George DeVault

Board of Supervisors candidate

Residence: Emmaus
E-mail address: gdevault@ptd.net
Campaign Web site: None
Facebook page: No. My wife, Melanie, Facebooks for the family.
Twitter Account: No. I only Tivo, not “tweet.”
Age:  59
Education: R.B. Hayes High School, 1969; Ohio University, photojournalism
Profession and employer: Self-employed organic farmer, independent writer, editor and publisher. 

1. Please list any community (non-elected) groups of which you are a member. 

Citizens’ Fire Company (Vera Cruz), active volunteer firefighter since 1987 (veracruzfirecompany.com).  Currently serve as Assistant Fire Chief.  (Fire Chief from 2006-08.) 

I became a volunteer firefighter in 1982 when we lived in Emmaus, and later served as president, lieutenant, captain and deputy chief in the borough.  Besides weekly training, I have responded to more than 4,500 emergency calls with the two fire departments over 29 years.  I am certified at the state and national levels as Fire Instructor I and Fire Officer II, the highest level now offered in Pennsylvania.  Advanced training at National Fire Academy, Emmitsburg, MD. 

Advisor for setting up school gardens at Alburtis Elementary, Emmaus High School and Swain School, plus the Seed Farm agricultural business incubator in Upper Milford.

Life Member, Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (pasafarming.org). 

Member and Board Member, Seed Savers Exchange, Inc., Decorah, IA (seedsavers.org).

2. Please describe your previous and current elected political office history.

While I have never run for “public” office before, I do have considerable election experience: 

* Repeatedly elected to leadership positions in Citizens Fire Company by my fellow firefighters in Vera Cruz.  Currently serving as Assistant Chief.

* Elected twice by the general membership to the Board of Directors of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (2000-2006.) 

* Elected by the general membership to the Board of Directors of the North American Farmers’ Direct Marketing Association.

* Twice elected president of the Emmaus Farmers’ Market.

I was appointed as Board Member, Lehigh County Farmland Preservation Board for two years.

3. What motivates you to want to become a member of the Board of Supervisors?

To help make township government more user-friendly, truly responsive to residents’ needs and improve communications to keep residents fully informed.

Upper Milford is changing, growing.  Our population increased by 6% in the last 10 years, according to the 2010 Census.  Yet many residents do not know how their township government works, or even that our firefighters are unpaid volunteers.

Managing the township is not as simple as it was even just a few years ago.  My unique blend of skills -- business management, farming, environmental awareness, marketing and communications -- can help us meet the challenges that lie ahead.

4. What do you see as the board’s roles and responsibilities?

To be good stewards of the public trust and purse.  Personally, I will endeavor to make sure that tax dollars are spent wisely and well, and only when absolutely necessary.

By law, supervisors are to provide “general governance ... to ensure sound fiscal management and to secure the health, safety and welfare of the citizens.”

As a firefighter for nearly 30 years, my first priority is always public safety.

With more than 40 years in publishing, I believe the public has a right to know everything there is to know about how the government operates.

As citizens in a democracy, we also have a responsibility to take an active part in our government.  The first step is being fully informed, which just keeps getting easier with modern technology.

5. Why would someone choose you instead of those you are running against?

Because I am not a politician or career bureaucrat.  I am a small-business owner with 35 years of business management experience in three different states (Pennsylvania, Florida and Iowa) and one foreign country (Russia).

As a magazine editor and publisher at Rodale for 24 years, my focus was on customer service, satisfaction and retention.

Putting people first has proved to be the key to success for everything from running our “Mom & Pop” farm to managing a national corporation with an annual budget of more than $5 million and 60 employees.

I work quickly and well with others, often under less than ideal conditions, especially as a farmer and a first responder.

I believe just the appearance of a conflict of interest is 10 times worse than the real thing, because it will always leave a cloud of suspicion in peoples’ minds.

Experience in the field has taught me to know wetlands, vernal ponds and hydric soils when I see them.  I am well-versed on township zoning and development codes, plus construction methods, building and other safety codes.

