Declaring an emergency

What’s it like being someone in charge- at any level- having to make decisions about the health and welfare of our entire community?

This week I found out.

Last week, I started talking with a client of mine about the steps we needed to take to make sure all the residents at a local senior community were safe. They asked for my help for talking through what we needed to do about upcoming primary elections, where these communities serve as a polling place for residents and people in the surrounding area.

I made calls to our County Commissioners to bring the issue up and our concerns. We set up a meeting with voter services. And we brain-stormed decisions that would allow the greatest access to everyone but also keep non-residents off of the campus, to keep everyone there well.

A day later, we were talking about steps for social distancing in the Township office, procedures for our emergency responders, and how to communicate this all out to everyone in the community. Cancelling all meetings and non-essential services on Wednesday seemed like it might be over-reacting, but when they closed Broadway and Disney on Thursday, I knew we had made the right decision and did it in a timely fashion.

We shared what we were doing with neighboring municipalities, and have offered to help them if we can. Small things matter now, like helping to get the word out when things change, or new restrictions are in place.

Our County commissioners declared a disaster yesterday, Friday the 13th, as the Governor closed schools, and we followed suit, declaring a state of emergency in the Township. This basically paves the way for inter-governmental cooperation and doing what we need to do to make sure everyone is cared for appropriately. We’re not entirely sure what that’s going to mean. I think we all know we’re in uncharted territory here.

Without a clear plan and rules coming down from higher up in the Federal Government, we’re taking actions on the local and County level to make the best decisions possible to keep the most number of people healthy as we start to see community spread of the virus. Things will continue to change and we’re doing our best to keep everyone updated as we learn more.


Preparedness means being ready for whatever comes. You can do this with advanced planning, because even if you have to riff in unexpected circumstances, at least you have a baseline plan as a point of reference. We have that, and that’s good news.

How is it- emotionally?

We had a crisis that started almost a year ago, when we found one of the township employees was stealing money. That led to many changes in our township that actually have us in much better shape to withstand a storm- including very strong leadership. I feel like we’re in great shape with all the hard decisions we’ve made in the past 10 months, and that has me feeling very relieved.

I’m glad I’m here to really help my community when it needs it most. We need to all work together. Knowing that when I call the county commissioners- and tell them what we’re worried about or what we need- and they called me right back and listened. We talked through the issue and they are working on solutions. As long as we all stay in sync, things will go well.

But I want to DO Something….

The most frustrating thing sometimes in a case like this, there’s not much you can do- it’s not like a snow storm where you can help shovel people out, or I can make sure the road crew is fed when they’re working overtime to keep roads clear and safe. In fact, what we’re all supposed to do is basically hunker down like there is a snow storm, stay put, and avoid each other like the plague. (A turn of phrase with new meaning now, of course.) At least in a snowstorm, I could make cookies and hot chocolate for the neighbor kids sledding in our backyard. Now it’s making hand sanitizer and staying put.

Please do your part during this unprecedented situation. Stay at home as much as possible. Keep your kids at home. Do what you can to help others- if you have to drop something off, drop it on the porch.

There will be plenty of people who think this is silly and overblown. But we all need to pull together to make this work. If we don’t want a mandated shut down that will last longer, we need to do what we can now- and that means listening to guidelines and following them. It also means being kind and helpful to our neighbors, and we’ll get through this.

I’ll keep you all informed on social media of the latest news and updates as we get them. And most of all- stay safe and healthy.


Parenting Young Adults

I just read a great blog post by my friend, C.C. Chapman on parenting his kids as they become young adults. CC is also teaching at a college in Boston, so he has a great perspective on mentoring young people as they start to deal, gradually, with the expectations of the adult world.

It took a long time for me to develop a more adult- to-adult relationship with my own parents- and I think I only got there sometime in my mid-40’s. That wasn’t what I wanted for my relationship with my kids, so I’ve had to look at what I say to them, and how they hear it as well.

For example, there are times I catch myself doling out advice- sometimes it’s a to-do list, sometimes it’s a way to handle an issue- and I hear my mom in my ear. And I remember how that stuff felt like a lecture and a criticism, not always like help- even if that’s all she intended. So when I hear that, I try to stop myself and say: “Hey, I realize that when I am talking to you about this stuff, it may sound way different coming from me because I am your mom. I respect that you need to manage these things on your own, and I’m trying to help – but I also know it can sound like a lecture. I don’t mean it that way- I just want to help you in any way I can and make things easier for you if I can.” Sometimes I even add “When I’m bugging you X, that’s because this stuff has a direct impact on me, and I’m dealing with my anxieties and worries when I ask you to do this stuff, maybe before you think it’s really necessary. Please help me manage my stuff by doing x. “

This level of self-insight has really made the relationships with my kids much better during this time.

