Wednesday, April 23, 2014

My meeting with Rep. Miller

Yesterday, I met with State Representative Dan Miller, Commissioner Kelly Fraasch, and former Mt. Lebanon Commission President Matt Kluck. The topic was transparency in Mt. Lebanon. I had attended Rep. Miller's Right To Know Information Session in November and know that transparency in government is very important to Dan.

I am extremely frustrated with what is happening within the Municipality. Just trying to get an email to the Planning Board was an ordeal. I sent an email to Municipal Planner Keith McGill asking him to forward my email to the members of the Planning Board. On the subject of the Planning Board, the meeting last night was in the commission chambers and was not video recorded, even though a staff person was paid to sit there and video record it. Here is an email exchange that I had with Commissioner Fraasch and Keith McGill. Kelly has had a difficult time getting all the boards and authority meetings videotaped. No consistency whatsoever.

I suggested that the boards get their own email addresses, such as sportsadvisoryboard at mtlebanon dot org. It is ludicrous that we cannot reach the boards via email.

Another problem that I have is the lack of transparency when it comes to personal emails and text messages for RTK requests. A Right To Know was granted to me yesterday, after my meeting. My RTK was:
All communication to/from Commissioners for March 11, 12, and 13, 2014 pertaining to turf, Castlegate, Newcomer's tax, and/or about residents or guests who spoke at the March 11, 2014 meeting during Citizens Comments.
I filed an appeal today with the Office Of Open Records over an email exchange from that RTK request in which Kristen Linfante had with Kelly Fraasch. Kristen had sent an email to the commission and copied staff about a citizen who challenged the turf project during Citizen Comments at a commission meeting. The reason why I appealed the RTK is because her personal email, sent by a constituent, was not included in the RTK. I also challenged the RTK because I never get any text messages included in any of my RTKs. I am still waiting for a final determination of a previous appeal that was sent to the OOR for the very same thing.

I couldn't believe I was saying this at Dan's meeting yesterday, but the MTLSD website does not list phone numbers of the school board members, only email addresses in their contact information. The municipality should follow MTLSD, and adopt the same policy. (I know! Can you believe that I said that??) By including phone numbers, residents are encouraged to text message or call commissioners and makes it virtually impossible to access that information for Right To Know requests.

I also raised questions about the turf project. There seems to be a lot of secrecy when it comes to this turf project. Even fundraising has raised flags. I want to share an email exchange that came to me today over the fundraising email sent out by the Recreation Department's Sandy Kyper.

From: Stephen Feller [mailto:sfeller@mtlebanon.org]
Sent: Wednesday, April 23, 2014 2:57 PM
To: A Concerned Resident
Cc: David Donnellan
Subject: your question

I am told that the email was sent to the addresses on the recreation program notification data base and that this includes over 8,000 addresses that have asked to be notified about recreation programs and facility updates. Some of these folks do not live in Mt. Lebanon. 

OVER EIGHT THOUSAND ADDRESSES? The “recreation program notification database” solely belongs to the Municipality for Municipality specific use and it was used to benefit the Soccer Association, the Lacrosse Association and the Endowment, which are all third party independent organizations.

Finally, I would like to share an email exchange, which was a followup to Rep. Miller's meeting. I do hope changes are made as a result of my meeting.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

How much are our taxes going to go up because of all of the RTK requests? I guess if you want to be able to text board members, our taxes will have to be used to provide them with cell phones.

E. T. Gillen said...

That is interesting that you ask that, 5:53 PM. We talked about that yesterday. When Dan was a commissioner, he had heard that the school board claimed that allegedly, RTKs were costing $2600 each. Dan asked Steve Feller how much they were costing Mt. Lebanon. Feller told Dan that they were costing next to nothing.
Elaine

Anonymous said...

Here's a transparency question:

Why are there so many empty fields in Mt Lebanon, even RIGHT NOW, when sports groups are complaining there aren't enough big fields? Is the school district not SHARING their fields? I would really appreciate some info on this because people are going to lose a beautiful open public park field, suffer from flooded backyard in an FEMA flood zone Cedar Boulevard, inhale toxic fumes, damage the already damaged watershed, struggle with escalated asthma symptoms, and wonder if their unborn babies are going to suffer as a result of the neurotoxins dumped on Cedar Boulevard?

Are those good enough reasons to ask why it appears that the school district isn't sharing their fields?

