Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller received a welcome from the city during a reception at the Pyramid Club in Center City on Friday, April 27.
Attendees consisted of foreign dignitaries and prominent Philadelphians including: Stanley Straughter of the Mayor’s Commission of African-Caribbean Affairs; City Councilman David Oh; and former Mayor W. Wilson Goode.
“Our contribution belies the size of the population of Jamaica,” said Miller during her speech to the crowd of well-wishers. “Anywhere in the world you go, you will find Jamaicans making a valuable contribution.”
Miller was honored with the Liberty Bell Award given to her by Straughter.
“I am here on behalf of Mayor Michael Nutter to receive the prime minister and to give her the highest honor that anyone has ever received from the city of Philadelphia – the Liberty Bell,” he said
According to Straughter, the reception was a great opportunity to meet the prime minister and to hear her aspirations for Jamaica.
Although he couldn’t attend, Karen Stokes of the governor’s office read a statement written by Gov. Tom Corbett.
“As governor of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, I am delighted to welcome her Excellency, Portia Simpson Miller, prime minster of Jamaica,” read the governor’s statement. “The Jamaican people, their culture and sport, hold a unique spot in the history of Pennsylvania.”
Afterward, guests flocked to introduce themselves and have photos with Miller
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Jamaica’s independence from British colonialism, a fact referred to repeatedly during the program. Time Magazine also named Miller one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
Miller sits on the Council of Women World Leaders and serves as Vice Chairperson of the Caribbean Forum of Ministers responsible for Decentralization among other accomplishments.
She told attendants about an incident, which occurred during her meeting of the Summit of the Americas in Columbia.
Miller had the opportunity to be one of only three women engaged in a discussion on education and development. During the summit, a moderator asked Miller how she hoped to compete against Ivy League universities and preparing her constituents for the world of work.
“I felt something rise up within me,” she said. “If we could produce the person that did the song of the millennium, Bob Marley, If we could give to the world Marcus Mosiah Garvey – those men and women who fought so hard for our freedom. What can we not do?”
Gov. Tom Corbett, who has made pension reform one of the hallmarks in his broader budgeting and economic plan, has supported the companion pension reform bills introduced by fellow Republicans Sen. Mike Brubaker and State Rep. Chris Ross.
Brubaker’s Senate Bill 922 and Ross’ House Bill 1350 supports Corbett’s reform aims, outlined in Corbett’s budget address earlier this year.
The companion legislation would, among other things, keep current employees and retirees in their present retirement plan, protects retirement benefits already accrued and will automatically enroll new state employees into a new contribution plan in 2015. The legislation would also recalculate the future benefits formula for current employees, while limiting the amount an employer’s contribution can be increased to provide short-term budget relief.
“I commend Senator Brubaker and Representative Ross for their leadership in supporting Pennsylvania taxpayers through pension reform and I strongly encourage the legislature to follow suit,” Corbett said via a statement released by his office. “New calculations show that our unfunded liability has risen to a staggering $47 billion. We can no longer ignore our debt to Pennsylvania; we must take action now.”
According to Corbett’s office, it reforms aren’t enacted soon, statewide pensions alone will claim 60 percent of the general fund revenues for FY2013-14, while Brubaker has said that the companion legislation will ensure the sustainability of the pension system now and for the future.
Pension reform has direct implications in the public education realm, as pension payments – along with the slicing of the statewide education budget and the administration’s general lack of movement regarding extra funds sorely needed by the School District of Philadelphia and other distressed districts throughout the state – serves as one of the main contributors to spiraling education costs, and results in the subsequent cuts to the educational services each district provides.
Locally, the district officials have repeated stated that Philadelphia’s school district needs an additional $60 million from the city and $120 million from the state if it is to provide anything above bare-bones, federally-mandated programs and services. City council is presently in the middle of overall budgetary hearings, with Superintendent Dr. William Hite Jr. and School Reform Commission Chairman Pedro Ramos testifying last week about the district’s dire financial situation and once again imploring the city – and state – to act.