6. What do you see as the biggest opportunity facing Upper Milford Township over he next several years?

To keep Upper Milford the kind of place where we want to live, do business and raise our families in peace and safety.  That involves many things, starting with:

* Shifting the focus of township government from “enforcement” to “empowerment.”

* Wherever possible, working with -- not against -- residents to encourage small business development, new farms and smart growth.

* Keeping residents more fully informed about what their government is doing -- plans to do -- and why.  Full explanation of a good reason usually prevents a lot of confusion, mistrust and hard feelings.

7. What do you see as the biggest challenge facing Upper Milford over the next several years?

To keep Upper Milford the kind of place where we want to live, do business and raise our families in peace and safety.  Yes, I just said that was our “biggest opportunity.”  It is, but it is also our biggest challenge.

That’s because Upper Milford is sandwiched between explosive development in Lower Macungie (59% population growth in 10 years) and Upper Saucon (24% growth).

We must heed the warning in the township’s 2003 open space plan (Page 11):

“Future plans to provide public sewer for the villages of Vera Cruz, Powder Valley, Shimerville, Old Zionsville, and Zionsville could significantly impact these areas and their surrounds.”

Development inevitably follows sewer and water lines.  An estimated 133 additional acres in the township will go to development by 2020, estimates the Southwestern Lehigh County Comprehensive Plan (Page 33).

Planned expansion of the Pennsylvania Turnpike will also take more land.

8. What do you see as the key issues in this election?

Improving communications, people skills and ethics -- eliminating even the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Most township residents probably don’t know that my opponent in the primary does more than serve as an elected supervisor.  He also happens to be a paid township employee, according to township records.

“Isn’t that a conflict?” people ask upon hearing the news.  So it would seem.

But the Second Class Township Code, under which Upper Milford chooses to operate, says that is perfectly legal.  (It is expressly prohibited in a First Class Township.)

As Public Works Coordinator, he reports directly to the township manager.  His starting salary on Sept. 21, 2009 was $51,000 a year, according to township records.  Today, he makes $52,020 a year, official records show.

How many working men and women would dare to publicly oppose their boss, the person who does their annual job performance evaluation and recommend pay raises?

You can’t help but wonder, and that is exactly the problem.

9. What would you like to accomplish if elected to this position?  Please be specific.

* I will listen, respectfully and patiently, to township residents, and explain my rationale on all votes.

Form a consensus with my fellow supervisors to:

 * Assess the true condition of all our roads and bridges.

* Paint white edge lines on our narrow, winding and hilly township roads to improve safety.

* Webcast township meetings to save high-priced gasoline and provide seniors with easy, safe and affordable access to township meetings, since many seniors do not drive at night.

* Post public records -- annual budget, meeting agendas and minutes -- on the web.

* Add two more supervisors, as allowed by the Second Class Township Code, to more truly representative of our growing population (7,292, according to the 2010 Census).

That would make it easier for supervisors to avoid the appearance of conflicts of interest.

* Explore a “reverse 911” system to quickly alert residents to major emergencies that may require evacuation or taking other safety precautions.

10. Costly repairs to the Yeakels Mill Road bridge and East Macungie Road are on the horizon.  How can the township be better prepared for infrastructure improvements in the future?

An excellent question.  It is one the township seemingly ignored for too long.

Anyone who owns a car, a house or any other kind of property knows that preventive maintenance is absolutely essential to both protect your investment and live safely and securely.

Upper Milford should immediately conduct a critical assessment of all bridges, roads and other critical township infrastructure.

We need to know what is likely to break down next, so we can begin making plans to correct little problems before they become big, expensive and dangerous problems.

At the same time, we should question our present spending.  Do our government activities meet the legal mandate to “ensure sound fiscal management and to secure the health, safety and welfare of the citizens?”

If not, we need to set some new priorities, and begin budgeting and saving for the future.

Thank you to the Emmaus/Upper Milford Patch for providing this important public service.  Thank you for taking time to read the candidates’ responses.

Now, please vote in the May 17 primary.  With four candidates for one seat, your vote has never been more important.

Republican Democrat


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