BACK IN October, the city announced that it would start charging the local Boy Scouts $200,000 annual rent for the city-owned property the Scouts headquarters sits on. Reaction from the Cradle of Liberty Boy Scouts Council was high-decibel alarm.

Spokesman Jeff Jubelirer told the Inquirer that $200,000 a year in rent "would have to come from programs. That's 30 new Cub Scout packs, or 800 needy kids going to our summer camp."

Outraged supporters of the 64,000-member Cradle quickly repeated the impoverished-child refrain, leaving the impression that the council operated on a shoestring already pulled tight by the needs of the 40,000 city kids served by the Scouts.

So it's pretty weird to page through the Cradle of Liberty's 2006 tax return and learn that William Dwyer III, the president and CEO of this nonprofit organization, earned a whopping $260,352 that year.

Using Jubelirer's math, that's the equivalent of 39 new Cub Scout packs, or 1,041 needy kids going to summer camp.

I'm not saying Dwyer should turn down the dough that national Boy Scouts bigwigs have decided to pay him. Hey, if they think he's worth it, good for him. Jubelirer makes the point that Dwyer has been with the Cradle for 37 years and that his responsibilties are vast: overseeing not just the Cradle's programs but its many properties, including two camps.

But it's hard to take seriously the Cradle's crying poor when its boss makes $136,242 more than the head of the Girl Scouts of Southeastern Pennsylvania and $119,922 more than the head of the Big Brothers Big Sisters Southeastern Pennsylvania.

Dwyer is paid $50,352 more than his counterpart in the Boy Scouts Greater New York Council - an organization whose revenues are $6,264,561 more than the Cradle's and which serves 56,412 more boys than the Cradle does.

And he also earns $116,343 more than our mayor and $101,814 more than our police commissioner - both of whom have sworn to look out for not just city boys, but all of Philadelphia's citizens.

Although Dwyer took no salary increase from 2000 through 2003, he made up for it between 2004 and 2006, when his salary jumped by $43,913. That's a lot of needy kids staying home from camp - 175.6, to be precise.

The reason that the Scouts' rent is going up has been well-documented: The Cradle refuses membership to gays and atheists, in keeping with its national council's rules.

According to city law, Philadelphia may not subsidize a private organization that discriminates the way the Boy Scouts do.

Look, I get that the Cradle of Liberty doesn't want to pay $199,999 more for something it's gotten for one buck, for years.

I also get that the Cradle recognizes that the Scouts' discrimination policies are harmful. That's why the Cradle attempted to give them up a few years ago.

It backed down, though, when the Boy Scouts National Council threatened to jettison the Cradle from the Scouts altogether if it did so.

It's not a decision I like. By adhering to the status quo, the Cradle made a calculated decision to harm kids by tacitly teaching them - via the exclusion of gays and atheists from its ranks - that some people aren't good enough to be Scouts.

But it's the Cradle's decision to make, as long as it knows that means it has to pay the rent.

Of course the Cradle realizes that, which is why it's so disingenuous to play the "kids will be hurt" card by claiming that $200,000 rent will do irreparable harm.

Clearly, Dwyer's big salary and fat raises didn't hurt kids in the past. Why would a fat rent hike hurt them in the future?

So here's a thought. If the Cradle wants to stay at 22nd and Winter, Dwyer and nine of his wealthiest board members - the Cradle has a slew of them - could chip in $20,000 apiece, to preserve the status quo, until saner heads prevail in the national Boy Scouts council.

Hey, it's for the kids. *

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