UPTFC, town­ship con­tinue feud

Chief ex­pelled; com­mis­sioner re­moved from com­mit­tee

The Community Connection - - FRONT PAGE - By Evan Brandt ebrandt@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @PottstownNews on Twit­ter

UP­PER POTTSGROVE » The in­creas­ing fric­tion be­tween the Up­per Pottsgrove Board of Com­mis­sion­ers and the Up­per Pottsgrove Town­ship Fire Com­pany is tak­ing its toll.

The fire chief has been “ex­pelled,” mem­ber­ship is down by 70 per­cent since Jan­uary and on Aug. 20, the board voted 3-2 to re­move Com­mis­sioner Martin Schreiber from the fire com­mit­tee.

Schreiber and Com­mis­sioner El­wood Tay­lor voted no, with Com­mis­sion­ers’ Pres­i­dent Trace Slink­erd, Vice Pres­i­dent France Kraza­lkovich and Com­mis­sioner Re­nee Spaide vot­ing yes.

The fire com­mit­tee, which has mem­bers of the fire com­pany and the board of com­mis­sion­ers, acts as a com­mu­ni­ca­tions link be­tween the two groups.

Slink­erd made the mo­tion to re­move Schreiber with no more warn­ing than, as Tay­lor de­scribed it, “four words on the agenda — con­sider fire com­mit-

tee or­ga­ni­za­tion.”

“I have no doc­u­ment in front of me. If there is an is­sue, I’d like to see it flushed out. I would like to see some data in front of me,” Tay­lor said.

Tay­lor said the board had not dis­cussed the mat­ter in ad­vance — as is Slink­erd’s stated pref­er­ence be­fore vot­ing.

But Kraza­lkovich and Slink­erd both said the mat­ter was dis­cussed at the May 21 meet­ing.

The min­utes of that meet­ing in­di­cate that Kraza­lkovich made a mo­tion, sec­onded by Spaide, “to draft a let­ter of no con­fi­dence in the cur­rent oper­a­tional lead­er­ship of the fire com­pany.”

That mo­tion was ul­ti­mately with­drawn, but at the same meet­ing, Slink­erd said Schreiber “has var­i­ous roles and (Slink­erd) be­lieves he can­not be ob­jec­tive when it comes to mak­ing de­ci­sions re­gard­ing the fire com­pany,” ac­cord­ing to the min­utes.

The May 21 meet­ing was also where the com­mis­sion­ers voted unan­i­mously to ask the state to un­der­take a study of the town­ship’s fire ser­vices at no cost to the town­ship.

Af­ter Slink­erd made his mo­tion, Schreiber asked him why he was “in a rush” to re­move him and did not wait for the fire study. He did not get a pub­lic an­swer.

Later, af­ter the meet­ing, Slink­erd told Dig­i­tal First Me­dia he did not wait for the fire study to weight in be­cause “that study is about op­er­a­tions and equip­ment. This is about the board of com­mis­sion­ers.”

Ac­cord­ing to the “let­ter of in­tent” filed with the Penn­syl­va­nia Depart­ment of Com­mu­nity and Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment, which will over­see the study con­ducted by a con­sul­tant, ar­eas ex­am­ined in the study will in­clude:

• The fire com­pany’s “abil­ity to sat­is­fac­to­rily re­spond

to and ex­tin­guish fires as these tasks re­late to gen­er­ally ac­cepted fire-fight­ing stan­dards.”

• The scope of the as­sess­ment will in­clude, “ad­min­is­tra­tive and oper­a­tional lead­er­ship, per­son­nel man­age­ment, train­ing, fa­cil­i­ties and equip­ment.”

• It will also re­view “sup­port­ing gov­er­nance doc­u­ments and or­ga­ni­za­tional struc­ture as well.”

• The study will also as­sess “fu­ture town­ship fire pro­tec­tion needs.”

On Aug. 20, Slink­erd told the au­di­ence the board of com­mis­sion­ers gets to ap­point two mem­bers of the fire com­mit­tee, one com­mis­sioner and one “mem­ber of the pub­lic at large.”

Un­til last night, those two mem­bers were Kraza­lkovich and Schreiber.

Town­ship So­lic­i­tor Charles D. Gar­ner Jr. said the me­moran­dum of un­der­stand­ing be­tween the town­ship and the fire com­pany sets no terms for the com­mis­sion­ers’ ap­point­ments to the fire com­pany and thus, “the power to ap­point is also the power to re­move.”

