First Suburbs Convention Prioritizes Issues of Primary Importance - May 31, 2008

First Suburbs Convention Prioritizes Issues of Primary Importance

"What needs to change is the rules of the game." - David Rusk

On Saturday, May 31, 2008, the Southeastern Pennsylvania First Suburbs Project assembled 220 people from more than 50 communities to an Issues Convention at Bishop McDevitt High School in Wyncote, PA.   This meeting was the next step following the First Suburbs Summit, held December 7, 2007, when more than 300 community leaders from Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties initially identified four problems within First Suburbs that are contributing to blight:

  • school funding,
  • housing,
  • infrastructure, and
  • social services. 

From January until May, educators, healthcare professionals, organized labor, elected officials, members of the faith community, urban planners, community organizers, and concerned citizens met to narrow the issues and identify working principles and opportunities related to each of the four problem areas. At the convention on Saturday, the principles and actions identified by four working groups were presented, and attendees ranked each of the four issues by ballot.  Acknowledging that all issues are related and important to the region, the purpose of the vote was to identify the single most important priority for their communities.  

The compiled rankings demonstrated that education was on top of most people's minds, ranking first on 6 out of 10 ballots. John McKelligot, former chair of the William Penn School Board, presented the education finance issue to the conventioneers, noting that First Suburbs advocate for an equitable, predictable state formula for financing public education that guarantees every school district has adequate resources, promotes accountability and efficiency, and that ensures that no community is overtaxed locally to provide what is ultimately a state-wide responsibility.  

David Forest, town manager of Norristown Township, spoke on behalf of the housing action group. Developing a regional housing plan that includes market rate and affordable housing programs was an issue that resonated with conventioneers. Housing took the majority (34%) of priority-two rankings. Natalia Salgado, Mid-Atlantic Political Coordinator for SEIU Local 32 BJ, reiterated the need to promote housing policies and funding streams that help promote regional competitiveness, socio-economic balance and diversity throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania.  

The third issue of the convention - infrastructure - was brought forward by Upper Providence Township Councilmember Bill Clinton. Creating a more sustainable water infrastructure is vital to stem a "looming crisis," according to Clinton. The Infrastructure Action Group Report calls on SEPA First Suburbs to push for coordinated drinking water, wastewater, and storm water systems that also share the cost burden for an issue that spans municipal boundaries.  

Reverend Patrick Seyler of SEPA Evangelical Lutheran Church of America presented social services as the fourth issue of the convention. Rev. Seyler discussed the need for reforming a health care policy that currently places undue burden on individuals, small businesses, and local communities. Small businesses, which are vital to the fabric of the economy of First Suburbs communities, are unable to afford health care for their employees and often risk the loss of the business because of catastrophic health care costs. The group proposes supporting statewide coverage for health care which focuses on prevention and regular care. Four out of ten voting conventioneers ranked Social Services as their fourth most important issue.  

With voting concluded, Lin Axamethy-Floyd, president of Nether Providence Township Board of Commissioners, discussed the steps First Suburbs will take to grow its membership. Convention participants who want to help the Project succeed will be asked to identify and reach out to representatives of new organizations with one-to-one personal interactions.   

In addition, she announced that First Suburbs will launch a membership campaign during the upcoming summer to establish meaningful collaborations for the benefit of the region. Axamethy-Floyd submitted that SEPA First Suburbs will embody the words of the historian Alexis de Tocqueville, who wrote:  
"As soon as several of the inhabitants of the United States have taken up an opinion or a feeling which they wish to promote in the world, they look out for mutual assistance; and as soon as they have found one another out, they combine. From that moment they are no longer isolated men, but a power seen from afar, whose actions serve for an example and whose language is listened to."  

Picking up on that sentiment, Bill Clinton called the participants to action. First, he announced that the four issue action groups will reconvene over the summer in order to transform the regional issues white papers into our action agenda for the fall election cycle.   

On September 28, 2008, the action agenda will be presented to elected officials as concrete requests for action on behalf of the First Suburbs. The primary purpose of the September meeting will be to outline concrete steps that need to taken in Harrisburg on behalf of the First Suburbs and to  demonstrate our strength and power as a group to encourage our elected officials  to endorse this agenda. The summer will be used to build and broaden our constituency so we can create the greatest possible impact. We need everyone's involvement to make this happen.   

If you would like to find out more about the convention or up-coming meetings, please contact or .