Thursday, December 29, 2005

Peace & Good Will in Chestnut Hill?

This letter was sent to 300 people in Chestnut Hill and vicinity on Christmas Day, 2005. A copy was also sent to the Chestnut Hill Local for inclusion in the Dec. 29, 2005, issue. Lloyd Wells is a founder of the Chestnut Hill Local and past chair (1968-1969) of the Chestnut Hill Community Association.

My acquaintance with Fred Williams began shortly after my involvement in Chestnut Hill’s civic life, circa 1949. Since then we’ve mutually supported each other’s civic interests. Fred’s personal note (below), copied from the back of his Xmas letter, together with other similar commentaries I’ve received clearly demonstrate that the Chestnut Hill Community Association (CHCA) is no longer an eleemosynary enterprise; rather one dedicated to the private economic and political interests of its current leadership.

“My activities with Pastorius Park came to a bitter end for me. The incumbent President of the CHCA dumped me and put a young ambitious lawyer as head of the Social Division. She immediately went to folk music and was not interested in the bands (concert and big bands). She wouldn’t listen to what I had to say. Not a single person in the CHCA thanked me for my 41 years of summers. I try not to say too much but when asked why I’m not there I tell them.

“About a year ago this same group tried to take over the Water Tower (W.T.) Recreation Center. They made no preliminary effort to contact any officer of the W.T. Advisory Council or employee of the W.T. Recreation Center. They did send a letter to the City-wide head of the Recreation Department (over our heads). Also the newspaper failed to send anyone to the W.T. to look into our activities. Where were they? It sure made us wonder why we’re denigrated as not having much of a community program for all interests. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is my 41st. year on the W.T. Advisory Council and I can say there are thriving dynamic programs to suit many interests for all ages. Needless to say the CHCA was shot down. I even called the President of the CHCA a liar, at the meeting, and was quoted on the front page of the LOCAL.

“I’m trying to recede from public life because of health and have given up many activities.

“Fortunately the bulk of my interests are in and about music and I don’t fret too much about the crazy things the incumbents are about. I don’t have the time or energy any more to fight .... but I’m watching.

“Now that I’ve vented my spleen have a wonderful holiday season with family and friends.

[Copied from “Fred William's 2005 Christmas/Holiday Letter To Family and Friends.”]

My suggestion to all Chestnut Hillers, particularly the remaining members of the CHCA, is that they resign or, alternatively, reduce their annual dues payments by 50% in protest to the policies of this administration. The community’s and the city’s best interests would be well served were all Chestnut Hillers to ignore all future fund raising efforts by the Association until the current leadership resigns or is replaced. With your support a new administration, genuinely concerned with the public good, could renew the C. H. experiment that was so successful in the 3rd quarter of the last century.

In the interim make your contributions directly to the senior or teenage programs or to those committee activities you personally support. The CHCA can be recreated as a democratic alternative supportive of “City Hall” but designed to determine and implement those public policies that C.H.’s citizens support.

Lloyd P. Wells (12/25/05)

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

In Which Vijay Kothare Talks of Terrorists and Parasites in His Report as the CHCA Board Consultant

The following letter was provided to Chestnut Hill residents and others. It appeared on the Chestnut Hill Local web site for a brief period, but was ordered removed within a few days by CHCA board representatives. Needless to say, they were antagonistic to the message. We think the writing speaks for itself. It was addressed to a Chestnut Hill Community Association Executive Board member as well as the Chestnut Hill Community as a whole. The author was retained as a consultant by board members in the wake of the resignations of the editor and assistant editor of the Chestnut Hill Local.

Open letter to Sanjiv Jain and Chestnut Hill

Dear Sanjiv,

You asked me, "What is the solution to the problem at the Local?" So, I am putting on my consultant's hat, as I have done in the past, when called in by publishers to evaluate their publications. What I am about to write may be obvious. Still, it needs to be said.

