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Stu Bykofsky | At Hero Fund, a slow-motion shake-up

I'VE HEARD it's a hard thing to give up power, and it's probably true. It's especially hard when you've had power a long time, or if the power was very great.

I'VE HEARD it's a hard thing to give up power, and it's probably true.

It's especially hard when

you've had power a long time, or if the power was very great.

Last week, Mrs. Ruth Sliwin-ski told the board of the Hero Scholarship Fund that she was stepping down as president. It was probably a hard thing for her to do, because she's been volunteering her time for some 40 years, the last decade as president.

Her announcement is part of a slow-motion shake-up at the Hero Scholarship Fund.

The shake-up follows withering criticism of the fund at an emotional City Council hearing last month, and negative publicity.

The fund, which stages the Thrill Show as its primary funding device, drew fire after it was learned that the 2006 Thrill Show had been canceled, that the full board was disbanded last year, that eligible students are no longer given full scholarships and that they were hassled in the process.

Following its formation in 1954, the fund provided full college scholarships for the children of Philadelphia police and firefighters either killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. The fund capped tuition payments at $8,800 per semester in 2004.

Three days after the fund's April 17 board meeting, Philadelphia magazine Executive Editor Tom McGrath put out a release on behalf of the fund. He is a board member and the brother of John McGrath, the attorney who has represented the fund. The journalistic McGrath deferred questions to newly designated spokesman David Rohde, who is an attorney.

The board appointed a nominating committee to find a new president and voted to move fund offices back to Philly from the Delaware home of program director Jerry Callaghan where it wound up about a year ago.

The board also said it wanted to review the $8,800-per-semester cap, according to Rohde, a board member since the mid '80s.

Rohde said he was "dumbstruck" by some of what he heard at the City Council hearings chaired by Jim Kenney.

Although moving the fund back to Philly is a priority, he couldn't say where. Located in City Hall in the past, the fund moved about 10 years ago because of problems with equipment and service, he said.

That strikes me as a solvable problem. Maybe each mayoral candidate would like to pledge city cooperation for a group that does so much good for the city?

Rohde said the Thrill Show was very important to the fund, but knew of no plans to launch one this year.

"There are concerns among a number of board members," Rohde said, about fund expenses. The fund spent $2 on expenses for every $1 it paid in scholarship money in 2005, the last year for which a report is available. Rohde called that a "snapshot," but a troubling one.

In 2006 - when the fund decided to cancel the Thrill Show and seemed resigned to investing the $3.2 million it has in the bank and awarding scholarships off the interest - local lawyer Jimmy Binns created the Hero Thrill Show, backed by firefighters and police. About $370,000 was raised.

I had been told the old board wanted that money and there might be a lawsuit.

Rohde said a lawsuit would be in the best interest of no one, adding he prefers to cooperate with the new group. That's also what Councilman Kenney would like to see, as would I. Police and firefighters unions told me they are willing to share power with the fund board.

It's time for the board to give up some of its power.

If Ruth Sliwinski did it, so can the fund. *

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