Best of 2021: Seven stories from West Chester Twp. this year

West Chester Twp. made some inroads in 2021 in the years-long quest to satisfy seniors who demanded a gathering space, opened a new fire station and settled union contracts, earmarked federal COVID funds to fix aging infrastructure and had one of their meetings go viral after Trustee Lee Wong bared his chest.

Township uses federal COVID funds for aging infrastructure

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West Chester Twp. mulls ways to spend millions in federal COVID funding. FILE

West Chester Twp. mulls ways to spend millions in federal COVID funding. FILE
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West Chester Twp. mulls ways to spend millions in federal COVID funding. FILE

West Chester Twp. was allocated $6.6 million in ARP money, and the trustees agreed to spend a large amount of that on repairing aging storm sewers.

Finance Director Ken Keim told the Journal-News the priority for spending the windfall the township received from the federal government is to make repairs to the aging storm water system throughout the township. When he first learned about the new found cash he thought he would use it to replenish an estimated $640,000 in lost hotel tax revenue.

As more guidance has come down on what the money can be legally used to fund, he said reimbursing losses due to the pandemic isn’t as easy as it once sounded.

Trustee Ann Becker said it was a good use of the ARP funds. She said it isn’t “fancy” and nothing people will post on Instagram — unless storm sewers back up — but it is necessary.

“I think the use of this American Rescue Plan money to shore up our storm pipes is a good use of this money,” Becker said. “I still question whether or not this money should be handed out as freely as it is, I understand the thought behind it is a little frustrating but we’re using it in the right way.”

ExploreWest Chester Twp. plans to spend much of its federal rescue funds on aging infrastructure

Kroger saga finally over with no deal

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After two years of haggling with Kroger's landlord that ended in no deal the West Chester Twp. trustees plan to put the West Chester Activity Center on the market.

After two years of haggling with Kroger's landlord that ended in no deal the West Chester Twp. trustees plan to put the West Chester Activity Center on the market.
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After two years of haggling with Kroger's landlord that ended in no deal the West Chester Twp. trustees plan to put the West Chester Activity Center on the market.

The trustees have been haggling with Regency Centers since 2019 over the sale of the Activity Center on Cox Road for a giant Kroger Marketplace, the negotiating ended this year.

The trustees had a $1.8-million purchase agreement with Regency Centers so a giant Kroger Marketplace could be built, but the deal fell through in the summer of 2020. The trustees resumed meetings with Regency and Kroger this fall but Trustee Mark Welch said as far as he is concerned negotiations are over because they are still asking the township to pay for some of the necessary infrastructure improvements that could cost as much as $2 to $4 million.

“They basically want to come back for a redo with pretty much the same conditions and I’m going to say no, I’m not doing it, I’ll vote against it every time,” Welch said. “You know you guys had no skin in the game, you dragged this along and then because you thought it was going to impact your profitability you let the deal die.”

His fellow trustees concur and they plan to put the Cox Road property on the market next year.

ExploreWest Chester trustees table activity center sale, library expansion votes

Trustee baring chest at meeting goes viral

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West Chester Twp. Trustee Lee Wong gained national attention when he bared his chest during a meeting protesting racism.

Credit: Submitted

West Chester Twp. Trustee Lee Wong gained national attention when he bared his chest during a meeting protesting racism.
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West Chester Twp. Trustee Lee Wong gained national attention when he bared his chest during a meeting protesting racism.

Credit: Submitted

Credit: Submitted

West Chester Twp. Trustee Lee Wong’s anti-racism speech during a trustees meeting, which included him raising his shirt to expose scars from his service in the U.S. Army, went viral worldwide and sparked much debate.

Wong gave an impassioned speech and bared his chest during the March 23 meeting to show the vicious-looking scars he received during basic training in Fort Jackson in South Carolina.

“People question my patriotism, that I don’t look American enough, They can’t get over this face,” Wong said. “I want to show you something, I don’t have to live in fear, intimidation, insults ... Here is my proof, this is sustained from my service in the U.S. Army, is this patriot enough?”

The fact that the video went viral worldwide and was one of the top videos on YouTube for days astonished him.

“I was overwhelmed, it’s incredible I never believed things can go that fast,” Wong told the Journal-News. “I feel that, wow, I have done something here, that the message was very clear and I think people understand what I was saying.”

Wong said a culmination of things prompted his actions: the mass shooting in Atlanta in which six Asian women were killed; his friend’s Oriental Wok restaurant being vandalized several times; and all the times people have treated him with hostility. Another catalyst came when Fiscal Officer Bruce Jones referred to the coronavirus as the “China virus” at a meeting.

ExploreWho is Lee Wong? West Chester trustee gains worldwide attention for anti-racism actions during meeting

Township mulls expanding library for community gathering space

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The West Chester Twp. trustees are mulling building an addition on the MidPointe Library branch to include community gathering space. The township used $14 million TIF funds to build the library in 2009.

Credit: NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

The West Chester Twp. trustees are mulling building an addition on the MidPointe Library branch to include community gathering space. The township used $14 million TIF funds to build the library in 2009.
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The West Chester Twp. trustees are mulling building an addition on the MidPointe Library branch to include community gathering space. The township used $14 million TIF funds to build the library in 2009.

Credit: NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Credit: NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

A group of seniors ousted from the Activity Center two years ago have been begging the trustees to find them a location to meet and have programs, but township officials are still undecided.

Anne Holbrook is often a spokesperson for the group and she said “you’re going to have show some sign of goodwill.”

“I would like to see something that you’re willing to do, to show that you are willing to do something,” Holbrook said. “Something positive moving in the direction of your maturing community, you’ve got to start it now.”