To be blunt, The Chestnut Hill Community Association is being targeted and held hostage by terrorists and parasites. Unfortunately, the terrorists and parasites are winning. Under the guise of protecting editorial purity and freedom of the press, they have managed to falsely paint the CHCA board as bad guys and get the community on their side. I wonder what Thomas Jefferson would have done with a problem child like "The Local"?

There are three camps here fighting at cross-purposes.

The first camp is the Chestnut Hill Community Association. This group is made up of volunteers, who give their time and often, even their money, because they have an interest in their community. The CHCA also owns and publishes the Chestnut Hill Local. This group is hemmed in by certain bylaws that prevent any communication with the editor of the Local or his staff. No self-respecting publisher should use pressure; however, as publisher, he should have a voice regarding the nature of journalistic responsibility and good judgment. If the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal were restricted by the same type of laws that create this firewall between the CHCA and the staff of the Local, they would long be out of business.

The CHCA has created 50 publishers. That is 49 too many by any standard of responsible governance. Thus, the CHCA has become a hydra-headed monster and it is a monster infected by a serious virus. That virus is The Chestnut Hill Local. The concept of this community paper has great merit. However, what the paper has become under its staff of terrorists, and has been allowed to become under various boards of directors, is infecting and sickening the CHCA.

This brings me to the second camp, the editorial staff of the Local, also referred to here as "the terrorists.” This group is a total of 4-5 people, including production. Through their interaction with the clerical staff, they are able to apply influence upon them. They bank upon the herd instinct, which offers the clerical staff a comfort zone. The clerical staff does not realize they are being sucked into the insurgency by the terrorists.

The third group, I call "the parasites.” They live within the bloodstream of the CHCA. Call then dissidents, "The Gang of Eight" or "The Second Opinion Caucus.” They sit upon a fence and will jump into any camp that suits their purposes. These parasites have been won over by the terrorists. In fact, there is a strange, highly active feeding frenzy between the terrorists and the parasites. They feed upon each other for moral support, legal support and gossip. The parasites regularly disrupt work at the Local by having meetings with their terrorists in production, during office hours, as they did today. They are deeply engaged in back stabbing and the killing away of those good cells in the CHCA that work hard to restore the health of the organization. 

This last group, the parasites, remind me of the Saudi Royal family that spends America's petrodollars to finance madras's for indoctrinating terrorists, and Pakistan's secret service, the ISI, which provides funds and guns and materials for terrorist activities in Kashmir and India and provides a safe have within Pakistan. This comparison may appear far-fetched, but it illustrates the type of structure that supports insurgency, because terrorism cannot exist in a vacuum. 

I have not read the fine print in the bylaws regarding what the CHCA can do about these terrorists and parasites who hold it hostage. Lenin once remarked that revolutions are started by a handful of dedicated terrorists. In this case, it is more mean-spirited mischief than revolution.

I grew up with a father who was a banker. Since leaving Stanford I have worked as both a reporter and editor for various business magazines. I have spent my lifetime with the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and fledgling entrepreneurs. These people took risks everyday and fought for their visions, launching companies, products or services and making them grow. My father's advice would be to "clean house and start fresh".  It can be done, but it requires guts to stand up to terrorists. It requires that the CHCA define their vision and stand up for it.

When the board brings in an outsider as the new editor, it will inevitably face the same problems all over again, unless the house cleaning gets done. The new editor will have to choose sides to survive. On the one side, the terrorists and their parasite moles on the board. On the other side, the CHCA board that chose him. The new editor will have no real choice but to go with the terrorists because they are his staff. He will have to work with them everyday. He will have to get work out of them, socialize with them, be their pal. He can never be their leader. He may think that he is, but he too will have been sucked into the bloodstream of the virus. There is no middle ground.  He must be either with them or against them, and the terrorists have their numbers in their favor as well as their parasite moles from the dissident group.  

Who, then, is the publisher of the Chestnut Hill Local? The dissident group becomes the de facto publisher. It starts to create a support structure for the new editor. He is encouraged to come to them, to feed from their trough. To these stealth envoys, these moles, these parasites, access to the editor, who holds the megaphone for the community (at least he thinks so) is the closest they have come to the powerful mystic of journalistic triumph.