While some educational outfits support the plan – including the controversial education reform organization StudentsFirst and its Pennsylvania State Director Ashley DeMauro – Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan blasted the legislation as “bad policy,” adding that the reform legislation would lead to a cut in pensions, further delay the increased employer contribution to fund the pension and actually reduces future accrued benefits for employees.
“This is going to establish another payment holiday for the state and school districts, and it will ultimately have to be addressed by a future governor if the law is passed,” said Jordan, adding that what is being debated is actually two retirement plans – one for state employees and one for educators, and that PFT employees contribute to the pension from their checks, and doesn’t come from tax dollars. “Also, and this is very significant, it forces new hires such as new teachers in Philadelphia, to enter into a 401(k) plan. Compared to our plan, that would double the cost to tax payers.”
Jordan also pointed to other pension-related decisions made at the state level that cats a further pall of suspicion over the pension reform legislation.
“We have an issue whereby the state allowed school districts, for close to ten years, to submit reduced pension payments. Those of us who a part of the system and contribute to the system, we’ve never had a reduction in the amount of money we contributed,” Jordan explained, noting that the PFT’s pension kick-in is roughly 7.25 percent. “People retire every year and get a pension, and those of us who are still working, are having pension costs deducted from our checks. But you have to keep funding it, because if you don’t have new [hires] coming in to add new money, the system is going to crash.”
Jordan intimated that the PFT will have meaningful conversations with the legislators who will vote on the reforms prior to June 30 deadline by which the legislation has to vote on Corbett’s budget.
Corbett, Brubaker and Ross contend that more than a third of all Pennsylvania school districts have applied for exceptions to increase property taxes above the school district’s established index. As is, those legislators content that with reform enactment, the public education system in the state would save $1 billion over five years, and roughly $140 million in FY2013-14 alone.
“Pennsylvania’s pension funding situation is quickly reaching a crisis. Something must be done soon to bring these costs into line,” Ross said. “Failure to do so would not only be irresponsible, but would threaten our schools and the state’s ability to meet its obligations.”
Jordan isn’t alone in his criticism of the reform bills, however. On a conference call held immediately after Corbett’s announcement, Pennsylvania ALF-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Frank Snyder said the companion legislation carried a higher price tag than what Corbett has said, doesn’t reduce the unfunded pension liability, can led to lengthy court battles, and, overall, the plan generally hurts Pennsylvania workers more than it helps them.
State Treasurer Rob McCord expanded on Snyder’s feelings, saying that Corbett’s decision wasn’t made with thoughts of the average Pennsylvania worker in mind.
“While this should be about math and about finding a solution, Governor Corbett has made it about politics,” McCord said. “His plan not only ignores the unfunded liability, but will cost taxpayers more, while driving a generation of middle class Pennsylvania seniors toward a less financially secure retirement.”
On that same call, AFSCME Council 33 Executive Director Dave Fillman said public workers throughout the state have already given in to at least one round of concessions to make the pension plan solvent, and that its irresponsible to now try to take that away from them.
“Pennsylvania public workers have contributed to their pension on time, every time, and made substantial sacrifices in 2010 to strengthen their retirement security, and the commonwealth’s fiscal health,” Fillman said. “Based on this new proposal, the governor clearly is more interested in cutting the retirement security of middle class Pennsylvanians rather than achieve meaningful reform.”
Proponents of the statewide charter/cyber-charter reform bill have reloaded, and this time, they are carrying even more potent ammo: a scathing Special Report from Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner — one that is sure to add weight to the Charter School and Cyber Charter Reform and Accountability Act, championed by State Rep. Mike Fleck and a few of his colleagues.
While the Fleck-authored House Bill 2364 simply lays out options the commonwealth can undertake to stem what supporters consider the overfunding of charter schools — such as limiting unassigned fund balances, removing the so-called “double dip” in pension funding, limiting the amount of special education funding and requiring end-of-year audits — Wagner’s report outlines the consequences if Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, the General Assembly, and Pennsylvania Department of Education fail to act.