Slink­erd said Schreiber’s

re­place­ment will be se­lected at the Septem­ber meet­ing.

Asked by fire­fighter John DeMichael why he wanted Schreiber re­moved, Slink­erd said Schreiber has a “con­flict of in­ter­est.”

Asked why he thought that, Slink­erd replied “be­cause I think it is.”

How­ever, af­ter the meet­ing, he clar­i­fied he does not mean any­thing in­volv­ing money, as the phrase can of­ten sug­gest.

Rather, Slink­erd said, the fact that Schreiber is the vice pres­i­dent of the fire com­pany this year, and was pres­i­dent of the fire com­pany last year, and has been a mem­ber of the fire com­pany and the fire com­mit­tee from the first day he came on as a com­mis­sioner, cre­ates a con­flict for Schreiber as a com­mis­sioner in terms of which set of in­ter­ests he rep­re­sents.

Schreiber is “wear­ing so many dif­fer­ent hats, I’m not sure his re­spon­si­bil­i­ties as a com­mis­sioner are clear,” Slink­erd said.

For his part, Schrieber told Dig­i­tal First Me­dia he be­lieves the is­sue is about “per­son­al­i­ties.”

Hav­ing asked af­ter Slink­erd made his mo­tion why he was “in a rush” and did not wait for the fire study, Schreiber said at the end of the meet­ing that he was “ex­tremely dis­ap­pointed with the vote.”

“This is all re­lated to that no­to­ri­ous meet­ing in Jan­uary where buy­ing the new fire truck was voted down,” Schreiber told the com­mis­sion­ers.

At that meet­ing, the com­mis­sion­ers voted 3-2 against spend­ing $300,000 that was in the bud­get to buy a new truck that would have re­placed a 1983 pumper pur­chased from the North End Fire Com­pany in Pottstown and now so old that re­place­ment parts are nearly im­pos­si­ble to find.

At the time, Slink­erd said he had not been pro­vided with ad­e­quate in­for­ma­tion in ad­vance of the vote.

Out­side, af­ter the meet­ing Thomas Mat­tingly con­firmed that he has been “ex­pelled” as fire chief by the

fire com­pany board “be­cause of the let­ter.” Mat­tingly said will ap­peal the ex­pul­sion and said T.J. Wo­j­ton is now act­ing chief.

As Dig­i­tal First Me­dia re­ported last month, “the let­ter” to which Mat­tingly refers was one he wrote in May and sent to all com­mis­sion­ers, Pottstown Bor­ough Man­ager Justin Keller and former Pottstown fire chief Michael Les­sar, who has since re­signed for un­re­lated rea­sons.

In it, Mat­tingly com­plained about Les­sar, Kraza­lkovich, state Sen. Robert Men­sch, R-24th Dist., and a cap­tain in the West End Fire Com­pany dis­cussing Up­per Pottsgrove Fire Com­pany op­er­a­tions, re­sponse times and mu­tual aid, with­out get­ting in­put from Mat­tingly or other Up­per Pottsgrove fire­fight­ers.

In the let­ter, Mat­tingly called it “dis­heart­en­ing” that Kraza­lkovich, who is a mem­ber of the town­ship’s fire com­mit­tee, would seek

an­swers re­gard­ing in­ci­dents he had al­ready asked Up­per Pottsgrove’s fire­fight­ers about.

“Those ques­tions have been an­swered and dis­cussed at length,” Mat­tingly wrote.

As the con­flict has dragged on, there are more losses than Mat­tingly’s po­si­tion as chief.

Schreiber told Dig­i­tal First Me­dia that at the be­gin­ning of the year, the fire com­pany had be­tween 30 to 35 vol­un­teers.

Since the fric­tion has be­gun and be­come more pub­lic “we’re down to about 10, said Schreiber. “This could have a real im­pact on fire safety in the town­ship.”

“The lack of sup­port from some of the com­mis­sion­ers is drain­ing our vol­un­teer base and keep­ing peo­ple from want­ing to join our com­pany,” DeMichael said.

This story first ap­peared as a post in The Dig­i­tal Note­book blog.

DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA FILE PHOTO

Up­per Pottsgrove Fire Com­pany and the town­ship’s ad­min­is­tra­tive of­fices share the same build­ing at 1409 Farm­ing­ton Ave.

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