Saturday, January 31, 2009

Mt. Airy Express, G'town Courier deal ...

A source has informed us of a deal for the Mt. Airy Express and the Germantown Courier, properties of the Journal Register Co. (JRC) of Yardley.

"Connie Winters, real estate mini-magnate... is the new owner of the Mt Airy and G'town papers," we were told.

This bit of news was expanded upon by a second source who is close to figures involved in the deal. She signed letter of intent, the source said.

There is a preferred candidate for editor with whom Winters has not yet spoken, a source added.

Scott Alloway

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Another one bites the dust ...

We received word Saturday afternoon that Virgina Mallory has tendered her resignation as a CHCA director. Jim Foster appears to be the person who will assume the seat. That rumbling you hear is Tom Fleming rolling over in his grave. Or it may be Walter, who's not in one. Check your emails.

Word has it Virginia will be a candidate in the spring CHCA board election. Keep an eye out for the nomination deadline, which is in March.


Thursday, January 29, 2009

Chestnut Hill Yokels ...

An Open Letter
to the Vice President of Operations

Ms. Hitchcock:

In the wake of your failed putsch against the editor of the Local Jan. 22nd, I thought I'd offer some advice. Try being nice to him. Invite him up to Ned Mitinger's place on that hilltop near Cresheim, say, for some clam chowder and sherry, warm encouragement, and a soft thump on the shoulders . . . It's been clear for a long time, after Ron Recko's regime won and lost power in 2006 (the divestiture of his Oversight Committee to keep some of your little devils from causing management mayhem was particularly telling), that the editor didn't want trouble. Never a word about the abolishment of the Oversight crew! He avoided tough editorials the way the sparrow shuns the hawk! No really hard investigative pieces, even while Sanjiv Jain was marauding along Germantown Avenue with his various schemes -- like his "Playhouse" nightclub, that nobody wanted. Or when Superbrat Snowden, still allegedly angry because of some perceived slight by the Local that no one else remembers, was making dire threats to rent out some of his many empty Avenue stores to tattoo parlors and fortune tellers . . . Not even a squeak when you formed your infamous Ad Hoc committee last August, to consider what ailed the Local financially, and didn't include him! Or anyone from the Ad staff! Churchly quiet from the editor, even though the fallout from your incompetent inquiry led directly to Jimmy Pack's firing, your attempt on the editor's own job, and the ritual resignations of people from your side of the line, and those who oppose you.

Why, the editor was as reticent & mannerly as a young Philadelphia Cricket Club candidate. Instead of naming names and arguing procedural inconsistencies, he opted for "peace", and filled your front pages with opaque accounts of CHCA committee and board meetings, and heart-warming pieces about commercial efforts to revive shopping, the joy of the Garden Fest and the Run for the Hill of It. When it came to informational heavy-lifting, he depended almost exclusively on Ed Feldman, the brilliant parodist, and Jim Foster, the Mt. Airy businessman/reformer, both as fired-up as Eugene Debs against the unfairness of anti-democratic greedheads and anti-free press squawking. (One exception, however, was staffer Joel Hoffman's first piece on the closing of Caruso's Market, which drew a rain of opprobrium from the CHCA right, but no editorial comment, either.) Old interpretations of the CHCA's Lentz Policy used to allow for stout polemics in Letters and Op-Ed pages to relieve readers' senses of moral outrage, but under this editor, they became a substitute for news and opinion. And they came with a deniability clause. They were protected by Lentz and thus off-limits in the blame game. A rather Sicilian move.

But you must have seen, Ms. Hitchcock, that he really wanted to come in from the cold. The present editor's great achievement was his calling you out on the rancid 2008 election corruption, the buying of votes and destruction of evidence that would have proved what a Karl Rovian group you, Tolis Vardakis, Mark Keintz, Pam Learned, Mike Hickey, Caroline Haussermann and former editor Katie Worrall really are. Having exposed you and backed a State Attorney's probe into the election, however, the editor let the matter drop. If you asked him about it, he said the state investigators were doing their thing, and that he "couldn't find anything out." No prodding from the Local was called for. Why make unnecessary trouble? No further comment. Back to sleep.

Yet the bullying of the paper and its staff went on relentlessly, and it clearly wore on the editor. He lost weight. He looked exhausted. Sometime during the summer, you began proposing limits to the number of times critical letter writers and Op-Ed commentators could appear in the Local . Your proposed policy -- never fully adopted I understand-- specified not more than once in five weeks for wiseguys like Feldman and Foster. (To break up the harassing sniper fire.) But Feldman, who'd moved to California around this time, dropped off dramatically. His pieces were either heavily edited or denied by the editor, on his own, without your insistence. Ed's latest killed piece addressed the Jimmy Pack firing in December, but never saw print at all. Foster, too, went on a hiatus beginning in August, in that he began writing on citywide and national issues, rather than Chestnut Hill stuff. Only after the Pack affair was Foster fully rampant again. Feldman is silent.

Addressing the above drove the editor into a frenzy at the end of 2008 and during the first week of 2009. He postponed an op-ed of mine soon after Pack got broomed, on the flimsiest "legal" excuses, before reluctantly running it Jan. 1st. When I wrote a follow-up letter, protesting his placement of an editor's note before my op-ed, so that readers and management would know he discounted it (editors' notes usually appear after controversial submissions, so as not to prejudice readers in advance), he not only killed the letter, but forbade me ever to submit again, in such violent terms I was surprised to see his rather Anglican editorial of January 8, going on about the sainted George Spaeth, who'd just impressed on him while resigning from the Board on the Pack firing, that "violence doesn't work."

It's a selective belief, employed on a sliding scale by the editor, I gather. He was pretty non-violent again when his old friend Jimmy asked him to accompany him to a Kangaroo Court in the CHCA offices on December 29th, presided over by you, Ms. Hitchcock, and witnessed by Tolis Vardakis. When the editor tried to enter the office President Vardakis reportedly blocked his way, and said "This is Association Business." But when Jimmy lightly pushed him aside, to let his real boss in on his firing, the editor walked away. Which must have been really heartwarming for Pack.

It's been reliably reported to me, too, that during the editor's interrogation before the Executive Committee Jan. 22nd, a number of people, including the Pizzanos, left the room in disgust at the lawless pettiness of the "charges" being leveled against him. (One complaint, by Ms. Learned, I believe, charges that the editor should have gone to Vardakis's defense and remonstrated with Pack for being insubordinate while he was being crucified.) Only the intervention of a board member who called the disgusted back allowed the vote to break 14 to 12 in the editor's favor.

I understand that you were so sure the vote was a done deal, that you'd -- perhaps with the assistance of Carol Cope? -- already arranged to recall Mary Jane Shelly, a long-retired associate editor at the Local, away from her pointy hat, cauldron and stirring stick on Long Beach Island, to run the paper on an interim basis?

It would be a lot simpler, Ms. Hitchcock, to just seduce the editor. Six editors in nine years doesn't look good for CHCA credibility. And this one appears ready to go. Just leave him a few NPR-style illusions about "the free press" to rationalize with, and you can wrap him up and mail him. Then you'll have the sort of peace and the very dull paper that you and your friends in the CHBA seem to be convinced will reverse all the market trends, crime, diversity and social evolution that are changing the community forever.

Yours truly,

John Lombardi
Cherry Hill, N.J.

I'm told you've publicly claimed that I'd cost the CHCA $16,000 in a settlement fee for a a photo that appeared in the paper in 2000, during my editorship; and last year said I'd overspent my editorial budget for 2000-1 by $95,000, thus helping to plunge the Local into its current fiscal situation. I remember a dispute on the first one, but no payout; and have never heard of the second charge at all. So would you kindly forward any corroboratiing material you might have to my attorney? He is:

Richard T. DeCou, Esq.
Capehart & Scatchard
8000 Midatlantic Drive
Suite 300
Mt. Laurel, N.J. 08054

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Media (Mis)Management

Philadelphia Magazine has a nice piece on the thought processes newspaper management (read business types) bring to newspapers (as in lack of the same). Check it out at 1978 CALLED. IT WANTS ITS NEWSPAPER BACK. The kicker says it all: "All big-city newspapers have been hurt by the rise of the Internet, declining ad sales, and an economy gone south. But the brain trust at the Inquirer and Daily News has a deeper problem: They think we still need their papers to find out what’s going on."

And on the Journal Register Co. front, bye-bye Hershey weekly. Hello, Hummelstown Sun. No new developments seen in Mt. Airy for the Times-Express or in Germantown for the Courier, though.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Resignation of Pam Learned

In her resignation letter to the CHCA board, Pam Learned did not specify what legal liability she was trying to avoid by stepping down, but she did make reference to an e-mail I had sent to her in response to an e-mail she had sent to community and board members from her work account. (She is the president of Word Work, Inc., a marketing communications firm based in Lansdale. According to Learned's Linked In profile, she and her employees "write and design websites, logos, brochures, and newsletters for about 20 clients in small business, local government, and non-profits.")

Upon resignation, Learned told the board that she was not sure what I was referring to. Perhaps I can clear that up. 

(Note: I'm not taking credit for her resignation. There are a number of reasons that she could have resigned, including her role in trying to fire Local Editor Pete Mazzaccaro without just cause or due process. I do hope I was partly responsible, though.)

In that e-mail, posted below, Madam Learned suggested that I should be fired because:

1.) I don't deserve to be paid to "malign" my employers (I'm not paid to post on this blog).

2.) I am an "unprofessional" and biased reporter.

Learned was a reporter herself for two years and seven months, during which time she won two awards for investigative journalism from the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association. That makes her e-mail all the more appalling--and hypocritical. Perhaps she only cares for the exposition of corruption when she's on the writing side. She should know better.

Exhibit A: Learned's E-Mail...

I've just read the blog with the most recent posting being January 13, 2008. Yes, Walter, we have a serious issue with the staff of the Local and the issue is not bylaws or representation. It is the result of poor management by unprofessional managers.

The fact that the board had to step in on the issue of Jimmy Pack says to me that there are managerial issues that must be addressed. Specific, documented requests to handle the issue with Jimmy were ignored and denied. Now, we have another employee who is exposing us through unprofessional conduct as a journalist.

As for Joel's comments on the blog, I see no reason to employ someone who feels they must malign their employer with unsubstantiated innuendo. Clearly, it is not a good fit. Most important, it outlines the lack of objectivity we have in reporting on important community issues.

With this example in mind, I can't say in good conscience to the residents we represent that we have reporters working with integrity as they carry out the mission of the CHCA through the paper that we publish. That must change in 2009.

I'd never deny someone the opportunity for free speech, but I wouldn't pay for anyone to speak in a way about his employer in a way that is unsubstantiated and which subject our board members to legal liability. It's just bad business.

Exhibit B: My response to that e-mail, which was sent to Rob Remus, Walter Sullivan (who apparently inspired her commentary) and at least six other people...

I read your e-mail with great interest. A few things you should know:

1.) The blog is not associated with the paper.
2.) I can legally write whatever I want so long as I don't libel anyone. Libel means a false and defamatory statement of fact.
3.) You would do well to read this primer on blogging and libel law:
4.) If you ever libel me again in an e-mail, you're going to have some trouble on your hands.



Beau-Coup Attempt

The Gang of 12 showed the level of its business acumen and concern for employees last week when it attempted a preemptive strike against the editor of the Chestnut Hill Local, Pete Mazzaccaro. What a remarkable list of deeply-thought-out questions they presented that Thursday evening. More on this later.

First the news, then the background
We learn this week that after the failed vote to remove Pete Mazzaccaro as editor, two of the directors removed themselves from the board - Pam Learned and Mike Hickey have resigned their seats. As we count it, 24 seats are up from grab this spring. An interlocking seat is open. As an aside, this time the ballots have to be held for a while. No quick destruction like last year's fiasco.

The Buildup
On Wednesday, January 21, 2008, Chestnut Hill Local editor Pete Mazzaccaro received an email communication from Chestnut Hill Community Association President Tolis Vardakis demanding his appearance before the CHCA Board of Directors at the monthly meeting on Thursday January 22, 2008. In short, Mazzaccaro would be asked to answer a series of interrogatories which were included in a two-page attachment to the demand letter. The questions are included in this post; below the first few paragraphs.

In a message NN received from an observer, were the following comments: "The nature of these questions runs the gamut from wanting his opinion on the actions of others, through challenges to the veracity of letter and opinion writers who have appeared in the Local, to major policy issues as to where an editor’s responsibility begins and ends at the Chestnut Hill Local."

Our sources confirm that Mazzacarro "had just completed his annual personnel review with this same board in December 2007 and had responded as requested... this 11th hour foray into unrelated territory (was) puzzling, to the say the least."

They advised: "Considering that none of what was outlined in the letter had anything to do with producing a professional and timely news and editorial product, and that the Chestnut Hill Local has had held up extremely well in a market that has seen both major and local newspapers falter and actually fail, we can only wonder what purpose can be served by this appearance."

"The operating policies of the Local, while debated from time to time over the years, are settled in the Lentz Policy and in the By-Laws as amended, the issues raised in these prepared interrogatories would have to be discussed and debated in the larger forum of the entire association, if at all."

The sources said they advised Mazzaccaro to "decline to respond in the manner requested and suggest that if President Vardakis or others wish to have these or other related questions addressed to Mazzaccaro debated or discussed, we print them in the Local and he will respond in print with his conclusions, if he feels qualified to comment. Another more democratic process could include printing the questions in advance in the Local and then, with proper advance notice in the board meeting agenda, the membership and public would be invited to a special board meeting where the issues would be discussed in open forum, not in executive session."

Copies of the two-page question list have been circulating in the Chestnut Hill community since last Friday. In addition, several other interesting e-mails and another letter have been passed around for perusal.

"These are not personnel matters, but ones that relate to policy and fundamental journalistic free speech issues. They go far beyond the interview of one individual in a closed meeting that is not preceded by formalized public notice."

The Meeting is Held
On Thursday, Jan 22, "an 11th hour illegal CHCA executive session presented a scripted attempt at a renewed Spanish Inquisition followed by a kangaroo court that voted on a motion to fire Pete on the spot. The effort was led by Dina Hitchcock, Ned Mittinger and new member Pam Learned."

We have learned that a "protracted discussion/argument took the meeting to 11:30 and the vote against dismissal was only by a 2 vote margin - - but that in itself was a reversal of recent trends, considering that some board members that walked out in disgust would most likely have voted against the dismissal."

The vote was 14-12 against firing Mazzaccaro.

Said a source: "A cadre of newly installed and previous board members heavily containing those from the business district are driving the plan to dismember the newspaper once again. I think it will be imperative to get this action into the public domain as it can be the first plank in a platform for the next election."

"I think they overplayed their hand this time and some folks on that board “got religion” and decided that they could no longer stand the deceit and duplicitous behavior. At this point I agree ... we may have crossed the Rubicon and can form a slate that will take these people on from the facts..."

We now post, with assorted responses, the collected studied thoughts and queries from this group for your discussion and comment. Perhaps the next board of directors meeting would be an appropriate place to probe the officers and executive committee members about these topics.

The Questions, from the two-page list presented by the CHCA leadership

1. In a recent blog, Joel Hoffman (a Local staff writer) speculated that Rob Remus' motivation in volunteering to help improve the Local's operating practices was to displace a current real estate advertiser from a prime spot in the Local in favor of ads for his own employer.
a. When a Local employee publically (sic) suggests, with no factual basis, that a board member is attempting to displace a current advertiser from an important spot in the CH Local, is he putting at risk the relationship between the Local and that advertiser?

Perhaps they might recall a certain meeting where the aforementioned Remus made note of the real estate ad placement at an in-house meeting with certain Local staff. As for factual basis, if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck and swims like a duck, well...

Easy answer. No. Said board member is not known for being on staff at the Local. The risk is in the relationship between that board member and the advertisers' community.

b. Does the fact that the employee, while proclaiming his insider status at the Local, publishes these opinions outside of the Local mean that no harm to the Local has been generated?

No foul, no harm. In fact, it lends credence to the concept that the Local operates independently of the board. And given what has transpired, that is an especially good thing.

c. Should a manager (the editor in this case) inform an employee that putting the employer's financial relationships at risk, regardless of venue, is incompatible with long-term employment at that employer?

One supposes the editor might inform the board that its behavior harms the financial health of the Local.

2. Acknowledging mistaken reports, and correcting false assertions in op-ed pieces.

a. Regarding the Hoffmann report in the Local on the CHCA November board meeting specifically the treasurer's report in which Mr. Hoffmann failed to report one significant fact and falsely reported another. The question is does the editor have an obligation to publically (sic) acknowledge those mistakes in the next issue? Or is a correction by the misquoted party in a letter to the editor considered adequate?

Oh, Lord. must we go through this again? Errors are made and corrections are issued, either by the slighted party or the paper. That the error was noted serves as sufficient to complete the act of contrition. Besides, it's often hard to tell what the real story is when one listens to a CHCA board meeting.

b. Regarding the op-ed piece by Ed Feldman in which Mr. Feldman falsely suggested that Ed Berg's resigned to avoid unwanted consequences of staying on the board. The editor was present at the meeting in which Mr. Berg announced that his move to New Jersey meant he could no longer serve on the board, yet did not append an editor's note reporting that fact. Instead the "correction" had to be made by Mr. Berg in a reply in the next week's edition of the Local. If Mr. Berg had had not had occasion to write a reply, would the correction have ever been made?

See answer above to 2a.

3. When a CH Local editor publishes an op-ed author (Ed Feldman) who the editor acknowledges fraudulently claims to be a reporter for the Local, is the editor putting the interests of the newspaper at risk?

Seems like that's a no brainer. No. I am an Admiral in the Queen's Navy. If you are dumb enough to believe it ...

4. Self-reporting of conflict of interest. Regarding the coverage of Jimmy Pack's employment termination: In failing to note his long-term friendship with Mr. Pack, is the editor doing the reader a disservice?

Answer: As much as failing to note the editor's short-term friendship with the rest of the staff. Or his propensity to drinking his coffee black with two sugars. Or his beloved Red Sox. Or being a Connecticut Yankee.

5. CHCF reporting. This editor, in a series of emails with the chair of the CHCF trustees several months ago, agreed to talk to the chair to get the facts when the CHCF became a topic in the paper. When the editor subsequently published opinion pieces about the CHCF, without contacting the CHCF chair, was the editor serving the interests of the reader?

A story is a story. An opinion piece is an opinion piece. Comics are comics. It's up to the CHCF person to speak up. That's the nature of a forum. Point, counterpoint. You know, dialogue. Speak up and own up to it.

6. Balance in op-ed pieces. If the editor perceives a lack of balance in op-ed pieces, is it the editor's responsibility to solicit countervailing opinions, or is it acceptable for the editor to wait for opposing contributions?

Answer 1, No. Answer 2, yes. Thank you for trying to understand public comments. If people have something to say, they should say it in public (and not wait until in Executive Session with the attendant secrecy under the unitary executive governance process).

7. When the editor is required to produce a quarterly report of the number and column-inches of op-ed pieces, by author, and has not done so after 6 months, how should that affect the assessment of his job performance? Does the lack of reporting harm the intelligent assessment of balance in opinion pieces in the Local?

Quick answer. No. Answer after semi-deep thought. Why the hell is someone asking the editor to measure column inches of opinion? Bigger ain't better. Think of the Gettysburg Address, with Lincoln following the 13,607-word drone of Edward Everett with a two-minute work of art. Quality, not quantity.

Management Personnel Issues

8. When two employees use their own equipment to take pictures for the Local, but only one is said an extra fee for the pictures, and is allowed to maintain property rights for those pictures, is hat a management failure? If the employee not being paid extra is a member of a protected class (say non-white, or female), is the manager exposing the employer to discrimination charge?

Oh, no. They did not say that. They did not write that. Did they? And no amount of winking is gonna let that one slide. Reminds me of a time at a board meeting a few years ago when someone made a comment about "those people." Classless. And clueless. As for an answer, you are kidding, right? Staff, freelance, contributor. We all work together. Novel concept, eh?

9. Regarding the hostile comments made by one Local employee against other CHCA employees 1 August of 2008. When a manager is informed, in writing, of employee behavior that creates a hostile work environment, and generates no documentation of whether and how he addressed he issue, is that manager putting his employer at risk?

Alleged hostile comments, one might say. A poll of the Local staff might find a question of who may be responsible for a hostile workplace. There are grave doubts the alleged perpetrator would be named by any on staff. But that's only staff talking.

10. When a manager refuses, after two requests by his employer (the CHCA president), to document an event he witnessed in which an employee shoved his employer, is that manager failing his duties to his employer? Does that refusal to document contribute to a hostile work environment? On the other hand, if that manager were to witness a board member shoving an employee, would it be responsible to fail to report that event?

Again, an alleged event. Given the situation on Germantown Avenue a few weeks ago when an alleged verbal exchange occurred, when a board member was present at the exchange and allegedly stood by passively, and a pair of police calls having been made a few days later by staff members afraid because of the actions in the Local office of the board member (who was one of the parties in the two-person shouting match), there are problems. Sadly, the XB glossed over that last issue.

11. In October of 2007, Moss Disston (treasurer) predicted a budget shortfall of $21,000. The editor offered personnel cuts and reduction of costs as well as a commitment to submit plans to increase revenues. After the CHCA president negotiated a reduction in rent, the Editor reneged n the cuts, did not reduce costs, and never presented plans to improve revenues. The Local lost 27,900 for said year, even though the cost of rent was $3,000 below budget. What does it say bout the relationship and accountability between the staff editor and the board, his employer, when working cooperatively with the Editor, when the Board's budget is ignored, and contributes a loss to the organization?

Simple solutions to simple problems. First, the Local stops paying $15,000 a year for Community Manager services. Second, the Local contracts out its bookkeeping services instead of paying $19,000 a year to the CHCA bookkeeper. Third, instead of paying $25,000 a year for its current rental site, the Local negotiates a deal with a Chestnut Hill real estate holder for new digs. Remember, these numbers are approximate (but close). And maybe the paper also asks the provider of the grant for the Community Association office staffer to switch her funding to a newspaper position. Voila. Big changes. We ask you, which operation is solvent and which one is feeding off the work of the other?

End of the questions (from the board, that is).

Self Disclosure: The author of this post is a Red Sox fan, drinker of beer and bourbon, likes cats, used to hunt and fish, is a friend of Jimmy J. Pack Jr. and reads Eschaton daily. He is from New England, too.

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Rest in Peace, Recorder

The 140-year-old Recorder newspaper was euthanized on Jan. 22, 2009, because its owner, Journal Register Co., could not find a buyer.

The paper covered both boroughs of Conshohocken as well as Whitemarsh and Plymouth townships.

"The Recorder was my first full-time gig in journalism," said Joel Hoffmann, a Chestnut Hill Local staff writer who is widely known for his lack of objectivity and professionalism. "The Local is good to me, but you never forget your first."

A funeral service will not be held in the Recorder's honor. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


To those who stood up for Local Editor Pete Mazzaccaro when his job was on the line: Thank you.

I don't think enough people commend Pete for continuing to put out a quality paper despite so many distractions. 

I'm proud to call him boss and friend.


The CHCA Board and the Local... Observations by Ann Spaeth

CHCA Bylaws Regarding the Chestnut Hill Local
and Comments on the Process

ARTICLE I. C. 3. Education “The Association conducts informative and educational activities, including public meetings and publication of a weekly newspaper to inform the community about religious, educational, environmental, social, and political concerns and other issues that affect the community.”
ARTICLE I. C. 3. a. “Publication of the Chestnut Hill Local is an integral function of the Association. The Local acts as a forum for community discourse……”

ARTICLE I. C. 3. b. Editor of the Chestnut Hill Local.
The Editor, employed by the Association, is responsible for the editorial content of the Local and acts in accordance with accepted standards of professional journalism and the professional judgment of the Editor. The Editor reports to the Association, the Publisher of the Local.”
ARTICLE I. C. 3. “Any form of prior censorship expressed or implied is prohibited. Any person may suggest to the Editor subjects to be covered but the Editor has the sole authority to decide what is ultimately published.”

Does this mean that because a “suggestion” promotes rather than censors content, that if suggestions or requests made by Officers, or by members of the Executive Committee at an annual job performance review or anytime in the interim between reviews, are not published as suggested, or otherwise acted upon by the Editor, that in their opinion, he can be summarily fired by that body for not following their private directives or suggestions?

In June of last year Mr. Mazzacaro was given what was called his annual review by the Executive Committee. No mention was made in the Local of the Executive Session to be held for this purpose. The multipage questionnaire was new and had never been approved by the Board. No report of the Committee’s recommendations or evaluation was given to the Board at its June meeting.

ARTICLE VI. B. 1. a. “The Executive Committee … the job performance of the Association’s employees at least once each year; and reports its actions and recommendations to the Board at the next meeting of the Board.”

In December, without prior notice in the Local as is required, the Executive Committee again went into Executive Session to review the Editor’s performance. This time, also, they gave no report to the Board of their recommendations to the Editor.

In the CHCA agenda printed in the Chestnut Hill Local of January 15 there was no mention of an Executive Session to be held at the Board Meeting on January 22.

In the January 22 issue of the Local, the CHCA Agenda listed an Executive Session “to update personnel matters,” but on the same day the Local came out, January 21, Mr. Mazzacaro received an e-mail from the President, Tolis Vardakis, requiring him to be present at the Board Meeting for a review of his job performance the next day. Copies also went to the Board. What Board Members present at this Executive Session were faced with was a motion to fire the Editor.
Ann Ward Spaeth

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Monday, January 26, 2009

14-12, and It's Not the Superbowl Score

Several people have tried to post comments, but neglected to include an e-mail address or ID. You must do so or we won't use your piece.

And we know you know the score. More on that later.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

If you're a fan of blaxploitation cinema... this trailer.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

No Blood in Ants – W. Bunch

Been holding this post for a week, waiting for more information. Another newspaper, Minneapolis Star Tribune, lurched into bankruptcy last week. The Seattle Post Intelligencer is in trouble. Gannett plans a one-week furlough for all employees.

Will Bunch at Attytood makes the connection - you can't sell what nobody's buying.

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo notes the money problems stem from owners " who insist on making a annual profit margin that was just never sustainable ..."

Don't blame the journalists, I say. As we've seen during the past eight years with an MBA president, business smarts just ain't what they used to be.

But is somebody buying the Mt. Airy paper? Rumor has it there's someone negotiating a deal - a newspaperperson, at that. We're waiting to hear more.

UPDATE: Go to this JRC doings site to read updates from around the nation.

UPDATE 2: First Draft offers common sense information on advertising income, most notably why the old business model for newspapers fails. "The advertising revenues that newspaper Web sites generate are not enough to sustain robust news coverage. Though The New York Times Web site attracted 20 million unique users in October, Web-driven revenues support only an estimated 20 percent of the paper’s current staff." Perhaps the deep-researching Task Force could check out how a study is done correctly. A link is in the story.

Scott Alloway

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Ignorance is Strength

Here's a suggestion: Why not prohibit CHCA executive committee members from sitting on any other committee? How much diversity of opinion can we really expect if the same people -- i.e. Piotrowski, Keintz, Hitchcock, Remus -- are involved with so many committees? The CHCA board has 50 members. Surely, someone else can step up.

Oh, and regarding the search for a publisher, the board would do well to invite as much Local participation in the process as possible. We call on those board members who want to try out for the job to immediately recuse themselves from any committees dealing with the paper. The conflict of interest policy may be a toothless mandate, but that doesn't mean certain board members rumored to be seeking the publisher job shouldn't show their cards (e.g. operations VP Dina Hitchcock, who is rarely prepared to present a report at public meetings despite holding one of the most important posts in the CHCA and whom I wouldn't trust to manage my assets in a game of Monopoly let alone a publication whose mission she doesn't seem to understand).

Oh, and another thing: The CHCA might want to take their new intellectual property policy into deeper consideration. 1.) We pay people $10 a picture. Asking them to forever forfeit the rights to their work would be tantamount to extortion.

2.) The CHCA doesn't own any of the Local photographers' cameras, mine included. I was not hired to be a photographer, but I must take more pictures in Jimmy Pack's absence. I'm happy to help the paper, but I'm not eager to let it own my photos without proper compensation (i.e. a raise or royalties).

3.) Few people will want to buy our photos and put them on T-shirts and mugs. Jimmy had lots of great shots, but the CHCA intellectual copyright policy cannot legally be applied retroactively.

4.) I've heard that some CHCA members fear they'll be mocked if we post videos of public meetings on You Tube.
4a.) It's a public meeting.
4b.) If they don't want to be mocked, they should be better behaved.
4c.) Chestnut Hill is neither a police state nor an internment camp.
4d.) Deal with it.

That concludes today's lecture.


Still Waiting for News in Mt.Airy...

It's easy to make a ton of money when you work your staff into the ground and don't pay them.
From Reflections of a Newsosaur

Rumors of a rescue of the Mt. Airy paper by a local group were heard today (Jan. 13); few hard facts and no names. At the same time, six more JRC papers went down this past weekend in the Lancaster, Pennsylvania, area while two dailies in Connecticut appear to have been rescued by investors.

With the Journal Register Company sinks into a cesspool of failure its ownership skillfully dug, there's still no word on the fate of the Springfield Sun, the Ambler Gazette, the Spring-Ford Reporter and a number of other nearby community newspapers that suffered the indignities foisted upon them by short-sighted management. There are lessons to be learned from this collapse - bad management as the root of JRC's fall being least of them.


Thursday, January 08, 2009

Walnut Hill Villlains: By the Books

If Darlene were a food, she would be Graft Macaroni and Sleaze.


And speaking of conflict of interest...

Let's consider Rob Remus's potential motivations for wanting to chair a CHCA ad hoc committee tapped to study the Local's financial position.

1.) While Mr. Remus has said that his appearance on the Destination Chestnut Hill brochure as part of the Legacy Real Estate team was an accident, if he does work with Legacy in any capacity, then he would have an interest in booting Elfant Wissahickon and Eichler Moffley, Legacy's competitors, off the back pages of the Local's two major sections.

2.) More importantly, Mr. Remus is the president of Property Centric Inc., which "provides custom built local search engines and online marketing strategies for the property management industry. Our results-focused products are centered on your goals: client acquisition and retention, brand building and ancillary profit generation. Throughout the customer lifecycle, Property Centric gives your property management company a competitive advantage by helping you win more residents, establish trust, retain residents and profit – all from our local search engine and marketing services."

Even more interesting is this press release for Property Centric, which I include in its entirety below. (Pay special attention to this paragraph: "Another key benefit, Property Centric's unique search solution allows for paid search placement and banner advertising by local and national advertisers that want to market their products and services to area residents via a community's web site. This provides a new and significant ancillary revenue stream for the property

CHCA Treasurer Mark Keintz once told me that the board had chosen Remus to lead the ad hoc committee because Remus was willing to put in the time. Read the press release below and consider what Remus stood to gain by putting in so many "man hours." (Hint: Property Centric makes $3,500 for each Web site it sets up and rakes in a $500 monthly maintenance fee.)

Property Centric Introduces First-Ever, Local Internet Search Engine for Multifamily Web Sites

Property Centric ( has introduced the only
local Internet search solution dedicated exclusively to serving the
multifamily property management industry. Designed for apartment,
condominium and community association web sites, portals and their
residents, Property Centric's local search engine generates more
relevant search results for web site visitors - both current and
prospective residents, as well as local businesses. This allows
property management firms to further build their brands, acquire and
retain more residents, and generate ancillary revenue.

Erdenheim, PA (PRWEB) June 28, 2007 -- In an effort to help the
property management industry better market its apartment communities
and capitalize on the growing demand for more targeted local online
search capabilities and online advertising, Property Centric
( has introduced the only custom-built, local
Internet search solution dedicated exclusively to serving the
multifamily property management industry. Specifically, Property
Centric now provides local search technology for apartment,
condominium and community association web sites, portals and their
residents. As part of Property Centric's launch, Rob Remus has been
named president.

"More than 75% of Internet users go online to find a new home, and at
least 70% of U.S. households go online to find local businesses, which
underscores the demand for 24/7 access to relevant and local
information that helps people run their lives," explained Remus.
"Property Centric offers a proprietary and completely customizable Web
search technology that allows property managers to profitably tap into
these trends.

By generating more relevant search results for web site visitors -
both current and prospective residents, as well as local businesses -
property management firms can further build their brands, acquire and
retain more residents, and generate ancillary revenue with Property
Centric's solution "By generating more relevant search results for web
site visitors - both current and prospective residents, as well as
local businesses - property management firms can further build their
brands, acquire and retain more residents, and generate ancillary
revenue with Property Centric's solution," explained Remus.

Property Centric's local search engine, which offers complete control
of search results to property managers, offers a number of benefits to
the property management industry.

First, by providing on-demand, relevant local information, property
managers can offer a premium, resident-centric amenity that meets the
Internet-user lifestyle needs of community residents. This helps
attract new and retain existing residents.

In addition, by creating such a plethora of local content for the
property manager's community web sites, Property Centric can drive
more site traffic and bolster site usage. "This not only can generate
stronger brand awareness, it can dramatically improve a property's
search engine optimization (SEO) rankings in the major search engines.
More users finding and clicking on their site leads to improved
rankings of the property management firm's or community's web site on
major search engines such as Yahoo and Google, for example," Remus

Mark-Taylor Residential, a leading apartment community developer and
manager with more than 9,000 units throughout the greater Phoenix
area, implemented Property Centric's solution in 2006. According to
Kim Atkinson, director of marketing and public relations for
Mark-Taylor, "With Property Centric's local search engine in place,
repeat visits are on the rise and our site traffic and natural search
rankings have improved drastically.

"For example, without any other search engine optimization efforts,
the Property Centric search engine has helped
consistently appear on page one of Google, Yahoo! and MSN for our most
targeted keywords: 'Phoenix luxury apartments.' Also, we can now be
found on page two or three of natural search listings at the major
search engines for more broad searches such as 'Apartments Phoenix.'
Before the installment of Property Centric's search engine, our site
was typically found on page 10 of Google's natural listings.
Additionally, search volume to our local search engine has
skyrocketed, bringing in on average, an additional 43,000 page views
per month for the last quarter," Atkinson explained.

Another key benefit, Property Centric's unique search solution allows
for paid search placement and banner advertising by local and national
advertisers that want to market their products and services to area
residents via a community's web site. This provides a new and
significant ancillary revenue stream for the property manager.

"The multifamily industry is constantly looking for ways to generate
ancillary revenue," Remus noted. "Property Centric offers a solution
that is completely customized to property managers' needs and allows
them to effortlessly and with a minimal investment, deliver a rapid
ROI for a monthly stream of revenue beyond rents."

Remus to Lead National Expansion

As president of Property Centric, Remus will direct the new company's
aggressive national expansion among national and regional property
management firms, as well as build the company's management team.

With 15 years of multifamily industry experience, he joins Property
Centric from Illustratus Premium Newsletters, a leading provider of
online and print newsletters tailored for the multifamily industry,
home owner associations, and senior and retirement communities, where
he served as the national accounts marketing director.

Remus also co-founded Apartment Solutions Inc./Reslynx, which offered
fee-based virtual leasing offices throughout the East, as well as
call-center enterprise software for leasing communications. In 2003,
he, along with his partners, sold the company to Weichert Realtors,
Inc., which later formed Weichert Rental Network, where he served as
its vice president of sales and marketing.

About Property Centric

Established in 2006, Property Centric is headquartered just outside
Philadelphia. Property Centric provides custom-built local search
engines and online marketing strategies for the multifamily property
management industry.

Property Centric is a subsidiary of Vortaloptics, a software
development company specializing in Net-native ASP search solutions.
Headquartered in Las Vegas, Vortaloptics provides solutions to the
multifamily, education, and media (print & broadcast) industries, as
well as the WeAreNetworkÔ.

For more information about Property Centric, call 877.889.5500 or

Editor's Note: Contact Nina Dietrich at nina(@) or at
201.493.8944 for a digital headshot of Rob Remus.


Chestnut Hill Yokels

The following letter to the Chestnut Hill Local was killed by the editor.

Since I've spoken to a lot of puzzled Local readers, unable to decipher what last week's opaque front page "story" on Jimmy Pack's firing was about -- the editor saw fit only to say that since it was accomplished at an executive session which is closed to the public, he could only characterize the charges against his old friend -- I'd like to shed some light.

The reasons for getting rid of Jimmy hark back to a list of complaints about his "inappropriate" remarks over the past six years to various CHCA officers. These had to do with working conditions, and later, restrictive changes being forced on the Local: it could no longer run pieces by Ed Feldman and Jim Foster very often for ex. -- they were too "negative" and "critical" -- and so could only appear at five week intervals (!). Naming names was to be de-emphasized, in order to cut down "nastiness" and "negativity", too -- though what names have to do with those qualities beats me. Only "positive" stories about how well shops along Germantown Avenue were doing (!), and booster comments about upcoming civic events, were really welcome.

Pack, who is a bit of a drama queen at times, would point out that such restrictions were Kafka-esque, and Orwellian: "The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech in the press!" he'd yell at some lumpen-technocrat, more interested in top-down power lines than journalism. A careful list of his infractions was kept over time, the way high school social committee girls do when accreting evidence for "most popular" lists . . .

The actual thing that got him fired though were his remarks to board member Rob Remus after a meeting Nov. 20th, in which Remus, representing an ad hoc committee critical of the Local's financial performance, had proposed some draconian measures to correct the situation -- like cutting ad staff commissions in half, eliminating a production department position (which it accomplished by sacking Pack), and trying to sell national and regional ads in the Local(!). "Way to go!" Pack alleges he told Remus, and then, again allegedly, maintains that Remus made some brutal, anti-homosexual remarks to him. Which Remus denies.

Remus reportedly aired his side of the affair to Dina Hitchcock, VP of Operations for the CHCA, and she, one of the recipients of Pack's blats in earlier years, quickly got the ball rolling to broom Jimmy -- he admits to having called her "a witch." This was accomplished Dec. 18th, without having heard Pack's side -- he was on vacation with his family in Connecticut, having skipped his summer break, and according to Hitchcock, she couldn't find his number.

But an attendee at the executive session that voted to fire Pack Dec. 18th, maintains that the execs agreed on the importance of keeping the Remus incident quiet. Any allusion to alleged prejudice or physical threats would play badly as positive PR on the Avenue.

Why the editor of this paper, who has gone along with most anti-free press rules imposed on the Local since his arrival 2 1/2 years ago, agreed to print such a bloodless, four paragraph bulletin from CHCA Central instead of a real story, is a matter of economics, I'm sure. He has two kids, a house and a wife to support.

But he was rough on his old friend, and even preceded my op ed piece of Jan. 1, 2009, protesting Jimmy's firing, with an editor's note proclaiming: "Rob Remus has denied making comments to Jimmy Pack that called his sexuality into question, see page 1."

Editor's notes customarily come at the end of letters or op ed pieces, columns or stories, so as not to signal to readers in advance that he doesn't credit what's to follow. And that was the agreement I had with Mr. Mazzaccaro.

John Lombardi
Cherry Hill, N.J.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

In Which the Author Defends Jimmy J. Pack Jr.

I've only known Jimmy since July, but once I was used to his quirks and vulgar outbursts I realized that I had made a good friend. Jimmy is much misunderstood, as gifted artists tend to be. But while he is known for his bouts of bitchiness, it is rare that Jimmy unleashes his anger on someone who doesn't deserve it. 

I'm not saying that Jimmy is a Christ-like figure, but I do believe that he was crucified for speaking the truth. Jimmy can be stubborn to a fault and very difficult to work with at times. (He has never denied being a temperamental asshole.) But in reviewing the Local archives covering Jimmy's employment, I think most people will find that he brought something special to the paper. His firing is a great loss to the Local and to the community.

Those who voted to fire Jimmy without just cause or due process should be ashamed of themselves. They might want to start stuffing their assets in mattresses. It doesn't take a keen legal mind to recognize that the board leadership's myopia could cost them dearly.  Obfuscation won't save them this time. Unless they want to be charged with perjury,  too. 

It's hard to take a group being investigated by the state attorney general at its word. (I've heard that they believe the firing was both justified and necessary.) Some of them are trying to defend their actions by saying the firing happened in executive session and that the details cannot be brought to light. I'm hardly the only person unsatisfied by that red herring.

I'm eager to find out what skeletons lie in the executive committee members' closets. I guess we'll all find out soon enough.

p.s. Anyone on the board willing to characterize this blog as a conflict of interest would do well to consider the motives of their cohorts. I'd like to think it's altruism that convinces the leadership to put in so many "man hours," but I sincerely doubt it.

p.s.s. Just to be clear, I, Joel Hoffmann, am the author of anything posted by Jyles. Working at the Local has split my personality. It's the only way to separate myself from weekly mental anguish.


Monday, January 05, 2009

He's a simple kind of man...

Shameus is all for Darlene's plan, even if he doesn't quite understand it. Poor fella. He means so well.


Friday, January 02, 2009

Darlene's New Hobby

Oh my! Darlene and a new friend are plotting revenge on the Walnut Hill Sentinel.


Music Hath Charms...

Stephen Bennett: Guitar Workshop / House Concert

Professor and local musician Steve Broitman will host guitar wizard Stephen Bennett for a day of musical amazement in the Broitman home in Centerville Delaware, on Saturday January 24, 2009. In the afternoon Steve will conduct a small-group instructional workshop for guitar students at all levels, followed by a small house concert later that evening. Steve is widely known for both his astonishing guitar skills, and his exceptional ability as a guitar teacher. He is a long time, much appreciated veteran of numerous guitar camps (including Steve Kaufman’s Acoustic Music Kamp), and one of the only individuals ever to win prizes at the Winfield National Guitar Championships in both flatpicking and fingerstyle guitar. He has toured extensively with Tommy Emmanuel, and is also widely known for his virtuosity, and innovative use and performance with the (very cool) harp guitar.

The afternoon instructional workshop will run from 1-4, and the evening concert will start at 7:30. The price for the workshop is $65, and the evening concert tickets are $25 (students attending both the workshop and the concert will be charged $80 for both). Please note that all proceeds will be immediately turned directly over to the artist. The location is in Centerville Delaware, which is fairly convenient to Wilmington, Philadelphia, Chadds Ford and south/central New Jersey.

For more information, and to reserve seats please email (Steve Broitman), or call (302) 654-8306.

More information on Stephen Bennett.

You can also hear Stephen Bennett play here (he is the second performer):

Steven L Broitman, PhD
Professor, Cell & Molecular Biology
Department of Biology
West Chester University of Pennsylvania
West Chester, PA 19393


Thursday, January 01, 2009

The Revolution Must Be Digitized

The Local is under assault, folks, and we need your help to save it. With news staffs being cut nationwide, with corruption on the rise, the need for investigative reporting is paramount. As the Inquirer continues to be pared down, it will be up to weekly newspapers and blogs to show us what Philadelphia has become and what it should be. It seems that the ownership of the Local is trying to purge the current staff and bring in a more deferential crew. We will need a groundswell of support this year to get more friends of the paper on the CHCA board. You must take the power back from those who abuse it. Not just for the survival of the paper but for the good of the community. Let this blog be your place to organize.

The revolution must be digitized.


A New Year Begins...

Jyles sez Auntie's been busy. And he captures her at home on New Year's Day. So little time, so much to do.



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