This is about sharing, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

Just to be clear, when Dan was a Commissioner, there was a different solicitor. I would hazard a guess that RTK's (and everything else) cost a lot more since they got rid of their long-time solicitor a few years ago.

E. T. Gillen said...

Just to be clear, Dan Miller was a commissioner when there was a change in solicitors on April 26, 2010. Fundamental Changes In The Municipality? Are you calling Dan Miller a liar?
Can we get back to the real issues here? I would hope that you are more upset with those than my filing RTKs. Thanks for the diversion.
Elaine

Anonymous said...

Just to be clear, this Blogger thinks 7:15 sounds like Kristin Linfante.

Anonymous said...

Did I hear correctly that citizens will no longer be allowed to have pick-up softball/football/soccer games at our park? Only "official" sports group will. So the commissioners have given public space to 3 or 4 sports groups? Is that legal?

Anonymous said...

9:28 PM, if you read the SAB and TPTF records, including the false claim that the turf will result in a 60% increase in time slot availability, you will find that any increase in time slots will be assigned totally to the youth field sports groups. If you review the time allocations for athletic fields prepared by Donnellan, Grogan and SAB rep's you will see that no field time slots during fall and spring/summer field sports seasons are set aside or reserved for general public or pick-up game use during mid afternoon to evening closing and weekend hours.

This turf project is what would be classified as intended for and devoted to private use, not for the benefit and use by the general public, meaning all 33,000 residents, not just the field sports groups who have indicated in a SAB document that they constitute only 3,200 players which also double counts those who play more than one field sport. Private use disqualifies federal tax deductibility for donations, something the Muni, SAB and MLCE will not divulge or admit.

Anonymous said...

So the commissioners have given away public land. Will the commissioners GIVE AWAY the new swimming pool to Aqua Club? Is there no legal means to stop this? What else can the commissioners give away?

E. T. Gillen said...

During a recent commission discussion session, there was a brief mention of closing fields to the public because of bad weather. An eblast from the Soccer Association sent on April 7, 2014:

"Third, while the organizations may cancel practices or games, this does not close the field. We utilize public spaces and therefore must share with the public. We have heard reports of soccer games being played this weekend on J. Doctor Filed at Bird Park. The MLSA knows that there are outside groups, some well organized, that utilize the fields - we cannot control groups like this.

What can you do? 1) Please respect the collective decisions for cancellations. Please do not decide on your own to go have a practice or kick around. 2) Call or email your commissioners and/or school board members with your concerns - these folks always tell us they need to hear more support for improving our fields."

Don't believe for a minute that this is to be used by everyone. The youth sports groups think that it is theirs. There was a comment made in jest about Field Hockey donating $500 and that they should be given a small section by the trees to use. Think about this, SAB. 75% of the "donation" is coming from taxpayers, if you want to talk about field use being allocated in proportion to donations.
Elaine

E. T. Gillen said...

I should say, "OVER 75%." It isn't about percentages anymore. SAB has only committed to $250,000.
Elaine

Anonymous said...

Yes, so when we have a community softball game at Middle and the girls softball games are starting, we can tell them to go get on another field to play because it is a public park. Of course, because they decided to use all unassigned funds to TURF instead of a build a new field, there will be no alternative field for them to go to.

Anonymous said...

I cannot beleive how much of our tax dollars you waste on these RTK requests. We elected our officials. Let them do their jobs without you constantly getting in the way and looking over thier sholders.

E. T. Gillen said...

Thanks for the laugh, "8:47 AM." You aren't bothered by municipal staff sending out over 8,000 emails to fundraise for the non-municipal share. It is not important to you to be able to contact boards and authorities. You aren't bothered by a commissioner that responds inappropriately to a legal action. This issue is important to our state representative, who encourages transparency in local government, and has sponsored a seminar about the Office of Open Records. That means nothing to you? LOL! You made my day. I am definitely on the right track.
Elaine

E. T. Gillen said...

I should have added how some elected officials here in Mt. Lebanon initiate smear campaigns toward residents who disagree with them during Citizens Comments. Lovely, 8:47 AM.
Elaine

Anonymous said...

