There’s a single requirement to sit on the panel that helps Mayor Jim Kenney select members of the Philadelphia school board, which controls $3.5 billion in public money and the education of 200,000 students: be a registered city voter.
But one of the 13 who did just that last week lives and votes outside Philadelphia, in violation of the City Charter.
Separately, questions have arisen about the residency of one of the school board nominees Kenney is now considering.
Maura McCarthy, head of Fairmount Park Conservancy, was a member of the Educational Nominating Panel that last week chose nine possible board members for Kenney’s consideration.
The news came after the Kenney administration erroneously told The Inquirer on Dec. 9 that all nominating panel members were city residents. The nominating panel met and voted on Dec. 16.
Soon after the vote, the administration learned that McCarthy didn’t live in the city. Deana Gamble, a Kenney spokesperson, said McCarthy has since resigned from the panel.
It’s not clear how the slipup happened, Gamble said. She said that when The Inquirer asked about city residency before the meeting, the Mayor’s office checked the name of only one panel member, not everyone.
Why was McCarthy asked to join the panel if she did not live in the city?
“It was definitely an oversight,” Gamble said. “We’re still looking at where the oversight occurred.”
McCarthy, in a statement, said a member of Kenney’s office reached out to her early this year to see whether she would step in to fill a seat that came open on the nominating panel when Jamie Gauthier was elected to City Council.
“I said I’d be happy to help,” said McCarthy. “I informed a representative that while I work in the city, I do not live in the city. Had I known it was a firm requirement, I would have declined the opportunity.”
McCarthy said she became aware of the City Charter residency requirement only when members of the public raised it at Wednesday’s meeting. She resigned immediately and said she regrets that her volunteer role “is distracting from this important work.”
The panel’s vote — advancing to Kenney the names of Karima Bouchenafa, Tariem Burroughs, Natalia Dominguez Buckley, Gavin Keirans, Azeb Kinder, Jack Lynch, Lisa Salley, Reginald Streater, and Cecelia Thompson — is legal and still stands, Gamble said. Their vote was unanimous and would have passed without McCarthy’s vote.
“We have checked the voter registration database and are confident the other panel members are registered voters in Philadelphia,” Gamble said. “The Mayor’s office plans to review its internal vetting processes to ensure this type of oversight does not happen again.”
Kenney is expected to announce his three picks for the school board by the end of the month.
It appears that Kinder, a former district and charter school teacher and administrator who also does consulting equity work, lives outside of the city.
Kinder has a residence in Washington, and is registered to vote there, according to public records.
Gamble, of the Mayor’s office, said Kinder provided the office with a Philadelphia address. The City Charter requires board members to live in Philadelphia for at least one year before their appointments to the unpaid posts. She said that the city’s inspector general was checking the background all nine board candidates, and that it would determine Kinder’s residency status.
Phone messages left for Kinder were not immediately returned.
The nominating panel news drew anger, but not surprise, from Lisa Haver, a retired School District teacher and founder of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools.
“This is what happens when you have a completely closed system that the public plays no part in,” Haver said. “The mayor has a responsibility to make sure that people are qualified.”
Haver disputed the notion that the nominating panel’s work was unaffected by the fact that McCarthy was ineligible to sit on it. The panel received more than 80 applications, reviewed each one, picked candidates to interview, asked them questions, then made final choices before voting in public.
“She made decisions,” Haver said. “The public has a right to know who people are, what their relationship is to anybody, what their financial interests are, and who they’re advocating for.”