According to Wagner’s report, Pennsylvania spends roughly $3,000 more per student to educate a child in a charter school — and more than $3,500 per student in cyber charter schools — than it does on students enrolled in traditional public schools. By using those figures, Wagner’s report concluded the state could save $315 million by bringing the per-student expenditure more in line with that of traditional public schools. Wagner’s report also found that an additional $50 million could be saved through the elimination of the double-dip pension funding loophole.
“With the tightening of school budgets and funding available to school districts throughout the state, Pennsylvania’s flawed and overly generous funding formula for charter and cyber charter schools is a luxury taxpayers can no longer afford,” Wagner said. “While I have long supported alternative forms of education, as the state’s independent fiscal watchdog, I cannot look the other way and ignore a broken system in which charter and cyber charter schools are being funded at significantly higher levels than their actual cost of educating students.
“It is time for the Pennsylvania Department of Education, along with the General Assembly and the Corbett administration to fix Pennsylvania’s flawed funding formula for charter and cyber charter schools.”
While both Wagner’s report and HB 2354 outline ways the commonwealth can save money, neither document says the recouped money will be directly used to prop up the public education funding, especially in light of Corbett’s budget, which slashes the state’s funding of public education.
And how this plays out in Philadelphia remains to be seen, as more than 43,000 students attend either a charter or cyber charter school, according to the School District of Philadelphia. In the 2010-2011 academic year, the district paid $8,600 per pupil to the city’s charter schools, and paid those same charters $18,500 for every pupil that required special education. The district has already taken drastic steps to curb charter school funding on its own, with the creation and implementation of the Blueprint for Transforming Philadelphia’s Public Schools, which calls for a seven percent reduction in per-pupil funding, and an overall decrease of $149 million in charter school funding over the next five years.
The charter school reform issue has the support of State Representative James Roebuck, putting him at odds with charter school supporters such as fellow State Representative Dwight Evans and charter school pioneer Dr. Walter D. Palmer. Palmer has vowed to fight in court any moves to restrict charter school funding.
“At a time when public schools are still coping with last year’s state education cuts and local property taxpayers want to avoid another round of trickle-down tax hikes, it is only fair to taxpayers for all schools to play by the same rules,” said Roebuck, who also serves as the Democratic Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, of HB 2364. “These reforms should be in effect starting with the 2012-13 school year. We can provide this relief immediately to school districts and their taxpayers. These reforms would provide at least $45.8 million in savings for the coming school year, and probably much more than that."
Evans, long a proponent of school choice and charter schools, has stated he would use his full political might to fight off any challenges to charter schools - entities which he feels add more to society than critics want to admit.
“What I think is that people sometimes miss that charter schools are public schools first, and that second, parents have them as choices and options available to them,” Evans said. “Third, it’s an economic development opportunity.
“So you have the academic aspect, and the commercial,” Evans continued, noting that when a charter school is built, it creates immediate jobs and goes a long way toward community beautification. “Of course I am against [HB 2364].”
Still, charter reform has its supporters, including the powerful Pennsylvania School Boards Association, a non-profit statewide association of school districts.
“Charter and cyber charter funding formulas must be reflective of actual instructional expenses, predictable and based on logic,” said PSBA Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel via a statement released by his office. “HB 2364 provides much needed charter school accountability to protect taxpayers and school entities from escalating costs.”
One day after a Republican judge issued a ruling in support of the state’s controversial and hotly contested voter ID law, attorneys for the petitioners filed an appeal with the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court.
The law, which opponents said was rushed through the state Senate and the House of Representatives to the desk of Governor Tom Corbett to sign, requires voters to produce a valid state-issued identification card at the polls and was challenged in court. On Wednesday, Judge Robert Simpson issued a ruling stating that the petitioners didn’t present convincing proof that the law violated the state constitution or would cause undue hardship to the elderly, the poor and student voters in the upcoming November presidential elections. Simpson said there wasn’t sufficient evidence to support issuing an injunction.
