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Chester County Press

Editorial: Letting the illusions die

01/13/2016 09:45AM ● By Richard Gaw

Because its impact is not often immediately felt, it is said that change occurs best when it happens slowly, over time.

In the arena of politics, however, change arrives after all other avenues to prevent it have been exhausted. In politics, change is the proverbial tortoise who slogs through the muck and mire of crossed swords and clashing egos, who crosses the finish line not because of any great inspiration to do so, but because it is the only alternative remaining.

After Scudder Stevens won his seat as a Kennett Township Supervisor in November of 2011, after a long and contentious campaign that threatened to split the township's allegiances in half, he sat at the end of the table at meetings like a lone warrior. Many in the township – those who were used to a certain protocol perpetuated by Robert Hammaker, Michael Elling and Alan Falcoff (whom Stevens defeated) believed Stevens' reasons for being on the Board of Supervisors were motivated by his own selfish interests. Yes, he pointed fingers over what he called a lack of transparency in how the township was being run; yes, he took the township to the legal mat over the right to view certain documents; yes, he implied that the township's method of accounting was questionable and perhaps illegal; and yes, he wrongly alienated many among a legion of volunteer leaders who had helped make Kennett Township one of the most well-respected municipalities in the Commonwealth.

However, as the Chester County Press provided coverage of that messy period, it was the belief of this newspaper that whatever motivation contained within Stevens' to upturn the apple cart of politics, it was not being done for his own gain, but ultimately, for the township's sake.

Now, as we begin 2016, all vestiges of a tumultuous past seem to have been taken out to the woodshed. Falcoff, Elling and Hammaker are no longer on the board; running on a campaign to further "open up" the township, Dr. Richard Leff was elected in 2013, and on Jan. 4, Whitney Hoffman, running on a similar campaign of improving lines of communication between township government and its residents, took her oath and became the third member on the board.

While navigating through the second of two unfortunate incidents involving former Police Chief Albert McCarthy, the township hired new Police Chief Lydell Nolt, who has emerged as a well-respected leader who has provided educational opportunities for his staff, while also immersing his department better into the fabric of township life.

After years of fighting against wild speculation that it had fabricated its own accounting methods by hiring what some believed was a made-up accountant named "Ed Johnson," the township now uses a reliable accounting firm to do its books, the figures of which are shared openly with township residents.

In the last few years, the number of township employees has increased, while its volunteer corps has also spiked.

Perhaps the most telling sign of this transformation in Kennett Township is seen in the faces of those who have signed their names to the development of trail systems, scenic byways, and collaboration with other local organizations. The once regimented battle lines that had defined – and divided -- Republicans and Democrats in Kennett Township seem to slowly be crumbling.

"We would rather be ruined than changed," the poet W.H. Auden said. "We would rather die in our dread than climb the cross of the moment, and let our illusions die."

It is not certain where Auden was training his poetic eye here, but the power of the message could well be applied to our modern-day political system. At every level, from municipal government to the U.S. Senate and the White House, too many of our officials are choosing to be ruined rather than change. Too many see 'D' or 'R' in a colleague before they see him or her as a potential ally. And yet, over the course of the past four years, whether by virtue of the ballot box or through ideology, one township has hung around long enough to see change finally reach the finish line, slightly battered but, most assuredly, slowly climbing the cross of the moment.

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