DEAR MAYOR NUTTER,
We've met only twice, and once I watched you give your card to an ex-con looking for work and tell him that you'd help him out. I was impressed.
So before we get off on the wrong foot here, I'm going to assume you missed the softball I lobbed over to City Hall last month. Understandable; you're a busy guy. Bicycle sharing. The Subaru Cherry Blossom Festival kickoff. The U.S. Conference of Mayors' fifth-annual World Cultural Economic Forum in New Orleans. Hope you make time to grab some beignets and po'boys; they're yummy.
But Mayor, this was a no-brainer, a chance to knock one out of the park by doing the right thing. Long story short, for almost 10 years now, a group of mostly ex-cons - that vulnerable group you promised to look out for during your first mayoral run - have been waiting for the city to pay them what it owes.
As I mentioned in a previous column, a bunch of them were hired in 2003 to clean up blight around the city by LP Group 2, a company owned by Garnett Littlepage. I'm sure you know him: His company Scotlandyard does security for several buildings around the city, including City Hall. He was tight with your predecessor John Street, I hear.
Anyway, the city's Labor Standards Unit cited Littlepage for not paying the workers a prevailing wage. The city was supposed to hold his payments until he paid the workers the difference owed them. But that didn't happen. Littlepage got paid. The workers didn't.
The 40 or so workers have been fighting to get paid for years now. Once the city stopped completely ignoring them, it said it had no legal obligation to them. I guess a contract and the city's own prevailing wage law don't count?
The city has been equally cold about its moral obligation to men who worked hard for their money.
After being pressed by Council members James Kenney and Mark Squilla at a recent budget hearing, City Solicitor Shelley Smith said, "If the city expended money every time someone thought we had a moral obligation to compensate someone for a wrong, we would probably not have any more money."
Your professional gatekeeper, Mark McDonald, suggested the guys get a lawyer.
C'mon, Mayor, you and I both know that these guys don't have the money for a lawyer. They might, if they had gotten paid. . .
And no one should hold his breath for Littlepage to pay up. In a 33-page emailed defense and a subsequent conversation after my first column, Littlepage said the men aren't owed a dime. In fact, he said the city owes him money.
"My company has been harassed and attacked because we hire those that don't have skill sets and resumes that others might," said Littlepage. "I believe based on my belief in God that it is simply because we try to do the right thing by our employees."
I'll let you two work that out.
People have mocked Gov. Corbett for his latest gaffe, suggesting that the jobless are unemployed because they can't pass a drug test . . . just the latest in his heartless approach to those who are struggling. Do you really want to turn into a punch line for turning your back on people you said you'd stand up for?
The stage is set for that, Mayor. Council members Kenney and Squilla are introducing a resolution today authorizing the Committee on Labor and Civil Service to hold hearings to examine the Neighborhood Transformation Initiative contracts awarded to LP Group 2 from 2004 to 2006.
"We told these guys that we would have their backs," said Kenney. "They did all the right things; now we have to do right by them."
"The city is responsible here," Squilla said. "They paid LP Group even after they knew they were paying substandard wages."
But hey, don't just take our word for it. Talk to Mark Zecca. Before he was running for city controller, he was a city lawyer working on this case. Bottom line, he says: "The city owes these guys. Pay the workers and go after Littlepage."
And don't let your people tell you that paying workers fleeced by a city contractor is going to set some kind of dangerous precedent. In a prior case in which the city messed up, it paid. It was the right thing to do then. It's the right thing to do now.
Or talk to Vernon Ray, or Vearn Hart, or any of the dozens of other guys who are waiting for the $188,000 that is life-changing money to them.
The last time I saw Hart, he was driving a U-Haul out of Philadelphia, completely disgusted at being screwed over after playing by the rules.
I can get you his number, if it's still working.
On Twitter: @NotesFromHel