Monday, April 12, 2021

Osborne: Time for Trust in South Whitehall Tp

While an WFMZ headline read “South Whitehall Commissioners Start Hitting Gridlock” in describing the BOC meeting last Wednesday, many others saw it as the first time in the last 15 months that progress was made towards meaningful and consequential discussion in their township without a pre-determined outcome. You see, Matthew Mobilio, a reliable ally and vote for board president Tori Morgan and appointed Commissioner Joe Setton, resigned abruptly last week, setting up a 2-2 dynamic between the previously unrelenting majority and the opposing two highest vote-getters in the last election.

It all came to a head when the nomination of a Planning Commission candidate (who I cast no judgement on) was up for a vote. Without any significant background information, president Tori Morgan, who also serves on the Interview Committee along with the now absent Commissioner Matthew Mobilio, tried to push the nominee through as though she had her reliable allies on her side. But wait . . . good questions and discussion came up concerning the process involved in selecting this candidate, resulting in Morgan complaining at one point that this was the same, or similar, process used for years.

So why was her nomination for the Planning Commission questioned? Well, surprisingly, the answer came just a couple minutes later when a former commissioner colleague said “you don’t trust each other!” Bingo! This process, and others, that worked for a long time in the past for the board, the administration and the public is now questioned because of a lack of trust! This process historically was based on involvement of all board members from beginning to end, wide-ranging (but the same), questions posed to each of the applicants, and full disclosure of the candidates’ responses before a recommendation was made to the full board. Apparently, the process has been skewed to the point where it is unrecognizable to what was successful in the past, but for the unwary, easily passed off as the “same or similar”. But is even this point important? Should the vestiges of the past become “rule of law” and take precedence over the direction of the future? Is the status quo what the residents want, or did they express their wishes in the past election by voting in two commissioners who are pushing for transparency and change?

I think the former commissioner is right - that pesky little thing called “trust” has been lost over the last several years. I’ve written about the quite obvious lack of transparency and communication, but he actually voiced the natural consequence of conducting local government business this way. Credit to him.

How and why has trust been lost? I will address this tomorrow. But in the meantime, do you have any thoughts on this? Have you’ve seen things happen, or not happen, that make you question your own trust level in South Whitehall today?

Blogger's Note: Blogger Michael Molovinsky asserts that the way South Whitehall's BOC has handled Wehr's Dam has made him question his trust level.  


Anonymous said...

So let me get this right her lap dog resigns so she has no one to make sure her motion get through and when it doesn’t she’s lashes out at the two commissioners that don’t vote for her motion. Sounds like the reign of queen Morgan is about to come to an end.#MorganHasToGo, #DrainTheSWTSwamp


Trust is gone, will take a clean slate of elected officials to regain the trust of the community and each other, The drain the swamp could never more spot on than in South Whitehall Township.

I am really sad what the Township has become over the decades I have been here, the culture is shocking, the disrespect a big distraction, and the strong egos and nonsense.

I am sitting here really bummed about all this.

Anonymous said...

I just want to clarify some issues in Brad's post. First, this makes it look like it is Tori's fault. That is certainly not the case. The two new commissioners do things under the guise of transparency, but there is no indication that this is true. They use transparency as a shield.

They have spent long hours trying to re-write Robert's Rules of Order and how to create minutes. A total waste of taxpayer dollars.

Second, calling them the highest vote-getters in the last election is a true statement. It happens to be that they were also the only two running.

Third, it was clear from the meeting that there was a lack of "trust" even though Commissioner Wolk denied it. I have seen people appointed to a committee. This shouldn't have been a big deal and was actually a stain on South Whitehall.

I think that the WFMZ article was more accurate than Mr. Osborne's, although I believe he is trying to add value to the conversation. It is clear that Mr. Osborne has taken an anti-Tori stance. If he is actually trying to assist South Whitehall, it would be better to offer suggestions that actually move the town forward. While gov't always has a transparency problem, I don't believe this is a major issue in South Whitehall.

JoAnn Markowicz said...

