'The people of New Garden Township have had three years of very good government'
● By Richard Gaw
When Betty Gordon announced at a recent meeting that April 1 would be her last day as a New Garden Township supervisor, she did so with a heavy heart.
In some ways, despite the fact that she is resigning a full nine months ahead of when her six-year term is set to expire at the end of the year, Gordon has already made her mark in New Garden ・ being the first woman in the township's history to serve on the board, and casting her viewpoints and votes during a period when the township struggled to continue to define itself as a rural community, in the wake of encroaching development.
"Betty did what she believed in, which is to try to protect some of the natural resources in our township, help with preserving the natural character and open space, and to secure ground for a future trail system,・ said Steve Allaband, New Garden board chairman. ・Betty always did her best, and was accountable and honest. She was an asset to the board and to the township, and she will be missed.・
The Chester County Press recently sat down with Gordon at the New Garden Township boardroom, to reflect on her time on the board, her wishes for the township, and her plans for her future.
Chester County Press: What made you first decide to run for the Board of Supervisors?
Gordon: People asked me if I would run. Some people were dissatisfied in the way the township was being run, and they felt that I may make a good supervisor. I was sort of tired of being a retired lady, and thought that I could get back to something more business-like. I knew I didn't have experience in township management, but in every development I ever lived in, I was always on the board and knew what transpired in terms of running a housing development. I thought that a township must be run the same way, but with more rules and with a staff to support you. I really did care about serving the people, and I appreciated that enough people had the confidence in me to elect me, and that I worked for them.
CCP: What were some of the components of the job that you had to adjust to?
Gordon: I was definitely not a welcome addition to the 'Old Boy Network.' The first two years were very, very difficult, and it was made very clear to me that I wasn't welcome here. I often wish these walls could talk, because if people could hear what transpired here, they'd be pretty surprised. I really didn't get much help until Spence Andress became the interim township manager.
CCP: When you looked around at the first meeting and saw that you were the only woman there, did you think that this would become an issue?
Gordon: I had come along through the womens' movement in my former employment at American Baptist Churches in Valley Forge, so I was well aware of male chauvinism.
CCP: It is very clear that for the past several years, the New Garden Board of Supervisors have not always been on the same page on issues of importance to the township. But by virtue of being on the board, isn't it required of a supervisor to step back from his or her stand and be able to understand, at least to some degree, other supervisors' viewpoints? Isn't that part of the job?
Gordon: Yes, but they should be allowed to have their thoughts and speak them in a civil manner, just as I should have my thoughts and speak them in a civil manner. I would listen to them. I know that they were more experienced than me, and I respected that, but I don't think that I got the same in return. I got a lot of, 'This is what you think, Betty, but really, we do this because...'
CCP: Do you think you were talked down to?
Gordon: Oh, definitely.
CCP: Was it because you are a woman?
Gordon: Because I was a woman. Because I was the woman I was. Because they saw me as [former supervisor] Warren Reynolds' mouthpiece. The rule was that everything got talked over and then you all agreed. Well, I didn't.
CCP: In your nearly six years on the board, you and your colleagues on the board have had to face some big challenges that have come across your agenda. What have been some of the large issues that stand out for you?
Gordon: I didn't think the [planned development along the Route 41 corridor] by the Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust [PREIT] was right. I wasn't sure why some things had been agreed to by previous boards. I was upset, as a woman and as Ms. Average Resident, because it was promised to us that the development was going to be a high-end shopping center with nice boutiques and restaurants, but when it got right down to it, that's not what they were giving us. That was troublesome to me as it was to many residents. If that's what we were promised and that wasn't true, then what else was not true?
CCP: For the past several years, the most important conversation in New Garden Township has been Preservation vs. Progress – the scorched Earth idea of no development vs. smart growth ideas. The general consensus of opinion was that in your time on the board, you and Warren Reynolds were an immovable force when it came to anything that threatened land preservation.
Gordon: You have to manage [development], and you also need to know where to put it. The PREIT project seems like a very logical place for development, but let's make sure it's nicely done. Something has to be done with that property, but let's make sure it's a good thing.
CCP: What makes a good township supervisor?
Gordon: I think you have to have a spirit of service. You need to realize that you are there to serve the people. You haven't been elected Emperor. You have been elected as a representative of the people to do what the people would like. In the end, we're here to serve them and do what's right for them. One person said to me, 'Betty, there are five supervisors who were elected by the township. The people in the township don't always agree, so why should the supervisors?'
CCP: When you look back on your time on the board, what have you personally been happy with?
Gordon: I'm happy with a lot of the changes we've made. We hired [New Garden Police Chief] Gerald Simpson. In my opinion, he's done a great job with the police, and I think the police are proud of themselves in a good way. Having Spence Andress as our township manager for three years was a very good thing. We could not have done any better than that. He was familiar with the township and had the respect of all the supervisors. We got a new township solicitor in Vince Pompo, and I'm also pleased with the appointment of The Arro Group, our new engineering firm. I'm happy that the Reynolds property was finally taken care of, because that's been going on for a long time.
CCP: Do you have any regrets? Is there a decision, perhaps something that in hindsight, you would have approached differently?
Gordon: There was a property on Baltimore Pike that the previous board had all sewn up that would be used for development. It was my third or fourth meeting, and I didn't realize the magnitude of it, but thought that if they all agreed to it, that it must be okay. So when it came time to second the motion on the property, I was being Miss Cooperative, so I seconded it. I came to regret that decision.
CCP: What do you think your legacy will be as a result of your time as a township supervisor?
Gordon: I hope that I was honest. I promised integrity when I ran, and that's important. I tried to be appreciative of the [township] staff, because I'm not sure that people had been up to that time, appreciative of the staff. I tried to be a cooperative person...If I didn't agree, at least I tried to be civil.
CCP: You're on the township's clock until April 1, but you're making plans to move out of the township soon.
Gordon: I plan to move into the Crosslands retirement community in Pennsbury Township. I would like to be there by early June. It's difficult, because I have to part with my stuff in order to move into a little place. My time is going to be taken up having my new place fixed to the way I want I like it to be, and finding a place for my stuff.
CCP: What do you wish to say to the people you've served for the last five-plus years?
Gordon: I wish to thank them for the opportunity. I hope they are reasonably pleased. The people of New Garden Township have had three years of very good government; honest government by the book. I hope they realize that that's what they've had, and I hope they don't let that slip away from them.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.