Living in Hanover

Living in Hanover

'Apparently a blog about living in Hanover'

We’re Not Dumb, Council

Hanover Borough Council has spoken: they don’t want you to speak.

That’s the gist of the news from last night’s committee meeting as reported by Lauren Linhard from The Evening Sun.

(C)ouncil discussed the possibility of creating a Sunshine Act policy that would limit speakers during public comment sessions or meetings.

Yep, council wants to make sure they hear less feedback. They seem to be particularly worried that they will have to sit through the concerns of people who own a business in the borough, but live elsewhere. Gee, I wonder what precipitated that? Besides, it’s pretty funny (some might say deliberate) that this policy comes up at the first meeting after the borough started putting agendas online in advance of a meeting. What a coincidence that they decide they want to limit public comment right after they give people an opportunity to be prepared to give public comments.

UPDATE: The item was not on the draft agenda released Monday – I couldn’t remember, but someone just confirmed that. So it all of a sudden became a big deal …. or was not put on there on purpose so as to not arouse suspicion. Oh, and the borough website has been down for more than an hour as I post this shortly after 3:30 p.m.

Let’s recap what has happened recently:

  1. Council complains that people who complain don’t come to meetings to learn the real story
  2. People come to meetings to learn the real story
  3. People complain and demand accountability from council
  4. Council is forced to reverse course on the library plan and the nature trail debacle
  5. Council moves to limit the number of people and amount of time for complaining and demanding accountability

We don’t have enough time or enough numbers to outline why this plan stinks, but let’s give a few of them a shot. First of all, the Sunshine Act does allow for some restrictions on public comment, but I really don’t think the borough can really provide any justification for why they need to take this step.

Are there numbers justifying the amount of time wasted on excessive public comments? (I would give a run down on the length of some of the council meetings during the past six months or so, but the borough’s web site is down so I can’t get to the info.) Have they tracked the trends of public comment? Do they have details on the length of speaking by those commenting? Have they mapped this out for residents vs. non-residents to see where the “problem” is happening? Besides, as council member Sonny Eline has told us so many times (even though he was proven so, so, so, so, so so, so, so, so, so so, so, so, so, so so, so, so, so, so so, so, so, so, so so, so, so, so, so so, so, so, so, so wrong at the nature trail public hearing) the group of those complaining is just a small number of folks who have axes to grind. So if it’s just a few of us, why worry about limiting comments (unless you really do know that it’s a lot of people with smart, well-reasoned arguments that undercut everything you say).

And while the law does specify that residents and taxpayers are the primary audience for comments, it doesn’t say what kind of tax defines this group. Business owners pay taxes. People who work in the borough also do (at least I think they still have an occupational “privilege” tax). So it’s not just residents who fund the government that so desperately wants us to just sit down and shut up. Plus, do residents of other municipalities who are customers of Hanover’s water and sewer system have a claim as a “taxpayer?”

So it’s not as clear cut as council wants it to be. They may think that excluding a few people means nothing in the big picture, but it really just shows their pettiness. They may worry that people from all over may come and share an unpopular opinion about their decisions, but that’s just tough. That’s what happens when you sign up for this gig. If the borough really got a seasoned administrator back in 2011 when they elevated Barb Krebs to the top position, she would be telling them that public comment is part of the job and limiting it really just opens up a can of worms. Instead, she’s leading this charge because the plan she and council president John Gerken hatched to put her into power and execute their plans through secrecy and intimidation has started to hit some roadblocks. This is the borough manager who promised increased communication was a pivotal part of her plans when she got the job.

Council was wrong on the library modifications. Council was wrong on the nature trail. Now council is wrong on public comment. Hopefully they start to see the pattern here and realize they need more information, not less because they are working from a tremendous position of weakness which is fueled by hubris, denial and immaturity.

 

Brian April 17, 2014 1 Comment Permalink

Overwhelming Evidence

I originally planned to write a post about the nature trail meeting and how I’m sad borough council/administration sat there and threw the poor engineering assistant (and who is he an assistant to since they no longer have a borough engineer?) under the bus and how I’m happy that lots of people are seeing the things I have been talking about for a couple of years now and how I’m proud to see the engagement and thoughtfulness of the community.

