Barnard House spurs rancor, pleas for calm

A hastily-scheduled meeting by the Pocopson Township Board of Supervisors involving the Barnard House created discord before it even started on Monday morning at 8:30 a.m.

Pocopson Township Supervisors Ricki Stumpo (from left), Georgia Brutscher, and Barney Leonard listen to public comment from the five residents who attended Monday morning's supervisors' meeting.

Pocopson Township Supervisors Ricki Stumpo (from left), Georgia Brutscher, and Barney Leonard listen to public comment from the five residents who attended Monday morning's supervisors' meeting.

Several residents who have raised questions about the township’s efforts to repurpose the historic building felt the meeting represented an attempt to prevent dissent.

Resident Sean Rafferty submitted an email that he asked to be read at the meeting, but it was not mentioned. “There is no reason why these issues could not have been addressed at the meeting on the 17th,” Rafferty wrote. “Furthermore, it's obvious that this meeting was scheduled at a time when most folks are unable to attend.”

Alice Balsama, who is running unopposed for a supervisor’s seat, also expressed dissatisfaction in an email. She called the impromptu meeting a poor decision by Supervisors’ Chairman Barney Leonard and Supervisor Georgia Brutscher that “intentionally omits the taxpaying township residents from the public process,” fueling the mistrust that has surfaced at recent meetings.

Once a stop on the Underground Railroad, the Barnard House is being renovated for use as the township municipal building and the home of the Kennett Underground Railroad Center, a project that has become increasingly contentious. Some residents have raised concerns about shoddy workmanship, ineffective oversight, and spiraling costs, and some township employees have expressed fears that the space isn’t well-suited to township administration.

Brutscher said Monday’s meeting was requested by the Barnard House Steering Committee so that the supervisors could approve work groups and a change order for an exterior railing. She said the railing takes 90 days to fabricate and one of the work groups wanted to meet later in the week.

Supervisor Ricki Stumpo said she failed to see the urgency, and resident Holly Manzone said that even if the supervisors aren’t trying to stifle discord, they exacerbated it by creating that impression.

Manzone said that she has not heard from anyone in the township who doesn’t want the Barnard House preserved. However, a number of her neighbors have concerns that the township’s earned-income tax (EIT) “is a Barnard House tax.”

Lauressa McNemar, a member of the Barnard House Steering Committee, responded that such a perception is “absolutely incorrect. The EIT was put in place long before we even started Phase 1” of the project. “The cost of this project is not imposing any new taxes,” she said.

Manzone suggested that listening to everyone’s input would be the best way to move forward. “We may be on the same page,” she said. “We’re a family here; let’s work like a family.”

Jean Conary, a member of the Barnard House Steering Committee, echoed the sentiments of several of the 10 people in the room when she suggested that “a few very aggressive, very negative residents who have agendas of their own” have caused the tensions.

Carol Haaf, another member of the steering committee, concurred. “We are not behaving like a family,” she said, pointing out that some of the rude behavior was not “a reflection of the total community.”

Resident Susan Woodward noted that the more obstacles are placed in front of the committee by a small group, the more that delays will increase the project’s costs. “We really need to move ahead and get this done,” she said.

Manzone stressed that doing so without making sure all voices are heard would be a mistake. Some of her impassioned comments followed Leonard’s announcement that a two-hour, question-and-answer session on Sept. 21 to address residents’ concerns about the Barnard House would not happen.

The suggestion to hold the forum came from Elaine DiMonte, who is also running unopposed for supervisor. Leonard and DiMonte were supposed to work out the logistics, but he said, “Right out of the starting blocks, it got ugly, and it’s a shame.” He accused DiMonte of “political hysterics” and said the township was proposing a web-based or letter-based campaign instead.

“I would like to see it stay public,” said Supervisor Ricki Stumpo, who has consistently voted against advancing the Barnard House project until some of the questions are answered. “I think it’s very important that people see each other face to face.”

Manzone pressed her plea that “the people need to have their voices heard,” and suggested that a survey might help the supervisors determine residents’ views.

Leonard said he thought the idea had merit, and he agreed to table a decision on the Q&A session until the Aug. 17 meeting and to add the survey to that agenda.

Brutscher and Leonard voted to approve the $9,360 railing, an increase in the cost of approximately $1,800 that will be paid by the Kennett Underground Railroad Center. Stumpo said she believed the item should have been re-bid.

The work committees were approved unanimously. The construction work group will include architect Dennis Melton, a Phase Two project manager who has not yet been named, Leonard, Conary, Scott Megill, and Don McKay, along with two consultants, John O’Neal from the Kennett Underground Railroad and Karen Marshall from the Chester County Planning Commission. Brutscher, Woodward, and Ellen Muenter were appointed to the finishing work group.

Contacted after the meeting, DiMonte applauded the use of a survey. “I'm delighted there is discussion of using this type of technology to obtain residents’ input on such an important topic,” she said in an email.  “I do believe a Q&A session is still warranted as there are many questions which may not be included on such a survey.”

Calling the members of the Steering Committee passionate and well-informed, DiMonte said she did not understand the apparent resistance to providing answers on topics such as the financial impact – now and later – grants, and usability.

“As a potential new supervisor, it is extremely important to me to fully understand the details of this project and specifically understand the financial impact to Pocopson as we head into the future,” DiMonte wrote.




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One Response to “Barnard House spurs rancor, pleas for calm”

  1. Pocopson Resident says:

    Remember Barney Leonard was not elected by the people of Pocopson Township. He was appointed to fill a vacancy and his appointment was done very quietly and with not much public input. My suggestion would be for the residents of Pocopson Township to petition Gov. Tom Wolf for his and Georgia Brutscher’s removal from office as the residents have asked numerously for the supervisors to show they are accountable to the tax payers by, answering questions pertaining to the Barnard House and they don’t. Remember they work for us as tax payers and should answer to us.

    We have done what is in our power as tax payers by appearing at meetings, writing letters, and voicing concerns, yet they continue to do what they want and ignore us. It is now time to get someone else involved that can help us. The governor is our only option for removal as this is a serious problem for the township. It is unethical and borders on criminal activity that they would create a park in order to get grant money to fund the work at the Barnard House. Why don’t they call the grant The Barnard House Grant? Why is it called the Wawaset Park Grant? Because they would not have gotten the money otherwise. And if it is a park grant, why isn’t it managed by the Parks, Recreation and Trails Committee? Taking $250,000 from the Commonwealth Financing Authority was immoral in the way it was done.

    It is time to stop these two before it is too late.

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