Public Comments? This Marple Man Has Some In Fact, Abe Silverzweig Often Has Quite A Few. He Hasn't Missed A Township Commissioners' Meeting In Two Years.

Posted: August 25, 1998

MARPLE — Abe Silverzweig doesn't exactly wear his feelings on his sleeve.

Between his sleeves is more accurate.

``I Was Put on This Earth to Make Your Life Miserable,'' reads the T-shirt he wears with pride.

``I bought it specifically for the township meetings,'' Silverzweig, 68, said. ``I do make everyone's life miserable. I'm like Marple's own Kenneth Starr.''

The retired engineer, known to many Marple residents only as Abe, is a self-professed gadfly who says he hasn't missed a Marple commissioners' meeting in two years. And he always has something to say.

Like clockwork, on the first and second Monday of each month, Silverzweig will wait in the audience of the Marple Township administrative offices until public comment time.

Wearing his T-shirt and gray slacks, Silverzweig reads from a pile of notes, which he sometimes spends days preparing.

Although the homework consumes most of his afternoons, Silverzweig considers the time well-spent. If it means sorting through 15 inches of court documents or 180 minutes of videotape, or hiding in the bushes with his video camera, Silverzweig will do it.

``I believe people are entitled to say their piece,'' Silverzweig said. ``They deserve their day in court, and I believe what I do helps to make the commissioners more friendly and receptive to what the community has to say.''

But Silverzweig hasn't always been so informed.

``I was like everybody else, never went to a meeting,'' he said. ``But then I retired and I have learned to enjoy being a bit of a muckraker.''

Silverzweig isn't all talk, either.

One of his investigative projects convinced commissioners to bar township staff from using township equipment for personal use. And now he is compiling the number of times tickets are issued for speeding and failing to stop at stop signs to address residents' complaints that police aren't being vigilant enough.

At township meetings, Silverzweig is allowed five minutes maximum to say his piece - a rule commissioners began to strictly enforce shortly after he started attending the meetings.

``I try to talk about things that are eye-opening,'' Silverzweig said.

Two weeks ago, Silverzweig spent an afternoon videotaping shots of telephone poles covered with advertisements for flea markets, weight loss pills and apartments.

Silverzweig contended that the signs violated township policy, which prohibits such advertising. The tape ran for about 30 seconds before the commissioners asked Marple's Police Chief Frank Dunn to pull the plug.

``I'd have to say that was his greatest feat, when he videotaped the telephone poles,'' said Ned Coslett, chairman of the Board of Commissioners. ``He sure has too much time on his hands.''

But despite his approach, Coslett and many others who know Silverzweig concede that he is sometimes right.

``He brings a commitment to local government in his own mysterious way,'' Coslett said. ``He is a one-man watchdog team.''

Coslett credited Silverzweig for requiring the board to heed the Sunshine Law and enforce township policies.

``We were not always operating in strict adherence with the requirements, like advertising meetings and such,'' Coslett said. ``But now, Abe keeps us in line.''

When Silverzweig isn't keeping the board on its toes, he's whispering in the ears of township employees.

In fact, he was dropping so many hints to the township staff about how to do their jobs, he was asked to curtail his visits.

``He goes over all the time, so people get upset with him,'' Commissioner John Butler said. ``And sometimes, he does get a little carried away. But once you know him, you realize that's Abe.''

Town Manager Joe Flicker said he was all too familiar with Silverzweig's daily visits.

``I wish that Abe would build model airplanes and leave us alone,'' said Flicker. ``Unfortunately, we have become his hobby,''

Others have learned to chuckle at Silverzweig.

``Elected officials sometimes lose their patience,'' said Commissioner Barry Dozor, ``but I think it is important for us to have the Abes of this world, because they do serve a valuable purpose.''

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