I remember trying to be my own person at that age, but still being dependent; trying to figure things out, and not wanting to admit I didn’t have a plan in place; Hoping things would magically work out and what I really needed was a dose of reality. But I also remember being afraid to admit it to my parents, because I never really believed that I wouldn’t look like a failure to them if I did.

The biggest gift I hope I can give my kids is a sense that I love them unconditionally. That whatever happens, we can deal with it- big or small. If they want different things than I want for them, that’s a-ok. I’ve even had the “Hey, if you don’t want to finish college, I will admit I will be disappointed, but I understand this is your life, and you need to make the decision that’s right for you, and I respect that.” Saying even the tough things- identifying the elephants in the room and discussing them openly- has helped build our relationship and trust level, and that’s what’s really important to me.

So much of early parenting is being a superhero to your kids- perfect and invincible. But as they grow, they need to see aspects of real life through you as well. Disappointments, failures, joy, celebrations, navigating difficult relationships with others, simple pleasures being good enough- all of it. Being perfect and strong was easy when they were little, but as they hit their own growing pains, they need to know life is about how you react to the tough stuff, and that we’ve got a family team here ready and willing to help, no matter what.

I love my kids, and who they are becoming. But I love that we’re getting through a lot of things by having built a base of trust , so when they are ready to talk, they know I will listen, and not try to just take over, fix or otherwise make their problem mine. It’s time to let them handle their own issues, with Matt and me acting as cheerleaders from the sidelines, offering help when we can. They need to feel the pleasure and pride that comes from getting through a rough patch and learning a lot along the way. And nothing’s better than seeing them succeed .


Politics and Politicians

Right now, people are getting ready to run for office in local elections.

Here in PA, this means County, Township and Borough positions will need to be filled. The primary and general election turnout in “off-years” like this one have the lowest turnouts, but people in these positions have the largest effect on your daily life. These are the folks who are in charge of making sure the roads are maintained, the Library is funded, planning for projects like fixing dangerous intersections or whether that new housing development meets all the codes and will fit into the community, just to name a few. Their decisions will affect how efficiently paperwork gets processed in the Courts, the direction of economic development, the preservation and use of open space, and, of course, how are schools are run- and these examples are just the tip of the iceberg.

While a lot of attention is being paid to the folks lining up to run for President, remember how important it is for those folks to understand how Government works at the very lowest levels.

My objections to the celebrities and billionaires thinking about running for office has more to do with the fact tat they understand very little about Government in the first place, although like all of us, they certainly have their opinions about it.

The first thing everyone should realize is that Government is a fiduciary responsibility. It’s not a for-profit or even a non-profit enterprise- it is a public trust. That means we all agree to pool our resources (taxes) and give it to the Government entity in the hopes that our daily needs will be met on the macro-community level. Government needs to be a responsible steward of those tax dollars, making investments in the community infrastructure so we can go about our daily lives and not think about it too much.

At our Township level, that means making sure we have a plan in place for how our community is predicted to grow into the next 15-20 years, and trying to make decisions now about how we’re spending tax dollars to meet not only today’s needs but those out as far as we can see. It can be about preservation of land for parks, schools, and simply as open space, to prevent our area from becoming a giant strip mall. But it’s also about looking at what sort of growth can be expected, and making sure when we take on a project, such as fixing a dangerous intersection, we look at changes with that anticipated growth in mind.

Just think how many times we’ve seen road projects and thought- that’s going to be outmoded as soon as they’re finished? The job of government is to take all available data, and try to predict the future, making the best possible decision- but also not over-plan or over develop- because this stuff is expensive, and no one wants to see their taxes go up.

The decisions have to be made to benefit every citizen- not just the rich or the poor. Improving sidewalks and ways to get from Point A to Point B, for example, help connect a community together and make it more accessible to everyone- and that’s a quality of life improvement that benefits the community as a whole, just like having a great school benefits all the families, but also helps hold steady and even increase property values over time.

I’m skeptical of the business moguls wanting to get into politics, because they just don’t have the experience to understand how regulations aren’t about slowing down business, they are about making sure there are decent guardrails in place to help shape the development and growth of an entire community- and making sure our futures aren’t compromised by the eagerness to make a profit in this quarter or the next.

The horizons for government success can be measured in years and decades. And that kind of long term planning and careful management is not what these folks are really known for- they are known for looking for ways to make things profitable- but they aren’t always looking at the long term preservation and investment that is part of Government’s duty to each and everyone of us.

I admire the successful entrepreneur. I congratulate them heartily. But I would love to see them have some true experience of working in Government at a local level where the decisions are sometimes difficult, and it’s literally where the rubber meets the road. Then I would have some faith that they really understand what Government is all about. It’s not about letting a developer streamline the approval process for their next project, it’s making sure the next project is something that will benefit the community long term. And that’s a crucial difference that I expect everyone running for office to understand.

While it’s “sexy” to run for a high visibility office, the bottom line is that government is complicated, and requires a seriousness of purpose to do the job, not just attract attention and applause. If all you want is attention, I suggest show business or stand up comedy. Take up blogging. How about becoming a Youtube or Instagram star? You can get all the attention you want, and the rest of us won’t have to live with the consequences of your lack of understanding of the responsibility that goes along with being an elected official. It is a huge responsibility to be in charge of the future of your community or country, and it deserves to be taken with the utmost seriousness.

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What I want in a Candidate

I had lunch with a good friend the other day, and we naturally started talking about politics. This happens a lot, especially since I am technically a politician.

As a local elected official, I *guess* I’m a politician by definition or default, but I can’t say I’m comfortable with that term, given what many of the elected folks in DC are like. I’ve often felt that way about being a lawyer as well- there are many folks in the profession who give all attorneys a black eye, and it doesn’t feel fair to be tarnished by their bad actions, just because I went to law school and passed the bar.

Anyway, we started to talk about other statewide and national political figures, and we agreed on a couple of core things:

-The people we liked the most were those that seemed comfortable in their own skin and authentic to who they were, even if they weren’t perfect. The ones who sound like everything they say is a talking point, sound bite, or poll-tested catch phrase are the ones we trust the least.

-You can hear whether or not they believe what they say in their voice. Hey, I can’t stand Rick Santorum, for example, but at least I know that he believes everything he says, because you can hear the conviction in his voice. Marco Rubio, by contrast, sounds like he has never been off a tele-prompter in his life. Everything he says seems vaguely robotic and pre-screened for his voter’s (or the party’s) pleasure.

-The “new” faces in the Democratic party need to understand this. If you look at why people love Joe Biden, Chris Coons, Julian Castro, or even Bernie Sanders, it’s because they always are giving it to you straight. As much as I love many of the things Elizabeth Warren stands for, her delivery just sounds like she’s talking to a class of very adorable yet slow elementary school children.

-What’s happening in DC is so incredibly toxic, yet has such far reaching implications, it’s more important than ever to stay involved and make a difference. That means helping elect local candidates you believe in, especially in off-off year elections like those happening locally in 2019. Get to know the folks who are running to be your councilmen, supervisors, prothonotaries, clerks of court, etc. Canvass for them. Invite them over to meet your neighbors and ask them questions. These folks do more to affect your day to day life than many people higher up the political food chain, so help make sure the good folks end up in offices where they can really make a difference.

Remember these things, and the life you can improve will be your own.

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Blogging For Myself

I have about 10 blog posts here in draft form, things I’ve written because I just needed to get them out of my system, but things I’m not sure are ready for prime time, so to speak.

The problem with being elected to office- even a small local office, is that I feel I’m on stage more of the time. When I asked a group about how they got their news, one of them remarked they just checked out my Facebook page. While that’s great on many levels, it does make me think more about the impact of my posts and that there are always potential consequences to being as freewheeling as I have been in the past.

The current President and his twitter habits have made it painfully clear that taking to social media any time you have a petty disagreement or frustration can lead into dangerous territory. It’s something we should all think about a bit more. Finding the balance between unleashed Id and honest communication can be a challenge, especially for those of us who are writers by nature.

It’s Fall here in Southern Chester County- While it’s a few weeks before we finally feel a chill in the air and see leaves start to change, the quiet of having the kids back in college is starting to sink in, and the peace gives me more time to think.

I love my community. It’s full of people who care about each other, care about how to preserve what’s best in our community, and how to make changes that help us grow and be even better. Balancing growth and maintaining the things that make our community special isn’t easy. People are suspicious of change, but we need a bit of oxygen in order to keep things vibrant and alive.

One of the things we started a while ago was a project we call “Office Hours”. It was meant to be a bit of a stripped down business-oriented podcamp- with presentations that are about sharing information businesses need to know- social media trends, legal issues, banking opportunities that can save money- all the little things we’re supposed to keep up on, but that can get overwhelming.

From my point of view, this was meant as a light weight way to try economic development. It’s meant to support small business owners, and people considering opening up their own businesses, by providing that information you might not think about, but learning for an hour over breakfast or drinks is a decent investment of time and effort. It’s also let small business owners get together and meet each other, and that’s helped to draw our community together as well.

I look at many of these things as experimental- something to try, and if does well, we’ll do more. If it doesn’t, we’ll try something else instead.  So far, between Office Hours and the Holiday Village, our experiments are continuing, in large part because people like them and want more things like this in the community- events, opportunities to get together, and exchanges of ideas that come from a place of giving, and finding ways to work together towards something bigger.

There are tons of ideas out there like this, and I love hearing about them all. Please comment, share your ideas, and together, we make communities all over better, one small experiment at a time.

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