After the decision in early April by the borough council to not rent the field to the Conshohocken Plymouth Whitemarsh Rotary for the Conshohocken Beer Festival, MoreThanTheCurve.com filed a series of right-to-knows to help understand the decision-making and verify things we had heard and that elected officials were telling members of the public. For example, we requested every use of the word “beer” on the borough’s email server dating back to 2014 (find the complete set of these emails here).
Please note, there are so many things to bring to light and it is going to take more than just one article (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. Also, we texted the mayor about issues raised in this email and did not receive a response.
Fights and Property Damage?
The document that really stood out (amongst the thousands of pages of emails we received through the right-to-know process) was one from Mayor Aronson, who was responding to an email from a member of the public about the decision. Below is the first paragraph from the email (full email).
I am a member of the CPW Rotary Club, I have volunteered at the event every year that is has run, so I am walking a bit of a tightrope here and would have abstained from any vote if it came down to me and abstained from the public discussion last night. I will say that, door knocking all of last year, on thousands of doors, the feedback on beerfest was not overwhelmingly positive, especially in Ward 7. I heard stories, blocks away, wards away, from the A Field about property damage, urination on lawns and trash. I have seen a shift in the borough wanting to focus on family-friendly, not alcohol-based events. I would also push back on there being no problems, having been there to witness the event as a worker. We had plenty of fights, alcohol-related sickness, people sneaking into the event, etc… In fact, our Rotary president-elect at the time, while volunteering at the last festival got so drunk that she was eventually suspended from the club.
So there is a lot to unpack there.
Let’s just jump down to near the end when Aronson states that there were “plenty of fights.” That is absolutely false. There hasn’t been a single fight at the festival. When I read this I asked members of the Rotary if there had been any fights, maybe I had missed something. They weren’t aware of any. I called the private security company hired for the event. They didn’t know of any. I also filed a right-to-know requesting “All documents, phone messages, emails, phone logs, and police records from 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 involving a complaint about the Conshohocken Beer Festival.” This request was denied due to these documents (if they do exist) being “exempt from disclosure pursuant to RTKL S 708(b)(16) relating to criminal investigations and RTKL S 708(bX14 relating to noncriminal investigations. You can view the denial here.
Was there property damage?
The organizers of the festival have never received any feedback from the borough or property owners regarding property damage resulting from the festival’s attendees at the field or anywhere in the community during the several years the festival was held in Conshohocken. The only damage we were aware of was inside the stadium and involved a truck delivering the tents hitting a fence pole near the exit and a similar truck running over a sprinkler head. There was also a concern about the wear-and-tear on the field itself, which is why the event ringed the field in later years. But that wasn’t what Aronson was claiming. He mentioned damage, “blocks away, wards away, from the A Field about property damage.” Again, we were never told about property damage, and the thousands of pages of emails we obtained do not document any complaints about property damage.
There is an important point to make in regard to these two statements made by Mayor Aronson. Pennsylvania’s borough code designates the mayor as the borough’s “chief law enforcement officer” (see Pennsylvania’s Borough Mayor’s Manual, page 19). In all of the documents we reviewed, we did not find any evidence of these types of complaints or internal communication between borough staff and/or elected officials. The only two complaints we saw were from several years ago about scheduling the festival and how it impacted the Conshohocken Bears and one in later years about an event focused on alcohol. A total of two.
In regards to the festival, the borough’s chief law enforcement officer told members of the public that possible crimes were committed surrounding the event and its attendees.
In the third paragraph of the same email, Mayor Aronson states that the Rotary Club had a “full meeting” with the borough’s administration prior to the permit being denied. That again is not true. From the email:
I will also say that the Rotary Club had a full meeting with our administration last week when the permit was initially declined. The Rotary Cub is certainly welcome to share the comments given during that meeting, if they wish. I was disappointed to see that my club leadership allowed the public to believe that there was no communication or explanation given, that is simply not true.
Members of the Rotary haven’t met with the borough’s administrative staff since before the 2019 event. In fact, the timeline of events in 2022 involved the borough receiving the application to hold the event and being told that it would be placed on the agenda of a future meeting. When that didn’t happen, the Rotary inquired why it wasn’t on the agenda. There was then a call between Borough Manager Stephanie Cecco and members of the Rotary and she told them that the borough council was not going to consider the application and provided no explanation.
When this information was relayed to me, I reviewed the application and found that it states on the application that once it is submitted it “will” be considered at the next scheduled meeting. I advised the Rotary of this and they asked that the application be considered as the borough’s own rules require. This led to the application being considered and denied on April 6th.
Conflict of Interest
As the mayor rightly points out, he had a conflict of interest when it came to the Rotary and planned to not offer comment on the application and planned to abstain from voting if he was needed to break a tie. That is actually perfectly fine, except he is inconsistent.
During the same meeting, there was another event on the agenda that required a vote from the council. This event was the Conshohocken Arts Festival and Car Show. Most people probably assume that this is a Borough of Conshohocken event. It isn’t. It is actually produced by the non-profit Destination Conshohocken, which was founded by Aronson. It is not in any way part of the borough.
Guess who gave the presentation about the car show and spoke on its behalf? Mayor Aronson.
Did the festival result in trash around town as the mayor stated in his email? If you aren’t familiar with the festival, the attendees are provided a disposable 5-ounce plastic cup. It isn’t something you would want as a keepsake. Do you know what I do each year at the festival? I stand, with others, at the exits, and we have everyone drop their cups and anything else into trash bags we are holding. Did someone sneak a cup by? Sure. The idea that the festival results in trash blocks away is ludicrous. In relation to the stadium area, we clean up right after the event and then go back on Sunday to make sure we didn’t miss anything (in and outside the stadium).
There is even an email from a resident near the stadium to the borough manager regarding events at the stadium specifically about trash (page 711 in the emails). In it, the resident states:
As I later thought about the use of the field we have had beer tasting, many other sporting events, yoga and even fireworks and an annual carnival in years past. None of those events produced the level of trash, noise and torment to the neighbourhood that we experience for months at a time annually with the bears. I credit this success of those events to people coming from the local area and being more respectful. Plus those events are well planned out with a solid plan for anticipated crowd size in preparation.
We will go through the responses members of the borough council gave via email when they received inquiries from the public about the denial to rent the field.
Images – Borough of Conshohocken (note MoreThanTheCurve.com added the yellow highlights)