Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Mayor tries 11th-hour maneuver

Rebuffed by Council last month, Street scrambles to fund $8 million in contracts.

In a frenzied push before he leaves office in three weeks, Mayor Street is trying to ram through $8 million worth of contract awards that City Council refused to consider last month.

If he gets his way, it will be Mayor-elect Michael Nutter's problem to figure out how to pay for them.

Street initially sought Council approval for the transfer of $80 million from certain city funds and departments to pay for a variety of favored projects and priority items.

Included was $8 million to take over about 20 social-services contracts from the Philadelphia School District next year.

But when Street asked Council on Nov. 29 to approve an ordinance transferring the $80 million, it ceded to Nutter's request to delay significant financial decisions until after he becomes mayor on Jan. 7.

When it comes to the $8 million, however, Street isn't waiting.

He has instructed City Solicitor Romulo L. Diaz Jr. and Budget Director Dianne Reed, among others, to find ways for the city to pick up the district's contracts now.

"There are a lot of things we are trying to nail down. We have a couple of weeks left to go," Diaz said in an interview. Speaking specifically about the School District contracts, he added: "It has terrific priority. It's from the mayor."

Council President Anna C. Verna was angry yesterday to learn from a reporter about the mayor's efforts, saying he continued to keep Council in the dark. "Listen," she said, "we are all concerned about the [school funding] crisis, but why does it take 18 days before he is leaving office that there is a crisis and we should be doing something?"

She continued, "I just don't know what the urgency is, and I think we owe it to the mayor-elect to deal with it."

Nutter could not be reached yesterday for comment.

Fueling Street's priority status for the contracts is his desire to keep a commitment he made early last summer to relieve the School District's deficit by $10 million, said Jacqueline Barnett, Street's education secretary. "The mayor is trying to fulfill his promise," she said.

The city delivered $2 million in flat-out cash; taking over the social services work would save the remaining $8 million. The idea is to expand existing contracts that the city may have with the same vendors, or to create contracts where necessary, Barnett said.

Street had hoped to pull the needed $8 million from excess city funds or grants, which is why he turned to Council for help. "I don't think he anticipated Council would have a problem with additional funding," Barnett said.

Snubbed, he directed that the money come from a single source - the Department of Human Services budget, for which he does not need Council approval. The money may come from a DHS account reserved for a state-matching-fund program that may not be needed this year, or some current DHS contracts may be terminated to free up the cash, Reed said.

But she said it was also possible that the next administration would be forced to find the money elsewhere - and to ask Council yet again to approve a transfer of funds.

"Nutter stuck himself with the bill because he asked Council not to introduce our transfer ordinance" is how Reed put it.

She noted that the state was also pressuring the mayor to keep his word, saying, "The state wants to see the city fulfill its commitment to make sure the School District has as good a financial outcome as possible."

Officials refused to release a list of the contractors affected, because, they said, the list was not yet finalized, nor were the deals. Generally, though, they relate to antitruancy, curfew, and conflict-resolution initiatives - support work the city provides through DHS.

"From our perspective," Diaz said, "it's, how do we address this in a way that does not create a long-term commitment for the city and on behalf of the mayor, but still provide immediate support?"