My advice to any new editor would be to get a letter signed by all 50 members of the board of The Chestnut Hill Community Association giving responsibility and authority without interference from them. These dissidents need to be chopped off at the knees. If such an arrangement is not possible, it means that the board will continue to be at the mercy of the Local's staff of terrorists and their parasite moles within the board. It also means the CHCA must become resigned to the fact that they will need to look for a new editor every year or so.

The Local needs leadership, but how can the CHCA offer leadership while it is held hostage? First, the CHCA must solve the insurgency problem. The solution must be more than the CHCA vice president of operations coming in and reading the riot act. The Chestnut Hill Local needs a drastic overhaul.

Perhaps you do not want to hear this, but then, what are friends for?

Vijay Kothare

The preceding letter was written to Sanjiv Jain, a member of the Executive Committee of the Chestnut Hill Community Association, in response to his request for an assessment of the situation within the staff of the Chestnut Hill Local.

Vijay Kothare spent one week in the Local's offices to assist the editorial department in the absence of resigned staffers Jim Sturdivant and Mike Mishak. 

The letter has been edited to increase the clarity of its content for the general public by Pamela Waters, board member, CHCA.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Missing Local Letters

To all members of the Board of Trustees of the CHCA

This is my Christmas list for CHESTNUT HILL.

I hope you have read the letter sent by the Rev. Kari Hart; if not, please scroll down to it.

I hope you have read the ad on page 4 of the CHRISTMAS issue of the Local. It is an ad that implies the replacement of EVERY staff position at the Local (except for editor which is an ad that should have gone in weeks ago) and know that this is a form of terrorization of YOUR employees, some of who are older women, long time residents of Chestnut Hill and long time employees of the Local.


I hope you read a letter I sent to the Local and was not published... and the board reaffirmed the Lentz policy??? It is also included below.

The Letter

I hope as board members you have the good sense to feel SHAME for the vile treatment of the staff members of the Local. Each and Every ONE on the board is RESPONSIBLE for this reprehensible situation because you have had this brought to your attention and either approve it by your silence or don't have the guts to denounce it. As a board member you don't have the right to sit this out.

I hope that you understand that YOU DO NOT OWN THE LOCAL. It is owned by the members who pay dues to the CHCA. As one of those members, I have no intention of watching this valuable COMMUNITY resource wither away, as it is already doing with an editor who:
- writes editorials about herself and "The Husband". An editorial is not a column.
-has no Christmas editorial
-uses her time to write up recipes. That's pathetic.
-who doesn't publish info about office hours over the holiday season.

I hope that when I send an ad to the Local which I plan to do, that I am not censured or that those employees are not punished. If this were to happen, I remind board members that I got my start in the CHCA by taking on a leadership that was interfering with the goals of the community association which existed long before those leaders came along. We won.

I hope that anyone who calls me crazy knows that that would be an
enormous improvement over what's been said about me over the last year.


Dear Ms. Boynton:

I am writing in regard to your recent firing, "re-hiring" and "re-firing" of my husband, Shawn Hart, from his position as Associate Editor at the Chestnut Hill Local. You may consider this letter written not so much on his behalf as it is on behalf of his family-myself and our two children.

Terminating Shawn from his job as you did this past Friday (December 16, 2005), without any warning or process of any kind, might be considered outrageous enough-sending him and his family into a tailspin only a week before the holidays. Then, to send a message to him the following Monday morning (December 19, 2005) that you had "changed your mind" and wanted to re-hire him, only to announce when he met with you later that day that you had re-changed your mind; all of this, aside from being the most flagrantly unprofessional behavior I have ever encountered, all of this has caused our family undue pain and stress. By toying with Shawn's job status, you have toyed with his family as well. As a wife and mother, I am beside myself with outrage that you have been allowed to do so.

Ms. Boynton, you ought to be ashamed of yourself for such reckless abuse of power, as should the people who gave you and authorized such power. And you all should be held accountable for it.

