In 2020, the CPW Rotary did not consider holding the Conshohocken Beer Festival due to the COVID-19 pandemic. By 2021, some festivals were taking place and the CPW Rotary started considering holding the event. A special event application was submitted to the Borough of Conshohocken in June of 2021 and the process of consideration began, however, the CPW Rotary had concerns themselves about holding an event during the pandemic and when it never made it on an agenda, just decided to wait until 2022.
Please note, there are so many things to bring to light and this is the second column (so buckle up). We also want you to know that Burb Media, the parent company of MoreThanTheCurve.com provides event management and marketing services to the Rotary for the event. So by journalistic standards, we are completely biased. However, we strive to bring you the truth and have plenty of documentation to share with you. You can find the complete set of emails mentioned in this column (and tons of others) here.
In 2022, the CPW Rotary worked again with the designated person in the borough’s administration to start and complete the application process. The application process went smoothly until it was placed on an agenda for the borough council to consider. Prior to the scheduled public meeting, Borough Manager Stephanie Cecco told the CPW Rotary that the application was removed from the agenda and would not be considered. No reason was offered according to the leadership of the CPW Rotary.
The CPW Rotary then reminded the borough that it wasn’t following its own policy regarding the consideration of submitted applications. On the application, it stated that once submitted, it would be considered at the next scheduled meeting of the borough council. After an email reminding the borough of this, the application was put on an agenda and denied by a 6-1 vote by the members of the borough council.
During the meeting when it was denied, no member of the borough council offered a reason why. Members of the CPW Rotary and members of the public asked for a reason and none was offered.
The one member of the borough council to vote for the application, Karen Tutino (Ward 1), appeared shocked that the others had voted no.
Through the right-to-know process, MoreThanTheCurve.com obtained thousands of pages of emails and other documents about the beer festival and the use of A. A. Garthwaite Stadium. Within the emails, members of the borough council did offer reasons for voting no that they declined to offer during the public meeting. Below are three of the responses:
Colleen Leonard (Ward 7)
“The Rotary club was informed weeks ago that the Borough did not want to host the Beer Fest. The A field is maintained by the Borough for the use of youth and adult sports. October is prime football season, it is used not only for the children but also High (sic) school and college. The (sic) last two beer fests we received many complaints not only from residents in my ward but all through the Borough. We also don’t want the liability with an event that large on Borough property.”
Tina Sokowloski (Ward 3)
“The reason I chose to vote no to the Rotary Beer fest is that the Conshohocken “A field” is an athletic field that the borough invests and maintains for the specific purpose of family friendly (sic) athletic activities.”
Stacy Ellam (Ward 6)
“In regard to this event, the ask of the Rotary was to use the A Field for an alcohol-based event, once a year for three years. This event, while held at this location previously, had not been held there in the last 2 years due to Covid. Because the event had not been held for those two years, we had a chance to evaluate the vent and the ramifications for the Borough.
“As a Borough, we have decided to not host any alcohol-based events on Borough property. This event is also a significant liability to the Borough because it is held strictly on Borough Property. The Borough does not feel that public property, public services, and public tax dollars should be utilized for an alcohol specific event. It is also of paramount importance for the Borough to evaluate all requests as it pertains to liability risks especially as it pertains to public property.
Why Are These Answers from Members of Borough Council Important?
These answers are important because none of these issues are raised while the CPW Rotary worked through the application process in 2021 and then again in 2022. As Councilmember Stacy Ellam states the borough had “evaluated” the event. When was that done? Was it done in public or behind closed doors? Why wasn’t the charity that organizes the event informed that this evaluation was going to be done and allowed to offer input?
This new thinking by six members of the borough is in fact very inconsistent. During the same meeting in 2022 when it denied the beer festival, the borough council voted 7-0 to allow the sale and public consumption of alcohol on a borough-owned street for a bar-related fundraiser (see minutes of April 6th meeting under Manager Matters, section F).
To strengthen the point, below is a chain of emails between the CPW Rotary and Kate Kosmin, the borough’s communications manager, who had the role of working with groups seeking to hold events. As you will see, she never informs the CPW Rotary of any policy changes or even any concerns about the beer festival over a period that lasted approximately eight months.
Wouldn’t the person in charge of dealing with event applications know about these changes? Wouldn’t there have been a discussion with the organization holding the event during the start of the application process to let them know about this new thinking? Was Kosmin, who dealt with the festival most directly on behalf of the borough, not part of the Councilmember Ellam’s claimed evaluation? Was Councilmember Tutino, again who looked shocked when the other six members voted no, not included as well?
June 28, 2021 – Email
In the below email, the borough’s communication manager, Kate Kosmin, acknowledges a special event application had been submitted and instructs the CPW Rotary to submit a proposal for three years.
She then suggests meeting dates (between the borough staff and the CPW Rotary) contingent on approval of the application by the borough council.
July 29, 2021 – Email
The requested proposal is then submitted by the CPW Rotary. As the application was submitted in June, it should have been considered during the workshop meeting in July.
July 29, 2021- Email
The borough’s communication manager, Kate Kosmin, submits the application to be included on the August 4, 2021, agenda of the borough council.
July 29, 2021 – Email
The borough’s communication manager then sends an email to the CPW Rotary stating that the application is being reviewed to determine if it will be on the August 4th agenda.
August 2, 2021 – Email
The borough’s communication management sends an email to the CPW Rotary stating that the application would not be on the August 4th agenda. The borough has now violated its policy of considering an application once submitted.
August 3, 2021 -Email
The CPW Rotary responds, but doesn’t challenge the application not being considered. While the Rotary was exploring doing the festival, COVID-19 was still a consideration so it wasn’t a surprise that it wouldn’t be considered (however, the submission of the application should have trigged it to be considered at the next meeting of the borough council). It is not the role of staff to deny an event application, but solely that of the borough council.
August 4, 2021 – Email
In the below email, in regard to now planning for a 2022 event, the borough communications manager, Kate Kosmin, advises the CPW Rotary to submit an application for three years (2022-2024). She is also clear about when it would appear on an agenda.
January 13, 2022 – Email
It is now mid-January of 2022, The CPW Rotary submits the application and asks for a meeting with staff.
January 14, 2022 – Email
In a follow-up email, it is acknowledged that the proposal is received and the CPW Rotary is asked to complete the special event application. Note that the borough’s communications manager uses the word “must” when addressing the application appearing on the agenda of the borough council. “
Also, note that any meeting with borough staff is pushed off until after the application goes before the borough council.
January 25, 2022 – Email
In this email, the borough’s communications manager confirms that the application will be on the March 2nd agenda and asks for details like who would be presenting on the CPW Rotary’s behalf.
As the application was submitted in January, it should have been on the agenda for the workshop meeting in early February. This is another violation of the borough’s stated policy on when special event applications will be reviewed.
February 23, 2022 – Email
The CPW Rotary emails to confirm that the application will be on the March 2nd agenda.
February 24, 2022 – Email
The borough’s communications manager for the second time states that the application will be on the March 2nd agenda and provides instructions on what the presentation should include.
February 25, 2022 – Email
The following day, the borough’s communication manager emailed to confirm they had received the previous day’s email.
In this email, the borough’s communication manager asks a strange question. She asks whether the event application is for “an event of this type.” The application was for a beer festival. The proposal was for a beer festival. All of the emails back and forth thus far were about a beer festival (the subject of the entire email chain is “CPW Rotary Beer Fest”).
You will notice that this is the first email that cc’ed Borough Manager Stephanie Cecco.
February 25, 2022
The CPW Rotary responds and answers the previous question about who will be speaking at the March 2nd meeting. They don’t address the question about the type of event.
February 28, 2022 – Email
Borough Manager Stephanie Cecco interjects in this email chain and states that the application will not be on the March 2nd agenda. This move puts the borough in violation once again of its stated policy on how it considers special event applications.
March 1, 2022 – Email
Borough Manager Stephanie Cecco sends a follow-up email about the application not being included on the agenda. For the first time, Borough Council President Colleen Leonard is cc’ed on this chain of emails.
March 1, 2022 – Email
The CPW Rotary responds to the borough manager about scheduling a call.
March 2, 2022 – Email
The CPW Rotary follows up on a suggested time for the call.
March 31, 2022 – Email
The call between the Borough Manager Stephanie Cecco and the leadership of the CPW Rotary is held and according to the members of the Rotary on the call, they are told by Cecco that the borough council won’t consider the application and no reason is provided.
When I am told about the call, I review the application and find that the language on the application requires the borough council to consider submitted applications and that this must happen at the next scheduled meeting.
In the below email, the CPW Rotary reminds the borough administration and members of the borough council of their own policy and asks for the application to be considered.
April 1, 2022 – Email
Borough Manager Stephanie Cecco responds and notifies that the application will be included on the April 6th agenda.
April 1, 2022 – Email
The CPW Rotary thanks Borough Manager Stephanie Cecco for being added to the agenda.
This is the point where the application is considered and denied without any reason given directly to the CPW Rotary or the public in attendance. But as you can see, they offered a variety of reasons through email.
Why didn’t they offer these reasons during the meeting? Borough Council President actually defended this lack of transparency. She stated in an August 13, 2022 email, the following (read the entire email here):
Stating publicly the reasons we had would only hinder them finding a new venue. The Rotary members are well aware of the reasons for our decision.
As we have shown in the email chain, the CPW Rotary was never provided any concerns or reasons why it might be denied. It is also important to note that none of the six members of the borough council who voted no offered a reason during the meeting. Was it discussed outside the public meeting?
We are now going to pursue having members of the borough council address what we have outlined in this column. Most importantly, what happened within the borough between February 25th to February 28th, when the 2022 application was removed from the agenda? Who made the decision? Staff? A member of the borough council? Some members of the borough council? Or all members of the borough council?
More to come.