Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Fiery Resignation Tonight

Paradise’s  Bad Attitude
May 9, 2017

Paradise has a bad attitude toward the environment says the resigning Chairman of the Mt Lebanon Environmental Sustainability Board.   

Andrew Baram, an executive at a major bank, is resigning in disgust from the Board  tonight (May 9) at a Mt Lebanon Commission meeting at the Mt Lebanon Municipal Building during the public forum at 8 PM.  

Baram has chaired the ESB for several years, and for those years his advice and that of the Board itself has been “ignored and blatantly misrepresented.”

Baram accuses one of the Mt Lebanon Commissioners of using “alternative facts.”  But he charges the Commission and the town manager with manipulating a student and “junior” commission’s attitude questionnaire, she crafted for the local high school, to fit their own agenda.

Baram contrasts Mt Lebanon’s poor record on the environment with Cranberry Township’s focus on sustainability.

 Statement of Resignation
Mt Lebanon Environmental Sustainability Board
Andrew Baram, Chairman

Before the Mt Lebanon Commission
May 9th, 2017

I’d like to start by thanking you. Thank you for teaching me many valuable lessons over the last several years, and more importantly, giving me a gift few have given me, the gift of time.

I have learned that it was not a good use of time to contribute to the town’s comprehensive plan, as I have not once heard anyone reference it, especially the part regarding the environment.

I have learned that unplanned expenditures that are associated with pet projects don’t always have to follow guidelines for being a formal agenda item, for example, the forgotten fence for the turf field.

I have learned that you can nominate anyone to a task force, including a neighbor, who has no interest in having an open dialogue. You can also give said neighbor a captive audience of the Commission without telling others on the task force and allowing one point of view to win the day.

I have learned that a Commissioner can send something out to all of his constituents that is biased and even contains information that is false. For example: the rate of recycling has increased every year. But in this day of alternative facts, why should I be surprised?

I have learned that just about every time the Environmental Sustainability Board (ESB) has suggested something, it is almost always met with a “why we should not do that” instead of truly considering the possibility of the suggestion.

We were ignored and blatantly misrepresented regarding the turffield. Our suggestions concerning pesticide notification and reclamation of bricks in the streets were instantly challenged. Even something as simple and symbolic as not using disposable water bottles goes unheeded.

Thankfully, we have not weighed in on the deer, not that it would have mattered. A simple suggestion of trying to save our local businesses’ money by pooling their resources and getting better waste removal contracts, in addition to trying to reduce their waste, was never of real interest.

Speaking of waste reduction, considering Pay As You Throw (PAYT) was an exercise in futility from the beginning. I should have known that when the first task force convened and one of the few documents that was shared with us was the ill-fated high school PAYT questionnaire. This survey was crafted by a former junior commissioner. But she was forced by the former town manager and others to change it to make it completely biasedagainst PAYT and brought the junior commissioner to tears on several occasions.

This commission’s reactions always seem to be about finding ways any new scenario could be bad. The latest nail in the coffin was regarding how homes of lesser value could be negatively impacted. No one stopped to question the analysis, as I am still not convinced it is very clear. But even if it isfinancially sound, did anyone even think to suggest that we could do something to offset those who might lose? Of course not.

I am South Hills Interfaith Movement (SHIM) board member. SHIM serves the needy and the disadvantaged. Would I endorse a program that was structured to negatively impact those in need? Of course not. Did anyone ask how the other thousands of towns with PAYT programs handle this situation? Of course not. Has anyone besides Kelly actually taken me up on my offer to speak with another town who has adopted a successful PAYT program to understand it more? Of course not.

It was always about “I received so many phone calls from residents who did not like this.” Do you think there is a reason that residents in PAYT towns, who were polled by an independent company, actually really like PAYT? Could our residents with negative comments just simply be misinformed or afraid of progressive change, just as so many of our current leaders seem to be?

I hope that as you move forward you truly consider why you have an Environmental Sustainability Board. You have great men and women who care about this town and the environment, but feel like they have no real voice. Other than using the Board discussions about storm water to count towards your Municipal Separate Storm Sewer (MS4) requirements, our efforts have been largely ineffectual.

