Lower Merion: Shabby Chic Municipality?

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carla's picture
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Corruption:

"Corrupt" and "Corruptor" redirect here. For other uses, see Corrupt (disambiguation) and Corruptor (disambiguation).

"Corrupted" and "Corruptors" redirect here. For the Japanese doom metal band, see Corrupted (band). For the American television series, see Target: The Corruptors!.

In philosophical, theological, or moral discussions, corruption is spiritual or moral impurity or deviation from an ideal. In economy, corruption is payment for services or material which the recipient is not due, under law. This may be called bribery, kickback, or, in the Middle East, baksheesh. In government it is when an elected representative makes decisions that are influenced by vested interest rather than their own personal or party ideological beliefs.

A few years ago, the corruption which had seeped into every nook and cranny of Radnor Township almost destroyed that municipality. A change in township manager and commissioners has helped Radnor turn a corner.

I wish the same could be said for Lower Merion. As Lower Merion continues to sink lower and lower, officials and the Democratic Majority continue to hope Lower Merion will trade on a reputation earned decades ago which has nothing to do with reality today. First Class Where? Will Lower Merion sink even lower? Is Lower Merion just a shabby chic municipality and I don't mean that in a flattering way? Is Lower Merion actually more shabby than chic?

As I packed to leave Lower Merion, I had sad moments for the friends I was leaving, and the vast array of memories from having lived in one place for so long. But as I drove all over to do things like return my Comcast boxes and take things to the dump, it was quite clear that all that glitters is not gold. In a sense, I began to feel relief because Lower Merion is so not what it used to be. No municipality is perfect, but Lower Merion is so dysfunctional I think it just stresses residents out (as well as practically taxing them to death.)

The commissioners from certain eastern areas of the township love to wax poetic about how fabulous the township is and as I drove on the roads in their wards, saw run down house after run down house and even empty houses I wondered what municipality they were talking about. What I saw was what only could be described as faded glory and roads so bad they should be embarrassed. I could not believe how bad the road surfaces were once you hit Wynnewood and east. One would think Lower Merion was actually very poor given the conditions of the roads and lack of mowing of township owned lands like parks.

Neighborhood after neighborhood throughout Lower Merion have streets where multiple houses are for sale. And it's not just the spring market. There are too many. People are getting out because they have realized the fairy tale of the Magic Kingdom isn't all it is cracked up to be

Lower Merion is looking dumpy. And there the ruling majority sits wanting to layer on as many development plans and zoning districts as possible. They continue to raise the township manageer's salary as the residents continue to struggle.

And oh yes, crime. Civic associations are sending out newsletters asking people to be more aware, get dogs and one even said if residents didn't like dogs they should get "Beware of Dogs" signs. Residents in Lower Merion are increasingly afraid of a rise in violent crimes and freaky scary burglaries which occur when residents are home. Leaving Lower Merion (and I was not in the most Eastern end) reduced my car insurance alone by hundreds of dollars. Is that just because of the close proximity to Philadelphia or is it something else?

There are many fine individuals who work for Lower Merion Township, do not misunderstand me, but can it be said it smells rotton at the top? The cheerleaders are working hard to ensure that Cleland continues to live the high life on the backs of Lower Merion residents. Take for example this ditty making the rounds:

Manager’s Contract:
There is a lot of misinformation about Doug Cleland’s proposed contract and with it some aspersions against his honesty and integrity. I admit that until I became Commissioner, I didn’t know much about him or his job. Since that time, I have come to believe that whether you agree with him or not, he is the consummate professional not only in this township, but also in all the surrounding 14 municipalities.
Doug Cleland makes a good living. His salary and benefits total about $250,000. Does he make more than the Governor of Pennsylvania or Mayor of Philadelphia? Yes he does, but then again he is a professional manager not an attorney who has already made his money.

I would ask you to consider two points: If you analyze compensation in our area, the salary closest to Lower Merion is in Radnor where they pay their manager $180,000 per year. This is for a township that’s only 1/3 the size of ours. If Radnor was the same size as Lower Merion the pro rated compensation would be $540k. Which township has the better value?

