Living in Hanover

Living in Hanover

'Apparently a blog about living in Hanover'

Complaining

All of the posts under the "Complaining" category.

Thinking Isn’t Complaining

Recently, someone commented on another post that I complain a lot. I get that once in a while because anyone who has ever met me in person knows I come off crankier on the Internet than I am in real life.

While some may feel upset or bothered when someone totally mischaracterizes their personality, I actually love it. First of all, there’s the whole judging me without really knowing me thing. I try not to do it for others (not always successfully) and am amused when others do it to me. But more importantly, it’s the notion that complaining about things you have a problem with is inherently a bad thing. Lastly there is the notion that the comment can be seen as a complaint about someone complaining meaning that you are complaining so the three fingers are pointing back at you. Or some nonsense like that. I like complaining about complaining sometimes so I let that one go.

Just because I or anyone else complains does not make them bad, especially since a look at the sum total of the things I talk about would show lots of cheerleading (maybe too much), but most importantly, pragmatism. Sometimes I do complain, but sometimes it’s much deeper than that.

Sure, I criticize the borough manager for not being able to use Power Point correctly or for having a horrific website as the face of Hanover, but those are specific complaints with easy solutions in areas where I have professional experience. When you take the things you learn and try to apply them for positive effect to benefit others, how is that bad?

I thought about this a lot this morning as I read a Chronicle of Higher Education article called “What ‘Learning How to Think’ Really Means.” The article focuses on the positive effects of a liberal arts education. One clause in one sentence sentence does a perfect job of explaining my problems with the borough’s rush to push the Fire Museum into the old Eagle Fire Company, a move which curiously hit the fast track the day after the council president was slaughtered in the primary election.

People with intellectual virtues will be persistent, ask for help when they need it, provide help when others need it, and not settle for expedient but inaccurate solutions to tough problems.

I’m not going so far as to endow myself with the lofty gift of “intellectual virtues,” but I have been thinking a lot about college since I recently had my 25-year reunion at Allegheny College, a place where I really learned to think and judge and act (and party, to be honest).

During one conversation at the reunion, the topic of a minor came up. We were walking by the building that housed the Classics department. Since I took AP Latin in high school and received credit for my test score, the head of the department tried to recruit me as a Classics major. That wasn’t happening, so he also made a pitch for minoring in the field. I pretty much dismissed it out of hand, but ended up pretty close to actually pulling it off.

I had credit for two classes from the AP exam and could use my classes in Greek and Roman Art and Green and Roman Epics to get close to the six-class requirement for a minor. I may have had one other class, but the real stumbling block was the requirement of what Allegheny called a “seminar ” class for any minor. Seminars were fairly intensive classes that prepared people in a major for their senior thesis, nicknamed a “comp” at Allegheny. You took your seminar as a junior so you got a taste of what comping would feel like.

I ended up taking three seminars in my major, English. They each required a 25ish page page at the end of the trimester. By comparison, my comp was 60-some pages long. I took multiple English comps because that was my speciality, and they came up with some really, really awesome topics during my junior and senior year. But I was in no way, shape or form putting myself through the same thing in Classics. Or History or Communication Arts, two other departments I was close to minoring in.

This long explanation is my way of saying that my time at Allegheny taught me to seek out many different ways of approaching things. I took some classics, some comm arts, a bunch of history, a psych class, computer science, economics and even theatre appreciation (which I took mainly because it was one of the few things open when I did registration freshman year).

But I also wrestled for four years, worked on the campus newspaper, played and officiated intramural sports, was an officer in my fraternity and represented us on the Interfraternity Council. None of this counts the amount of time sitting around and talking with lots of other really smart people who were taking their own eclectic mix of courses because they, like me, just found it interesting to learn new stuff.

I guess that is why I shake my head when people try to pigeon hole my curiosity and outspokenness as complaining. I grew up with parents who expected their eight children to learn as much as they could and know how to think critically about the decisions they made. I had seven siblings who held me accountable for so many things. Then I had four years of reading and talking and questioning and taking action.

