Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia on September 3, 1972 · Page 95
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Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia · Page 95

Charleston, West Virginia
Issue Date:
Sunday, September 3, 1972
Page 95
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Page 95 article text (OCR)

Ym C a H Rslrt Citv by Suzanne Curley CHERRY HILL, N.J. F or more than three years two housewives with little money and less political experience have been raising havoc in this sprawling suburban town. As New Jersey's first registered "public interest lobbyists" Alene Ammond and Rosemarie Hospodor have made unresponsive and corrupt government their main target. The women don't lobby in the traditional sense, by buttonholing legislators and "buying them lunch." "We haven't the time or the inclination--or the money--for that," says Mrs. Ammond. · Mrs. Hospodor agrees: "We feel that our special method of lobbying--researching the problems well, and then laying the facts before the people via local television or newspapers--makes for the fastest response." Traffic reduced Among their accomplishments so far: · They spearheaded a successful drive to stop winter racing at a powerful local track, preventing severe traffic jams and releasing police for more essential duties. ·' They brought a two-week sanitation strike to an end, by bringing the strikers' grievances to public attention. · They publicized the need for an ethics code for the township's government, and for abolishing a costly residency requirement for policemen-and won on both counts. · And, acting on an anonymous phone tip, they exposed the local tax assessor as a political appointee who didn't have the qualifications for the job--nor any right, under the wage and price freeze, to a 60 percent pay hike he had been voted. Discontent at start The lobbying team of Hospodor and Ammond was formed out of similar discontent with government. The cellar in Rosemarie Hospodor's new home collapsed under the weight of sewer seepage, and when she sought to collect the $6000 worth of damages done, she found that the township would not enforce its building codes. Meanwhile, Alene Ammond had been thwarted in her numerous attempts to have the public library moved to larger quarters in a better part of town. Mrs. Ammond had been told by local Democratic leaders that she "wasn't meant for politics" when she charged that "the local politicos behaved like four-year locusts"--active only during T O W N S H i p O F C H E R B Y m i , SSKSSsasams!SE^Kiffir.i»?^-, 3 ^.-v^,--,,__ *Vr n * · n l LL Discontented with local government in New Jersey, Alene Ammond (I) and Rosemarie Hospodor established a lobbying team and have worked successfully to effect change. campaigns, then letting the public be damned for another four years. So she and 11 other angry citizens decided to form their own non-partisan group, "dedicated to fighting city hall, examining public issues, and presenting them to the government." The new group, formed in October. 1968, called itself the Cherry Hill League, and Rosemarie Hospodor was one of its first eager members. Not long after, she and Mrs. Ammond contacted the attorney general's office in the state capital and paid $5 each to register as lobbyists, acting on behalf of the League's members and all other concerned citizens of Cherry Hill. Neither of the women had a political background, but both found themselves with the same motivation toward "getting out and doing something in this town." Rosemarie Hospodor is a former sixth-grade teacher, married to a marketing manager and the mother of three school-age children. Alene Ammond dropped out of college and traded in a career as a ballet dancer for marriage and family. Her husband, an engineer, and her two teenage daughters encouraged her to "get back into the world." "But when I called the state offices to register as a public interest lobbyist," Mrs. Ammond continues, "I was put through a real Abbott and Costello routine over the phone. It was 'public wha?', 'public who?' as if I were actually some kind of public menace like a contagious disease." Taxes skyrocketing Once registered, the first issue the two women decided to tackle was the biggest complaint of all suburban homeowners -- skyrocketing property taxes. Questions posed to the town council and mayor received evasive replies, they remember. "As is universally the case," comments Mrs. Hospodor, "questions from the voter pose a threat to the greatest tool the politician has -- secrecy." None of Cherry Hill's elected officials could explain why, year after year, the tax rate climbed--114 percent from 1969 to 1970 alone. "Finally," says Mrs. Ammond, "a chance remark passed by the mayor laid the blame on 'the guys who don't pay up'--both individuals and corporations. And whatever taxes were not collected, were charged to the already overburdened householder the following year." Early this year the Cherry Hill League obtained a list of tax delinquents, and Mrs. Ammond and Mrs. Hospodor persuaded the local paper to publish it. The outstanding accounts totaled $1,700,000--two-thirds of which was paid up within one month of the list's publication, even though one prominent delinquent muttered bitterly, "Everybody knows it's not good business to pay taxes on time." Failures, too The lobbyists' efforts don't always meet with such success. "When we asked the town manager to discuss the budget with us," recalls Alene Ammond, "he said, yes--but only if we'd agree not to talk about numbers!" Rosemarie Hospodor is being sued by a local real estate developer for libel, in connection with a recent zoning dispute. Both women have been plagued with slashed tires, obscene phone calls and, according to Mrs. Ammond, "Damon Runyon-type characters" cruising in cars in front of their homes. Since May, however, when Mrs. Ammond testified before the U.S. Senale, the women have been entitled to federal protection if they request it. Mrs. Ammond appeared before a subcommittee headed by Sen. Edmund Muskie which is gathering information in an attempt to correct "the uneven, erratic, and often unfair administration of the property tax." That was putting it mildly. Mrs. Ammond's testimony was condensed from a study of New Jersey's tax system made by the Cherry Hill League with the help of Ralph Nader's Tax Reform Research Group. It alleged shockingly unfair administration of tax assessment, and many loopholes for big business. "The homeowners are, in effect, subsidizing the industrial and commercial interests; zoning is manipulated at will, so that corporations and land speculators get enormous tax breaks." She cited land belonging to a large industrial park that was assessed at 24 cents a square foot, compared to anywhere from 45 cents to f0 cents for the average residential lot. Others urged to try Mrs. Ammond concluded her Senate testimony by urging men and women in other towns to follow the Cherry Hill League's example in attempting to "overcome the corruption that is paralyzing the proper functioning of government." Adds Rosemarie Hospodor: "Every citizen has something to gain by public interest lobbying. We attract people from all walks of life, of all political beliefs. But we all have one thing in common--we wish to remind our elected officials that they don't have any kind of divine right. They are ultimately responsible to us--the public." 17

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