June 5, 2008 Issue
Chestnut Hill Local
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Ballot destruction: a sorry state of leadership
For the uninitiated, the judges were volunteers put in charge of counting the Chestnut Hill Community Association’s ballots after they had all been cast and collected on April 23. The count took place in the empty storefront on the first floor of the Town Hall building here at 8431 Germantown Avenue (home of the Local and the Chestnut Hill Community Association) for two straight days in order to post results by Friday evening, April 25.
Then, of course, the Local learned that 65 of those ballots had been purchased in cash the night of April 23, and half of those purchased (32) were from out of state. None had phone numbers. The Local filed a formal request to view those ballots in the public’s interest. On May 24, however, the judges destroyed the ballots, as reported by this paper last week. But I don’t think the judges anticipated the fallout.
I heard a lot from the judges about regret, about how, perhaps, if things had gone differently the ballots might still be with us. I also heard a lot about process and how election procedures calling for the ballots’ destruction after 30 days could not be circumnavigated even in the face of mounting evidence that the election was very likely tampered with.
The judges told me they were only doing what they were supposed to do. I just wish they hadn’t been so eager to follow orders.
No matter what you think the judges deserve for their blind obedience, they shouldn’t shoulder much blame. The leaders of the association should have prevented the destruction of these ballots and moved decisively to investigate the validity of the questions raised by this paper and others who believe there’s ample evidence to warrant an independent audit of the ballots in question.
Instead, no one made a move. No one was interested. And to make matters worse, it appears actions were taken to ensure that the ballots’ destruction took place so that no review would ever get the chance.
The judges said they were given instructions to destroy the ballots by officers of the Chestnut Hill Community Association, particularly Dina Hitchcock, the Vice President of Operations (the officer responsible for the association’s elections). I asked Hitchcock why she would order the ballots’ destruction, via e-mail, a reliable way to communicate with her (she’s a computer consultant for Siemens and had sent me about six unrelated e-mails that week). I never heard back.
In a letter to this paper printed in the May 22 issue, Hitchcock said she was certain the election was legitimate and argued that the privacy of voters was at stake in any review.
From her letter: “I do not wish to have anyone examining my choices other than the judges of election and I am sure that most of the 500-plus people who voted feel exactly the same way! One could only imagine the gossip and innuendo that would be spread if people other than the judges were allowed to ‘examine’ the ballots.”
If the association’s leadership sought to avoid gossip and innuendo, they sure went about it the wrong way. By destroying the ballots, innuendo is all that’s left. It would have been nice to have the facts. But apparently, the association’s leaders felt we didn’t need them.
Opinion: Election judges were fair
It is important that your readers understand the care with which Katie Worrall approached her duties as Chief Judge of Election. Following the election procedures of 2008, she insisted that each step be followed accurately.
At the end of the annual meeting, all ballots deposited in the ballot box were placed under the supervision of the Judges of Election, as stated in the Procedures. The Judges of Election were voted in by the board and should be respected as reliable members of the community. Because one was unable to serve at the last minute and more people were needed, two more were added and assigned to checking memberships, not tallying votes.
The following day, appointed judges Joy Bacino, Barbara Bloom, Mary Cunningham, Jim Hill and I met with Katie Worrall to start counting the ballots. The first order of business was to open the masses of envelopes and to separate the ballots from the bylaws, then to check the ballots against the membership list kept by Cheryl Massaro. Two members of the committee worked throughout the morning doing just this, with any challenged ballots put aside to be further checked by Katie with Cheryl. (Jim Hill was excused from serving, Kathie Shaifer and Ellen Maher were added.) As ballots were certified, Katie began reading the results while two others marked separate lists, which were compared at the end of each batch read. Any discrepancy resulted in counting the ballots again. Each batch was bundled together and placed in a separate plastic bag. Those recording the votes neither had the time nor the inclination to find out the name of the voter, for time and concentration on numbers were of the essence. Work went on from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for two consecutive days in an effort to complete the task and post the results in a timely manner.
The ballots were kept for 30 days but not in the CHCA office, per instructions from the Vice President of Operations, Dina Hitchcock. They were kept by Katie at her home until we reviewed them for signatures and any discrepancies. I assisted her in going over each ballot for the better part of Friday afternoon and was impressed by her determination to be fair and accurate.
She had been told to destroy the ballots after 30 days, which she did. After doing so, she received conflicting instructions to hold them further. Katie cannot be faulted for her efforts and agonized over following the procedures as directed to her by the Vice President of Operations.
My understanding is that she received an e-mail from the CHCA administrative coordinator, Noreen Spota, to bring the ballot box to the office for review, but none from the names mentioned in the Local.
The CHCA bylaws state that voting is done by secret ballot and that the Judges of Election have the sole authority to determine the validity of the ballot. Nowhere do either the bylaws or the election procedures permit others to review the votes or names on the ballots. Difficult though it was, Katie refused to be badgered and did what she thought right.