But on the way to putting that post together, I did a quick Google search for something and found another item that points to the cluelessness of the people running the borough. I simply Googled the phrase “Hanover Borough.” In the results, I saw a curious entry – a site that looked like it was about the borough police department. I know sometimes spammers will gobble up domains and make sites that look official so I figured that would be the case here.

Nope. You can go to http://hanover-police.org/ and see a site run by the police department, seemingly independent of the borough web site, much more attractive that the borough web site and at a domain not owned by the borough government. The domain has been alive for more almost seven years. The borough main site does link to it, but they in no way promote that the police has their own site with their own tips and expertise.

Once again, we find an example of how hollow the promise of better communication Barb Krebs made when she was promoted to borough manager really is. And once again, we see that there are examples of outstanding work being done behind the scenes in the borough. They just don’t always get a chance to see the light when big egos block the view.

Kudos to Chief Smith and his department.

Brian February 28, 2014 2 Comments Permalink

Seeking Common Sense

I sat in a borough council meeting last year when folks were urging council to do the right thing and reverse the decision to move the children’s library. At one point, some members of council – I specifically remember Tom Hufnagle, who did not run for re-election last year – saying that the borough didn’t want to be in the library business and wanted to get out of the library business.

This was the crux of last year’s debate. The library, particularly the debt from the renovations and expansion, served as a drag on the borough budget for a number of reasons. Riding into the picture in recent weeks was the York County Library System (YCLS), who promised to alleviate some of the pressure. The proposed three-year deal would cost nothing to the borough in the first year and focus on ways to “maximize cost savings, increase volunteers, review programs and services for efficiency and customer satisfaction, assess the improvement of technology and coordinate fundraising.”

The second and third years would include a $30,000 “management fee” each year, which seems like a bargain to me if they can put the library on a stronger path and provide hope for the future. Besides, there doesn’t seem to be anyone else waiting in the wings to take over this project and, as I pointed out, the borough wants to be out of the library business.

So why does there seem to be any question on this? Last night, Evening Sun reporter Laura Linhard who tweeted “Members of Borough Council remain unconvinced that the library agreement is worth it.” She quoted council member Kim Griffin as saying she would not vote for it, the same Kim Griffin who lectured me on Facebook about how the borough can’t take on any special events because they already have their hands full. Well, wouldn’t this help lighten that load some? The Library Board unanimously recommended this. What could be giving people second thoughts?

Thankfully, the fuller report this morning shows that council member Sonny Eline and borough manager Barb Krebs have a more open mind on this. That’s one sure sign of the apocalypse. I have ranted and raved less about the borough these past few months for a few reasons. Some of them I outlined in an earlier post, but it bogs down to my complete lack of faith that this group will do the right thing and my continued intention to rid my life of the things that cause me undue stress. I don’t want to be negative all the time, and that’s what the borough council and administration do to me.

But this can’t go unchallenged. Neither can the public hearing next week on the “nature trail.” They should have learned to listen to the public when they had to backtrack on the library decision and have seemingly re-trenched and become more obstinate.

The circle is drawing closer. Henry McLin stood up to the leadership and now has been stripped of his vice presidency and of his finance committee chairmanship even though he has extensive finance and budget experience. That’s the Gerken/Krebs way – isolate and diminish those who disagree. It isn’t unexpected, but it’s still disheartening that the finance committee no longer has the leadership of someone with budgetary acumen at a time when it is needed most. I love Jim Roth, the former Fire Commissioner turned council member who now heads the committee, but is it really prudent to appoint a recently retired borough employee to head the finance and personnel committee? Isn’t that a horrific conflict of interest?

I guess not, but it seems weird considering that Gerry Funke lost his planning committee chairmanship right around the same time he voted against John Gerken as council president. I have heard that the reason is that he shouldn’t be in that position since he is a principal with a local engineering firm, and that could be a conflict of interest. Now I worried about that kind of conflict when he came on council, but I have heard nothing but good things about how he has handled the situation. He has the expertise in the field, like Henry, yet is kicked to the curb? Makes no sense, especially since the borough is climbing into bed more and more often for engineering services with Gannett Flemming.

