OpenKennett over the coming weeks, to give the parties involved the opportunity to make their case, and to make sure that the public actually has a chance to provide input. Our review of the available materials have raised a number of important questions and concerns. Square Roots appeared to spare few superlatives in promoting their project “ The Borough is proposing a transformative urban green space, trail and ecological restoration project in the heart of the community. Currently called “Red Clay Park”, the project re-centers what has been a leftover, forgotten “backyard” space into a key community green space within Kennett Square, as well as creating a new jewel on the overall Greenway.” The project description is peppered with many other claims that appear to be similarly broad. How do these many broad claims and grand aspirations stand up to closer scrutiny? We find that the proposal’s liberal use of superlatives is in striking contrast to actual details regarding the scope and costs for the overall project, details needed to evaluate its feasibility. Kyle Coleman (Kennett Borough Manager) has reported that no other details were provided to the public. Christina Norland (Director of the Kennett Trails Alliance) has yet to respond to requests for more information. Likewise, key agencies likely considered to be “community partners” appear not to have been provided with more details. We are left to guess about the true scope. Our preliminary analysis suggests that the proposal is part of a larger project that may require not only the $460,000 requested here, but potentially 2-4 times more. Will the Borough be on the hook if future grants are unsuccessful? Details about the more than $300,000 promised by Square Roots are unclear. Will these funds only be provided to cover cost over-runs, as is the case for a similar "match" claimed for Birch Street improvements? And would a similar "match" be provided for future phases? There is also no discussion of the overall timeline for the entire project…6 years? 10 years? 15 years. Will we be left with a half-finished path for the next 5-10 years? The project presumes that the Park will become a "jewel" in the Kennett Greenway. How does this change now that it appears likely that the Kennett Greenway, as it is currently envisioned, might never be completed? Based on other sections of the proposed Kennett Greenway, the project appears likely to center on an 8-10’ wide path. This choice significantly increases the cost, timelines and environmental impact. No data or analyses were provided regarding the likely bicycle or pedestrian traffic that would justify this choice. We know of other connections that may be more efficient and significantly less costly, some of which were identified in the 2018 Active Transportation Plan but never followed up. Why do need such a wide path? The proposal appears to unnecessarily postpone important work that could begin immediately to mitigate the frequent flooding that threatens the Kennett YMCA's community pool as well as houses and businesses downstream. In addition, new wider paved paths appear likely to increase flooding, Why not take steps to limit flooding first? Given that a proposal drawing on $1-2M of grant funding will effectively siphon future grant dollars from other local non-profits, how did this become a priority? It is unclear why the proposal was rushed through. If there is in fact no need to begin this project now, why not propose instead a feasibility study phase to lay out different options and solicit greater community input, perhaps resulting in a project at less cost? While public-private partnerships can be very valuable, it does not appear that the Borough has considered what other interests might drive a business like Square Roots to lobby so vigorously for a project such as this. How could this benefit Square Roots, its owners, and its affiliated businesses? We understand there may be reasonable answers to many - perhaps all - of these questions, risking criticism that we are irresponsible in raising concerns that later prove to be unjustified. But this criticism is wholly without merit - even the most diligent citizen was afforded barely 48 hours to respond to this proposal before it was summarily passed, and our requests for information have proven fruitless or have been simply ignored. And should any of these concerns prove to be justified, new questions can - and must - be asked about how a project, potentially costing millions of dollars, was approved with virtually no public discussion or public input, based on a 2 page proposal that included no data on likely impact, and without a clear scope, budget, or timeline for the overall project. Over the coming weeks, we will address each of these questions in detail, and will give the parties involved time to provide data to counter specific claims before these are published on OpenKennett. We hope that you will follow the discussion.