It is my understanding, as per the Lentz Policy, that this letter as it stands will appear in the next issue of the Chestnut Hill Local. In the event that it does not, I have forwarded copies of it to Maxine Dorneman, Kari Ghezarian, Nancy Berger, Betty Brady, Chris Kemezis, Mark Keintz and the Publishers' Committee.

The Reverend Kari L. Hart
West Mount Airy

Monday, December 26, 2005

Does Chestnut Hill want the Local to survive as an independent voice?

This editorial appeared in the Chestnut Hill Local in mid-November of 2005. Given the recent events with staff firings and the editorial voice of the Local under its present leadership, we think it appropriate that people re-read and consider what is happening with the newspaper today.

Nineteenth century American populist sage Mark Twain once wrote that the primary function of a newspaper should be “to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Tragically, recent events concerning this newspaper have done just the opposite: they have afflicted the afflicted and made the comfortable even more comfortable.

In last week’s Local there was a very brief statement on page 4 under the name of Maxine Maddox Dornemann, president of the Chestnut Hill Community Association Board of Directors, indicating that Local editor James Sturdivant had resigned on Oct. 19. However, there was no reason given for the resignation, so readers were left in the dark. Sturdivant had told staffers he had been under pressure for a while from certain CHCA board members because of stands he had taken in recent editorials.

According to his letter of resignation, three individuals who work at the Local had come into his office on Tues., Oct. 18, and told him to kill an editorial he had written for the Oct. 20 Issue of the paper headlined “Fork in the road.”

Essentially, Sturdivant was forced out of the Local for the “crime” of doing exactly what a great editor is supposed to do — to report fairly and accurately on news of interest to readers and to analyze and editorialize on those issues of most importance, while always providing space for those who may disagree.

If Sturdivant had been slavish or faint of heart or timid, he would still be here at the Local, but James was faithful to his calling. Week after week, in addition to presenting the news, he had the audacity and fearlessness to use the editorial page exactly the way editorial pages of all quality newspapers have been used since the founding of this country. Sturdivant was thoughtful and meticulous in dissecting the issues of relevance to residents of the Chestnut Hill area.

Unfortunately, as attorney George Parry pointed out in a recent op-ed piece, there is an inherent conflict when an editor at the Local does the job he/she was hired to do. Unlike almost all other papers in the U.S., which are owned by businesspeople or corporations, the Local is owned by the Chestnut Hill Community Association (CHCA). Needless to say, some of the CHCA’s committees and most prominent individuals will sometimes be the subject of news stories and commentaries in the pages of the Local. When some of those individuals regard the coverage or commentary as negative or unfair, instead of firing off a letter to the editor, they may be tempted to retaliate by “shooting the messenger,” i.e., by making life miserable for the editor, pressuring him/her to “go easy” or even attempting to terminate his/her job.

The late Marie Jones, who edited the Local for many years, was confronted by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune numerous times during her tenure. On a few occasions, organized attempts to remove her from the editorship were launched, but Marie, a lifelong Chestnut Hill resident, was always able to mobilize the forces of reason and to prevail.

James Sturdivant, however, chose not to fight those who give lip service to free speech but who want to censor any editor who might actually criticize, even in the mildest terms, their efforts or position on any issue.

We the undersigned wish he had chosen to fight publicly for free speech, as did Marie Jones on several occasions. In his letter of resignation, James wrote about “the unprecedented threat to the editorial integrity of the paper ... In recent months I have come to understand the extent to which the CHCA leadership has ceased to place much stock in the continued editorial independence of its newspaper, especially as it regards comment and coverage of itself.” James blasted “the effort to undermine the ability of the editorial department of the Local to operate free of the whims of a leadership that changes yearly ... The desire of a majority of the board to privatize the CHCA and reconstitute it on a corporate model — all of these things are intolerable to me. These developments will lead to the eventual demise of one of the best community newspapers in the country. I will not preside over such a process.”