Townships are such an overlooked vital part of local government. Unfortunately, the majority of residents/taxpayers that attend the meetings come because “there is something going on in their neighborhood” and the township has notified them. I have to be honest…that’s what brought me to the township meetings.
It short, residents attend the meetings in regards to a particular issue in their neighborhood, express their concerns, final decisions are made by the BOC, and the residents leave.
At least I believe that was the case until the Ridge Farm project came before the BOC. Those residents who attended the BOC meetings stayed (past the expected residents-in, residents-out cycle) and continued to attend meetings and pay attention. The longer they attended the meeting the more they started to see and notice patterns of the BOC members and started asking questions. Some of those concerned residents even went so far as to put their names on the ballots in hopes of bringing about change. Two of those such residents, Wolk and Kelly are currently on the BOC and still seem at times to be faced with the same problems as the residents do with certain BOC members…lack of cooperation and transparency.
I could not agree more with Brad’s summation of what came about at the last BOC meeting. My hope is that Wolk and Kelly will continue to question/uncover, shed more light on what has really been going on at SWT and make every effort to bring about change and transparency to SWT’s BOC. It is also time for the residents to take a stand and vote for the candidates that are campaigning for transparency not the one that is fighting transparency. I believe transparency is a huge factor in regaining the trust in our elected officials.
One of my biggest issues that would continue to fuel my lack of trust (FYI - there are many more lack of trust issues that I have encountered after attending the BOC meetings over the last six months) would be if SWT decided to stop holding virtual meetings (in addition to live meeting) after the Covid restriction are lifted.

Anonymous said...

To anonymous who wrote: "While gov't always has a transparency problem, I don't believe this is a major issue in South Whitehall." I have a few questions for you (please keep in mind before you answer these questions that this is YOUR hard-earned tax money we are talking about):
Do you believe that it is OK for a township to have not submitted a REQUIRED annual audit since 2012 the year that an employee embezzled almost $1 million?
Aren't you concerned this wasn't considered a TOP PRIORITY in the township and addressed before nine years had gone by?
Aren't you concerned that the only reason this mess was uncovered that it went back to 2012 was due to new BOC members and residents uncovering it?
Do you believe it is a lack of transparency that only one BOC member has been on the Board since 2008 and will NOT answer the above question when asked in a public BOC meeting?
If the above questions don't scream lack of transparency in SWT, let me know because I have about 20 more questions I can add to the list.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 9:40 clearly does not have a good relationship with the truth. There are some things that should be clarified about their statement:

This individual says that the two change-oriented Commissioners were the highest vote getter only because "they were also the only two running". This is categorically FALSE. In in the 2019 General Election, there were six candidates, and Diane Kelly and Mike Wolk placed first and second, respectively. Side note: developer lapdog Joe Setton, who Tori Morgan hand-picked near midnight to fill a vacant seat, came in fourth.

Transparency is not being used as a "shield." It is an essential component of good government. The conversation in question was about making the interview process open to all Commissioners in a transparent manner. Two Commissioners (Wolk and Kelly) promote this improvement. The other two Commissioners (Morgan and Setton) oppose it. It's change vs. the status quo; improved government vs. the same "behind closed doors" approach that Tori Morgan has used for nearly all of her nine years as Board President.

Anonymous 9:40 is correct when they say there is a lack of trust. HOWEVER, it is not a lack of trust between Commissioners, rather it is a lack of trust between the Board and the citizens of South Whitehall. If Morgan and Setton are not willing to show the public what goes on in their private, "smoke-filled back room", then how can we possibly expect to trust them? And if these interviews ARE being conducted in an appropriate manner, then what is the harm in making them public?

Something about the current interview process smells fishy...and it's definitely not the fish in the creek down at Wehr's know...the dam that Commissioner Morgan has been salivating at the prospect of demolishing, even after the 2016 referendum.

In regards to Anonymous 9:40's comments about Mr. Osborne, Brad has made it abundantly clear he is simply calling balls and strikes. I don't see where he is taking sides in his reporting. If it appears as though his thoughts benefit one side or the other, it is probably because that's where the evidence resides.

Anonymous said...

Just a quick correction to the two anonymous commenters, Anonymous 9:40 and Anonymous 11:55. As A-11:55 said, Wolk and Kelly were not the only two running, as A-9:40 claims. But Setton did not finish 4th, as A-11:55 posted. In fact Setton finished 5th out of the 6 people up for election! The order of finish was Kelly-Wolk-Mobilio-Utsch-Setton-Champagnie. So the lame duck board (4 out of 5 were leaving) picked the second to last person, as voted on by the people, and placed him in a Commissioners seat. So much for listening to the will of the voters.

Brad Osborne said...

First, I appreciate your feedback. While some have commented below on the factual aspects of my post, I will concentrate my effort to saying I do not have a horse in this race. I try hard to remain objective so I can provide information that is important to the residents, but occasionally find I need to mention a commissioner’s name to add clarity to my point.

Anonymous said...

Why did South Whitehall hire a fire commissioner? That fire tax monies are supposed to be going to fire equipment not salaries of fire administration, the volunteer fire companies dont need a babysitter taking a couple of hundred thousand dollars away from life saving equipment