“Hundreds of thousands of voters could be effectively shut out of the election process under the guise of voter fraud,” said Democratic state Senator Vincent Hughes. “Without any evidence of this so-called fraud, this law is nothing more than another way to tip the odds in favor of the Republican presidential candidate this November. This is an extremely partisan law that Pennsylvania is ill-prepared to implement. It is my plan to continue to fight this voter suppression law, and assist the public with obtaining the necessary documentation to vote in November.”
Democratic legislators said the law tramples on the constitutional rights of voters and amounts to nothing more than a re-formulated poll tax or literacy test that was once used to discriminate against Black and other minority voters. Opponents say the law is nothing less than voter suppression.
“We should not make it harder for people to exercise their right to vote,” said state Senator Mike Stack. “The passage of the voter ID measure into law and subsequent court ruling are extremely disappointing because this law was crafted for partisan advantage, rather than voter protection. When laws are crafted for partisan political gain, we lose the public’s trust.”
House Bill 934, now Act 18, was passed on March 14, 2012. Republican lawmakers who backed the measure said it was to prevent voter fraud, but legal experts on the state and federal level could find no reports of voter fraud. Democratic lawmakers warned from the initial introduction of the measure, sponsored by Rep. Daryl Metcalf, R-Butler, that its purpose was voter suppression and its real purpose was to stack the odds in favor of Mitt Romney in November. Governor Tom Corbett quickly signed Act 18 into law once it passed the Senate and Pennsylvania House of Representatives, making the Commonwealth one of 16 Republican-controlled states to have such a law.
Votes by four justices would be needed to overturn Judge Simpson’s ruling. At present the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is split between three Republicans and three Democrats. Republican Justice Joan Orie Melvin was recently suspended following allegations of corruption.
“We’re going to need four of the six justices to vote in our favor if we’re to get an injunction,” said Vic Walczak, legal director of ACLU Pennsylvania. “Our legal posture was to block enforcement of the law to basically give all parties a chance to review its legality and merits. We’re still analyzing Judge Simpson’s decision. We filed a motion to expedite everything and while there may be an oral argument, we’re expecting a decision by September 10. If the justices rule in favor of the law, it’s going to be a sad day for democracy and we’ll see exactly what that means in November. Hundreds of thousands of people will be unable to vote and we’re not just talking about poor minorities; what about poor whites in rural counties? This law applies across the board.”
HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania's highest court on Tuesday told a lower court judge to stop a tough new law requiring voters to show photo identification from taking effect in this year's presidential election if he finds voters cannot easily get ID cards or if he thinks they will be disenfranchised.
The 4-2 decision by the state Supreme Court sends the case back to a Commonwealth Court judge who initially said the divisive law could go forward. The high court asked the judge, Robert Simpson, for his opinion by Oct. 2.
If Simpson finds there will be no voter disenfranchisement and that IDs are easily obtained, then the 6-month-old law can stand, the Supreme Court said.
"It's certainly a very positive step in the right direction in that the court recognizes that the state does not make adequate provision for people to get the ID that they would need to vote," said David Gersch, the lead lawyer for the plaintiffs challenging the law's constitutionality. "In addition, there is a practical problem with getting the ID to people in the short time available."
A spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of State, which oversees voting and elections, said the agency will provide whatever information that Simpson may seek.
"We believe, as we have all along, that any legal voter who wants to get an ID is able to do so," spokesman Ron Ruman said.
The court's three sitting Republican justices were joined in the majority by one of the court's Democrats, Max Baer. The court's two other Democrats dissented.
Part of the problem, the four majority justices noted, is that the state has scrambled to deal with impediments to distributing a photo ID card promised under the law to any registered voter who needs one. The state began issuing new, voting-only ID cards in late August, after Simpson's original ruling.
"Thus, we will return the matter to the Commonwealth Court to make a present assessment of the actual availability of the alternate identification cards on a developed record in light of the experience since the time the cards became available," the justices wrote.
The justices also pointed to Gersch's suggestion during last week's oral arguments that the photo ID requirement can be constitutional if the state has ensured all eligible voters can get the photo IDs they need.
