Of Hair Salons, Taco Trucks, and Chili – How Politics May Destroy the Fishtown Neighbors Association

September 18, 2016

As some of you may know, there is currently ongoing litigation with me and the Fishtown Neighbors Association. Normally during litigation you’re not supposed to talk about it for fear that anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. But according to the FNA’s last pleading submitted to the court:

[T]his matter deals with an issue of public concern. We have allegations that an individual used his position as the president of a civic association, comprised of members of a discrete community, to obtain a significant monetary grant for a private client without the association’s full notice. Even more significant, this individual happens to be an attorney, who is bound by certain ethical obligations. If he truly engaged in such conduct, then not only does the Fishtown community need to know and be able to openly discuss his conduct, but also, on a broader scale, the legal community ought to know about this conduct and should be able to openly debate the ethical implications of it.

I agree.

Let’s talk about it…

A brief background: I moved to Fishtown in 2006 because it was close to Temple Law, where I went to school. I lived under Dr. Slobodinsky’s office on Girard Ave, bounced over to Hewson Street the next year, and eventually bought my house at Boston and Memphis in 2009. I’ve maintained office space in 2424 Studios since 2010, and opened up my neighborhood law practice in 2012. Most of my law practice involves zoning. I have lived and worked in Fishtown for many years now.

I based a lot of my career and social life on doing local community activism. I spent three years in a leadership role with the Fishtown Neighbors Association (FNA), serving as a board member at large, Vice President, and President.

Some of the more fun things I did was save historic banks on Front Street, fought a methadone clinic, and testified before the Philadelphia City Planning Commission about the new Fishtown zoning map. Through the FNA, I created a program called “Zoning 101” to help neighbors navigate the Philadelphia zoning process. And sometimes I helped people find  lost cats.

The FNA, which had previously been run out of individual board members’ homes and a P.O. box, moved its headquarters to my law office at 2424 Studios so that we had a permanent meeting space and somewhere to store our supplies. Mugshot Diner generously catered board meetings at no cost.

The FNA Chili Cookoff was also held each year in the 2424 Skybox. The owner generously donated the space to the FNA. It was convenient because all the supplies were housed in the FNA’s office on the third floor. I’m told that neighbors found the space to be easily accessible and child friendly. Plus, free beer.

Volunteering for the FNA was my passion. It was a pleasure to be part of a growing neighborhood, and hopefully make things around me better. I’d spend an average of three days a week in meetings and engaging in community activism. In my spare time, I would screen projects with the FNA Zoning Committee, and help write anti-SLAPP laws through Crosstown Coalition.

A year later, I’ve been excommunicated from the organization. The Chili Cookoff is now held at the Fillmore. The FNA no longer has office space and is run out of the Free Library. The organization’s bylaws were recently amended so that business owners are excluded from serving on the Board of Directors. Unlike civic other civic associations, the FNA will no longer help business owners apply for grants. Litigation is pending.

What happened?

It all starts with a small hair salon on York Street…

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