The second point is that Manager Cleland makes the same amount of money, after adjusting for inflation, as his predecessor made over 10 years ago! His proposed new contract, is essentially revenue neutral. Any additional money he makes is offset by the additional costs he pays for his health care coverage. I’m sure you will be hearing more about the pros and cons of his contract. In the meantime I know I sleep better at night knowing he’s on the job.

Nice try but you can't compare Radnor to Lower Merion. And if Radnor was the size of Lower Merion I doubt very much the salary would be $540K. Radnor is actually functioning again. And they have a manager who is not only friendly and accessible, but he gives a crap about his township...and he lives there, modestly.

And let's talk about Cleland's predecessor. That was the manager who literally just disappeared one day. Why? Why did David C. Latshaw just all but vanish? Why did the public never hear why? There were whispers, but what really happened?

Doug Cleland is not accessible to the public, and why should it be so difficult to connect with a township manager? Cleland isn't God, he works for the taxpayers, yet in Lower Merion it is so bass ackwards it is like the taxpayers work for the township and him.

Image and video hosting by TinyPicResidents have stopped coming first in Lower Merion. The irony is the ruling majority claimed they would do that many moons ago if they came to power. But instead, they have just sucked Lower Merion lower. And is the township at the end of the day actually being run from the outside in? After all with Mark Taylor as the King of Lower Merion Democrats what else can you expect?

The only thing "First Class" about Lower Merion these days are the taxes...as in First Class Expensive. And what of the services? Are people really getting what they need?

For more than 30 years I called Lower Merion home. But the Lower Merion I left is but a shadow of the Lower Merion I grew up with.

And oh yes, maybe all should read Rosemary C. McDonough's column:

ROSMARY MCDONOUGH: Why does Cleland make more than the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court?

Published: Tuesday, May 01, 2012

While we taxpayers have been struggling through this recession, Cleland’s base salary has increased 50 percent....What’s changed is not the need for service. What’s changed is the price tag for those who serve. I’m talking about Doug Cleland, the Lower Merion Township manager, whose proposed total compensation for the next two years, including base salary, an 8-percent tax-deferred contribution from the township, and an 8-percent longevity bonus, is over $275,000 per year. While we taxpayers have been struggling through this recession, his base salary has increased 50 percent in six years.

Mr. Cleland’s contract, which usually provides an annual raise regardless of his performance, includes a car, and allows him to take time off in the middle of the day because he often works nights. Sweet....Let me tell you what this column is not. This column is not a personal attack on Doug Cleland. I have never met the man. This column is not a criticism of Mr. Cleland’s performance. I have no reason to think that it is not satisfactory. This column is not an attempt to discredit the hard work it takes to run a complex and upscale community like Lower Merion. I appreciate that this is a challenging job.

This column is a criticism of the process by which our elected Lower Merion Township commissioners, spanning several decades and both parties, have allowed us to get to this totally indefensible juncture, with virtually no input from the community, because their complete lack of transparency has made such input impossible.

This paper has already reported that Mr. Cleland earns more than the mayor of Philadelphia or the governor of Pennsylvania. But the list goes on. Mr. Cleland also makes more money than members of Congress ($169,300), the Speaker of the House ($217,400) or the Supreme Court justices of the United States ($208,000).

There has been much fuss over Mr. Cleland’s compensation. Why is it so much higher than those of other township managers? Is it legal? Should it be retroactive?

But I have just one question for board president Liz Rogan and her like-minded colleagues. Please justify why a local management position – funded by and designed to serve local taxpayers – pays more than the chief justice of the United States. We’re all ears.

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politeia's picture
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Insanity combined with absurdity creates a parallel universe.

That insane and absurd (and yes, corrupt) parallel universe is Lower Merion government "leadership".

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Brotherhood of Thieves ~ As we must account for every idle word, so must we account for every idle silence.

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What are the surrounding 14 municipalities? I only count 9.

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politeia's picture
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I think you might be missing the forest for the trees Eye-wink

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Brotherhood of Thieves ~ As we must account for every idle word, so must we account for every idle silence.

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You can't have a forest without trees ! Smiling

No seriously, that sticks out at me. Who wrote that blurb, and what do they consider worth mentioning as the "surrounding 14 municipalities?" Is there some organization or club called the Fourteen Municipalities? Do they have pay standards for management? The writer is making the case that management pay should be evaluated in the context of this group of 14.

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politeia's picture
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What I would first like to know is which commissioner sent that email out? Let's hear it Carla. This is a public official sending a public email. It's public information.

As for 14 or 9 municipalities, to me the point is moot when Cleland makes far, far more than any township manager in the entire state.

Whether it is 14 or 9, this commissioner does not address the fact that Cleland makes 30% and more than any of those township managers.

The argument that Cleland should make $540,000 a year because LMT is three times the size of RT is idiotic (again why I want to know which commissioner this is).

Let's apply that logic to the governor and the size of the state using the governor's salary pro-rated to Cleland's based on square miles managed.

LMT is 24 square miles. PA is 46,000 square miles. The PA governor makes $180,000 a year.

Pro-rated on the governor's salary based on square miles managed, Cleland should make $94 a year (you can make the same argument against Cleland for number of citizens in the township compared to the state, number of employees managed compared to the governor, size of budgets managed - they all show an extremely excessive pay for Cleland).

Paying Cleland something less than the $180k the governor makes would make sense. The second highest paid township manager is RT's Bob Z. at $180k (30% below Cleland). You ask me, RT got it right by making sure their township manager does not make more than the governor. Any more is a huge slap in the face to taxpayers.

So which commissioner sent out that idiotic email?

=================

Brotherhood of Thieves ~ As we must account for every idle word, so must we account for every idle silence.

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carla's picture
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politeia - I had more than one civic association member from civics at the eastern end of Lower Merion send me their newsletters/updates. The verbiage was in these newsletters/updates. The presidents of the civics in the eastern end of Lower Merion would have to fess up who fed them the language. The only one I don't suspect of the kabal is Jane Dellheim because she's just too dumb. Should we consider say Daniel Bernheim or Brian McGuire? Maybe new political czar Mark Taylor provided the language? Pick a scoundrel.

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"Well behaved women rarely make history" - Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

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I have always wondered how the Township Manager's compensation was arrived at. It's comforting to know that it's because "he is not an attorney who has already made his money". That makes so much sense! Why didn't I think of that? And now another mystery is solved. He is paid $11,458.00 per square mile. How brilliantly simple. Radnor is really getting ripped off by paying their Manager $12,857.00 per square mile! We have such great leadership here. Sleep well taxpayer.

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Lexo and everybody,

Anyone know which Lower Merion Commissioner, or Commissioners' ghost writer, wrote "that blurb"?   

Maybe he or she, or Liz Rogan or Doug Cleland, could elucidate the boundary criteria and logic by which someone determined that Lower Merion is "surrounded" by 14 municipalities, for purposes of evaluating the level of Lower Merion Township Manager Cleland's base salary + benefits.

I admit that until I became Commissioner, I didn’t know much about him or his job. Since that time, I have come to believe that whether you agree with him or not, he is the consummate professional not only in this township, but also in all the surrounding 14 municipalities.

Doug Cleland makes a good living. His salary and benefits total about $250,000. Does he make more than the Governor of Pennsylvania or Mayor of Philadelphia? Yes he does, but then again he is a professional manager not an attorney who has already made his money.

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onmyown highlighted a Lower Merion Commissioner's "logical" justification for why our Township Manager is entitled to make a higher salary than other public servants, such as the Mayor of Philadelphia and the Governor of PA, and for why therefore (as is also implictly being argued), it makes logical sense for the Board of Commissioners to vote to approve Manager Cleland's new contract that comes with yet another salary increase. 

The Commissioner argues that the salary and benefits level make sense because  Doug Cleland "is not an attorney who has already made his money."

