Author: Guest Columnist Jim Angus, DCRAC Volunteer attorney
At bottom, Delaware is becoming an increasingly hostile environment for both its residents and quality of life. And what makes this so scary is that, without exception, political affiliation and level of elected position (congressional representative or senator, governor, attorney general, state senator, state representative and county councils) render the same consistent tone-deaf reply to a population that asks government to do what only government can do, i.e. provide for the general welfare, provide a free public education and protect the citizenry. Many of our elected officials wonder: where can I go that tells me what I am supposed to do? Simple - the Preamble to the State Constitution:
. . . . all people have by nature the rights of . . . enjoying and defending life and liberty, of acquiring and protecting reputation and property, and in general of obtaining objects suitable to their condition, without injury by one to another; and as these rights are essential to their welfare, for due exercise thereof, power is inherent in them; and therefore all just authority in the institutions of political society is derived from the people, and established with their consent, to advance their happiness; and they may for this end, as circumstances require, from time to time, alter their Constitution of government.
Now down here in Sussex County we have a County Council that is oblivious to demographic trends. About 14 people a day move into Sussex County and have been doing so for over 8 years, roughly 41,000 people, rain or shine, and they are greeted by an infrastructure typified by 1950s nostalgia: in roads with ditches for shoulders and telephone poles for guardrails, in fire and police protection guaranteed to arrive at a second scene in 45 minutes, in overcrowded schools with no relief or adequate budget in sight, and the list goes on. Confront our County Council or local state representatives with this reality and blame is heaped on the other buggers: that nasty DELDOT, that mean state legislature, etc. Nary one will acknowledge the County’s tsunamic approval of building permits and zoning changes over the last 10 years as the culprit. In the face of this emerging catastrophe, with the exception of Mr. Cole, our county council members stare into the distance, emotionless and mute as if emulating Easter Island Moai.
The latest embarrassment to community living in Delaware is that clean water is not a resident’s right. Ask 50 Delawareans on the street how important clean water is to them and you should get a positive response by 90%. In Dover, the case for clean water can’t even get out of bed and tie its shoes. Our riches of elected officials seem content to relegate the demand for clean water to the dustbin of PTA revenue generation. In Sussex County, if you have a septic system and/or a well for water, you had better get busy with Sunday bake-sales if you hope ever to get access to treated water and sewer.
Easter Island was settled by a Polynesian seafarers who sailed great distances even by today’s standards. After settling Easter Island, the core of their craft was the availability of enormous trees ripe for ship building. And yet, when Easter Island was discovered by Dutch navigator Jacob Roggeveen on Easter Sunday in 1722, not one large tree remained on the island with which to build a sea-worthy vessel. What were Easter Islanders thinking when they felled the last 50 foot tree?
Delaware had better find leaders with vision and courage soon or the tourist traffic will babble about the “Delaware revenge” if one drinks the water, the biological dangers of swimming at our beaches and that “catch and release” is not a conservation adage but a warning to eat your catch at your own risk. And we all know how disappointed our private businesses would be if that were to occur!
To all our legislators, rise to the issue of clean water, put people first, Pass HR 270 and perhaps a snippet of wisdom will migrate to the stoic gazers of the Sussex County Council.
October 12, 2017
The Waterfall, Claymont, Delaware
Thank you for joining us tonight. The Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) was born 40 years ago today. It is uniquely and beautifully American! CRA is about giving access: the keys that unlock credit and capital. The Virginians in Jamestown, the Puritans in Massachusetts Bay, the Quakers in Pennsylvania and other early settlers of what later became the United States all brought with them elements of capitalism. Land, labor, capital, and entrepreneurship. They created the operational systems for the conduct of economic life. Then as now, capitalism could serve despicable ends, noble ones, or some mixture of the two. I see CRA’s goal to be capitalism that serves noble ends. Today, we also celebrate something deeper. We celebrate a philosophy of community, of access to credit and capital, of education, and perhaps most of all, a philosophy of money.
What drives us?