The comments of Krebs and Eline help me think that the library plan will move forward, but I don’t fully trust leadership. Experience is trumped by coziness. John Gerken laughably said he didn’t hold grudges when Funke voted against him, yet almost every single action taken by this council is grudge-driven (going back to the curious professional disappearance of the one employee who really challenged Barb Krebs for the job of borough manager). The county won’t solve all the problems, but this is one step. That step, however, involves giving up control, something this council and administration has seemed incapable of doing in the past.

So what do we want – chasing our tail and retaining control or letting someone who knows better step in and lend a hand?

Brian February 20, 2014 5 Comments Permalink

Downtown Friday Night

The whole plan looks modest, but it meant a lot to me. My wide had other plans in mind so I struck out on my own last Friday night.

20140203-082921.jpgFirst, I hit up the Hanover Hub to see the Steel City Improv troupe perform. The back room in the McAlister Hotel was the perfect size for an event like this, and the $5 admission made it a no brainer.

They drew a pretty decent crowd, including a lot of high school and college age folks. The show ran a little more than an hour, and the folks from Pittsburgh put on a fun show working just off one suggestion from the audience.

After the comedy ended, I walked down to the K of C to enjoy an adult beverage or two. Then I headed back toward the square for some late- night gaming at Timeline Arcade.

That ended up being a fun way to cap off the night. There was a small crowd in there when I left after 11. I really enjoyed seeing folks come in for a little DDR or pinball.

20140203-082938.jpg

Hopefully things like this get some more activity downtown. I never felt unsafe and had a few options besides the ones I chose. I could have headed to the Winner’s Circle for a nightcap, but was wiped.

With a few more options – say a pizza place that serves beer in the old Alex’s or a coffee shop that stays open late near the square – and downtown could thrive.

So give it a shot when you see an event advertised downtown. Don’t skip it or head there and go right home. Good things come in threes, especially downtown.

 

Brian February 3, 2014 1 Comment Permalink

The More Things Change …

So the dust has started to settle for some of Hanover Borough Council’s big issues. I promised myself to not wrap myself up in the shenanigans of this collection of individuals as much this year, but a few things need addressing, if only to get the word out.

  • Henry McLin – the only remaining council member to openly criticize the leadership of council president John Gerken (and, by extension, manager Barb Krebs) –  is out as finance committee chair. This is not surprising, but it’s kind of sad and needs to be impressed upon people that council has made it de facto policy that criticism of leadership will not only go unheeded, but you will be be put in the corner.
  • McLin’s vice president position went to councilman Sonny Eline. Gerken praised Eline as being “open.” Considering the new vice president is the man who ran a private Facebook group to hear citizen input and then banned people (me one of them) for not kowtowing to him and said nasty things about those people privately and tried to force a council member to resign because they were open about their opinions on Facebook, I have no earthly idea what definition of “open” the Head Pickle is using here. By the way, every four years, he switches vice presidents. How’s  that for “leadership.”
  • We have a new council member – Robert Marcoccio – who has a blog that is staggering in its, well, inaccuracy. Click on the links for Hanover Resident Blog and Hanover Views. In one post, he refers to the borough manager as an elected position and basically says the library situation is simply happening because of the meddling of the state and some local businesses. In other words, he is parroting the excuses the current leadership is using to hide the fact that they really have no earthly clue what they are doing. The mind reels.
  • The series of library meetings yesterday – which are basically a dog and pony show because the only way out of this mess is to hand some control over the county, and if the borough gets chesty the county will walk away and the problems that emanated from the previous plan will look like child’s play – brought the news that one part-time employee was let go and four full timers were reduced to part time. One of those folks resigned.

This is where I start to see red. Five people have had their employment affected by the financial problems at the library. That’s not surprising and pretty much needed to happen. Except it didn’t necessarily need to happen because of the poor management in place on Frederick Street. Salaries and benefits make up the bulk of the expense for most businesses. The borough has cut some salaries here. But what about the benefits?

Did you know that borough employees do not – unless this has changed, and I don’t think it has – pay any health care premiums. Krebs bragged that she saved money this year by increasing the deductible for the health care, which put higher co-pays in the hands of employees. Did you know the borough pays the deductibles for employees?