Some of the people who sued over the law had raised the claim that they might be unable to vote because they lacked the necessary documents, such as an official birth record, to get the law's ID card of last resort: A state nondriver photo ID that is subject to strict federal requirements.
In oral arguments Sept. 13 before the Supreme Court, Justice Thomas Saylor pointed out that the state cannot comply with the "letter of the law," which calls for issuing an ID card to registered voters who need it, because the cards still require supplemental identification that a registered voter might not be able to produce.
The Republican-penned ID law passed over the objections of Democrats and ignited a furious debate over voting rights, making it a high-profile issue in the contest for the state's prized 20 electoral votes between President Barack Obama, a Democrat, and Republican nominee Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor.
Republicans, long suspicious of ballot-box stuffing in the Democratic bastion of Philadelphia, say the law would deter election fraud. But Democrats pointed to a blank trail of evidence of such fraud, and charged that Republicans are trying to steal the White House by making it harder for the elderly, disabled, minorities, the poor and college students to vote.
The law — among the nation's toughest — has inspired protests, warnings of Election Day chaos and voter education drives. It was already a political lightning rod when a top state Republican lawmaker boasted to a GOP dinner in June that the ID requirement "is going to allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania."
The plaintiffs — eight registered Democrats, plus the Homeless Advocacy Project, the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People — had sought to block the law from taking effect in this year's election as part of a wider challenge to its constitutionality.
Republican Gov. Tom Corbett signed the law in March after every single Democratic lawmaker voted against it.
The prior law required identification only for people voting in a polling place for the first time and it allowed nonphoto documents such as a utility bill or bank statement. -- (AP)
HARRISBURG, Pa. — Gov. Tom Corbett says he will name former school board member Pedro Ramos to head the panel overseeing Philadelphia's public school system.
The governor said Wednesday that as soon as the state Senate confirms Ramos as a member of the panel, he will appoint him as chairman.
Corbett nominated Ramos on June 16 to fill a vacancy on the five-member governing body established in 2001 when the state assumed control of the district.
The Philadelphia School District is Pennsylvania's largest school district with about 203,000 traditional and charter school students. -- (AP)
As the deadline nears for Pennsylvania to comply with the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, three Philadelphia lawmakers are urging the governor to take action immediately to decide whether the commonwealth will run its own health insurance exchange, form a partnership program, or allow the federal government to run an exchange.
In a letter sent to Gov. Tom Corbett and Pennsylvania Insurance Department Commissioner Michael Consedine, state Sens. Mike Stack, Shirley Kitchen, and Anthony H. Williams recommended the governor choose to implement a state-run insurance exchange.
The Affordable Care Act will be fully implemented by Jan. 1, 2014.
“The Affordable Care Act will make reforms to our costly health insurance market and provide citizens with unprecedented access to a myriad of health services,” said Stack, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee. “We cannot move forward until the governor makes a decision on how Pennsylvania will implement this law, so it’s imperative that the governor make a decision very soon.”
If Pennsylvania were to miss the deadline, the federal government would run the state’s health exchange.
“We have an opportunity to work with the Obama administration to tailor an insurance exchange that fits the needs of people across Pennsylvania. We must not pass up this opportunity,” said Kitchen, the Democratic chairwoman of the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee. “For too many people, health care is a lifeline, and the Affordable Care Act will increase the quality of life for so many individuals and families. It’s a decision we must not let go by the wayside.”
The lawmakers said the health exchange will simplify the process of buying health insurance and allow consumers to compare and choose health insurance plans in a competitive, online marketplace.
The federal subsidies to be provided to many of Pennsylvania’s 1.2 million uninsured residents will help them purchase a policy, and the federal government has supplied the Corbett administration with $33 million to help plan and implement the exchange.
“As a one-time entrepreneur, I’m cognizant of the kinds of planning people have to make, even on the mom-and-pop level, when it comes to businesses. They await and deserve a swift decision here, as do the tens of thousands relying on enactment of the ACA for access to care. It’s in part why the citizens of Pennsylvania re-elected our president and support his policies,” said Williams, the Democratic whip. “We need to honor their voices and implement a plan that suits our state’s needs. And since the federal government is willing to help us jumpstart a state-run health exchange, it’s a no-brainer. This is a win-win.”
HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Corbett is expected to sign one of the nation's toughest voter identification laws less than eight months before the presidential election, although a court challenge is also expected to the measure that handily passed the Republican-controlled state House of Representatives on Wednesday.
The 104-88 vote came after three days of debate and accusations by Democrats that the bill is a Jim Crow-style attempt to discriminate against minorities and that no trail of voter fraud exists to justify making it more difficult for the elderly, disabled and poor to vote.
The GOP-controlled state Senate approved the measure last week, and Corbett, a Republican, has said he will sign it.
The bill would require voters to show certain photo identification before their votes could be counted beginning with this year's presidential election, prompting Democrats to accuse Republicans of trying to stop traditional Democratic-leaning voters — minorities, college students and the poor — from getting their ballots counted.
Republicans say the requirement is a common-sense step to prevent fraudulent double voting, voting by illegal immigrants, voter impersonation and fictitious voters. They also say that showing photo ID is a widely accepted function in daily American society. Voter ID has been a hot topic, with a number of Republican-controlled legislatures around the country passing such measures.
Democratic lawmakers and the American Civil Liberties Union have pledged to challenge the measure in court, once it becomes law.
The County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania says systems are already in place to prevent duplicate or erroneous registration. It also warned lawmakers that adding the additional step of requiring poll workers to check photo IDs will lengthen Election Day lines at polling places and create voter confusion, but provide no extra security for ballots.
Many government employee photo IDs would be acceptable, as would student IDs from colleges and universities in Pennsylvania and IDs for people who live in elder-care institutions in the state, as long as they show a name, photo and expiration date that makes them current.
Someone without proper ID would be able to cast a provisional ballot, then would have six days to get an acceptable ID and deliver a copy to county election offices in person, by email or fax.
In response to any suggestion that a photo ID requirement amounts to an unconstitutional "poll tax," supporters of the bill note that it also will require the Department of Transportation to issue an identification card at no cost to anyone who applies and swears that he or she has no other proof of identification allowed under the law for voting purposes.
But Democrats say getting a photo ID requires obtaining other documents, such as a passport or birth certificate, which cost money to get and can take months to receive from the state. -- (AP)
HARRISBURG, Pa. — Lawyers for the state of Pennsylvania and Harrisburg's mayor have asked a federal judge to throw out the bankruptcy petition for the city filed this week after a divided City Council voted for it.
Philadelphia attorney Neal Colton filed the state's objections to the bankruptcy on Friday, saying a state law expressly forbids it, while Harrisburg lawyer Kenneth Lee told the court the city and Mayor Linda Thompson believe the petition is not valid.
U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Mary France scheduled a status conference on the case Monday morning in Harrisburg.
"No one, least of all the commonwealth, denies that Harrisburg is confronted with serious financial difficulties that must be addressed," wrote Colton, who did not return a phone message. "That is all the more reason, however, why Harrisburg cannot afford to waste any further time and resources on this patently illegal usurpation of the commonwealth's sovereignty."
The law he cited was passed earlier this year to prohibit any third-class city that qualifies under state law as "financially distressed," a description that fits Harrisburg, from filing for bankruptcy until July 2012, and that it would lose all state funding if it did.
"The commonwealth is unaware of any reported case, from any jurisdiction in the United States, in which a municipality such as Harrisburg has so brazenly disregarded an express statutory denial of authority to file a Chapter 9 petition," Colton argued.
Mark D. Schwartz, the lawyer hired by the council to pursue the bankruptcy, said the law is poorly worded and is unconstitutional because it targeted Harrisburg in particular.
"This hardly seems to be a prohibition," he said. "It says you shouldn't, but if you do, this is what happens. OK, fine."
He said a small amount of state funding is at stake.
"If that's the penalty for filing, so be it," Schwartz said.
Lee said the council majority and Schwartz did not have the authority to file for bankruptcy and asked France to dismiss the petition.