Thomas Jefferson said it was no accident that the First Amendment provided for freedom of speech and freedom of the press. He said it was placed first in the Bill of Rights because it was the most important Amendment; without it, he said, none of the other freedoms and rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution could survive.

We the undersigned believe that legendary journalist Edward R. Murrow would be proud of James Sturdivant, an even-tempered, mild-mannered, thoughtful and fair-minded gentleman who refused to surrender to the forces of censorship at great cost to himself and his family. Certain members of the board have made it clear by their actions that they do not want an independent newspaper run by principled journalists; some clearly want the newspaper version of TV’s “happy talk.” They clearly want a positive spin on every action by the CHCA and its board members — and never a discouraging word.

At last Thursday’s board meeting, board members, by a roll-call vote of 21 to 14, refused to offer Jim his job back, even though an overwhelming majority admitted that the three individuals who tried to pressure the editor to alter or kill an editorial had no authority to do so.

Last Friday associate editor Michael Mishak turned in a letter of resignation and quickly left the building, in keeping with CHCA policy. He wrote in part: “I can no longer work under the soul-numbing conditions that I have now personally watched drive two editors from their office, not to mention the untimely departures of other key staffers ... Most disturbing is the lack of newspaper and publishing experience at the highest levels of what is now being treated and run as a corporation, although the management’s incompetence in the ‘free press’ realm may help explain its increasing desperation to control the message of the Local.”

For those staff members still left at the Local, morale has never been lower. The building is like a morgue. We believe that some of the board members who voted not to bring James Sturdivant back do not have a clue how much damage they have done.

The people of Chestnut Hill and all CHCA members should be grateful that they were fortunate enough to have two supremely talented, dedicated and courageous editors and writers like James Sturdivant and Michael Mishak working for the Local. They should be aggrieved and saddened, as we are, that their work was undermined by those who want the Local to be uncritical cheerleaders for the CHCA. Some board members want a corporate newsletter, not an award-winning newspaper.

A significant minority of the currently constituted board of directors still want the Local to be an aggressive newspaper doing the job that the Founding Fathers envisioned. The problem is this: what self-respecting, experienced, independent-minded journalist would accept the job as editor of the Local, knowing full well that his/her job will be jeopardized at even the mildest whiff of criticism of any CHCA decision or of certain thin-skinned board members? If you believe, as we do, that the Local is worth saving as an independent voice of the community, now is the time to express your opinion forcefully to the newspaper and to the board members. If you don’t, there may be no newspaper left to save.

The remaining staff of the Chestnut Hill Local:
Scott Alloway, Production Assistant
Amy Brissom, Reporter
Mary T. Flannery, Classified Manager
Regina B. Holmes, Editorial Assistant
Robyn John, Production Manager
Len Lear, Local Life Editor
Sonia Leounes, Display Advertising Representative
Cheryl Anne Massaro, Circulation Manager
Ellen Maher, Classified Assistant
Jimmy J. Pack Jr., Assistant Production Manager
Kaya Simmons, Display Advertising Representative
Ellen Weiser, Listings Editor

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

A Season's Tale

A very decent and honorable woman has decided to leave the Board of the Chestnut Hill Community Association. Her letter speaks for itself.

Seasonal Thoughts

Throughout the holiday (and Holy Days) season between Thanksgiving and the New Year, it is time for reunion, reflection, generosity, and celebration. While some decked the halls with boughs of holly and dreams of financial sugarplums to restore the CHCFund, and others made plans and schedules for the distribution of those same funds which support the many worthwhile programs sponsored by the CHCA, not all were "merry and bright."

To recycle a phrase, "the Chestnut Hill Local is in crisis." Former webmaster Scott Alloway returned from a brief vacation to learn that he was being docked four days' pay to which he had been entitled while still a full-time employee. Although he filed a written complaint to the appropriate parties, he has yet to have received any written or verbal response to that message of December 8, 2005. On December 14 then, he filed a complaint to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor, and by the 16th, he had received a formal response stating that the DOL was proceeding in the complaint against the CHCA.