My money philosophy is very simple. I work hard for my money. I want my money to work at least as hard for me. In India, we have a goddess of wealth named Laxmi. We worship money. Here, we call the love of money at the root of all evil. But, we are not so very different after all. The almighty dollar is an idiom for a cultural obsession with capitalism; implying that money is a kind of a deity! DCRAC believes money is worthy of our respect and reverence, and we believe that good money management can be taught. This is why our clients range from members of the low-income community to families with six-figure salaries. As a culture, we don’t seem to know how to take care of our money. This philosophy—that we can teach people to know their money and control their money—is what drives us.
What inspires us?
Just last year, 6 full-time and 1 part-time DCRAC staff, with help from volunteers, educated and served 1,380 Delawareans through our four programs: Tax, Credit, Housing, and credit union with 308 successful outcomes. Just one example of one of our 308 successes. While our client was overseas fighting for our country, one of the chemicals she worked with in the U.S. military made her terminally ill. To reward her for her valiant service to her country, Senator Coons assisted her with a student loan forgiveness of $100,000. Unfortunately, the IRS then taxed and assessed her $26,935 on the $100,000 student loan forgiven. Senator Coons not only introduced a Bill to carve out an exception for disabled veterans to be exempt from the student loan forgiveness tax but also applied for a $1.00 special circumstance offer in compromise so our client would not have to pay the $26,935 assessment. The IRS denied. Senator Coons referred the client to our office. We appealed the offer in compromise denial and won. IRS accepted $1.00. We exist in the corporate capital of America, and we’ve helped corporations become accountable, and it’s not inconceivable to think that the pressure we’ve placed has uplifted nonprofits across the state. Our [DCRAC’s] successes are OUR [collective] successes. Community reinvestment takes community resources. It could never have been done alone. Everyone in this room shares credit for the work we’ve done. Just last year, we educated and served 1,380 Delawareans 308 successful outcomes.
What sustains us?
Funding. Take Arsht Canon Fund for example. It so happened that Jaclyn shared a table with Dr. Chris Canon. During conversations about our work, we realized that our low-income tax clinic work especially with the Latino community was an area of great interest for the Arsht Canon Fund.
Volunteers. Some of you know Jim Angus. A US Department of Justice Attorney, Jim chose to retire in Dagsboro. With his honey do list complete, he looked for volunteer opportunities. Luckily, we nabbed him as our Tax attorney, until we hired Anthony. Jim remains the go to person for complex, complicated, and convoluted tax, title, and other case. Some of you know Blanche Jackson without whom our credit union will still be figuring how to do the day to day. Some of you know Jackie McDonald who volunteered as our credit union manager for our first several years. Some of you may remember Andrea Charry! She was our first deputy director until love and New York beckoned her. She continues to help me many ways. She drove here this evening to join us.
Space. Randy Taylor of Fulton Bank had numerous options with the building at 600 South Harrison Street. He gifted it to us because of Stepping Stones Community Federal Credit Union.
Our stretch goals keep us innovating and reaching. Just last year we have been busy with the Van, Capital Campaign; and an App called Mission 723.
Someone once said, “If you are not sitting on the edge, you are taking up too much space. Get off.” We have chosen to stay at the cutting edge. Take some time to see how busy we have been over the past 30 years!
Some of you know that I am deeply involved with AARP DE. Please consider signing up for their fraud watch network, which has become an even more of an imperative after the Equifax hack. 364 days a year, we’re doing the work. It’s only today that we promote it. And that’s our fault. It’s on us. But tell us your interest, tell us what impact you’re looking to make in the community, and I guarantee we’re doing it already.
Later this evening, we will recognize three amazing people. John Elasic and Barclaycard US Marketing Team. Unsung hero here is Paul Wilmore, Chief Marketing Officer. Without his faith and confidence in the work of Stepping Stones, the team would not go on to create something so amazing, that it is testing our stretch goals! The Van that will go to the community to make banking accessible. Bob Elder. He can do what he does because Bill Santora, the founder of Santora CPA believes that each of us does well when we all do well. Joe Zebleckes. He is his own boss. He brings brilliant young talent from diverse backgrounds under his wings and helps them pursue their architectural passions.
As I close, I have so many of you to thank for where we are today. Our founder Jim Sills who envisioned a need for advocacy! Our board and volunteers, past and present both at DCRAC and Stepping Stones. Our staff, past and present. All of you. Most of all, my granddaughters Adriana and Arya.