Mayor Jim Kenney, who holds an ex officio position on the board of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, on Wednesday called for the institution to revamp its personnel policies after the scandal involving its former assistant director of interpretation Joshua R. Helmer.
Kenney made his wishes known in a statement responding to an Inquirer request for comment in the matter. He declined, however, to address specifics on how the museum handled the case, which was first reported Friday by the New York Times.
"The [Kenney] Administration did express to PMA leadership that it should review and strengthen its policies regarding anti-fraternization and sexual harassment, and require training for all staff,” Kenney spokesperson Deana Gamble said.
The mayor takes such issues "very seriously,” Gamble said.
The Times reported that Helmer had entered into relationships with subordinate female museum staffers while dangling possibilities for professional advancement. He worked at the Art Museum from 2013 to 2018 and then became executive director of the Erie Art Museum.
On Monday, the Erie museum posted a notice on its Facebook page that Helmer, 31, is “no longer employed" there.
Helmer declined to talk with the Times about his relationships. "That’s personal information,” he told the newspaper. “You keep your personal life private.”
The Art Museum has not commented on the matter publicly, except in a written statement by director and CEO Timothy Rub. “We will be engaging outside consultants to conduct a close review of our workplace environment, our policies and programs, including training activities so we understand how we can be better in the future,” the statement said.
Hundreds of current and former staffers of the museum have signed a statement standing in solidarity with the women who spoke out and calling for structural change.
Gamble said the city “was made aware of the matter shortly before the New York Times published the article. The mayor is not familiar with the specific circumstances of the accusations to comment on how PMA handled the case.”
As part of their elected positions, Kenney, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and Philadelphia City Council President Darrell L. Clarke are ex officio board members for the museum. PMA’s art and operations are overseen by a private nonprofit, but the museum occupies city-owned buildings.
Clarke was unaware of the complaints against Helmer until the story published, spokesperson Joe Grace said. “We’ll be looking very carefully at this situation and this matter moving forward,” Grace said.
Wolf said he has “zero tolerance” for inappropriate workplace behavior, spokesperson J.J. Abbott said.
“He strongly supports all organizations, especially those of a public or civic nature, enacting strong policies that protect employees and hold bad actors accountable,” Abbott said. “He agrees with strengthening policies, providing both better training and improving means for individuals to report.”