April 2, 2009


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The Chestnut Hill Local
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Cinema Paradiso

A lot of ink has been spilled in Philadelphia on the issue of closing and cutting hours at local libraries.

The uproar began late last year after Mayor Michael Nutter announced he was planning to close 11 libraries and cut hours at other branches around the city as part of a major effort to trim expenses and save the city from billions of dollars in looming debt.

After an intense campaign that included regular demonstrations in and around city hall, the Nutter administration eased up and instead promised to keep libraries open, but the threat to local libraries didn’t dissipate.

In Chestnut Hill, the library was never in danger of closing, but its meeting room, home to a good many neighborhood institutions, may soon be restricted. And that possibility really has local businessman and film impresario Ralph Hirshorn a little upset.

Hirshorn, chairman of the Hirshorn Company insurers, is also the leader of the Chestnut Hill Film Group. The film group has been showing films at the library for more than 35 years now. And it shows its films on Tuesday evenings, a time slot that library officials have told Hirshorn, soon may not be available.

One of the mandates coming from library headquarters would require no use of any library facility while the library is closed. In other words, the film group could only use the library auditorium while the library is open.

So why not schedule the film group during regular hours?

“The sound level is too great,” Hirshorn explained to me. “I’ve tested films before while the library is open and people have come back to the auditorium to shush me.”

Why can’t the film group move?

“Our installation includes six speakers, a projection room, film projectors and now a digital projector — all of it permanently wired in the auditorium,” Hirshorn said. “Our investment in it is $25,000. It was built for that site and we really couldn’t move it.”

So Hirshorn hopes the library will change its mind and not issue the new rules. Librarians at the Chestnut Hill branch have told the Local for several months that their schedule is “up in the air.” The rule may go into effect or it may not.

The Chestnut Hill Community Association, which meets monthly in the same space during off hours for the library, was initially told it would have to adhere to the new rule and then was told the change would not happen. Hirshorn was told the rule was expected to be enacted in June.

While he is hopeful that he won’t have to close the film group (“Frankly I think this is the library bureaucracy spreading fear to recruit people to the cause [of keeping libraries open and accessible,” Hirshorn said,) but he’s not sitting idle. He’s talking to local City Council people and has sent a letter to Philadelphia library chief Siobhan Reardon.

“I really think we should be grandfathered,” Hirshorn said. “Our argument is we’ve been around for 35 years, we’re sponsored by the library — part of their program. We want to stay in business.”

You can help them stay in business by writing the library or a your favorite City Councilperson. Or you can go to the next film The Letter, on Tuesday, April 7. What better way to support a local cause than to see Bette Davis as — according to the Film Group’s Web site — a “sneering, adulterous murderess” in a film based on a Somerset Maugham novel?

Pete Mazzaccaro


For more on the Chestnut Hill Film Group, visit



Commentary: We need a strong bridge to adequate health care

The Pennsylvania and New Jersey chapters of Health Care For America Now, a nationwide organization advocating for President Obama’s health care reform program, are holding a march for quality affordable health care at the Benjamin Franklin Bridge on Saturday, April 4 at 1 p.m. There will be rallies at Franklin Square in Philadelphia and near the north walkway of the bridge in Camden. And then the Pennsylvania and New Jersey contingents will march across the bridge and meet in the middle. 

Why have we chosen to do this event at the Benjamin Franklin Bridge?

Because the path Americans take from hard work to quality affordable health care has become a tightrope over a chasm. 

Too many of our fellow citizens have already fallen off the tightrope and landed in a safety net that is tattered and full of holes. They have no health insurance and can only get sporadic health care in the most expensive settings and often long after they first need it. 

Too many of our fellow citizens have recently fallen from the tightrope and are only hanging by their fingers. They have lost their jobs and, if they are lucky, are relying on temporary programs that give them expensive and limited health insurance.

Too many of our fellow citizens are finding that the rope is getting thinner. Their health insurance is getting more and more expensive and harder to afford. Or the company they work for is cutting back on insurance and increasing its cost. 

Too many of our fellow citizens are finding that the rope is getting more slippery. Though they thought they had good health insurance, they aren’t covered for medical conditions that insurance companies decide are pre-existing or treatments that insurance companies decide are experimental. Or they are running up against lifetime limits on coverage. 

And even though we are all working harder and harder to stay on the tightrope to health care, the experience of walking it has become more and anxiety provoking. We are all worried that we  might not have health care when we need it. 

The insurance companies want us to walk that tightrope one by one. And as we walk, they are shaking the rope and trying to knock the weakest of us off. 

