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Disarray on Both Sides of the Barnes Wars: Philly Movers and Merion Shakers UPDATED

If you’re trying to take on the powers that be, you’d best present a united front.
But when attorney Mark Schwartz yesterday filed a 79-page petition in Montgomery County Orphans Court, asking Judge Stanley Ott to rescind his permission for the Barnes Foundation’s board to move its collection from from Merion, PA, to Philadelphia, he did so on behalf of the Friends of the Barnes Foundation (a citizens’ group), not on behalf of his former clients, the Montgomery County Commissioners, who had hired him more than two months ago.
The county and Schwartz recently parted ways because of disagreements about the wording of the petition and conflicts caused by Schwartz’s divided loyalties in also representing the Friends group, which wanted language that the county government did not endorse.
“He wouldn’t do what we wanted,” said Montgomery County Deputy Solicitor Carolyn Carluccio, who added that she would soon file a separate petition on behalf of the county. She told CultureGrrl yesterday that she had not yet seen the final version of Schwartz’s petition, but the draft she did see was, in her view, too lengthy and “contained a lot of gratuitous attacks on people that we thought were unnecessary. I was taking them out, and he was putting them back in.” She said Schwartz had declared that the Friends group wanted that wording retained, and was paying him more than the county was.
Schwartz’s draft petition, she added, criticized the Attorney General’s handling of the Barnes court case and the Governor’s attempt, through correspondence, to influence the judge in favor of the move. Both were roundly criticized by Judge Ott himself in his decision.
But despite the possible validity and relevance of this criticism, Carluccio said that, as a government entity, Montgomery County could not endorse language that impugned other government officials. She said that her petition will focus on the recent “significant changes in circumstances” that might persuade Judge Ott to reconsider whether the Barnes could survive and thrive in the location for which founder Albert Barnes had intended it.
Schwartz’s petition, according to the Friends’ press release, “further requests that Judge Ott remove the present Board of Directors and place the Foundation in receivership.”
A copy of the petition itself is being sent to me by snail mail. But I suspect the Philadelphia Inquirer will beat me to the full petition and the full story. (I’ll update with a link.) Andrew Stewart, press spokesman for the Barnes, told me that no architect for the planned Philly facility would be chosen from the foundation’s shortlist “until some time after Labor Day.”
Meanwhile, the powerful pro-Philadelphia forces are still stymied over where to move the juvenile detention center that now occupies the preferred site for the new Barnes facility. A story in last Wednesday’s Inquirer about violence and abuses at the center will surely intensify the NIMBY forces already in evidence in the neighborhood being eyed for the new “Youth Study Center,” as it is euphemistically called.
John Sullivan of the Inquirer notes:
The new youth center is slated to go up on a five-acre site between Market Street and Haverford Avenue in West Philadelphia, but the move has been blocked for three years by Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell. She has said residents there have concerns about traffic, parking, and the potential for young inmates to escape.
What’s more, architecture critic James Russell of Bloomberg last week raised serious questions about whether the Philly Barnes could reasonably be achieved within its expected timeframe (completed in 2009) and at its projected cost ($100 million).
I have a simple solution: Engage Diller Scofidio + Refro to renovate and expand the Philadelphia detention center in situ, and keep the Barnes in Merion.
UPDATE: Coverage today from the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Associated Press. Both contain quotes from yesterday’s Friends press conference, but not from the petition itself.
UPDATE 2: Jim McCaffrey in The Bulletin of Philadelphia does quote from the Friends’ petition [via], but I’ll need to get my hands on the entire document (and, preferably, on the upcoming Montgomery County petition as well) before I can make some informed comments.
If I’m off-blog for most of today, it’s because I’m on a mainstream media assignment.

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