"The city is extremely concerned that members of the City Council and attorney Schwartz will attempt to further perpetuate this unauthorized bankruptcy case to the detriment of the city, its creditors and other stakeholders in blatant disregard of the proper procedures for the functioning of the city," Lee wrote in an emergency request filed late Thursday.
Schwartz said Thompson is not entitled to play an active part in the bankruptcy case.
"That may be the one thing the governor, General Assembly and I agree on — she has absolutely no role in these proceedings," he said.
Schwartz filed the Chapter 9 bankruptcy petition after City Council voted 4-3 Tuesday to authorize it. It said the city is saddled with about $458 million in creditors and claims, and is in "imminent jeopardy" from six pending lawsuits related to its aging, debt-saddled municipal incinerator.
The council majority and Thompson have clashed over a recovery plan developed with state officials, leading area state lawmakers to push a bill that would let the governor declare a state of fiscal emergency and install someone to make decisions about government services and spending.
That measure, supported by Gov. Tom Corbett, has passed the House and is expected to be taken up by the Senate next week. -- (AP)
Members of the Marine Corps were honored during a ceremony held at Shiloh Baptist Church at 2040 Christian St. on Sunday during the church’s 170th anniversary.
The celebration also marked the 15th anniversary of senior pastor the Rev. Edward Sparkman, who was honored for his ministerial work. Gov. Tom Corbett and Mayor Michael Nutter both sent citations congratulating the pastor and the congregation on their service in the community.
“This is a blessing because, when you think of 170 years, it makes you realize that your past helps bring you to the future; we don’t want to forget but we want to move forward,” said Sparkman.
When asked what impact he felt the church had on the surrounding community, he replied, “I think outreach and letting people know that the church is not just open on Sunday and we’re reaching out to let everyone know that we’re here to tell God about the goodness of his blessing and to tell everyone regardless of race, creed, or color.”
The event was described as one “celebrating the sacred marriage between pastor and people” and it is this interdependence which Sparkman stated as some of the changes he witnessed during his 15 years as pastor. This, according to Sparkman, was evidenced by more closeness between its members and the community and the close way in which they walk together.
Julius Richardson, a trustee at the church, praised Sparkman as a man of great leadership who extended the services of the church to the community.
“He took us a mighty long way since he has been here,” said Richardson. “We have many outreach programs that connect with the community as well as other religious institutions and organizations.”
Richardson calls the pastor, “The right man for the right season.”
Sparkman said he couldn’t have done it alone.
“I like to call it the ‘we syndrome, ’let’s all put it together. Let’s not put it all on the pastor, let’s do it together,” he said.
The church was filled with well-wishers, members of the congregation and residents who joined in the celebration of the church’s anniversary as well as to witness the honors bestowed upon the remaining members of the Montford Point Marines, the all-Black unit founded in 1942 and the country’s first Black marine unit.
The Montford Point Marines has played a significant role in the church’s legacy, according to Sparkman. Lt. Col. Willie was joined by fellow Montford Point Marine members Joseph H. Geeter III, a former president of the Montford Marine Association, Lucius Snowpen and Phillip Herout.
“One of our former member’s husband was a member of the Montford Point Marines and the president awarded them the Congressional Medal of Honor in June,” said Sparkman. “In helping her prepare for this date, I did some research and found out also that my father was a Montford Point Marine.”
The pastor, whose father received a gold medal posthumously, said that most of his family was there to witness the award dedication.
It was Lt. Col. Clarence Willie who contacted the members of the Montford Point Marine Association to request their participation at the dedication ceremony. One of the recipients was his uncle, Charles Hines, of Philadelphia.
“I really wanted to see his widow get his just due, I also discovered that uncle Charles attended this church and that Rev. Sparkman’s father was also a Montford Point Marine and so I’m here present the Congressional Gold Medal to these two gentleman,” said Willie.
The Montford Point was formed in 1942 to 1949. They were named after the camp in Montford, New River, N.C. Despite racial discrimination, the Montford Point Marines went on to distinguish themselves in service. They were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal on June 27.