Friday, February 5, 2016

Results of Poll - Who Was Most Responsible for Passage of the Water Extraction Amendment

When the evidence is examined, it is obvious that there are multiple parties responsible for passage of an amendment that never should have seen daylight.  It became apparent early on that one entity stood out, and this entity remained far and away the top choice as more and more information became available.

The vote as of now is:

Eldred BOS: 17
Carson Helfrich: 10
Sharon Solt: 38
I don't know/Someone else: 2

When the poll was created, naturally the standout was included.  Sharon Solt was added as well as the entire BOS, and the regional planning body CJER.  Not many know what CJER does, and CJER doesn't appear anxious for anyone to know (try to find their minutes, or to submit questions to them in writing per their absurd policy and wait for an answer), but in fact they had a very important role in the adoption of ordinance updates in 2014.   This is a very important lesson of the damage that can be caused by allowing control to be taken away from the township planning agency and local citizen view.  State funding is bally-hoed to create committees like CJER, but the community shoots itself in the foot while the people who arranged for the grant high five each other and make grandiose statements to the press.  When the dung hits the wind vane, people scatter.  In this case, State Representative Jack Rader Jr. resigned from CJER just three weeks after Nestle Deer Park rented space in Kunkletown and their cover was blown.  Perhaps a coincidence.  Perhaps not.

Grand Prize - Most Responsible: Carson Helfrich
  • Carson Helfrich, Planning Consultant Grade: F- (As a teacher, you can't give an F-.  But this isn't school, it is real life.)
Carson Helfrich wrote the 2004 Eldred Township Zoning Ordinance - you will find his company name on it.  Mr. Helfrich was also the Planning Consultant hired by the CJER townships sometime in 2013 to make definitions identical across the townships and create regional uses - uses that are provided for in some townships but not others, to share the burden of having to provide for all uses.  You will also find his name on the 2014 Ordinance.

While you might assume that CJER had intense sessions, where the Ordinance changes were discussed in detail, a review of the CJER minutes shows no evidence of such discussions.  The Eldred Township planners were totally left out of the process, and only presented with a final draft in late February 2014.  Therefore, it may be assumed that Mr. Helfrich identified the vast majority of changes needed in his office, and drafted the new Ordinance for each township.  In this capacity, Mr. Helfrich would know without having to consult anything in print that the water extraction amendment described in the Wimmer Letter:
  • was horse crap because the premise stated was false, and the effect was not as stated
  • would violate the Comprehensive Plan
  • would create multiple definitions of a single use within CJER - violating its primary goal of consistency
  • would add a use to the Commercial district of more intense use than the district is designed for
Given the responsibility that Mr. Helfrich had in his professional capacity, it is impossible to understand that he did not contact multiple parties, and inform them of these issues in what he had received from Mr. Wimmer on March 21, 2014.  In the transcript of the March 27, 2014 CJER meeting, he didn't mention one single issue with this amendment, only that he had added it to his list of changes and he could move forward if the Supervisors authorized it.  He never did obtain authorization, but on the 27th he has already forwarded this pile of crap to the Monroe County Planning Commission, instead of leaving that task to the responsible party, the Eldred Township BOS.  In this manner, he further enabled this ill-conceived amendment to pass through the system contrary to the procedure prescribed, instead of being stopped in its tracks.

Mr.Helfrich stands head and shoulders above all others in having the expertise and knowledge to realize and warn the Eldred BOS, Monroe County Planning Commission, Edlred Township Planning Commission, CJER, CJER's Solicitor and Mr. Wimmer that water extraction was never allowed in the Commercial district, and for this reason the premise of the amendment was nonsense and it needed to be edited and submitted to the Eldred BOS as a curative amendment.  However, he did not.  For unknowns reasons, he was not at the critical meeting at which all the CJER Ordinances were adopted on May 1, 2014, although he was scheduled to be.