A thorough review of the election procedures has been made and will be presented to the board for its approval.
Caroline Haussermann is a long-time association volunteer and a former CHCA board member.
Welcome to our teeming shores, huddled masses
I have a good idea for livening up the summer scene here in Chestnut Hill. Have you noticed that our town likes to throw welcoming parties for successful foreign-born people when they move to the neighborhood? Remember that especially lovely party given for the pianist and conductor, Ignat Solzhenitsyn, son of Nobel laureate Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn? That affair was great — well-attended, with delicious food and very well dressed, pretty ladies.
And then, just a few weeks ago, the famed restaurateur and gastronome, Georges Perrier, moved to Chestnut Hill and he too was welcomed. In fact, our town did the Solzhenitsyn fete one better by selling charitable-benefit tickets to the “Welcome to Chestnut Hill Garden Party.” Another well-attended party, with tasty num-nums and dames worthy of Sex and the City.
I missed those first two parties because my pants hadn’t come back from the cleaners in time, but a recent news story has given me the notion to throw a little soirée of my own.
I’m talking about inviting the newly discovered Amazon jungle natives whose existence was outed last week. Wouldn’t it be great if we could get them to move on up to The Hill? Their pictures have just been released by the Indian Affairs department of the Brazilian government. They look like perfect Garden Party folks. What an opportunity! According to the first press releases, these people have never been contacted by the outside world. They’ve just been sitting out there in the forest, living in thatched longhouses and cooking in clay pots. No radio, no TV, no Internet. Wasting their lives, barely a step ahead of the Gilligan’s cast. Then a Brazilian government helicopter swooped in to hover and blow dust at them while a photographer took their pictures. Those snaps have just been posted on the Internet.
The pix are great. In the best one, two nearly naked men, their bodies painted red, are aiming their bows and arrows at the helicopter. I agree with them. I think that photo epitomizes celebrities’ frustration with paparazzi everywhere. In other photos the indigenes are looking up in fear and wonder (maybe even shock and awe) as they stand in their long, narrow clearing looking up at the helicopter. Gosh, when I look at the photos … those people, their houses, the grounds, the costuming … they all look so … authentic!
I’m hoping we can get our community’s invitation to them before Barbara Walters or Oprah’s people. I think we have more to offer.
First, of course, we’d help them get an agent. As my mother used to advise my sisters, “Why would someone buy the cow if he can get the milk for free?” I mean, an agent would help them negotiate what they’re worth as fresh faces to the media markets. Played right, their story is worth a lot of dough.
I know, What good is money if you don’t handle it right? Admittedly it’s not old money we’re talking about here, but if they accept the invitation to buy houses in our 19118 zone and come to our welcoming party, they should do very well. If you can’t get good advice on stocks and bonds at a garden party here in Chestnut Hill, where can you?
I think we have another edge over the Winfrey and Walters people too. That would be in the area of health benefits. The experts say that 50 to 70 percent of indigenous people die of sickness within a year of contact with us moderns. This is because they lack the immune responses to common diseases we’ve built up. Even the common cold can do them in. Under my plan, formulated by watching TV commercials, I know precisely which medicines will relieve the sneezing, sniffling, aching, itching, coughing problems they’ll be picking up. And if any of the older males survives, well, those little blue pills might help him get busy and recreate a new generation of his people. By treating fecundity as a renewable resource they should be assured of a continuous income flow. (Provided, of course, they don’t acculturate and go “American” on us.)
They don’t have a lot of attire we could help them brand and market, but what they do have is different enough. Simple bamboo headpieces and waistbands holding penis gourds for the men, little grass skirts for the women. Maybe someone from Urban Outfitters or Anthropologie can help us out here — some of their management are local, aren’t they? If we hold the party during warm weather we should be able to make it a come-as-you-are party and have some of our leading citizens wear the same gear. I mean, I will if you will.
I’m not guaranteeing this will be a piece of manioc pudding. I have a suspicion the two guys photographed aiming their weapons at the aircraft are not going to be easy to handle. First, I imagine they’re going to be the ones Letterman and Leno are after. (“How’d you guys choose red as your body paint?” … “Why’d you aim your bows at the copter? Did you see this as a photo op?”) Worse, just about every guy in the tribe is going to jump up and say he was the one aiming his bow. We’re going to need lie detectors on this one.
Oh, also, we’re going to need a house that’s big enough for a large crowd, has lots of trees to shield the event from the world press, but is not too close to the Wissahickon woods. That’s a no-no. While I’m sure our Brazilian guests would love to romp around down there, we don’t want them spearing the off-trail bikers, eating the deer, or stealing spray paint from the graffiti artists at Devil’s Pool. Maybe some crime scene tape around the party house would keep our new neighbors out of the park till they get used to how we do things around here. Just guessing.
I suppose it’s a little obvious by now that I’m not real slick at this garden party business, but I can make up in elbow grease what I lack in sophistication if anyone else wants to jump in here.