Let me repeat that, the borough pays the premium and the deductible for its employees. Again, if I’m wrong – and I have talked to a bunch of people about this – let me know, and I’ll correct myself. Now I have been told this practice is not uncommon in municipal government and would be difficult to change because of union contracts. That’s why Barb touted her ability to have the borough pay more in deductibles to get the higher co-pays because the unions had to agree.

Well then why aren’t they pushing for the unions to do more? Why are they satisfied with a modest gain when a much larger change – employees paying deductibles or part of the premium – would undoubtedly save more money? Why must the happiness of the people Barb calls “her people” rise above fiscal sanity?

I have beat this drum before and had people criticize me for expecting employees to feel pain and not caring about them. Well, five people either have reduced hours or no job. How’s that for pain? I would rather everyone have a job with a greater expectation for contributing to their health care as opposed to cutting staff.

Oh, and don’t buy the line that Barb saved us money by getting an agreement to a wage freeze. If I understand what I was told correctly, contracts were extended and the raises they lost this year will be applied to that extension so it was just a deferral – a literal kicking of the can down the road – and not a truly astute financial move. (Again, tell me if I am wrong.)

So to wrap up, we have a vindictive set of leaders who are more interested in maintaining their position and making small advances to benefit a few instead of making the truly tough decisions to benefit the greater good. Oh, and they don’t give a damn if you want to see an agenda or read meeting minutes or have meetings scheduled at a time convenient for everyone.

This is why I find myself at a crossroads. They are a truly obstinate bunch, a reality that played a role in my decision not to try and run for council last year. I have many more positive things to do in life than spend my time battling with people who have stacked the deck so I can’t win. Yet, I worry about the future of some of those positive things the longer these folks get to pat themselves on the back for their own incompetence.

So maybe I’ll just keep spouting here. Maybe I’ll sit in their fraudulent meetings  again at some point. I really don’t know. I know I will continue to support downtown businesses and Hanover enterprises in general and will not stop talking and debating and sharing information. I guess I have to since the people in charge refuses to do so.

Brian January 16, 2014 7 Comments Permalink

Beyond the Surface

I have this really cool app on my phone which helps me remember things I need to do. I fill it up with important things like necessary errands and trivial long-term projects like hooking up a newer DVD player to our television set.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. The good thing is that when you fail to complete a task, it merely pushes that item to the next day so you see it every time you open up the thing. I’m taking this day off from work to complete a few of those, including one which has lingered for a couple of months – blog about JA Biztown.

Biztown is a program run by Junior Achievement in York which helps middle school students learn about the many facets which help a community succeed. At Hanover Middle School, sixth-graders take part in this project. I clearly remember my daughter’s experience. That’s why i was honored when a member of the sixth-grade team contacted me to ask if I would help them this year.

Students have to apply and interview for the jobs they want, ranging from DJ to CEO of certain businesses and even members of the media horde. Teachers ask a few members of the community to help with the interview process. I was honored to get that call this year.

Anyone who knows me understands my passion for HPSD. I’ll certainly call it out for its flaws, but I really get fired up when people try to paint the district with e broad negative brush. It’s easy to cast aspersions for selfish reasons. I don’t think the people who choose to do so could handle the experience I had interviewing 10 sixth-graders in late September.

I could not believe the poise and maturity these kids showed in such a tough situation. The teachers make sure they know they have to take this very seriously, but they also encourage us to make the students as comfortable as possible. I tried to do so, relating stories of my daughter’s experience or something funny that has happened to me in my professional career. I thought I had succeeded, but didn’t really know for sure.

Then the letters showed up in the mail.

Part of the process included sending the interviewer a thank you note, like any good job prospect should. The teachers sent the whole batch for the students I interviewed to my house. I’m not afraid to admit that I teared up while reading them. The stories of how they felt comfortable talking to me and realized that they just needed to let their personality show really hit me hard.

These were’t form letters either. Sure, they had been given instructions on some things (mention the job they interviewed for and the date of their trip to Biztown and a few other little things), but the variety in how the students described the experience showed that they really put thought into what they wanted to say. They truly appreciated a parent taking time off from their job to help them with a project.

