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Chester County Press

Now what? Stevens begins his second term on Kennett board

11/21/2017 12:44PM ● Published by Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
Staff Writer

For most of 2012 and 2013, Scudder Stevens sat at the end of the table at board meetings as the newly-elected member of the Kennett Township Board of Supervisors, and was largely quiet for most of them.
Seated beside him were two of the last vestiges of the Republican-based “Old Boys Network” of the township's politics, while the second line support of that contingent who had formed the veritable spine of township business for the past several decades, sat glaring at him.
To all of them, Stevens was the outlier, the unknown quantity with the bow tie and an axe to grind, the interrupter of normalcy. He had just defeated Republican incumbent Allan Falcoff in a contentious campaign that called for transparency in a township that had run efficiently yet secretively -- and the fallback of his victory was palpable. His voice at meetings was stifled, his lone dissenting votes were useless on a three-person board made up of two Republicans and, in the cruelest fate of all, his supervisors' desk was placed in the attic of the township building, away from the office occupied by fellow supervisors Michael Elling and Robert Hammaker.
For two years, Scudder Stevens looked like the loneliest guy in the world.
“After one of those early meetings, there was an executive session in the conference room,” Stevens said. “I turned to Mr. Elling and asked him, 'Why are you acting this way?' Mr. Elling looked at me and said, 'It's because you're the enemy.' I looked at him and said, 'If that's the way you want it, that's the way it is.'"
 Whether or not he truly was the "enemy" or just an unfamiliar face is anyone's guess, but the truth is that because Stevens played hardball in his campaign to shake up the business of the township, the two-year rough patch was to be expected.  His objections were both well known and well circulated: In a letter to the editor in an October 2011 edition of the Chester County Press, Candidate Stevens wrote, "I assert that there is a critical crisis of credibility, performance, transparency and integrity, by the current Supervisors." Chief among the concerns was his assertion that the supervisors authored the township's 2009 and 2010 audits, and invented a fictitious auditor named Ed Johnson in the process, which prompted an investigation that could not come up with any evidence supporting the existence of the auditor.
“I had to claw and fight my way to be heard, and when I spoke, I made it a point to be as careful and as thoughtful and as thorough as I could be, so that there would be no confusion about what I was saying,” he said from the offices of Lyons, Dougherty in Chadds Ford, where he is an attorney. "It was a bigger mouthful than my plate was originally anticipating, but I felt that there was a need to address things in the community and a focus for doing it, and I stepped into that breach."
"The previous administration had developed a reputation for being exclusionary to anyone who wasn't on their team," said Jeff Yetter, who served as Stevens' campaign manager. "We had some very arrogant supervisors who thought they were untouchable. I was charged with asking him to run, but as his friend, I didn't want to do that to him. I told him he was crazy to run, and consequently, Scudder spent two years in hell."
Now, the unwelcoming wagon that rolled out at the front steps of the Kennett Township Building six years ago for Stevens has been confined to the rubble of past history – the last barbaric yawp of a Republican guard that has largely vanished from township politics. When Stevens, now board chairman, looks to his right, he sees Democrats Dr. Richard Leff and Whitney Hoffman, who were elected to the board in 2013 and 2015, respectively.
 Having won another term on the board after running unopposed earlier this month, Stevens is at that skinny intersection of a political career that offers his constituency a glimpse into what he has done for the township, and the "Now what?" blueprint of what he wants to accomplish for the next six years.
Perhaps the first accomplishment Stevens made on the board served as a key touchstone in his 2011 campaign: Clean up the township's books. He helped the township hire a full-time accountant and auditor, and pushed for efforts to have all township financials available on its website. An advocate of open space and trails in the township, he continues to work with conservation groups in the preservation of more than 200 acres into open space; committed the township to owning and rehabbing the historic Chandler Mill Bridge, and helped give the green light to the opening of Barkingfield and Lord Howe parks, which were purchased with state and county grants. These initiatives are all part of a 10-year land conservation plan that aims to permanently protect more than 30 percent of the township as open space with public trails.