The logic and the attendant situation increasingly sound like something Seth Meyers might put in his Saturday Night Live Weekend Update, doesn't it? 

Could some Lower Merion Commissioners secretly be hoping to make their own legenday marks by being featured on Saturday Night Live for the kind of stuff they are willing to float by Lower Merion citizens to justify their votes?   Maybe Carla's lampoons have inspired them to shoot for attention on national tv.  

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LMT Observer's picture
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Problem:

  • Township Manager Cleland doesn't make as much as some lawyers do.

Possible Solutions?

  1. Continue to use the taxes paid by about 58,000 Lower Merion citizens to pay him more than the Mayor of Philadelphia, the Governor of Pennsylvania, the Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, etc., or
  2. Put his amassed fund of deferred compensation plus future Township contributions to it into a law school fund for him; include in his new contract paid personal days to study for, and take, the LSAT so that he can have the opportunity to make as much as some lawyers do by being a lawyer, not Lower Merion Township Manager, or
  3. Sum the Township Solicitor's salary and the Township Manager's salary, divide by two and pay each the same.   That way, Mr. Cleland's salary will be closer to a  lawyer's salary and Lower Merion citizens finally will be relieved of the concern that they are paying the Township lawyer, Gil High, who has had ample years to make a lawyer's salary from Lower Merion Township taxpayers, a lawyer's salary to spend most of his time during Board of Commissioner meetings doing billable work for other clients, updating his Facebook photos, etc., on his laptop.      
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The more this observer thinks about The Commissioner's justification for keeping Township Manager Cleland's salary high as it is and also continuing on an upward trajectory,  the more convinced this observer is that it makes sense for Lower Merion citizens to conclude:    Some of our Commissioners, those who want to publicly justify a "yay," as in "yesindeedee!," vote for the Manager's new contract and salary, have entered a parallel thought and value universe, like politeia posited.  And they are hoping to pull  Lower Merion citizens' sentiment and thought into orbit along with them.     

For example, the logic implicit in the Commissioner's blurb is that Lower Merion taxpayers should subsidize the current LM Manager's salary so that his career earnings while employed by LMT are closer to what someone who chose a potentially higher paying profession, like law, might make over the course of his or her career.   Is this logic a 21st century suburban tortured twist on the earlier idea of subsidies to farmers?   

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politeia's picture
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The lawyer argument by those who support Cleland’s outrageous pay is not only a red herring, but it still shows Cleland making far, far more than your average lawyer.

The Median Lawyer salary in Philadelphia is $139k a year and for the state it is $120k a year.

Sure, some lawyers make a lot more, but those lawyers are winning large legal settlements and driving tons of revenue for their firms. Cleland does not produce any revenue that exceeds costs – he doesn’t even come close.

So judges in PA (excluding DJ’s) make more than the average lawyer, yet far less than Cleland (and Supreme Court justices in PA and on SCOTUS make much less than Cleland).

Let’s not forget that township solicitor Gil High makes well over $300K a year from the taxpayers of Lower Merion. Why is this when the median lawyer salary in Philly is $139k a year?

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Brotherhood of Thieves ~ As we must account for every idle word, so must we account for every idle silence.

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bc59's picture
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That quote came from Rick Churchill's website 

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politeia's picture
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Glad professional teacher Churchill is not teaching Lower Merion children with that inane "logic".

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Brotherhood of Thieves ~ As we must account for every idle word, so must we account for every idle silence.

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Hugh Gordon's picture
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I'm curious about who came up with the talking points.  I can think of a couple of plausible candidates.

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Doug Cleland, also, makes a lot more than than the Forgotten Taxpayers who are forced to pay him:

The median income for a household in the township $114,608 and the median income for a family was $148,123 estimated as of 2007.

From Lower Merion web site Census Information: The per capita income for the township was $55,526. About 1.9% of families and 4.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including 2.8% of those under age 18 and 5.6% of those ages 65 or over.

 

Rosemary McDonough's excellent op-ed is worth reading carefully.

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