First Runner Up - Most Responsible: Monroe County Planning Commission Staff
and Eldred Township BOS Solicitor Mike Kaspszyk
  • Monroe County Planning Commission (MCPC)
  • Christine Meinhart-Fritz, Senior Planner, Lead MCPC Grade: F
  • Eric Koopman, Senior Planner MCPC Grade: F
  • Mike Kaspszyk, Eldred Twp BOS Solicitor Grade: F
The Monroe County Planning Commission (MCPC) rates a nose behind Mr. Helfrich.  Mr. Helfrich sent the Wimmer Letter to the Director and the Senior Planners at the MCPC on March 24.  They had it.  All they had to do, and should  have done, was open the Eldred 2004 Ordinance (on their shelf - I asked to look at it), and they would have seen within two to three minutes that the Wimmer amendment was nonsense.  These people are paid staff at the county level.  I asked to see everything that they were submitted to review, and what I saw in the folder did not include the Wimmer Letter.  So they recommended approval of what was officially sent (a two word definition change), and ignored that which proved that the premise of the amendment was false, and that a land use change would occur.  Unbelievable.  Ms. Meinhart-Fritz (now the Director of the MCPC!) made statements at the March 27, 2014 CJER meeting that reflect total ignorance that this amendment badly violates the Comprehensive Plan, which factors into her grade.

Update 2/9 10:30 am Eldred BOS Solicitor Kaspszyk was not responsible for reviewing amendments during this time, but he was responsible for seeing that procedures were followed - and they were virtually all violated.  The amendment was not approved for consideration by the BOS.  The amendment was not sent to the Eldred Planning Commission or CJER or the Monroe County Planning Commission by the BOS.  The amendment was not authorized by the BOS to be drafted by the Planning Consultant, and it was not authorized to be advertised by the BOS.  Mr. Kaspszyk therefore earns a grade of F.

Second Runner Up - Most Responsible: Multiple Winners
  • Darcy Gannon, Planning Commission Recording Secretary Grade: F
  • Sharon Solt, Supervisor, Secretary, Treasurer, CJER Secretary and Representative, Monroe County Planning Commission Representative Grade: F
  • CJER
  • CJER Planner Matt Neeb: Grade: F
  • James Fareri, CJER Solicitor Grade: F
  • James Wimmer, Landowner's attorney Grade: F
The Eldred Solicitors were directed not to review amendments, again a mistake of allowing the removal of local oversight.  Instead, CJER Solicitor Fareri was the sole Solicitor to review amendments.  There is no evidence that he was sent the Wimmer Letter (amendment), or that he reviewed it.  There is also no evidence that CJER, the entity that coordinated the amendment update process and standardization of definitions and uses, reviewed or discussed the Wimmer Letter.  Four pages of additional amendments across CJER townships that should have been reviewed between March 27 and adoption by CJER on May 1 could not have been reviewed since their April meeting was cancelled.  Thus on May 1, CJER allowed amendments to be adopted that CJER had not reviewed.  However, despite all this, Mr. Fareri had a responsibility to check the Ordinance for the effect the water extraction amendment would have, and should have discovered it would cause a land use change.  My understanding is he did bill for this service.  Matt Neeb, a former senior planner at the MCPC, and a paid planner in Chestnuthill, didn't see a problem with the passage of this amendment or the fact that it violated the principle of consistency when I spoke with him on December 10, 2014.

The Eldred Planning Commission didn't take part at all other than to witness a discussion between two clueless people, memorialized in a similar fashion.  The only thing they could be faulted for is approving the minutes of that meeting, which might rate a "5th Place" category.  Furthermore, the impression given by Supervisor Gannon Pettit, Representative Rader, CJER Chairman Gould and CJER Solicitor Fareri was that the changes were "minor".  Ms. Gannon Pettit emphasized "none of our zoning is changing - none."  Mr. Wimmer came and misrepresented what was in the current Ordinance, and Solicitor Lyons assumed he was correct.  Secretary Darcy Gannon then misrepresented what happened at this meeting.  Garbage in, raw sewage out.  You just could not make this shit up.  Ms. Solt receives a grade as the paid Secretary for Eldred Township and CJER.  Minutes are to describe what happened at the meeting, not what you want people to believe happened or omit what you don't want people to know happened.  This should be a lesson to never again allow a Supervisor to be Board Secretary.  The Borough of West Easton in Northampton County just extricated itself from a similar quagmire.