We have to replace the tightrope. We have to come together and build a solid bridge to health care, one that we can all cross together. 

Even with a bridge to health care, we will still need to work hard to cross the chasm. Health care reform isn’t about giving people something for nothing. But health care reform is about creating together a solid bridge under our feet, one that we can count on always being there. 

Health Care For America Now calls for a new, uniquely American approach to health care reform. We want to create regulated competition in the health insurance market and give every American a choice. They can keep the private health insurance they have now, although costs will come down for most people because new rules will prevent insurance companies from denying coverage or charging more on the basis if pre-existing medical conditions or age. They can choose another private health insurer because all insurers will be required to offer a comprehensive health insurance at affordable rates. Or they can choose a new health insurance public program, based on Medicare, open to all. 

The Benjamin Franklin Bridge is for us a symbol of the bridge to health care we need to create together this year. We are going to walk across it side by side. And we are going to walk as citizens of our two different states, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. We will be lead by those who can walk the farthest. And we will help those who have trouble walking it. 

Everyone is going to have to do his or her part. But we can only make it across this bridge because our two governments, acting on behalf of the citizens of our two states, have built a solid bridge we can count on. 

And that’s what we, in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and in every other state in this nation, have to do together this year, build a bridge that guarantees everyone quality affordable health care.

Marc Stier is a Mt. Airy resident and the Pennsylvania State Director of Health Care For America Now.


Commentary: More than a day late and dollar short

The auditor’s financial CHCA report with opinion was finally presented to the board at the meeting on March 26. This was the report for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2008, and we received it just five days short of a year after the period covered had ended.

The IRS expects corporate tax returns to be filed in 75 days, but does grant extensions. Even with maximum extension, this report had to be ready in November.

Of course it was ready then, and the auditors had informed the board when the draft was first completed that they had serious concerns for the financial well being of the CHCA and its ability to sustain itself going forward. All the more reason to get the figures in the hands of the directors who are ultimately responsible for this organization and its affiliated trust fund.

Once the accurate independent audited figures are known (as distinct from limited and often incomplete internally generated monthly reports) then, and only then, can constructive planning take place to find remedies, be they cost cutting or revenue enhancing, or both.

Management made no attempt to deliver these figures, and no pressure was brought by the board to see them until very recently. By this time, we were told, they were mired in legal questions that had nothing to do with performance before and up to March 21, 2008, but very recent developments.

Although by now we should be concerned with this year’s audit, it is in all the board members’ best interest to discuss where we have been. Before I go there, though, let me remind readers that this lack of regular and accurate financial records is at the heart of all the problems that beset this organization going back to 2002, and possibly earlier.  Of course, the fact that board members and trustees did not demand them is the other shoe that has not yet fully dropped.

Since no interim accountants’ reports have been required, annual ones are paramount if one is to get a grip on the financial strength and performance of the CHCA, the Local and the Community Fund. Adding to the fiscal darkness was the vote taken some years ago to only perform CHCA audits every two years, and we were only able to reverse that practice after the contentious election of 2006 when many slipshod practices made it to the forefront.

It should also be noted that management had a standing order to have the treasurer and bookkeeper deny access to financial records to board members, and enforced it until legal action was recently taken. Some want to continue that practice as evidenced with the document in question.  (All these records are available to directors and members as a matter of right under the law.)

As to the reports themselves, both entities — the CHCA and the Local reported losses for the period covered. One might argue that the practice of apportioning expenses to the Local and subsidizing the CHCA was inconsistent with actual work performed, and we know that those items have been substantially revised in the budget for the next fiscal year.

Leaving that aside, it was not a good year, but we should have known that earlier and worked on remedial action as a board, not a few folks at the executive level working in the dark and causing frustration and delay with back-channel experiments that only exacerbated the problems.

Even more significant than the numbers was the auditor’s required opinion that was delivered in separate letter form under the heading “Communication of Significant Deficiencies and Material Weaknesses.” While this document is intended only for the board of directors and management, considering the critical situation surrounding this current management team’s practices, I would suggest that it be released to the membership in a public way. Suffice it to say that it is highly critical of management, internal record keeping, disclosures and reconciliations.

I have requested the treasurer to post the report itself and the letter to the board discussion group, and at least the audit itself should be online through the Local if we are to be serving the members who are the actual owners of this organization.

Going ahead, I have requested through the board that we change practices and have our independent auditors do quarterly reports (not necessarily audits in the full sense) and report them personally to the board for both the CHCA and fund. Only then can the proper transparency be available to the membership for the $2 million plus nonprofits.

Jim Foster is a member of the CHCA board of directors.