I am @7:15. I'm not Kristen Linfante. Not sure why I deserved the hostile response. I'm not calling Dan Miller a liar, it's simply a fact that he doesn't know how much RTKs are costing now because a completely different firm with a completely different process handles them. He probably isn't even aware of that. I tried to click on your link in your response to me but it doesn't work, so I have no idea what you were referring to. Generally, I tend to agree with much of what you post here, but in an argument about transparency, it does work both ways, and as soon as someone, like me, attempts to add facts you cannot beat them down because they might not add to your agenda. This hurts your cause rather than helps it. Many of your RTK requests have been useful, so if they cost money, so what? But you cannot pretend that they don't cost money. Acknowledge and move on. My point was actually that I think the Commission turned a corner when they made the decision to switch solicitors, as that was also a time when they began using the legal advice to feel their own agendas rather than seeking out what the law was and applying it. Which is why I said that the RTK cost went up, as did a lot of other things.

E. T. Gillen said...

9:24 AM, it is comical when you try to discredit me. I apologize that the link didn't work. I was directing you to a May 2, 2010 post on Blog Lebo concerning the change in solicitors during Dan Miller's tenure. I will try again.
http://bloglebo.blogspot.com/2010/05/fundamental-changes-in-municipality.html Dan fired the old firm and hired the new firm. You forget that my meeting included a current commissioner and someone who was president of the commission until Jan. 6, 2014. I am all for facts, but when you have them wrong, I have to say something. It has nothing to do with "my agenda."
Should I check with you first to see which RTK requests will be useful? Aren't you more concerned with how much is being spent on municipal staff fundraising for non-municipal funds? I don't think my RTKs cost anything close to that. Do you want to jump over dollars to pick up dimes? How about challenging the use of 3/4 of a million plus dollars to pay for toxic turf?
I think more tax dollars are spent paying ONE commissioner than what is spent on RTKs filed by me and anyone else. Stop trying to deny me and anyone else our legal rights.Try to focus, 9:24 AM, on where the BIG money is being spent.
Elaine

Anonymous said...

The Commission "turned a corner" when Representative Miller left office. He kept Commissioner Brumfield in check while Commissioner Linfante changed the dynamics of the Commission upon installation to the Office.

E. T. Gillen said...

11:56 AM, I mentioned to Dan that the whole place went to hell once he left office. He laughed and said that was told to him before.
Elaine

E. T. Gillen said...

Dan Miller just reminded me that he worked with Phil Weis for 18 months. The last 12 months of his tenure, Dan was president and worked very closely with the solicitor. He also noted that he hired Phil.
Elaine

Anonymous said...

Its because of the thinking of people like 8:47 that we're in the fix we're in, in my opinion.
Are these "elected" officials gods? Are they super humans incapable of making mistakes?

Before I followed the advice of 8:47 I think I'd follow the advice of a Supreme Court Justice.

http://m.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/apr/19/scalias-students-high-taxes-certain-point-perhaps-/

"Scalia to students on high taxes: At a certain point, ‘perhaps you should revolt’"

"Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia told a group of law students that it might be a good idea to revolt if taxes become too high in the future.
While speaking at the University of Tennessee College of Law on Tuesday, Justice Scalia was asked by a student about his interpretation of the constitutionality of the income tax, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported

Longest-serving justice currently on the bench answered the student by saying that the government has the constitutional right to implement the tax, “but if it reaches a certain point, perhaps you should revolt.”"

"Justice Scalia continued to tell the students that they have every right to express criticism of the government.

“You’re entitled to criticize the government, and you can use words, you can use symbols, you can use telegraph, you can use Morse code, you can burn a flag,” he said, according to the News Sentinel."

See 8:47— a Supreme Court Justice says citizens have the right and are entitled to criticize the government!

Anonymous said...

8:47 you wrote:
"I cannot beleive how much of our tax dollars you waste on these RTK requests. We elected our officials. Let them do their jobs without you constantly getting in the way and looking over thier sholders."

A question for you based on your comment above.

Why do the commissioners waste time and money on advisory boards which they've ignored completely on several important issues, if they can do the job?

Anonymous said...

7:40 - for your information, the Aqua Club has and will continue to pay its way. I'm surprised that this hasn't been used as a counter to the freeloaders who are happy to take and not give. A sizable part of the dues paid by swimmers go to the school district and municipality for rental costs. Please get your facts straight before you take a swing at a stand-up group.

Anonymous said...

In 1978, USC bought the Beadling Field, which is practically in Mt Lebanon off of Painters Run Road, for $25,000. It's a great large field.

It's a shame the sporty folks weren't as active back then because if Mt Lebanon owned Beadling Field maybe we would all be teaching our children what to do when another child throws crumb rubber at their face.