4th Place - Most Responsible: Multiple Winners
  • Gretchen Gannon Pettit, Supervisor
  • Dan Lyons, Planning Commission Solicitor Grade: F
  • Eldred BOS
Gretchen Gannon Pettit was the significant other of the landowner during the period in question.  If you believe she didn't know water extraction was not permitted on the property, that is your prerogative.  The Eldred BOS appears as an entity only because two of the three Supervisors share responsibility.  Mary Anne Clausen was a new Supervisor, and attempted on multiple occasions, including at both CJER meetings, to understand the process fully and make sure the proper process was being followed.  She didn't know what she was up against, but found soon found out.  

Elected and appointed officials don't receive a grade.  Paid staff, consultants and professionals do.  Solicitors play the most important role of knowing the law, knowing the Ordinance, and making sure that the municipal bodies know what procedures are prescribed by law.  Boards and appointed bodies may ignore the advice of their solicitor, but it is the solicitor's responsibility to inform them of the consequences of their actions.

Addendum It should be noted that Supervisor Clausen and the Planning Commission both took steps to undo the damage of the water extraction amendment as soon as its true purpose became known, and before Nestle chose to do testing.  The Planning Commission unanimously recommended it be overturned.  Ms. Clausen made a motion twice in 2015 to consider overturning it, and neither Supervisor Solt or Supervisor Gannon Pettit would second her motion to overturn an amendment that has been shown to be illegally passed.  Ms. Solt has stated that she is neither for or against the amendment.  If that is true, she should have leaned towards overturning it, since it was passed illegally.  If it had been overturned in a timely manner, Nestle would have gone away.  There was a public record, however, that the amendment was being challenged within Eldred Township.- when they chose to move forward.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Who Deserves Credit - for Uncovering the Fraud?

One citizen stands out for their tireless efforts to uncover key documents that exposed the haphazard and illegal manner in which the water extraction amendment was passed.  This person was stonewalled by various agencies, yet persevered in the face of rude and evasive behavior, and obtained documentation that exposed the fraudulent manner in which the amendment was passed.  This person blazed a trail, over which commoners like this author could easily follow.  This person will not be named here, but this post is in recognition of a citizen with several years of service to his community, who knew something must have been done wrong - and was right.

Your efforts have helped to strengthen a community that you love,
and permit it to emerge from a brief but very dark period in which the
activities of government were obscured by a poison pen.
The good citizens of Eldred Township owe you a debt of gratitude.

Random thought - Anyone can follow.  Imagine if we had no leaders.  It would be almost
as bad as having leaders that are corrupt.

State Representative Jack Rader, Jr Resigns from CJERP the Same Month that Deer Park Rents Office in Eldred Township

At the Eldred Township Board of Supervisors May 6, 2015 meeting, the announcement was made that Deer Park was going to rent a room at the Community Center:

It is possible that Nestle/Deer Park thought it would be a great idea to set up shop in the Eldred Township Community Center, to facilitate community outreach in association with their previously unknown plans to establish a water extraction operation.  Needless to say, they succeeded in making a splash.  Immediately, residents began investigating what Nestle was doing in town, and a stench of deceit was released into the air with the speed and spread of a nuclear blast.  Residents began filing Right to Know requests with various entities within a week.

Was it a coincidence that State Representative and Jackson Township resident and CJERP representative Jack Rader, Jr. abruptly resigned from CJERP three weeks later?

What IS that awful smell?

"This isn't B.O. - it's beyond B.O.  It's B.B.O.!"

Whom Would You Most Like See Give a Deposition to See How the Water Extraction Amendment was Passed?

