Monday, May 26, 2008

Why a city with its hand out should not slap the Boy Scouts

Philadelphia Inquirer OpEd page:

For many Pennsylvanians, it is hard to believe that the City of Brotherly Love is about to become the City That Booted the Boy Scouts.

Philadelphia officials are constantly imploring state government for special laws and special funding to respond to a host of serious urban problems, from gangs to dropouts, from gun violence to infrastructure decline.

So given the chance to take matters into their own hands, what group did city officials decide to target with their political concern and legal firepower?

The hard-to-believe answer: the Boy Scouts.

Each year at state budget time, the advocates for the City of Philadelphia put in requests for extraordinary state funding.

These requests come couched in terms of the health, safety, education and welfare of the children. Many times these are start-up efforts, meant to replace things that are not working, or aimed at substituting for families who have broken apart and neighborhoods that are falling apart.

Philadelphia's advocates are often mystified why Pennsylvania taxpayers are reluctant to pump additional money into the city. One of the reasons is that people in other parts of the state are frequently appalled by the actions they see, where the hopeful words said do not match the counterproductive actions taken by city government.

Even with this background, people outside Philadelphia were stunned to read in The Inquirer and the Wall Street Journal that the Cradle of Liberty Council of the Boy Scouts soon will be evicted from its 80-year home.

Evict the Boy Scouts?

Evict them from a building they have paid substantial sums to renovate and maintain over the years? Jeopardize the future of an organization that instills kids with character-building concepts such as honor and service?

The choice given the scouts was an impossible one: accept a local policy they cannot abide by, or pay an escalated rent they cannot afford. This unfortunate and unnecessary confrontation has already had repercussions, cutting into contributions, which in turn leads to cuts in staffing and programming and puts the participation rate at risk.

This is a clear case of a political agenda being put ahead of the interests of tens of thousands of inner-city kids.

For many of these kids, this is one place where they find the structure, the trust, and the role models needed for healthy development. Many of the things that officials, volunteers and families want to see achieved for kids are taking place every day through scouting. Does anyone think the city will find a better alternative than the Boy Scouts?

And how has Philadelphia done in terms of running programs to support and protect youth? The sad saga of Safe and Sound would suggest not very well. The plug is getting pulled on Safe and Sound about the time the lease is being yanked from the Boy Scouts.

The timing is sadly ironic in another way: The city is giving the back of its hand to the Boy Scouts at the same time it is reaching out the other hand for tens of millions of dollars more from state taxpayers.

What lesson is being taught?

Any organization, no matter how long its tradition, no matter how strong its record of commitment, no matter how many youths it serves, may fall victim to an outburst of political correctness.

Philadelphia, which has run a lot of expensive tourism ads in recent months, once again comes across as a city where common sense is too often on vacation.



State Sen. Gib Armstrong, a Republican, represents the 13th District, which includes parts of Lancaster and York Counties. He is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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