The township has been considering three options to provide the seniors and others meeting space: renovating the Activity Center, installing heat and air conditioning in the Muhlhauser Barn so the seniors could use the lower level and the estimated $5.5 million MidPointe Library expansion.

The Activity Center doesn’t appear to be an option anymore because the trustees intend to put it on the market next year. They will be seeking engineering bids — they had one for $627,000 — as part of the 2022 budget process. The Barn hasn’t never been high on anyone’s list.

Nancy and Jack Williams spearheaded the group and she told the Journal-News they have “given up” on the trustees giving them a place to meet.

“We’ve pretty much given up on that,” she said about the Activity Center. “We absolutely love the Boys and Girls Club, we love the place, it’s awesome.”

ExploreWest Chester trustees divided on solving seniors’ space problem

Successful fire levy facilitates union negotiations

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West Chester Twp. fire department responded with mutual aid to a fire at the Meadow Ridge apartment complex, near Muhlhauser Road in West Chester, Monday, Mar. 20, 2017. Three people suffered smoke inhalation and up to 10 families will be displaced due to the fire. GREG LYNCH / STAFF

West Chester Twp. fire department responded with mutual aid to a fire at the Meadow Ridge apartment complex, near Muhlhauser Road in West Chester, Monday, Mar. 20, 2017. Three people suffered smoke inhalation and up to 10 families will be displaced due to the fire. GREG LYNCH / STAFF
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West Chester Twp. fire department responded with mutual aid to a fire at the Meadow Ridge apartment complex, near Muhlhauser Road in West Chester, Monday, Mar. 20, 2017. Three people suffered smoke inhalation and up to 10 families will be displaced due to the fire. GREG LYNCH / STAFF

The West Chester Twp. trustees and several unions agreed to new contracts that will cost taxpayers nearly $2.3 million.

The trustees approved the new contract with firefighters that included 3% raises in the first two years and 2.75% in the last, which mirrors percent increases in the police contract that was ratified in 2019. The total contract cost is $2.1 million including raises, step increases and benefits. The step increases would have been given with or without the new deal.

Assistant Administrator Lisa Brown noted the raises bring the pay slightly above other fire departments in the region.

“This ensures West Chester attracts top candidates,” Brown wrote in her report to the trustees.

The trustees also sealed new union deals with their police and fire dispatchers and road crews, agreements that will cost $171,811 over three years in raises for 34 township employees.

There are a dozen Fraternal Order of Police 911 dispatchers and they will receive the standard 3% pay hike for each of the first two years and 2.75% in the final year, for a total taxpayer cost of $62,947. The agreement was reached with ease according to Assistant Township Administrator Lisa Brown, after only two meetings.

ExploreWest Chester, fire union reach new deal aided by fire levy passage

New state-of-the-art fire station opens

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The new $4.3 million West Chester Twp. Fire Station 73 is open for business. COVID caused a few cost overruns but the final price was only 1.3% over budget.

Credit: Submitted

The new $4.3 million West Chester Twp. Fire Station 73 is open for business. COVID caused a few cost overruns but the final price was only 1.3% over budget.
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The new $4.3 million West Chester Twp. Fire Station 73 is open for business. COVID caused a few cost overruns but the final price was only 1.3% over budget.

Credit: Submitted

Credit: Submitted

Weather, COVID and other issues delayed construction on the new West Chester Twp. Fire Station 73 — causing about $300,000 in extra costs. But officials still say the project was a success financially.

Firefighters and medics moved into the new station on Duff Drive in September. The total cost, including architects, construction, renting a temporary space, land acquisition and delays due to the pandemic is $4.3 million, which is 1.3% over budget.

The township originally considered renovating the 50-year-old station, but the construction-only cost estimate was $3.6 million compared to $3.5 million to raze the station and build a new one. It was budgeted at $3.7 million and trustees awarded a contract to Graybach LLC for $3.1 million, with contingencies the trustees approved up to $3.4 million. The final cost for construction was $98,489 over the approved amount with contingencies.

ExploreWest Chester trustees approve extra $300,000 for new fire station

Former police captains sue in federal court

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Joel Herzog, West Chester Twp. Police Chief. GREG LYNCH / STAFF

Joel Herzog, West Chester Twp. Police Chief. GREG LYNCH / STAFF
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Joel Herzog, West Chester Twp. Police Chief. GREG LYNCH / STAFF

The two former West Chester Twp. police captains who lodged complaints against Police Chief Joel Herzog last year filed a discrimination lawsuit in federal court against the chief, trustees and township.

Former captains Joe Gutman and Jamie Hensley filed suit seeking an undisclosed amount of money including lost pay and benefits and compensatory and punitive damages, among other requests. They claim Herzog engaged in a pattern of sexual and racial discrimination against department staff and retaliated against them when they complained about it.

They claimed Herzog made sexist comments about female employees and their appearance; referred to two officers as “White Mike” and “Brown Mike,” “mocked” Trustee Lee Wong’s accent and referred to Indian residents as “dots” and his allergist, the husband of a mosque leader, as a “terrorist.”

After the captains began complaining, they say Herzog began freezing them out of command staff decisions, undermining their authority and giving them less than stellar performance reviews, which impacted their pay, among other things.

Hensley quit the department last year, and Gutman left in January after what the suit describes as “intolerable” work conditions.

The township can’t comment on litigation but the Journal-News interviewed Herzog prior to the lawsuit about conditions at the department nearly a year after the investigation.

“We were working very diligently to make it a comfortable, safe workplace for everyone,” Herzog said about Gutman’s resignation. “We had a process in place to continually improve and if he felt different that’s something you’d have to ask him.”

ExploreFederal lawsuit by 2 former West Chester police captains comes more than a year after internal investigation

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