Chestnut Hill Local
Date: March 31, 2005
Byline: Michael J. Mishak
Editorial: For the People?
When Springfield Township commissioner Robert Gillies told residents at a public meeting last week that the board of commissioners "is committed to successfully restoring the Black Horse Inn," his case was a hard sell to volunteers who have received little but lip service from township officials.
It's hardly encouraging to hear former commissioner Jane Roberts tell township residents, "We're not going to let them do this." At every step, it seems as if the community has worked to save the historic inn despite the board of commissioners, not with their help.
In January 2004, the board earmarked $225,000 for the Black Horse restoration effort. Having spent $80,000 on architectural plans to guide the process, officials are now unwilling to release the remaining funds. Instead, after a state grant fell through last year, the township chose to shift the burden to its residents, taking a "show us the money" approach.
"It's looking like [volunteers] have to give us their first-born child before we're going to release this money," said commissioner Kathleen Lunn, whose district includes the inn, in an interview. "It's not right for us to exact this kind of price from people before we would release the funds we already committed to. It's crazy."
What's even crazier is that volunteers responded, soliciting nearly $40,000 in informal pledges. And the board may still stand in the way of progress.
It seems to be dragging its feet on the idea of a public-private partnership agreement between the Friends of Historic Bethlehem Pike and Springfield Township. Guided by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the document would cede general oversight to the Friends, but require the board to approve things like timelines, the scope of work and a budget, all on an annual basis.
According to township manager Don Berger, legal counsel is evaluating the agreement, which was first presented to the township more than a month ago. Though the public-private partnership may receive discussion at next month's meeting, Gillies the committee's board liaison gave no indication the board of commissioners would approve the measure. In fact, he suggested the board might refrain from any official action. "There will be an agreement, but it may not be formal," he said. Though the board had been given copies of similar agreements with other municipalities, Gillies said commissioners were wary. "This is something new to us," he said. "It's setting precedent."
If the board doesn't approve the public-private partnership next month, a major fundraising campaign scheduled to begin May 2 would be further delayed. Such an agreement guards against piecemeal work and bureaucratic delays. It also gives potential donors the necessary reassurance that their contributions won't be wasted on an amateur effort likely to fail.
If the board of commissioners fails to heed the gathering calls for support, more residents like Marilyn Drinker will abandon the Black Horse effort. Disgusted, she left last week's meeting, checkbook in hand.
Still, what's worse is the public's eroding sense of confidence in their elected officials.