I know you feel our views are extreme (yes, I watched the video of your discussion of the Sustainability Board on April 24), but anyone I know in this town who truly cares about the environment would vehemently disagree with your reactions and words that night. They would never mistake our town for Cranberry, who was recently on the front page of the Post-Gazette, not for its approach to four-legged creatures, but for its leadership in sustainability. They also would not mistake our town for one that wants to “raise the bar for environmental sustainability,” something I should have realized long ago doesn’t matter or guide the actions of this Commission in any meaningful way.

I want to thank the ESB’s current Commission liaison, Steve McLean, for at least listening. And I would be incredibly remiss if I did not thank, Kelly Fraasch, who has always been a great advocate for the environment, has never been afraid to stand against the majority, and has shown the type of leadership this town needs to move forward.

So, I will end where I started. Thank you for giving me the gift of time. As a smart municipal employee recently told me, “government moves slowly and maybe I would be better off taking my talents and energy elsewhere.”

I will heed that advice, so please formally accept my resignation as chair and member of the Environmental Sustainability Board, as I plan to take my “extreme” views elsewhere.


Anonymous said...

Umm sorry, Mr. Baram, regarding your comment: "Could our residents with negative comments just simply be misinformed or afraid of progressive change, just as so many of our current leaders seem to be?"

Could it occur to you that you just might possibly be misinformed on PAYT? Besides, if the overwhelming majority of people contacting the commission are dead set against PAYT perhaps they have information that you simply didn't uncover or chose to ignore?

Anonymous said...

Here's just one article Mr. Baram on one communities decision on PAYT.
I happen to like Charlotte's City Manager's view on trash collection.


I guess he's misinformed as well, eh?

Anonymous said...

I think we're seeing a perfect example of why there is so much divisiveness in our community.

People that don't agree are of course..... misinformed.

How can any community arrive at an amiable solution on anything with that kind of attitude?

Anonymous said...

I'm baffled.
Mr. Baram speaks of businesses pooling their resources to get better waste disposal rates and reduce trash.
Isn't that exactly what our current residential waste disposal system do no? Pool our resources and reduce trash!

Anonymous said...

I would encourage Mr Baram to visit Seneca Valley (Cranberry's High School). Every inch has been freshly and artificially turfed. Mt. Lebanon looks like the Sierra Club by comparison.

Jason Margolis said...

I believe so far the commenters are focusing too much on PAYT and not enough on the essential point of Baram's resignation: The boards provide the illusion of citizen participation, so they can say "we get community input from the boards -- if you don't like something, join a board" -- but in reality, these boards are a smokescreen, allowing the truly influential residents (an oligarchy of about 75) to run the show through the unelected municipal staff.

It looks like Baram finally realized that participating in this sham implicated himself. PAYT is just one of several issues where the ESB was ignored, including the turf. His resignation could be seen as a sign of a devolving democracy in MTL.

Additionally, MTL appears to be in disharmony with the environment, and it seems like one particular commissioner is being held accountable for this by Bob Lee (see the BtB piece on this issue).

Anonymous said...

Jason I'm not sure I used the description "smokescreen" although I agree 'they' use these boards when it's in their interest.

I'll refer you back to the Lebocitizens post back in April 2014.
"ESB misrepresented...AGAIN"

Anonymous said...

I would venture to guess that the only board that gets their way more than any other board by far is the Sports Advisory Board.

Nick M.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised he stuck with it this long. I agree that what he experienced is not personal or specific to PAYT. The boards serve to diffuse responsibility and create the illusion of citizen representation. It's actually really sad and damaging to the community that Mt Lebanon continues to perpetuate these shams that go on in every corner of the govt. Occasionally, a group may have influence and "win" but they are outsiders that are unanticipated by the commission, organized, unified, passionate and relentless.

Mary E

Anonymous said...

Mary E, who are the outsiders, the deer haters, the pro-turfers?

Anonymous said...

Mt. Lebanon is environmentally toxic. I've never been a big fan of PAYT, but I am happy to hear arguments pro and against.

Baram's resignation letter speaks to many current topics in Mt. Lebanon, PAYT being on of them. When the chair of the ESB decides to step down, you gotta wonder just how bad Mt. Lebanon is on environmental issues. Pretty bad, it would seem.

Anonymous said...