In the Appeal of Citizens v. Eldred Township and Eldred Township Supervisors, if the case moves forward without a settlement, which of the following would you most like to see give a sworn deposition?
  • Sharon Solt
  • Gretchen Gannon Pettit
  • Dan Lyons
  • James Wimmer
  • James Fareri
  • Christine Meinhart-Fritz
  • Carson Helfrich
  • Darcy Gannon

A word about the poll

(If you have not already - please read the summary and final installment of how we got here)

After the details of the uniformly bastardized process from A to Z by which the water extraction amendment was passed became clear, it was irresistible to not try to assign blame.  What a cast of characters.  You just could not make up such a yarn.  I felt that the entity most people seemed to hold accountable was not the one who should be held most accountable.  As of today, that person is running away with the vote.  There would have been way too many entries to list every choice eligible in the poll.  Here is a more extensive list, in no particular order:
  • Darcy Gannon, Planning Commission Recording Secretary
  • Gretchen Gannon Pettit
  • Dan Lyons, Planning Commission Solicitor
  • Mike Kaspszyk, BOS Solicitor
  • Eldred Planning Commission
  • Eldred BOS
  • Sharon Solt
  • CJER
  • James Fareri, CJER Solicitor
  • Carson Helfrich, CJER Planning Consultant
  • Monroe County Planning Commission (MCPC)
  • Christine Meinhart-Fritz, Senior Planner, Lead MCPC
  • Eric Koopman, Senior Planner MCPC
  • James Wimmer, Landowner's attorney
In my opinion, elected officials are expected to be corrupt.  The job of solicitors is to make sure procedures are followed so that mistakes aren't made - mistakes that lead to lawsuits and/or taxpayer dollars wasted.   Therefore, I lean towards holding the professionals responsible.  In light of the facts of this case, my belief is every person who was earning a salary or professional fee has fault in this matter.  Those under contract to Eldred Township should be shown the door, if they already have not.  Darcy Gannon is gone, and so is her daughter - a twofer.  Mr. Kaspszyk left, perhaps because he didn't want to deal with this mess, or perhaps for other reasons.  There is more housekeeping needed.  I do feel that one or two are the most culpable.  I will reveal those entities after the poll is closed, with justifications for my choices.

Update 1:30 pm Someone finally voted "I don't know".  Ding ding.   If you go back and read the post announcing the poll, I said to vote "I don't know" if you believe the answer is not on the short list in the poll.  It's my first poll, and I apologize for its inadequacies.  Based on the admittedly poor construction of the poll, inadequate for the task at hand, there should be more "I don't know" entries in my opinion.  But you are the voters.

Also, we have now picked up the first "CJER" votes.  This was the local regional planning group, if that makes sense.  One level below the county.  Yet they don't appear to even have discussed this amendment, which was their responsibility.  Also, their solicitor was the lawyer solely responsible for reviewing amendments.  They are currently doing a Harpo Marx act - appearing as though they are incapable of speaking.  Harpo was not a mute.  There are rumors of a gag order having been placed on them - now there is some transparency in government for you.  I salute those who chose CJER, but I am not saying one way or the other that it is tops on my list.

Enjoy, like if you found out you have carpel tunnel syndrome, or that you're bankrupt.  Just have fun with it.  Don't go too crazy though - look what happened to this guy when he let his hair down at a photo shoot:

Monday, February 1, 2016

Part 4 - How the Water Extraction Amendment Came Into Being: Monroe County Planning Commission Approves 2-word Definition Change, Not the Full Amendment

Review of Part 1
In Part 1 of this series, landowner Ricky Gower's Attorney James Wimmer appeared at the Eldred Township Planning Commission on Thursday March 20, 2014, and verbally presented a suggestion that the update of the definition of water extraction in the proposed ordinance to be adopted on March 27 be changed, so that his client could retain an existing ability to have a water extraction operation on his property.  It is believed that Mr. Wimmer did not present anything in writing to the planners, either prior to or at the meeting.