On December 16, the new Associate Editor Shawn Hart and recently hired Listings Editor Ellen Weiser were summarily fired nine days before Christmas. Both have been described as energetic, talented, creative, and hard-working, and Shawn Hart's strong work as a writer was a welcome sight. Neither was afforded the protections specified in the Employees' Handbook.

Just four days before Christmas, Shawn Hart was contacted by Joe Pie (who purports to speak for the Board and the Publisher's Committee) who said that his termination was being rescinded. Shockingly, when he returned to the Local that day, the interim editor notified him that she had changed her mind. Again.

The fact that the rest of the Local staff feels threatened does not make them paranoid.

It is clear that the Lentz Policy is being dismantled. It's a perfect match with the Local so presciently described by Vijay Kothare's piece of pornography of November 10 which is now available in honor boxes all over the neighborhood.

Fellow members of the CHCA Board: These things are being done IN OUR NAME.

They are immoral. The list of former employees of the CHCA who find themselves with families to support and bills to pay during this holiday season have us to blame. That we should allow this to continue out of carelessness or naiveté or the desire to have it "just go away" or even more craven motives is a disgrace and a corruption of the Certificate of Incorporation and the CHCA Bylaws by which we are governed.

There was great hand-wringing when the word "cronyism" appeared in an editorial some months back, but what other word could be used to describe the three "consultants" who have appeared in the past two months? The issue of the DCED grant which was intended to improve the working conditions for the Chestnut Hill Local has, as usual, been spun with the currently over-used tactic of "changing the subject." The fact that the CHCA President and others say over and over again that "everybody knew about it" is simply not the truth and not the answer to the questions asked. The issues of the court-imposed fine for fire code violations, the money still unpaid to the Senior Center, the hiring, promoting, and firing of staff (whether "income neutral" or not), and conflicts of interest will not go away when I do.

Consider this my formal resignation from the CHCA Board. It will, among other things, spare me from the nauseating spectacle of the Number One Agenda Item for the January Board meeting - the "Civil (sic) Code."

The following people will not be strolling down Germantown Avenue, "shiny with tinsel and dusted with snow" in this holiday season:

Karl-Eric Strandberg - Advertising Manager
James Sturdivant - Editor
Michael Mishak - Associate Editor
Amy Brisson - Intern
Ed "The I.T. Guy"
Shawn Hart - Associate Editor
Ellen Weiser - Listings Editor

Those remaining won't have the heart for it. They'll be too busy skating on thin ice.

Martha L. Haley

In Which We Discuss the Chestnut Hill Community Fund

Having read in the Local that the Chestnut Hill Community Association's Fund is facing a financials crisis-a shortfall of $40,000, I've been watching my mailbox expecting the solicitation for the Annual Fund Drive to arrive. After all if, even after borrowing money for cash flow purposes, the fund can't meet its obligations to provide promised funds to the Senior Center, Teens, etc., wouldn't you think the chosen leaders of this nonprofit would have gotten a jump on the other local nonprofits who would also be asking this community for their help as the year ends.

When the late Maurice McCarthy was President of the CHCA, he understood that the management and growth of the Fund was the singular most important job that the Directors of the CHCA needed to attend to as a whole. All well-run nonprofits understand this, too. So Maurice held a Fund Kickoff in early October to announce his goals. He prepared each board member with a packet of materials including the who, what, where, and how's and even paper and pencils.

Maurice raised the highest amount of money the Annual Fund Drive had ever raised. He was proud of this and he was proud of every board member for their part in making this happen. He did this without the aid of a fancy database and fundraising program.

Since then, and even with the Annual Fund Drive managed over these ensuing years by the same president the fund amount has decreased each of the last few years. What's worse is that a database and a very sophisticated fund raising program were purchased in 2003, but no one knows if they are in operation. Perhaps, that is because no money was permitted for staff training- a grand total of $2000.

In the last 6 weeks or so, my family has received Annual Fund Appeals from our high schools, colleges, post graduate schools, museums, churches, charities and more. When the mismanaged and misguided CHCA comes calling this family will have no funds left.

Marie Lachat


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