This is why I get mad when people jump on the “Ugh, Hanover schools suck” bandwagon because they seem to take a look at one test score without any context or one incident without any details and immediately turn everyone into a villain. When we examine schools, we need to remember that these are kids and teachers and life lessons that mean much more than numbers. Step away from your selfish perspective before you criticize.

The sixth-grade team has a special place in my heart for many reasons, and this just adds to that feeling. I hope I can come back and do this again and encourage everyone to get involved in as many ways as possible to see beyond the surface and make a difference.

 

Brian December 6, 2013 Leave A Comment Permalink

HPSD to Make Superintendent Permanent

The agenda for the Hanover Public School District board meeting Monday is out (well, it was a couple of days ago and I looked at it Saturday, but forgot to post this until now), and it looks like the district will hire Dr. John Scola as its permanent superintendent.

It is recommended that, pursuant to the provisions  of Section 10­1071 et.
seq. of the Public School Code,  the Board approve the election of Dr.
John Scola as Superintendent for a term beginning November 12, 2013, to
June 30, 2018, at an initial salary of $157,000 and with other terms and
conditions as set forth in the Superintendent  Employment Agreement
which the President of the Board is hereby authorized to sign (enclosure).

That’s a bump from the $129,000 that Al Moyer would have received in the first year of the contract he signed before leaving for South Middleton schools, but  it sounds like a great investment. My personal view (not that of an incoming school board member, but just me as a parent and taxpayer) is that Hanover found the right guy. From board members to teachers, I have heard great things about his dealings in many areas.

I met John briefly when I volunteered at an middle school event, and he seemed engaging and very curious about life in hanover. I have seen many good changes recently in the district and think this continues that trend.

Brian November 10, 2013 3 Comments Permalink

Election Thoughts

Since it’s an off year, some people might not really know that there is an election tomorrow (November 5). There is. We may not be choosing a president or senators or governor, but don’t think for a moment that these elections don’t matter. In fact, I am off the mind that these elections matter more because the decisions of borough council and school board have a more direct effect on people than those made by folks in D.C.

Regardless of whether you agree with that or not, I encourage everyone to get out and vote. The whole thing takes very little time. You can find information about the borough and school board races in Hanover by following these links:

As expected, I have strong opinions on both. The school board now has several options, and I urge people to vote for Maria Shea (my wife, duh), Brian Frederick and Jared Reck. I know both of the guys very well and really believe they will be the best choice to look out for students, taxpayers and teachers. They all bring a different set of skills and experiences to the table, but end up in similar places philosophically.

Things don’t seem as bad in the district as they did maybe 12-15 months ago, but we can’t just ignore the importance of this race simply because the borough has managed to be a colossal screw-up. There are still state mandates and budget problems that will stick around because of the screwy state formulas. I trust these three to be leaders in solving those problems.

I don’t have as strong a feeling on the fourth person and may not make up my mind until I am in the booth, but I don’t have faith in Charles Farley at all and will decide between Karen Daubert and Tim Williams between I vote. There is also a two-year seat open, and current board member Rick Engle is listed for that seat. Brian Frederick also won that spot in the primary, but chose to focus on the four-year seat instead so Engle got it as the next-highest write in.

As far as the borough goes, each ward has one candidate so it seems as if these five will end up on council. I don’t know if this is a good thing at all. In the First Ward, my ward, incumbant Gerald Funke is on the ballot. I have now had the greatest opinion of him in the past, but like that he is stepping up and pointing out things like how the borough needs to not just rely on Gannett Flemming for engineering services. Since he works in that field, I like that he’s speaking out now, but wish he had before. To me, that shows the power of the bullying that current council president John Gerken employs (he’s not up on the ballot this year) with the gavel. I’m OK with Funke getting another four years, although it’s with some trepidation. If he helps root out some of the shenanigans associated with the borough’s cozy relationship with Gannett Flemming, he’ll be aces in my book.

In Ward 2, local businessman Bill Reichart is running. I don’t know Bill, but I have dealt with his wife through some school stuff and know his sons the same way. My impression is that even if I don’t like what he ends up doing, I’ll respect him for how he does it. That’s more than I can say for a lot of council. I don’t think he’ll give into pressure from leadership, which is the first step toward fixing the problems on council.

In Ward 3, Robert Marcoccio found his way onto the ballot. He has apparently tried to run for Congress before as a tea party candidate and has lots of strong views on national issues such as that. To me, this seems like someone who wants to be elected to something, anything, just so he can have a soap box. While that may provide for some interesting entertainment at council meetings, the last thing the borough needs is someone trying to push a personal agenda. He has a slightly prolific web presence, and I see nothing about local issues in any of it. I have a bad feeling about this guy. I really hope someone else in the Third Ward has a write-in campaign secretly brewing and steps up.

Same in Ward 4. Sonny Eline needs to go, plain and simple. Winners in these two wards usually only get 100-125 votes. If someone can muster 60-70 folks to get behind them, these two guys might not cause further problems in the borough.

Former Fire Comissioner Jim Roth is running in the Fifth Ward. I approach Jim the same way I do Bill Reichart – I have no idea if we will agree on things, but I know I can trust him to be above petty BS. My hope with Jim is that he brings some of the no-nonsense curiosity that Gerken and Barb Krebs hate. The council president likely won’t be able to push around one of the most respected borough employees. I hope Jim brings some sanity and levity to the board.

I certainly wish we had more choices, but we have to work with the situation we have. Get out and vote because these people make decisions that affect your day-to-day living.

Brian November 4, 2013 2 Comments Permalink

Busy Weekend

This weekend has plenty of activities for pretty much everyone. Here are a few – share your others in the comments or on the LIH Facebook page.

  • Hanover High School presents ‘Dracula‘ in a special intimate setting with only 150-200 seats available for each performance.
  • The Hanover Area Historical Society will host a special Halloween event this weekend in conjunction with Emmanual UCC on Broadway. Ghost tours of Hanover will start at the Neas House on 6 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The tours, led by Richard Gladfelter,  will conclude at Emmanuel UCC for stories told by Henry McLin and ghostly music by Don Horneff on the organ (Friday and Saturday only). The event is free, but a donation of $5.00 per person is requested.
  • This weekend is the third anniversary for the Carriage House Market. Stop in for all kinds of great specials.
  • Timeline Arcade will have special fun for those who show up to play games in costume on Saturday.

What else is happening in Hanover?

Brian October 25, 2013 Leave A Comment Permalink

Learning New Tricks

When a friend approached me about joining the Lions Club a while back, I didn’t know what to expect. I did know that I wanted to find another positive way to give back to the community and figured I would check things out.

I found a wonderful group of men and women who enjoy helping others and know how to have a fun time. But what I didn’t expect was to learn so many things about Hanover which I never knew existed.

In a time when so many people have so many grievances with the people who make decisions about our town, I wanted to give a reminder that Hanover has so many great stories, ones that might not make the newspaper or get buried beneath the important issues which have rallied people to action. Since I started this blog mainly to point out the positives that were being ignored by some people in power, I want to get back to that a little (while also continuing to rabble rouse so borough leaders feel the heat).

At this week’s Lions meeting, our speaker told us about a project which I already knew a little about. In fact, I teased the member who lined up the speaker that he had stolen one of my ideas for when it was my turn to plan the program early next year.

Did you know that the folks at Panebaker Funeral Home also own Loyal Companion Pet Cremation? Kristin Newman, co-owner of both businesses with her husband Mike, spent some time this week telling us about the pet cremation service. Like I said, I knew a little about it, but her presentation not only gave me more knowledge, but showed the passion and care that goes into running this business.

We don’t have a pet, so I am not the kind who would need the breadth of services Loyal Companion offers, but many people do need significant closure when a pet dies. Kristin told us about the options available and the reasons behind creating such a service in Hanover. They pet service is located out off of Gitts Run Road so a lot of people probably don’t know that it even exists. If you need this service, I highly recommend Loyal Companion.

I also highly recommend joining the Lions or one of the other service clubs in town (but especially the Lions). While a small group of people make myopic decisions on Frederick Street, many more actually go into the community and do good things with hardly any recognition or even a desire for recognition. Plus, we have fun, make new friends and learn about things like a local business designed to help people deal with the loss of a beloved pet.

Brian October 11, 2013 Leave A Comment Permalink