Benjamin Howells was first elected to the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation board in June 1999, and he served until June 2010. Ben was well-liked by both the board and staff members of RSF, and only stepped down from the board upon having fulfilled the mandatory term limit of nine consecutive years.
Ben provided a positive, wise, and reconciling influence in RSF board deliberations, and at times found himself in the role of peacemaker. He often quoted, and acted on, a motto adopted by the Moravian and Presbyterian churches: In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity. One had a sense that Ben lived his life according to this motto.
Ben’s devotion to economic justice and the tax reforms advocated by Henry George went back several decades before he joined the Foundation. In 1970-71, he served on the Mayor of Allentown’s advisory committee on tax reform. He became keenly interested in land value taxation. He was elected five times to the Allentown City Council, and was several times the President. Before the end of his fifth term in 1991, he resigned from City Council to become the City of Allentown Municipal Planner, in which position he served until 1994.
Early in his tenure on City Council, he puts together a proposal authorizing two-rate property taxation, which would allow the city to lower or even abolish the tax rate on building and improvement values while taxing land values at a separate if not higher rate. The Council passed the authorization seven times, only to have it vetoed by the Mayor.
In 1994, the Council requested and the electorate approved a charter reform commission. The commission added two-rate taxation to the charter, which was passed by the electorate in 1995. The Fairgrounds Association, the largest holder of vacant land in Allentown, challenged the charter amendment by running a referendum, which was defeated. We all witnessed increased economic activity in Allentown after the charter amendment went into effect.
In addition to his work for civic reform, Ben was trained in engineering and physics, and worked for Bell Labs for 30 years, retiring in 1990. The work of the Foundation benefitted greatly from Ben’s retirement years, which he devoted so strongly to our shared mission.
Ben passed away at age 86 leaving his wife, Ellen, three children and two grandchildren. Our condolences go out to his family and friends. Ben was greatly loved and admired by his Robert Schalkenbach Foundation colleagues, and his noble, kind, and generous spirit will be greatly missed by all of us who had the privilege of serving with him.
Ted Gwartney, President
Robert Schalkenbach Foundation
From The Allentown Morning Call
PDF of the News Paper page
Benjamin Howells, an Allentown councilman for nearly two decades, died Tuesday April 4th 2017 in the afternoon at his city home. He was 86.
Howells, a Democrat, was a fixture on Allentown City Council from 1973 to 1992, when he was an advocate for the city’s land-value tax and helped to write the city’s Historic Preservation District ordinance. Howells served two separate terms as council president.
“He was a Renaissance man,” his daughter Leslie Howells of Seattle said Friday. “He was a man of lifelong curiosity and service, and a kind man.”
At the same time he held public office, Howells worked at AT&T Bell Laboratories in Allentown. He retired from Bell Labs in 1990 as a senior technician.
In August 1992, Howells left City Council after his fifth consecutive term to take a job as city planner under Democratic Mayor Joseph Daddona’s administration. Critics claimed Howells took the job to boost his city pension but Howells dismissed the idea. He was removed from the post in April 1994 by Republican Mayor Bill Heydt.
Howells was a member of the Pennsylvania League of Cities for 17 years, serving terms as treasurer and vice president. He was also a member of the National League of Cities. Howells served at least 12 years on the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission and four years on the city Planning Commission.
He was active with what is now the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce, the Allentown Redevelopment Authority, the Allentown Housing Authority and the Allentown Economic Development Corp. He also was a member of the Schalkenbach Foundation, a tax reform think tank in New York City.
In 1999, Howells made a failed bid for Lehigh County commissioner, running on a platform that was critical of what he called a reliance on a “good-old-boy network.”
Born in upstate New York, Howells moved with his family and grew up in the Nanticoke and Wilkes-Barre area of Luzerne County. According to his daughter Leslie, he obtained a pilot’s license when he was 16, before he had a driver’s license.
He was a graduate of Nanticoke High School and Penn State University. He served a short time in the Army in the early 1950s.
Howells is survived by his wife of 59 years, Ellen (Morris) Howells; three children, Allen, Leslie and Sarah; and four grandchilden.
Funeral services will be private. A public memorial service is planned, but no date has been chosen. Information on the memorial service will be available from the family at [email protected].