All of that has led to what some people want to characterize as “complaining.” I will never accept that as the truth. I don’t just throw out negativity. I take a look at what is happening, run it through the experiences I have had and the things I have learned and offer a perspective that others may not have considered. Sometimes that means the project you think is perfect may need new and varied voices and may need to take a little longer than you want it to be done (which you probably hate because if you do it now you won’t have to listen to anyone else because they don’t have your experience so they can’t be right).

A fire museum is a wonderful thing. Preserving history is a great virtue. Reusing classic buildings is an admirable goal. But to do it right, you need the intellectual virtues to know that it needs to take time, care and careful consideration with the voices of museum professionals, fundraising experts and unemotional onlookers to make sure that we aren’t trying to save history every seven or 10 years because we never took the time to plan and discuss things beyond seven to 10 years.

So if it’s complaining to expect a major project to have clearly defined goals and an articulated path to success, call me guilty. I just think I’m using the tools I learned in life.

 

Brian June 18, 2015 1 Comment Permalink

Communication is Hard

The problem with the Internet is that everyone thinks they can do it right. Making your own website has never been easier and cheaper. Anyone can get any message they want out to the public.

That doesn’t mean everyone can do it well. I’m looking at you, Hanover Borough.

I am not saying that I am the greatest communicator in the world, but I have been doing this for a living for a couple of decades and then some. You learn a few things in that time. I hope to pass some of those lessons onto the folks at the borough in 2016 since they don’t seem to want advice from people who aren’t on council at this point.

A perfect example is the home page right now. This screenshot was taken a little after 10 this morning.

Screenshot 2015-06-11 10.04.51Now I’m not saying the borough shouldn’t communicate news about how the fire (and why they capitalized fire, I don’t know, but that’s another fight for another day) at Miller Chemical, but when you throw it on the bottom of the page and do it in a way that makes the background image look a little funky and includes random capitalization and doesn’t include any context (I know the fire was a big deal, but you can’t assume everyone knows everything), you look like communication with the public is an afterthought.

The borough did a good job with letting people know to shelter-in-place after the fire happened, but this just smacks of “It’s not our problem. Stop bothering us.” When you don’t dedicate a space on our website to current news updates and just throw them on the home page when you feel you need to share info, that’s how you come off.

 

Brian June 11, 2015 3 Comments Permalink

A Quick Tutorial

I know everyone understands technology at different levels. Many things that come easy to me confuse other people. I try to have a lot of patience because I know getting frustrated with folks can just make it worse.

But watching Barb Krebs do the “video report” at last night’s council meeting drove me up a tree.

First of all, there was no video, just still images. Which are OK if they tell a good story (I thought these were mostly inside baseball or self-congratulatory, but whatever). But just because the agenda template which Bruce Rebert gave to Barb says “Video Report,” that doesn’t mean that you need to keep those words on there if that does not represent what you are doing. Since you were hired for your communication skills, that should be simple to understand.

Secondly, Powerpoint is not that hard. I really wanted to go up, take the mouse from her and show her how to use the program. Instead of actually running a slideshow in the program, she clicked individually on each picture in the sidebar, which is distracting when she is scrolling and clicking on the wrong picture and just moving the mouse around the screen. This also meant that the pictures were not full screen so only about 75 percent of the available real estate on the video screens was being used effectively.

Like I said, I get that not everyone picks up technology as quickly as I do. So I have put together this difficult and detailed tutorial to help Barb Krebs and anyone else struggling with Powerpoint.

Presentation2

That’s it. That’s how you properly display a slideshow in Powerpoint. You can also go to the top, select Slideshow and choose from the options there, but the handy little icon right next to the percentage bar is the best way to start a slideshow. Once launched, just click your mouse or hit the space bar to go to the next slide. There are lots of other tricks, but starting the slideshow and clicking the mouse is my free tip of the week.

All of this may sound petty to some people, but it’s just another indication that one of the problems in the borough now is the lack of attention to detail. If you are paid a lot of money for your job and that job entails doing presentations in public, you should know how to use the technology available to you. But I am sure this is someone else’s fault because that’s how borough leadership rolls these days.

Brian April 23, 2015 1 Comment Permalink

The Incredible Growing Agenda

In recent weeks, the national news spotlight has turned to Hanover because of the eagles out by Codorus State Park. I think we have something else that could make headlines – municipal agendas that seem to grow on their own.

