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Chester County Press

Three campaign for two seats on London Grove board

10/31/2017 11:55AM ● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
Staff Writer

When London Grove Supervisor Michael Pickel announced that he would not seek another term on the board earlier this year, two seats will be open on the London Grove Board for the next six years – Pickel's, and the one that his colleague Dave Connors has occupied since 2010 and is currently campaigning for.
With the election a week away, Connors joins newcomers Lee Irwin and Rich Ruggieri in pursuing a place on the five-member board next year, and with many issues currently on the front burner in London Grove – infrastructure, open space, ecological solutions and policing, to name just a few – the Chester County Press looked at the platforms of all three candidates.

Dave Connors
Democrat/Republican, 46, business owner, lives in West Grove with his wife and two children
After being appointed to fill a seat on the board in 2010, Dave Connors was elected to his first full term in 2011. It was a learning lesson, he said, one that cast him as the board's lone advocate in support of the township's controversial ownership of the Inniscrone Golf Course. While his outspokenness got him into some deep waters over the next six years, it also paved the way for progress.
And yet, as he campaigns for his second four-year term on the board, a careful examination of Connors' record reveals a list of initiatives that touch on nearly every issue of concern for township residents.
A strong believer in collaboration between municipalities, Connors formed an "Ad Hoc" committee with other local municipalities served by the West Grove Fire Company, and currently services as second vice president for Chester County Association of Township Officials. He authored a letter of cooperation with representatives from area municipalities that was sent to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, urging PennDOT to address the aging infrastructure along the Route 41 corridor.  
For the past several years, he has served as an environmental watchdog in the township, and has fought with DEP officials to tighten their environmental regulations with local mushroom composting facilities in the township. He spearheaded efforts to place water monitors in township waterways that could be affected by the brown water runoff from composting facilities.
"I think we as a board have accomplished many things in the last few years," he said. "When I first joined the board, the township had $400,000 in reserve, which was troubling, because that was about three- to four months' worth of operating cash.
"Developing the five-year plan capital plan allowed us to encourage the township to run itself like a business, in that funding  funding needs to be done a multi-year level in order to become financially free. I think we've accomplished that now."
While he is able to place these credits on his political resume, Connors is still hampered by his support of Inniscrone, which included a messy, nearly three-year-long legal wrangle that included a lawsuit levied against the township by its former management team. Now, as its contract with the Heathland Hospitality Group -- its current management team -- is set to expire Dec. 31, Connors expressed confidence that the course can still be an asset to the township.
"The Inniscrone Golf Course is better today than it was when I first joined the board," he said. "I believe that Inniscrone can become revenue neutral. We also have to continue to look at Inniscrone as a source of spray irrigation for our community, which is critical."
If Connors is elected to his next term, his wish list will concentrate on addressing zoning density in the township; continuing to look for earned income tax revenue along the Route 41 business corridor; continuing to create collaborative efforts with neighboring municipalities; finding a solution to the Chatham intersection; and addressing the potential need for contracting with -- or joining the coverage zone of the Southern Chester County Regional Police Department.
"Right now, there are about 10,000 residents in our township, but when that number reaches 15,000, how can we not have our own police department?" he said. "It will be a tough political decision when it happens, but I think it will be a good decision for our safety."

Lee Irwin
Republican, 43, corporate income tax software test engineer, lives in West Grove with his wife and two children
During his time as a member of the London Grove Supervisors, Mike Pickel was a key driver in the development of Goddard Park, which in its first two phases has created public trails, a playground, a dog park and a shared garden space.
With Pickel deciding not to seek another term on the board, the question remains: "What board member is going to continue to champion the park's next phases of construction, which includes the construction of youth athletic fields?"
The experience that Lee Irwin, a 12-year township resident, brings to the board is steeped in the connectivity between youth sports and enhancing a township's identity. For the last nine years, he has coached his two sons in the Avon Grove Little League, currently serves on its board of directors, and also coaches the Avon Grove Bulldogs travel baseball team. When the Bulldogs were searching for a place to practice last year, Irwin saw that the baseball field at New London Academy was in poor shape, and approached New London Township with an offer to restore the field, in exchange for being allowed to practice there. After some sweat equity by team coaches and members, the field was improved, and the Bulldogs had a diamond to play on. 
"There are other fields out there that are in disrepair, and if elected, I would like to apply the same formula that we used in New London to London Grove Township," Irwin said. "We can utilize outside organizations to leverage them to improve the parks, that will in turn benefit the entire township. I am hoping to move the idea along, so that by the time my first term ends in six years, we can point to this as a township and say, 'We're moving in the right direction.'"
Irwin is far from a one-issue candidate. Having coached hundreds of London Grove youngsters over the past decade, he has gotten to know many of their parents who live in the township, and said that as he listens to their concerns as a candidate, he shares their opinion that there needs to be a continued focus on seeking out more open space opportunities in the area, as well as smart decisions on the future of residential growth.  
"People move to London Grove Township -- as opposed to Montgomery or Delaware counties -- not only because it has a good school district, but because they also want the rural aspect that they don't get in many of these other areas," he said. "I'm not a fist-in-the-air, nobody-else-move-here guy, but my place on the board will be to assure that the township continues to apply reasonable standards when deciding where to place another development, or low-income, high-density housing.
"Baby Boomers are retiring every day, and they don't want to see their home values eroding by virtue of having a low-income housing community move in next door. To me, there's a certain reasonableness factor in terms of where the township should place those housing opportunities."
If elected to the board, Irwin also wants to reduce unnecessary signage throughout the township, create opportunities for more walking trails, and explore methods to reduce reduce accidents along Avondale Road.

Rich Ruggieri
Democrat, 38, data analyst, lives in Avondale with his wife and two children
A key talking point that pushed Rich Ruggieri to declare his candidacy for the London Grove Board of Supervisors began early in his life. He grew up on a farm in near Montoursville, Pa., where he learned to appreciate the rural character of the community. Keeping the rural character of the township is important, he said, but so is canvassing the area for economic opportunities, in conjunction with forming future partnerships with the township's neighbors.
“If I had to put my hands on the scale, my thought would be to err on the side of keeping things rural, but cultivating the commercial districts we have is just as important for us,” said Ruggieri, who is a member of the OxGrove Democrats. “We have Avondale on one side and West Grove on the other, and together, that makes up a large community. We  need to work in the same direction.”
If much of Ruggieri's campaign is centered around collaboration with the township's neighboring boroughs, it's also dotted with a rich background. After high school, he served ten years in the U.S. Air Force, which included four years of active duty, and six years as a member of the Air National Guard in Harrisburg, where he worked in the special operations wing. A graduate of Penn State, he now works as an IT data analyst at a global corporation in Wilmington.
“Working in the military has given me a definitive sense of duty and attention to detail, but I have also worked with Boeing, in academia at Penn State, and now work for a global corporate entity,” he said. “It's allowed me to have a broad appreciation for the entities that make up an economy, and I think it can lend a lot of expertise to the township, in terms of helping to drive it forward.
If elected, Ruggieri said he would like the township to continue to address the possibility of contracting for additional police service with the Southern Chester County Regional Police Department, as well as exploring methods of tightening environmental regulations for the local mushroom industry, to ensure  air and water quality.
“We need to continue to explore the total ownership of what we as a township are doing. To me, it's about looking for additional opportunities in moving the township forward, to ensure that what's being done is sustainable from a revenue standpoint, as opposed to simply paying for things.”

Note: Current supervisor Steve Zurl is running unopposed for an unexpired four-year term previously occupied by former supervisor Raymond Schoen.

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected]