e CommonSense: August 2005

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Attracting business to Delaware County

Just how weak is the Delaware County Commerce Center, the County's official economic development agency? Pretty weak, if its website is any indication.


The list of availabile sites hasn't been updated since October 2004, and the rest of the information available is poorly laid out and generally useless or easily found elsewhere.

All the information provided on "new" development also appears to be very old, although it's undated so it's hard to say for sure:

Kohl's, a value oriented department store chain, opened three new stores in Delaware County last spring.

Didn't that happen years ago?

Compare our site to the economic development efforts of other counties:





Notice also that the Commerce Center is located right smack in the Courthouse, and you have to wonder if this isn't just another farce.

Next time you see someone in the Courthouse cafeteria from the Commerce Center, ask them: just what do you folks do, anyway???

Sunday, August 28, 2005

The Continuing Exploitation of Chester by Delco Politicians

Last week's Philadelphia Inquirer had a story entitled "Chester School Has Touters, Doubters," about the Chester Community Charter School owned by Vahan Gureghian. Anyone who has lived and worked in Delaware County long enough knows that the reporter missed the story. Chester Community Charter School isn't about educating children, it's about funneling money into the hands of the politically well-connected.

Here are the Delco politicians' longstanding guiding principles when it comes to Chester:
  • those blacks have been killing each other for years, and they'll keep killing each other forever, and we don't care as long as their blood doesn't splatter on us, and as long as they keep their violence in Chester
  • nobody makes money in Chester unless we say it's OK, and we don't say it's OK unless there's something in it for us
  • you can make much more money with charter schools than you can with public education; after all, what's a few low-paying patronage jobs compared to an interest in a profitable and expanding business?
As the Inquirer says, Main Line lawyer and businessman Vahan H. Gureghian has turned Chester Community Charter School into a profitable, expanding business in the heart of the virtually bankrupt school district. Until 1999 Gureghian was a lawyer with the Philadelphia firm of Obermayer Maxwell Rebmann & Hippel. He was also a part time real estate developer who made a fortune building in Delaware County with the help of certain connections.

His prior interest or experience in education: zilch.

His shame at exploiting the children of Chester: zilch.

Michael F.X. Gillin, well known and loved by all of us who work in the Courthouse, is a lawyer who also is the Registrar of Wills (just tell that to his "assistants"!), chair of the Newtown Republican Party (where he has done a fine job; just ask the rank and file on the police force!), and Chairman of the Board of Control of the Chester Public Schools (because of his vast experience in both education and management!).

Gillin said his favorable treatment of Gureghian's business has not been influenced by past ties with Gureghian. Right. We're stupid, Mike.
  • in the spring, George P. Cordes, a lawyer who works for Gillen, represented Gureghian in the purchase of property adjoining the school (hint: one way to reward a helpful politician is to pay his law firm huge legal fees for simple work)
  • Gureghian rented office space from Gillin for two years, ending in early 2003, paying a total of $10,350 in rent (that's about $400 per month; sounds like Gureghian just wanted a presence in Media as a launching pad for his eventual takeover of the schools)
  • Gureghian's wife, Danielle Gureghian, a lawyer, had a business association with Gillin's firm that she said ended in 2002. She also gave Gillin a $1,000 contribution in 2003. She is now the attorney for the school management company.
  • Gureghian has given $115,000 in political contributions since 2000, much of it to Delaware County and state Republicans. Republican House Speaker John Perzel received the most: $20,000 in 2004, and $15,000 in 2002. (That's just the money we know about; wonder how much went to PACs and other untraceable entities?)
  • Gureghian's business is also represented in Harrisburg by lobbyist Joseph Loeper, another utterly shameless, disgraced, and still powerful guy, the former Republican majority leader of the Pennsylvania Senate who served six months in federal prison in 2001 for obstructing a tax probe.
In the meantime, the Chester public schools are languishing and the children attending those schools are at the mercy of the greed and ambitions of these people. But Vahan Gureghian and his charming wife Danielle are doing just fine, thank you very much:
  • since 1999, Chester Community has paid Gureghian and his company about $10 million in tax dollars to manage the school and about $5 million in rent for use of the school buildings, according to state and federal documents.
  • of the 95 charter schools in Pennsylvania reporting to the state, Chester Community is the only one to have spent more on administration than on instruction in 2003-04, state data show
  • Chester Community school spent 40 percent of its budget on administration and business expenses, with most going to Gureghian's management fee. Charter schools in Pennsylvania typically spent 16 percent.
How do these people sleep at night? Next time you see Mike Gillin in the hall, ask him, what's your secret, Mike?

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Why is Delco's computer system so bad?

A few months ago the Philadelphia Inquirer ran an article about the top government salaries in the five-county region. It was interesting for many reasons, one being that the astute observer would notice that Delaware County is the only county out of the five -- Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester and Montgomery -- that does not have an IT Director.

Instead, we have a political boss who is the head of "Data Processing," an antiquated term that shows that the County hasn't progressed since the 1980's when we had punch cards and literally had to process the data. What we need is a head of Information Technology, a term that shows the breadth of computer capabilities. As long as Delaware County continues to staff important jobs like this with know-nothing politicians, we will never move out of the 1980's. Step aside, John, and let this County enter the 21st century!

If you want to check for yourself to see how backward we are, and what happens when you have politicians gobbling up huge salaries to hold key positions that they aren't qualified to fill, compare the websites. Then try to do a search for some useful information. You'll see just how bad things are in Delaware County.

This isn't just a nuisance, either, and a good computer system isn't a luxury. Computers make government more efficient, and less expensive, and more responsive to its constituents.

When businesses think about locating in Delaware County, what impression are they given? Don't we look like backward fools? When people think about moving here, what does our website tell them about us?

We need to put computers to work for the good of the Delco taxpayer, not as a front for more patronage hires.

Now compare our website to some of the others. Aren't you embarrassed? What does this say about our so-called leadership?


A Short Bio of Thomas Paine

thanks to Jon Katz at Wired Magazine, May 1995, for the following:

Thomas Paine, a fuzzy historical figure of the 1700s, is remembered mostly for one or two sparkling patriotic quotes - "These are the times that try men's souls" - and little else. A professional revolutionary, Paine was one of the first to use media as a powerful weapon against an entrenched array of monarchies, feudal lords, dictators, and repressive social structures. He invented contemporary political journalism, creating almost by himself a mass reading-public aware for the first time of its right to encounter controversial opinions and to participate in politics.

Thomas Paine is our dead and silenced ancestor. He made us possible. We need to resurrect and hear him again, not for his sake but for ours. We need to know who he was, to understand his life and work, in order to comprehend our own revolutionary culture. Paine's odyssey made him the greatest media figure of his time, one of the unseen but profound influencers of ours. He made more noise in the information world than any messenger or pilgrim before or since. His mark is now nearly invisible in the old culture, but his spirit is woven through and through this new one, his fingerprints on every Web site, his voice in every online thread.

The Big Concept man of his time, his deep ideas still resonate: An end to monarchies and dictatorships. American independence from England, of course. International federations to promote development and maintain peace. Rights and protections for laborers. An end to slavery. Equal rights for women. Public education, public employment, assistance for the poor, pensions for the elderly. And above all, a fearless press that tells the truth, gives voice to individual citizens, tolerates opposing points of view, transcends provincialism, is accessible to the poor as well as the rich.

We need to get back to some of those concepts!

These Are the Times That Try Men's Souls

Welcome to CommonSense, which is intended to be a forum for discussing Delaware County government, and how it can be improved to the benefit of the taxpayers. We take as our model Thomas Paine, the Revolutionary War journalist who pioneered the concept of the uncensored flow of ideas, and developed a new kind of communications in the service of the then-radical proposition that people should control their own lives.

Most of us lead good lives here in Delaware County, but that is not to say it couldn't be better. All too often Delaware County government exists only for the benefit of a handful of persons, and not for the rest of us. All too often this handful resists change and improvement. All too often we sit back and let them control that part of our lives that is impacted by Delaware County.

It is time for us to demand changes in how things are done here. The best way to accomplish change is to inform the electorate. We are not saying that you should vote for or against anyone; that is not the point. Our point is that you should demand better from your elected officials, whoever they are.

We hope you enjoy this blog, and welcome your contributions and reactions.