Friday, May 13, 2016

"Professional" planner Carson Helfrich billed to make Eldred's zoning consistent with others, but he violated that goal without informing anyone

With Carson Helfrich,  CJERP, CJERP Solicitor Fareri, and the Monroe County Planning Commission at the helm, what could possibly go wrong?

During late 2013 and early 2014, regional planning body CJER was putting the finishing touches on a three-year-long project to align the definitions in the zoning ordinances of the member townships Chestnut Hill, Jackson, Eldred and Ross.  The main agents of this final effort were planning consultant Carson Helfrich of Community Planning and Management LLC, author of Eldred's first zoning ordinance in 2004, CJER and the Monroe County Planning Commission - the ultimate planning and zoning review body in Monroe County.  It has been reported by planner Matt Neeb of CJER/CJERP and senior planner Eric Koopman of the Monroe County Planning Commission that an overarching tenant of this project was consistency.  A project goal that relies on consistency was to share uses between the townships, so that each township would not have to provide for all uses - this state requirement may be spread across municipalities that participate in regional planning (CJER/CJERP) and define uses similarly.  Note: Carson Helfrich refers to the project as "CJERP", though Polk Township did not join until 2015.

Planning Consultant Carson Helfrich refers to the project as "CJERP Consistency Project",
and on the eve of the May 1 adoption bills "final consistency changes"

It should be noted that a planning consultant must be ever aware that changes in definition must be carefully done so as not to inadvertently change land use.  Land use is the concept that different use categories come with different impacts on adjacent uses, and the zoning map reflects a carefully thought out placement of the categories so they do not unduly impact each other.  A professional planner advises local planners (planning commission) and the advisory body (BOS) on changes to land use - it is ultimately the BOS that adopts changes after careful and public deliberation.

This should be child's play, right, because Mr. Helfrich as the original author is the expert on Eldred's zoning ordinance?  Right expectation, wrong outcome...

Mr. Helfrich's task was to go through each township's ordinance, and make the definitions the same in each township.  He did this, prior to the March 27, 2014 CJER meeting at which the ordinances of all the townships would be adopted.  At the Mach 27 meeting, Ross Township was not prepared to adopt, so another meeting was scheduled on May 1 to adopt the ordinances simultaneously.  However, at the March 27 meeting, multiple members of CJER and consultant Mr. Helfrich all spoke of how the changes were "minor", to bring the ordinances into alignment through consistency.  There was no discussion of land use changes to a higher intensity use in a zoning district in any of the townships.

Mr. Helfrich mentioned an amendment to change the definition of water extraction in Eldred Township that he had received from a landowner's attorney (improper - it should come from the township), and he said that he already had the change on his list.  He then said if the Eldred Supervisors would authorize it, he would move forward.  They did not authorize it, but he left this meeting and went forward with it.  Remember, this is a professional.  The transcript reflects that Mr. Helfrich did not:
  1. Remind everyone that he had made the definition of water extraction uniform in the pending ordinances of all the townships that were to be adopted that night.
  2. Point out that water extraction was defined as industry in the pending ordinances, and the landowner's request was to change the definition only in Eldred Township to a light manufacturing use, violating the overarching goal of CJER and the county planning commission to have consistent use definitions across the region.
  3. Point out that the proposed change would define a single use to have multiple use intensities in the planning region - creating a contradiction and violating the entire concept of regional planning.
  4. Point out that a use of industrial impact in the current ordinance (2004, that he authored), would be added to the Eldred commercial zoning district as a result of this change - where industrial uses are not permitted.
Light manufacturing and industry are two very different land uses.  Light manufacturing can be located adjacent to homes, industrial uses should not be. The ultimate and painful irony is that Mr. Helfrich describes what he did in April 2014, when he drafted the water extraction amendment, as "Final consistency changes".  In drafting and submitting this amendment, he violated the core principle the entire effort was based on - consistency - without warning a single person.  Here is the result of Mr. Helfrich's handiwork, which CJER, CJER's solicitor and the county planning commission all looked past without comment:

Carson Helfrich was hired at $80/hr to make these consistent.  How can you have the same use defined in two different land use categories in the same planning region (CJER/CJERP)?  WTF?

When asked by a resident in 2015 how this could have happened, Mr. Helfrich explained that he does approximately thirty ordinances.  Evidently he was saying that as a professional, he has trouble remembering what he is doing.  Yet he bills for professional services.  Fail.