Last week, a committee agenda was posted on the borough website with 11 items. The agenda available at the meeting has 20 items. Last night’s borough council agenda had seven items added since it was posted online Monday.

Now I know some of these things are inevitable – three of the items added to the council agenda were event requests that came in after the original agenda was printed. Those are examples of good stewardship. But what changed between Monday and Wednesday to add an agreement about potentially vacating the alley between the borough office and 34 Frederick Street and an agreement about LED traffic lights and about getting a recycling grant and, most importantly, about amending the sales agreement for the property next to the Tanger Building?

Yep, that situation once again comes up last minute – the original Tanger purchase was approved as a late-minute agenda item because “someone forgot” to add it to the agenda. And when these last-minute items come up, there is no explanation as to why they are late or what the items mean. Remember, once the public comment portion of the meeting ends at the beginning, the veil of secrecy is dropped and sharing information with the public doesn’t matter anymore.

Which reminds me, water rates are going up both in and out of the borough. How much? No one knows. Well, I guess Barb Krebs knows, but the agenda item is the standard Hanover Borough legalese with no mention of what the rate will actually be. God forbid you tell the people how much they will be spending. I guess the outside the borough rate is the one they asked the Public Utility Commission for, but that agenda item was so vague, it prompted one council member to ask, “what is this?” And if the borough manager isn’t being clear with the people voting on items, how can we expect her to actually share information with us lowly citizens.

Sure, I could have asked, but I didn’t feel like getting treated like a leper. Or getting kicked out for actually requesting information in the middle of a meeting.

I don’t expect nothing to change once the agenda is printed, but these shenanigans have to stop. If people had known that the future of the amusement tax was going to be discussed in committee last week, they may have come or shared their thoughts with members of council. Instead, the public agenda shows very tame items to discourage people from coming so that more meaty topics can be added at the last minute. I’ve seen this movie in Hanover before. It’s getting old.

The borough website should be a living, breathing entity. It is possible to change a PDF once you post it. It is possible to list agenda items as they are added and put some sort of notification that allows people to see the new information. It is OK to have an ongoing dialogue with residents.

Because if you don’t keep people updated regularly, it certainly looks like you’re trying to pull the wool over our eyes. Especially when you do it again and again and again and again and again.

Brian March 26, 2015 2 Comments Permalink

Money Well Spent?

This Saturday, Hanover Fellowship Church will have a 5K to raise money for New Hope Ministries. They applied for permits from Hanover Borough last year and were given permission in December to hold the race, providing they pay the $500 “special events” fee for borough services.

The race course takes place about 90 percent in Conewago Township and only requires the closing of two blocks in the borough. They also appear to be using facilities at Myers Playground, but is it $500 worth?

Potter’s House is on tonight’s agenda to use the facilities at Moul Avenue for services during the summer. They are getting a pair of two-hour blocks each day they requested for $50.00.

So a church tonight is getting four hours for $50, but Hanover Fellowship is getting three hours and two blocks of a street closed for $500?

Missed Opportunity

I have railed some on Facebook about some of the issues out of Wednesday’s borough council meeting, particularly related to the amusement tax debate and the duplicitousness of Councilman Sonny Eline (especially in the light of his 2011 proclamations about how he wanted to revitalize downtown), but that wasn’t the only thing that happened Wednesday showing the poor leadership on Frederick Street.

I may get some of the details wrong since I had to leave before this item came up so let me know if I need correcting. One of the Miscreation Brewing owners came to talk about the possibility of outside seating for the business on Center Square. The topic had been on a committee agenda earlier in the month, but was not on the council agenda. He spoke during the public comment period at the end.

From what I heard, he needed direction from the borough on what was allowed because it affected their application to the Liquor Control Board. They could go back and amend things in the future, but that cost more money for fees, something every small business wants to avoid, especially in the beginning. Like I said, I wasn’t there so am fuzzy on the details, but the result appeared to be “we need to research this and will get back to you even though you would like an answer now to avoid extra hearing fees in the future, but we can’t tell you now.”

(Again, let me know if I screwed that up, but I have heard this version from more than one person.)