Review of Part 2
In Part 2, we learned that the very day following the appearance of Attorney Wimmer at the March 20, 2014 Eldred Township Planning Commission meeting, he sent a letter containing what ostensibly is a landowner curative amendment directly to CJERP Planning Consultant Carson Helfrich, the person who authored the 2004 Eldred Zoning Ordinance, as well as the 2014 draft updates to create uniform definitions and regional uses across CJERP townships.  Mr. Wimmer is believed to have not copied anyone at Eldred Township on this letter, including planners he met with just the night prior. Mr. Wimmer makes reference to having contacted Mr. Helfrich the day prior, so it is evident that he had multiple contacts with the regional planning consultant about matters in Eldred Township without putting Eldred Township in the loop.  Mr. Wimmer makes the following misrepresentations in the letter:
  1. Eldred Township planners endorsed and recommended his changes the previous night - in fact, it is believed that Mr. Wimmer never presented his curative amendment in print to Eldred planners, and the record shows planners made no recommendations on March 20, 2014.
  2. The amendment would "preserve" water extraction as a use on his client's property - in fact, it was not currently and had never been permitted as a use since the inception of the ordinance that Mr. Helfrich authored in 2004.
Mr. Wimmer requested that Mr. Helfrich make the changes to the Proposed Ordinance and get back to him to confirm it was done prior to the March 27 meeting six days later.

Review of Part 3
In Part 3, we learned that instead of Mr. Helfrich telling Mr. Wimmer that he needed to send his amendment to Eldred Township directly so it could be authorized, per the MPC, he forwarded the amendment on March 24 to a single Eldred Supervisor, Sharon Solt, and copied this unauthorized amendment to three people at the Monroe County Planning Commission (MCPC): Christine Dettore (Director), Eric Koopman (Senior Planner), and Christine Meinhart-Fritz (Senior Planner, Lead).  Mr. Helfrich did not copy CJER Solicitor Fareri, the sole solicitor charged with reviewing amendments during this period.

Three days later on March 27, Mr. Helfrich has the amendment in hand at the CJER meeting at which the Ordinance is scheduled to be adopted.  Ms. Meinhart-Fritz makes a statement that reflects she is well aware of it - even though Eldred Township has not yet submitted it to the MCPC.  She makes an absurd statement that the water extraction amendment is consistent with the Comprehensive Plan.  This woman is now the Director of the MCPC - she doesn't appear to know what is in the Comprehensive Plan, and she believes an industrial use is appropriate for a commercial district.  Who promoted her?  Mr. Helfrich is in attendance, and what he doesn't say is what is most shocking - that the amendment goes totally against the principles of consistency he and the MCPC have worked to implement for several months.  Mr. Fareri, the solicitor who is charged with reviewing all amendments, is silent.  He doesn't say if he has reviewed it or not - there is no evidence it was even sent to him.  Mr. Helfrich suggests that if the Eldred Supervisors authorize drafting the amendment at this meeting he will move forward with it, but they don't vote to do that.  They also never vote to advertise the amendment.

Part 4
On March 31, Sharon Solt sent the draft Ordinance from March 27, along with the (unauthorized) water extraction amendment that Mr. Helfrich prepared, to the Eldred Township supervisors, planners and Eldred Solicitor Kaspszyk, and told them she was submitting the same to the Monroe County Planning Commission:

The first thing to note, is that Ms. Solt did not copy CJER Solicitor Fareri, who we know was the solicitor to review all Ordinance amendments.  Remember that Eldred's solicitors were kept out of the loop. Mr. Fareri was the guy.  I understand that Mr. Fareri did submit an invoice for reviewing the Ordinance - now there is money well spent.  Ms. Solt copied Eldred Solicitor Kaspszyk, who probably promptly deleted it - it wasn't his responsibility.

Next, here is what Ms. Solt sent to planners, Mr. Helfrich's version of the water extraction amendment, based on Mr. Wimmer's letter:
The Official Water Extraction Amendment, Devoid of Misleading Intent and Consequences

Recall that the Wimmer's letter proposed a curative amendment whose purpose was to preserve water extraction as a use in the Commerical zoning district:

 Wimmer's misstatements that the Planners recommended an amendment,
and that it would preserve a use - both not true

Note before we go on that Mr. Wimmer states "As you may already be aware".  Who the heck would have cause to tell the regional planning consultant of a non-action that was taken at a township planning commission meeting?  Possibly the Planning Commission Recording Secretary, who manufactured misleading minutes of that meeting, and who is the mother of the significant other of the affected landowner?

Now, back to examining what happened to Mr. Helfrich's work product.  