In a recent Pocono Record article, when questioned about receiving the amendment request from the landowner's attorney, Mr. Helfrich replied that he "[doesn't] remember speaking with the gentleman."  Does he receive requests from landowners or their attorneys routinely to change zoning ordinances?  Evidently the definition of "professional" is different for Mr. Helfrich than for the rest of the world.  Mr. Helfrich's memory was a lot better on March 27, 2014:
Mr. Helfrich states that he spoke with the landowner's attorney - today he doesn't remember this conversation

Fail.  OK, so your planning consultant and zoning ordinance author turns out to be a candidate for dementia instead of Mensa..  What happened to the oversight of CJER and the Monroe County Planning Commission?  Simple, they were asleep at the switch:
  1. There is no evidence that CJER Solicitor James Fareri reviewed the water extraction amendment, and he was the sole lawyer to review zoning amendments at the time.
  2. There is no evidence that the Monroe County Planning Commission reviewed the water extraction amendment, as it should have.
  3. CJER cancelled its regular April 2014 meeting, at which the supplemental amendments including water extraction in Eldred could have, and should have been reviewed.  The CJER intergovernmental agreement required CJER townships to review and comment on zoning amendments - this did not happen with the water extraction amendment.  This is something Mr. Fareri should have made sure was done, but apparently did not.  CJER took a powder, and today, CJERP Solicitor Fareri has the unmitigated gall to claim that this amendment was passed properly.  He has to state this, because his law firm agreed to represent landowner Gower, whose entire case relies on the argument it was passed properly.  Mr. Fareri can't admit mistakes were made, because it would compromise the firm's other client.  And CJERP's so-called "leadership" refuses to do what is right, and admit mistakes were made.  Whom are they protecting?  They are hiding behind the patently biased advice of their solicitor - someone who would also have motive to conceal his own potential mistakes.  Most law firms would not have taken on Mr. Gower, due to a conflict of interest.   This CJERP planning body has a built-in structural defect.  It is required to have a supervisor from each township.  As a consequence, it is run by politicians, not citizens with expertise appointed by politicians - which is the typical case for members of your local planning commission.  The result is what you have today - CJERP refuses to acknowledge they screwed up big time, and has pulled a cone of silence over themselves.  Eldred has made statements that it disagrees with CJERP's position, to no avail.  It is disgraceful that CJERP has left member Edlred Township to twist in the wind, while as a body is accepts zero responsibility.  This ignorance is going on under chairperson Gould, who was in charge in 2014 when CJER totally dropped the ball.  Will he apologize to Eldred months from now, when the truth comes out in court?
You just could not make this sh!t up, people - go ahead and try.  You could not.

Carson Helfrich's Island - an $80 per hour tour

Monday, May 9, 2016

Documents do not reflect that CJER Solicitor James Fareri reviewed the 2014 water extraction amendment

In the March to May 2014 period, regional planning body CJER solicitor James Fareri was solely responsible for reviewing zoning ordinance amendments.   Normally, they would be reviewed by both the township solicitor and the township planning commission solicitor (Dan  Lyons).   But the CJER townships fatefully agreed to allow a slip-and-fall attorney do all amendment reviews, as reported by then Eldred Township Solicitor Mike Kaspszyk:

Eldred Solicitor Kaspszyk states that James Fareri is solely responsible for doing a comprehensive review of zoning ordinance amendments

Via a Right to Know request, Attorney Fareri's billing statements for the March 2014 and April through May 1, 2014 period were obtained.  Recall that CJER met on March 27, 2014 in anticipation of passing the draft ordinance, that the supplemental amendments including water extraction were drafted the week after this meeting, and that both the March 27 draft and the supplemental amendments were adopted on May 1.

In March, on the very day of the March 27 CJER meeting, Attorney Fareri "crammed" and reviewed the ordinances that were to be adopted that evening.  His bill for all of March for CJER was $913.50, but on March 27 he billed $217.50 for reviewing the ordinances for all four CJER townships.  Eldred Township's portion of this based on population was 9%, or $19.58.  To have Eldred Township's 265-page draft zoning ordinance reviewed comprehensively, with hundreds of changes, cost $19.58 for a lawyer who billed $145 per hour.  This means that Eldred's entire draft ordinance was reviewed in about 8 minutes and 6 seconds.

OK, we know that 4 pages of supplemental amendments were drafted after the March 27 meeting.  Let's see how much time was spent by Mr. Fareri to review said amendments, by examining his April through May 1 bill.   Hmm.  Only one billable item for Mr. Fareri.  Appearing at the May 1, 2014 CJER meeting.  Thanks for coming in - hope you didn't break a sweat.  This would indicate that .09*(0) hours were spent reviewing the water extraction amendment, or 0 hours 0 minutes and 0 seconds.

Update May 15 11:30pm: Note that on March 2nd and 3rd Mr. Fareri billed for preparing and reviewing the notice of advertisement for the March 27 meeting, but there aren't equivalent entries for the May 1 meeting - in which there were new amendments.  Who prepared the May 1 advertisement of the water extraction amendment, and who reviewed it?