Red Clay Park: Was a multi-million dollar project we might not need rushed through with no public input? content media
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pjdoehring
Feb 08, 2022
In Kennett area Fire/EMS
Elsewhere, we raised concerns that Eden Ratliff, Kennett Township Manager, may have misled the public about exactly when and how he claimed to have notified public officials about his potential conflicts of interest and intent to recuse himself from decisions about Fire/EMS services. The most significant of these conflicts arose when Eden’s wife Gabrielle took what may be a plum position with Longwood Fire, within days of Ratliff’s efforts to direct a massive increase in funding to Longwood Fire in the 2022 budget. When interviewed by a reporter, Ratliff claimed to have been "prudent and proactive" in seeking guidance from the Pennsylvania Ethics Commission about these conflicts of interest. He has refused to provide a copy of the guidance requested - and the Ethics Commission’s response - to us. New facts now cast still more doubt on Ratliff’s claims, and raise new concerns that he may embark on a campaign to circumvent protections against undue influence in Township decisions. Despite Ratliff’s stonewalling, we were able to obtain a heavily redacted copy of the Ethics Commission’s response to Ratliff’s request, which we have partially reconstructed (you can see a copy here). We believe this to be the response submitted to Ratliff's request, because it is the only opinion issued on the date cited by Ratliff, and the entities match up with those we believe to be the subject of the complaint. In this request, Ratliff explores several options to allow him to continue to influence decisions to benefit his wife’s employer, Longwood Fire. For example, Ratliff proposes to be hired by the Kennett Fire and Emergency Services Regional Commission (Fire Commission) or to continue to advise the Fire Commission as a volunteer, or to ask the Fire Commission’s permission… all while presumably continuing as Kennett Township Manager. Ratliff appears to suggest that, just by changing hats and pretending that he is not speaking officially as a Township Manager, he can avoid a conflict of interest. In their response, the Ethics Commission makes it clear that Ratliff would still have a conflict of interest in advising the Fire Commission as long as he is acting as a public official or using public resources. Moreover, the response of the Ethics Commission also makes it clear that Ratliff had a clear conflict of interest, notwithstanding the attempts by supporters Richard Leff (Kennett Township Supervisor) and Cuyler Walker (Chair of the Fire Commission) to exonerate him. It also appears, despite the best efforts of the Ethics Commission to advise him, Ratliff may still have a conflict of interest. Ratliff only asked the Ethics Commission about conflicts arising from his work advising the Fire Commission. He does not seek guidance about the much more significant conflict - his work advising Kennett Township, despite claims that Ratliff makes elsewhere. It also raises new questions about whether Ratliff has actually recused himself from advising Kennett Township. Of course, Ratliff can put any of these concerns to bed simply by responding to our new Right to Know requests for a copy of his letter to the Ethics Commission, as well as any communications from Ratliff indicating his intent to recuse himself from Township discussions involving Longwood Fire. This seems unlikely, however, to happen soon. Just as Ratliff appears to avoid seeking the ethical guidance needed from the State Ethics Commission, he appears to also obstruct attempts by the Township supervisors to properly supervise him. Based on a response to our questions at the Township Board of Supervisors meeting on February 2, it appears that Ratliff has not even provided a copy of his request to the Ethics Commission and their response to Township Supervisors. Instead, Ratliff and his supporters claim that he has “made a copy available to Counsel” and that the question cannot be publicly discussed because it is a “personnel matter”. At this point, it is unclear who at Kennett Township will uphold what we believe are reasonable standards for transparency and accountability when it comes to conflicts of interest and self-dealing.
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pjdoehring
Feb 02, 2022
In Kennett area Fire/EMS
Our attempts to gather information related to concerns that have surfaced regarding Kennett Township’s manager Eden Ratliff have run into a roadblock: Mr. Ratliff himself. Laws at the federal (Freedom of Information) and state (Right to Know) level are designed to promote transparency in government, in part by assuring that every state agency designates an official (a Right to Know or RTK Officer) to respond within 5 days to RTK requests for information. In the case of Kennett Township, however, that official is... Eden Ratliff. To date, Mr. Ratliff has used a range of legal manoeuvres to delay or deny almost every RTK request we have submitted to him, or simply refuses to respond within the time frame set by state law. The result is that no resident will be able to solicit a reasonably prompt and precise response from Kennett Township, as long as Ratliff remains its RTK officer. Township supervisors have yet to take concrete action in response to our concerns that this is (yet another) obvious conflict of interest. Despite the best intention of Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Act, transparency appears to be a tool Ratliff uses when it suits him. On the one hand, he volunteers details to a news reporter regarding his request to the Ethics Commission for an Advisory Opinion and the Commission’s response, citing this as evidence that he is responsive to concerns about conflicts of interest, and prepared to be transparent. On the other hand, he waits until virtually the last minute to respond to our RTK request for these very same documents, and then automatically invokes a 30 day period for “legal review”. These documents will help to reconcile the apparent contradictions between Ratliff’s public statements and the public record, and establish the extent to which Ratliff might have misled the public and/or the Township supervisors regarding his conflicts of interest.