Throughout his six years on the board, Stevens has also shown a broad-based commitment to safety. He helped transition the township's police force by hiring Lydell Nolt as its new police chief; and he signed the township on to a major sidewalk construction project and many traffic improvement initiatives. By helping to establish the township's Sustainable Development Office, he wanted to position the township as a leader in determining how infrastructure should be developed and maintained, using principles of Smart Growth and conservation. 
"Scudder has been very active in ensuring we have great relationships with and work closely with surrounding municipalities towards all of these goals, whether it's his leadership in the Regional Planning Committee or with the Fire Safety Commission," Hoffman said. "He's helped support the growth of our police force, and we were so pleased to be named the safest municipality in the Commonwealth on one online poll. In order to get any of these goals accomplished, it takes building long-term productive relationships throughout the community, and being seen as someone who is honest, trustworthy and a reliable partner."
Stevens calls Leff and Hoffman "independent and motivated," and enjoys the discourse that each bring to township issues.
"We're all different," he said. "We all bring certain skills to the table, whether its in executive or public session. Richard has a great facility for looking at the impact of financial decisions, while 
Whitney contributes her enthusiasm and creativity, and a willingness to walk the walk, in order to find out how the township can run more effectively."
If there is one person Stevens feels deserves credit for what is generally considered a smooth-running board, it is Township Manager Lisa Moore, whom he said helped keep the peace in a township government that was going through a rocky transition.
"Lisa did not pick sides," he said. "She stayed balanced in between."
Perhaps the most visible indicator that Kennett Township has comfortably transitioned over the past few years is heard in the tenor of its public board meetings, chaired by Stevens. Mostly, they're quiet, efficient and devoid of conflict. Hoffman said that she sees first-hand how Stevens infuses the values he has learn from being a Quaker into governing, specifically at public meetings, reflecting the religion's practice of allowing everyone to be heard.
"When I say that Scudder is governed by his Quaker values, it's really to say that he has a key sense of stewardship for the community, for now and in the future, and that core value allows each of us to explore and work towards aspects of improving our community, bit by bit, over time," she said. "There's no greater responsibility, and there's no greater satisfaction than when people say 'We know that X couldn't happen, but we feel like our voices were heard, honored, and incorporated as best as possible in the final decision.'
"And that means we're doing the job we've set out to do."
 Stevens helps run a township that no longer operates in its own Private Idaho. It is collaborating with the Kennett Square Borough on a joint economic development board to explore business and commerce opportunities. It is working with neighboring municipalities on a transportation project to explore ways of linking them together through sidewalks and trails; and it has, with the help of Stevens, galvanized several area fire and EMS service locations by creating a regional oversight agency that has streamlined costs, reduced duplication of effort and connected once separate fire companies into a smooth-running coalition.
The governing of townships, he said, should be done both locally, regionally and collaboratively.
"There are aspects of government that are very, very local, and then there are needs that are much broader than that," he said. "I am pleased that for the last six years, I have helped to make the township respected by the other municipalities, and that the other leaders recognize that, and are willing to work together with us."
On the surface, earning a second election is nothing more than recognition of electable deeds and the reward of a tabula rasa chalkboard on which to write down further aspirations. For Stevens, his re-election on Nov. 7 allows him the chance to tighten the laces on several initiatives of his first term. He wants to continue to address safety and infrastructure, in terms of reducing traffic accidents; work with groups like the Land Conservancy for Southern Chester County to preserve more land; and hand over the reigns of short- and long-term planning to township commissions and staff.
One of the major points in Stevens' long-range vision will be to establish the township and Kennett Square Borough as the home of an institution of higher learning, one that could ultimately position the area as a learning center. That's great timing; over the past year, the township's commitment to the study and implementation of indoor agriculture through its Sustainable Development Office is helping to position the Kennett Square area as a possible world-wide hub of indoor agriculture. 
"I think that something of its kind would improve our economic base, bring in a new population and stimulate a creativity that would help open up minds, and develop a mission that celebrates the sciences," he said.
 To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email rgaw@chestercounty.com.



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