Based on these invoices, it appears that Mr. Fareri, the sole solicitor to review zoning amendments, spent a couple of minutes reviewing the entire Eldred draft zoning ordinance, and no time at all reviewing the questioned Eldred water extraction amendment.  Recall CJER didn't bother to meet in April 2014, at which time CJER could have reviewed the supplemental amendments - so they didn't review them either.  Recall further that the record also does not reflect that the Monroe County Planning Commission reviewed the supplemental amendments, including the water extraction amendment.

No wonder Solicitor Fareri advised CJER members in January of 2016 to keep their mouths shut about what happened on May 1, 2014 - because CJER screwed up big time.  The puzzling thing is how on Earth he can maintain that the amendment was passed through proper procedure, while keeping a straight face.  A group of monkeys could have done an equally competent job.

Ship of Fools

Footnote:  Take note of the fact that Attorney Robert Kidwell also charged time on the April invoice.  Mr. Kidwell is representing landowner Rick Gower, another indication of the conflict of interest for Fareri and Kidwell's law firm.  You just could not make this #@)! up people.

Disgraced Eldred Township Supervisor Solt's resignation accepted at "emergency" board meeting in wake of Nestlé debacle

First, planning commission secretary and mother of ex-Supervisor Gretchen Gannon Pettit was shown the door when it was discovered her minutes were "twice baked".

Nest, landowner Ricky Gower took leave of township meetings, once the hijinx surrounding the 2014 ordinance amendment was exposed.

Ms. Gannon Pettit, having not run for re-election in the wake of the unsettling discovery that "Nestle is in town", had the door slam into her behind on January 4, when Joann Bush was seated.

Then, planning commission Solicitor Dan Lyons was relieved of his duties in mid-January, very shortly after allowing Nestle to show up unannounced and present to the planning commission.

Ms. Gannon Pettit put the Kunkletown Pub up for sale about a month ago, which is pretty odd timing.

On April 28, the Pocono Record published an article in which it reported that landowner Gower's attorney James Wimmer Esquire (who had assisted Planning Commission Secretary Darcy Gannon in editing her minutes to get them "right"), had sent a draft ordinance with several misrepresentation in it directly to Planning Consultant Carson Helfrich (who didn't flag the horrendous flaws and misrepresentations in it), had "no comment" when the allegations were brought to his attention.  Mr. Wimmer didn't deny them - he would not comment.

This morning, at an "emergency" meeting of the Eldred Township Board of Supervisors, Sharon Solt did in abstentia what was inevitable, and resigned...  at a non-regular board meeting when hardly anyone was there.  No - check your calendar - this isn't April Fools.  This is all too real.  There are rumors floating around of an investigation into payroll peculiarities - it isn't known if this is true.  If so it may have been the straw that broke Old Ironsides' back.

While Ms. Solt has served at a Supervisor for more than 10 years, she certainly earned her premature exit from this term.  At a meeting in February, she snapped at a resident and suggested that resident should have paid attention when the water extraction amendment was passed.  What is now known is that Ms. Solt should have paid more attention.  First, as secretary she oversaw multiple errors in the procedure of adopting the amendment.  She didn't know or says she didn't know the consequences of the amendment; a resident reports that recently Solt stated "If I had any idea that the water extraction project would come with those wellhead restrictions, I would not have voted for it!"  All you had to do was look at the damned ordinance, Sharon.  Finally, it was Ms. Solt who could have undone the gross errors on her watch - but she refused twice to vote to overturn the amendment last year.  Who should have paid more attention?

Here are some quotes we haven't heard:

"As Secretary, if I had any idea the BOS had to vote to authorize an amendment, I would have brought that up.  That may have been covered at a PSATS convention while BeachGal was sipping a martini in the pool."

"As Secretary, if I had any idea that the BOS had to vote to advertise an amendment, I would have brought that up!"

"As Secretary, if I knew that Robert's Rules of Order say that minutes are supposed to reflect what happened at a meeting, and not what I wanted to say happened - that would have made a big difference.  Huge."

"After it was brought to my attention in early 2015 that the ordinance had been improperly passed, and that it appeared funny business was involved, I should have seconded one of Ms. Clausen's two motions to overturn it.  Instead, I sat on my hands and now Eldred Township and its residents are paying dearly.  I guess I screwed up."  Um.  Yes.

"If I had any idea that Mr. Fareri hadn't reviewed the water extraction amendment, that would have changed my position."*

*Records recently obtained indicate that not only is there no record the county planning commission reviewed the amendment, but there is no record that CJER Solicitor Fareri did either.

If you don't see the irony in this, watch it a second time

This is a catchy tune