Activists: Scouts should deposit rent into escrow during appeal

As the appeals process drags on in the city’s eviction case against the Boy Scouts, some activists want the Scouts to deposit a monthly rental fee into an escrow account, pending the outcome of their appeals.

A mechanism for the escrow account already exists within the Prothonotary’s Office of Common Pleas Court, utilized on a regular basis in landlord-tenant disputes.

“I agree that this fund is a good idea, and a motivator to get this case more rapidly resolved,” said Stephen A. Glassman, chair of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.

The city asked the Scouts to begin paying $200,000 annual rent for a city-owned building near the Ben Franklin Parkway, beginning on June 1.

So far, the Scouts haven’t paid anything, and they’re appealing the eviction in federal court, claiming a violation of their constitutional rights.

Maragaret A. Downey, president of Atheist Alliance International, echoed Glassman’s view.

“We definitely need the assurance that the back rent will be available in the event that the Scouts plead bankruptcy at the end of the appeals process,” Downey said. “They [Scout officials] have been known to claim financial hardship in the past, forcing little Scouts to go out and sell popcorn to finance their exorbitant salaries.”

Attorneys for the Scouts have acknowledged in open court that the appeals process could last up to six years.

City attorneys already have requested that the Scouts be responsible for back-rent payments, beginning June 1. But they haven’t yet asked a judge to direct the Scout to deposit the payments in an escrow account.

City officials declined to respond specifically to questions about the escrow-account option.

“The city continues to hold our position that the Boy Scouts should either change their policies, which we believe to be discriminatory, or they should pay market rate for the facilities where they are currently located,” said Doug Oliver, a spokesperson for Mayor Nutter, in an e-mail. “Given our position, the city Law Department continues to pursue every legal avenue available. We respectfully decline to articulate the details of our legal strategy at every step, but our fundamental position remains unchanged.”

William T. Dwyer III, director of the local Scouts chapter, said he didn’t think the Scouts would voluntarily agree to deposit rent into an escrow account.

“Not with operating needs as they are,” Dwyer said. “If we were to shave some of our programs and cut staff, then we might be able to do it. But since we’re struggling to meet our operating needs, at this point the answer is no.”

Dwyer did promise to ask the executive board of the local Scouts chapter about the possibility of the Scouts voluntarily cooperating with the escrow-account option.

“We have a board meeting coming up next week,” Dwyer said. “I’ll bring it up to them.”

He said the board meeting will be held in King of Prussia, but Dwyer declined to give the time and exact location of the meeting.

The Scouts’ Cradle of Liberty Council is headquartered in a city-owned building at 22nd and Winter streets, near the Ben Franklin Parkway. But the city’s Fair Practices Ordinance, as amended in 1982, bans antigay bias in a variety of venues, including city-owned buildings.

After years of pressure from LGBT activists, city attorneys filed eviction papers against the Scouts on June 2.

But that was 10 days after the Scouts had filed their federal lawsuit, claiming their constitutional rights were being violated by the city’s threat to evict them from the Parkway building because they won’t pay rent or allow openly gay participants.

Both lawsuits remain active and pending at press time. Tim Cwiek can be reached at (215) 625-8501 ext. 208

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Tim Cwiek has been writing for PGN since the 1970s. He holds a bachelor's degree in history from West Chester State University. In 2013, he received a Sigma Delta Chi Investigative Reporting Award from the Society of Professional Journalists for his reporting on the Nizah Morris case. Cwiek was the first reporter for an LGBT media outlet to win an award from that national organization. He's also received awards from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, the National Newspaper Association, and the Keystone Press.