Listen, I know governments can’t always move on a dime. Sometimes research does need to take place, but at the very least some concern about wanting to work in partnership with a business should show through. That’s not the borough way, of course, as Barb Krebs hides behind the huge monitor in front of her at the table so she can avoid actually engaging with the residents she serves.

But it’s not just their lack of customer service that bugs me. It’s that they already had this discussion three years ago and didn’t take any action even though Eline said he didn’t want to limit opportunities like the one Miscreation is aiming for!

The story clearly says there is no open container law in the borough. Unless that has changed (am I wrong?), the borough should have pointed that out to Miscreation and/or offered to work with them on the ins and outs of the existing laws so they don’t run afoul of the LCB.

So why didn’t Wednesday result in, “oh, we have talked about this in the past and here’s what you can do now and here’s what could happen with any possible ordinance and staff is happy to help you out”? If I remember this and can Google the facts in a few seconds, why the hell can’t the people who claim they have our best interests in mind do it?

Brian September 26, 2014 3 Comments Permalink

Threesome

Last year, Hanover Borough Council enacted a plan to change the upper floor of the Guthrie Memorial Library into a privately-run events space. They went about this without any public discussion. The public got involved, and the borough had to backtrack.

Last year, Hanover Borough Council moved forward with a plan to turn wetlands on the north end of town into a nature trail. They went about this without any public discussion. The public got involved, and the borough had to backtrack.

This year, Hanover Borough Council sent a bill to Timeline Arcade for an amusement tax which they had willingly chosen not to levy when the business was at the mall. The public got involved, and the borough is in the middle of backtracking.

I really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really hope that Barb Krebs, John Gerken and the rest of their cabal see the pattern here.

You don’t have to put everything up to a public referendum, but if you hide what you do from the public eye, odds are you are completely out of touch with good judgement and the will of the people. Just because you get away with it once in a while (the Tanger building) doesn’t make it right.

Brian August 28, 2014 Leave A Comment Permalink

Game Over or Free Life?

I noticed something interesting when I looked at the agenda for tonight’s borough Finance and Personnel Committee meeting – a discussion on amendments to the Amusement Tax. So I Googled what that tax covered and saw that the owners of a “coin-operated amusement device” were to pay a $50 yearly tax. (Jukeboxes are a steal at $10 per year.) I immediately thought of Timeline Arcade and the newly-opened Bentzel Amusements. My worries were confirmed when Timeline owner Brandon Spencer chimed in on Facebook

The town wants to change the coin operated amusement device tax law. This would mean that any video or pinball game would be taxed even if it dosnt take money. This would also hurt gamestop and other video games stores. Any game would have to be taxed, even if you play on your cell phone

The wide-ranging ramifications never dawned on me, and I doubt the borough would ever even try to enforce it to that letter, but the reality is that the borough needs money, sees a successful business (or two) and wants to get that money from them.

Now, to be fair, the law was already on the books, and a place like Timeline (where you pay for how long you play and don’t actually put coins in the machine) is in kind of an unintentional grey area because their business model didn’t completely exist when the ordinance was created. I would hope that the amendment would be to create some wide-ranging look at how to assess some sort of tax without being onerous. I sincerely doubt it though.

We know the borough has fiscal issues, but this is not the way to go about trying to solve them. Changing a law and then going to someone who is trying to revitalize downtown and asking for money – if that is the case – really looks crappy. But then what doesn’t from council?

At the same time, they are looking at financing options for a ladder truck which will cost way more than the borough will ever get from Timeline. And let’s not even get into the boondoggle to buy the Tanger Building so that James Holmes Richard Lopez Fire Chief Jan Cromer can have a new office using funds the borough hopes to raise from the sale of other properties.

All this is piled on top of the absurd medical plan for staff that costs taxpayers untold sums and the addition of a Council Treasurer to take over work the old Council Treasurer apparently couldn’t handle (although the salary there hasn’t changed, has it?).

But, by all means, take the money from a local business instead of getting your own house in order. I can’t make it tonight most likely, but please go if you can and ask the borough to focus on bigger issues first. Of course, you won’t get much chance to speak because John Gerken and Brab Krebs really don’t care what we think.

Brian July 16, 2014 5 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

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

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