10:31 -- no those deer haters and turfers are insiders. I mean that If you want or stand for something the commission doesn't agree with or foresee as a priority or as something that conflicts with their so called mission, u need a group with those characteristics to be successful. Sorry for the lack of clarity.

Mary E

Anonymous said...

Thanks for clarifying Mary.

I Agree. The first thing we can do to change things is learn the facts, learn the players, and then vote.

Anonymous said...

Lots of different people tried for a lot of years to turf a field in this community. For most of those years (at least a decade) they were turned away by the Commission. When it ultimately did happen, there were at least 8-12 months of Commission meetings and other presentations etc before it was approved. Even still, the Commission didn't approve it without the condition that 25% of the funds had to come from residents/private donations. Seems like a lot of work for something concocted by a few folks on "the inside."

I don't know if PAYT is a good thing or a band thing. I know I like the current system (although I think the most recent contractor is way too sloppy), but that's about the extent of my knowledge on the topic. I will say this though - in comparison to the turf discussion, debate and approval, PAYT is only in the embryonic stages. I'm pretty certain that most residents don't even know what it is or how it works. There's a lot of education and lobbying still to be done. A lot of Mr. Barams came and went over the years (as well as a host of different Commissioners) before the turf project was approved. If PAYT is going to happen, it will be because another Mr. Baram is ready to pick up the charge.

I think we can all agree on a few things: change is slow to come in Mt. Lebanon, debate is always plentiful and nothing can ever happen without the input of a full roster of well paid consultants.

E. T. Gillen said...

What a bunch of crap, 8:19 AM.

Anonymous said...


"Debate is always plentiful in Mt. Lebanon." Seriously? Are you sure you are referring to the Mt. Lebanon situated in Allegheny County, about 5 miles south of Pittsburgh?

Anonymous said...

8:19, bullshit!
The "crown jewel" turfing took so long for no other reason than the sports cabal had visions of big sports complexes that lead to the million dollar each purchases of land (Twin Hills and McNeilly Parks, parks that's a laugh) that still sit undeveloped, unused, and a burden on taxpayers.

It wasn't until people wished up and said we won't use them or pay for them that they switched their focus to to turfing the main park.

Anonymous said...

You did write one thing that may be true, 8:19!

"[N]othing can ever happen in without the input of a roster of well-paid consultants."

We would have saved a lot of money on the HS project had we listened to the "volunteer" Construction Advisory Committee (CAC).

Anonymous said...

How do the commissioners feel about citizens in their own community? The boards' volunteers donate their time for years long appointments. Mt Lebanon Commissioners discussion meeting gives insight: http://mtlebanon.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=3&clip_id=479

Anonymous said...

On the Twin Hills and McNeilly "parks" the short-sighted purchases made of them took the properties off the tax rolls.

Two bad decisions pushed on the community by self-serving interest groups.

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't it be nice if the "official" community magazine sat down with Mr. Baram and conducted a one-on-one interview so that the community gets a better insight into his and the communities issues.

No, we get some person's round the world travel photos. That's great and I'm happy for them but who cares? Let them submit their story to Travel & Leisure magazine, I want to read about stuff going on here in our community magazine

Anonymous said...

8:19, PAYT is only in the embryonic stages?

The municipality has been pushing this at least since: "MUNICIPAL NEWS
FEBRUARY 26, 2013 Is “Pay As You Throw” The Way To Go?
Written by Merle Jantz"

If in four years the municipal manager and commissioners can't put together a comprehensive plan and then sell it to the taxpayers, perhaps we should take a look not at PAYT, but instead at the people running the municipality!

E. T. Gillen said...


Anonymous said...

I'm sure Mr. Baram is the nicest of guys and he should be applaud for his time on the ESB board, but unfortunately just because intentions are good that doesn't assure they are right all the time.

If I remember correctly isn't it Mr. Baram that said the commission shouldn't spend $20,000 pursuing citizens input on PAYT but save the money to sell PAYT to the community.

Sorry, Mr. Baram, I don't want my local government "selling" me on anything. I'm educated enough to read, research, and then form an opinion on any matter the community might undertake. I don't suppose Mr. Baram would say use give the pro-PAYTers $10,000 and the anti- PAYTers $10,000 to "sell" their side would he. That's be too democratic.

Anonymous said...

Just curious. Did I miss the Environmental Sustainability Board's input on air conditioning the schools?