At the April 2014 Eldred Township Planning Commission meeting, their task was to review hundreds of changes that they were led to believe were minor.  They were not sent the Wimmer letter.  They were sent a two word change in the new amendment, along all the changes in the Proposed Ordinance prepared for March 27.  CJER and the MCPC had told everyone the changes prepared for March 27 and rescheduled for May 1 were "minor" and were being made for "consistency".  They weren't asked to consider whether or not it was appropriate to throw consistency out the window, create a contradictory definition of water extraction, and add a use to a zoning district.  So, they recommended approval of the Proposed Ordinance along with the additional amendment.

Recall that the key members of the Monroe County Planning Commission were sent the Wimmer Letter, on March 24, 2014.  The Director, and two Senior Planners:
Three Monroe County Planners Were Sent Unauthorized Version of Amendment in March 2014

The Monroe County Planning Commission had the existing Eldred Township zoning ordinance sitting on the shelf - I asked to see it while standing in their office on December 10, 2015, and Mr. Koopman handed it to me.  When the three people on the MCPC staff received the Wimmer Letter, evidently not a single one of them picked up that same 2004 Eldred Ordinance to verify if Wimmer's amendment would have the claimed effect.  In fact it obviously would not, and would create a land use change.

Mr. Koopman informed me that the MCPC did a "technical review," which consisted of reviewing the Eldred Proposed Zoning Ordinance prepared for March 27, as well as four separately stapled pages that were amendments Mr. Helfrich prepared after March 27 - including the Eldred Water Extraction amendment.  He showed me a folder with the thick draft ordinance, and the four additional pages on top.  He stated on my questioning that this is all the MCPC was presented for review.  He did not mention that he had received the Wimmer letter, or that it did or did not factor into their review.

Here is where the wheels fall off the cart.  The MCPC approved the ordinance amendments, in a letter dated April 25, 2015, and signed off by Eric Koopman and Christine Meinhart-Fritz.  In turn, Christine Detore forwarded this letter to Eldred Township, with her signature.  These are the same three people who received the Wimmer letter a month earlier, containing the pile of dung that was put forth as a curative amendment.

The MCPC Approval of Eldred's Ordinance, Including the Water Extraction Amendment

Once this shining recommendation came from the Director of the Monroe County Planning Commission, it was game over for unsuspecting Eldred Township residents.  Without discussion, the Ordinance was passed at the May 1, 2014 CJER meeting, despite the fact that CJER and the CJER townships apparently did not receive or review the Eldred Township water extraction amendment, as required.

All the key Monroe County Planning Commission had the benefit of receiving the Wimmer Letter, containing the full details of the colossally ill-conceived water extraction amendment, yet they recommended its approval with their compliments.  This is a stunning and unacceptable failure of the chief planning agency in the Monroe County.

The entities who were relied upon to pay attention to detail in the drafting of the zoning ordinance amendments, the Monroe County Planning Commission, CJER, the CJER Solicitor, and the CJER Planning Consultant, were individually and collectively incompetent in allowing the water extraction amendment to be passed.  These entities are to work together, and know the responsibilities each other has.  It was a wholesale failure.
  • The authorization, review, advertisement and transmission of the water extraction amendment as prescribed by the MPC was violated every step of the way.
  • The amendment was contrary to the Comprehensive Plan.
  • The amendment violated CJER's and the MCPC's overarching goal of regional consistency.
  • The amendment added an industrial use of higher impact than those in the Commercial district.
  • The amendment added a land use to the Commercial district, without notice to anyone except private notice to senior planners and the Director of the Monroe County Planning Commission - who ignored this fact and those enumerated above, and recommended its approval.
You just could not make this shit up - V. Barlieb

Footnote to this chapter: Eldred's Zoning Officer Helm refused to show it to me the Eldred Zoning Ordinance the same day I met with Mr. Koopman, telling me he was "too busy".  He had just spent 15 minutes talking to me about random things like the rail trail, during which time I noticed the labelled binder on his shelf, but suddenly when I asked to look at the Ordinance he was under the gun to do invisible work.  I wonder what he did after I left his office - perhaps he rearranged his pencils or tied his shoelaces.  What he didn't realize was my very next stop was the MCPC, where I was confident I would find the Eldred Ordinance - since county planning commissions have them on file.