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pjdoehring
Jan 10, 2022
In Kennett area Fire/EMS
A conflict of interest occurs when “an individual's personal interests – family, friendships, financial, or social factors – could compromise his or her judgment, decisions, or actions in the workplace”. The conflicts of interest at issue here surround Ratliff’s leading role in recommending changes to Fire/EMS services to the Kennett Fire and Emergency Services Commission or Kennett Township. Ratliff’s first conflict was created in late 2020, when he failed to notify either the Fire Commission or Kennett Township that he and other family members were members of Longwood Fire Company. In this case, Ratliff’s relationship with members in the Fire Company meant that his recommendations would be much more likely to favor than harm Longwood. In this case, however, there is no clear financial gain for Ratliff. Ratliff’s second and more significant conflict arose in October 2021, when he failed to notify either the Fire Commission or Kennett Township that his wife had been hired by Longwood, likely using new funding that Ratliff himself had engineered. In this case, there is a very clear financial gain for Ratliff. At the very least, this conflict makes Ratliff more likely to avoid actions that diminish wife’s prospects for continued employment. Conflicts of interest can sometimes evolve into influence-peddling - “the use of power or influence on someone else's behalf in return for money or favors”. An example would be if the decision to hire Ratliff’s wife - and perhaps to create the position itself - was how Longwood Fire rewarded Ratliff for the monopoly he engineered for Longwood. Implicit deal-making - the nod and a wink that sadly seems to have become a staple of Pennsylvania politics- can be impossible to prove. Based on conversations with state officials, we understand that this is why the Ethics Commission needs more specific evidence of deal-making before launching an investigation based on the kind of complaint we submitted. We are actively in pursuit of this evidence. The most common protection against the inappropriate influence that a conflict of interest can create is pre-emptive public disclosure, and, if needed, recusal. In other words, the person lets others know about a possible conflict before it can influence recommendations, and then follows their guidance as to when he or she should step aside from subsequent discussions or decisions. In Pennsylvania, public employees and elected officials who are concerned about a possible conflict of interest can seek an opinion from the Ethics Commission. They do this by submitting a request for an advisory opinion - a letter disclosing the potential conflict of a request and a request for guidance. While such disclosures can allow the official or employee to seek permission, they cannot offer forgiveness. For example, we have clarified through discussions with officials from the Ethics Commission that an Advisory Opinion shields the employee or official from an investigation (and potential criminal prosecution) should an ethics complaint be filed in the future, but only for conduct after the advisory opinion was sought (assuming that the employee/official complied with the Commission’s recommendations). Thus, Ratliff cannot be prosecuted for his conduct after November 30 (when his letter was sent seeking an Advisory Opinion), as long as he followed the Commission’s guidance. But by seeking an opinion for his conduct after November 30, 2021, Ratliff effectively asked the Commission to render a judgment of the appropriateness of his conduct before November 30, 2021. In this case, the Advisory Opinion obtained by Ratliff simply confirmed that his conduct had been inappropriate, probably for more than a year.
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pjdoehring
Jan 10, 2022
In Kennett area Fire/EMS
As described in another post, a conflict of interest is not inherently unethical or even problematic. It can be prevented by disclosing the conflict and its impact minimized by withdrawing from any related decisions. Conflicts of interest become problematic when the person does not disclose it or, worse still, seeks to conceal it, as Ratliff has. Conflicts that result in clear financial gain are the most problematic, especially if these evolve into influence-peddling - for example, a “deal” to hire a relative in return for favorable treatment. Even without evidence of a “deal” to hire his wife, Ratliff’s documented attempts to minimize or conceal his conflicts of interest create a management nightmare for his supervisors, resulting in collateral damage that is far greater than one or two conflicts of interest. How? This episode demonstrates Ratliff’s willingness to mislead or even lie to the public or his supervisors about important issues. This means that Township Supervisors must now consider whether Ratliff has ever lied about other issues. This calls into question every recommendation made and action taken by Ratliff in the past, and going forward. This makes it more likely that Ratliff may have other conflicts of interest, or that Ratliff will turn a blind eye to conflicts of interest involving other Township partners. Township Supervisors must now actively monitor for other conflicts of interest, and carefully consider whether other interests are influencing important decisions and recommendations. Supervisors have already learned from Lisa Moore that the collateral damage of unethical behavior can take its own toll. In Moore’s case, Supervisors not only lost $3.2 million, but spent two years re-building the financial controls Lisa had ravaged. In this case, Ratliff’s efforts to “solve” our Fire-EMS problems by giving Longwood Fire a deal drew our attention away from the real issue: a worsening pattern of deficit spending that leaves the sustainability of our Fire/EMS services in doubt. Tracking down other lies, conflicts of interest, and other neglected problems takes time, energy, and resources that could all be better spent on REAL problems. How many opportunities to improve life in the township were lost as Supervisors dug out from under the collapse of Lisa Moore? The collateral damage is likely to continue to accumulate as long as Ratliff remains manager, and may well equal or eclipse any benefits Ratliff’s skills might bring to Kennett. This is why it is so important to act decisively when a public employee or official seeks to mislead you. The lie you uncover is only the start of your problems - it just tells you where to start digging. What you uncover may well be far, farworse.
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pjdoehring
Jan 10, 2022
In Kennett area Fire/EMS
On December 31st, an article was posted in the Daily Local News on Ratliff’s response to the ongoing ethics investigation, including the inquiry submitted by the Borough of Kennett Square to the Ethics Commission. As described elsewhere, Ratliff attempted to clear his name through false claims about the sequence of events. In the end, these attempts had the opposite effect, simply confirming that his conduct had been inappropriate for close to one year. “In a letter to Ratliff from the Ethics Commission dated Dec. 22, 2021, it was recommended that Ratliff advise the Regional Commission and Longwood fire Company only as a volunteer, not in his capacity as Kennett Township Manager.” In seeking guidance from the Commission for a future conflict of interest (read more here about how such guidance works), the Commission effectively ruled on Ratliff’s past conduct. In this case, the Commission’s judgment confirms that it was inappropriate for Ratliff to have ever advised either the Township or the Fire Commission beginning in 2021 (after he had become a member of Longwood Fire) and especially after October (when his wife became an employee of Longwood Fire). We have submitted a Right to Know request to Kennett Township to obtain a copy of the Commission’s response to confirm the precise language used.
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pjdoehring

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