Ward leader is working on a Right-to-Know basis
Ward leader hits city with dumb Right-to-Know requests, just because he can.
READY FOR a preholiday story that could use less humbug and more goodwill toward men?
The nonsense begins in early November when David Lynn, a Republican (I hear Philly has a few), called Penrose Playground to book indoor space for a meeting of the 37th Ward.
"I called every day for a week. Nobody called me back," says Lynn, a new ward leader eager to organize the 37th.
So Lynn trekked to Penrose to track down director Greg Stepp. Stepp said that political or partisan activities are forbidden at the center. Lynn found that odd, since its outside mural trumpets Democrat Barack Obama's 2008 presidential win.
Smelling political discrimination, Lynn called the city's Parks and Recreation Department to ask about the policy. When no one phoned back within 24 hours, he reached for the trump card he uses to punish the obstreperous:
The Right-to-Know Act.
It requires government entities to supply public info, no matter how esoteric, to those who ask for it. Lynn uses the act when he feels stonewalled by functionaries, which is pretty much all the time.
He says he averages a request a week. But, he boasts he once filed 75 of them in a single day.
"It's a very effective way to get people's attention," he says.
He requested from Parks and Rec everything from the salary, job description and job application of Stepp and his supervisor to copies of invoices the city paid to whomever designed Parks and Rec's "hideous website."
The day he emailed the request, he says, he got a call from Barry Bessler, the department's chief of staff, who said that Stepp had been mistaken: Any group, partisan or not, can book free meeting space at Penrose as long as they complete the permit form and comply with policies regarding liabilities and such.
Bessler then asked Lynn if he wanted to rescind his Right-to-Know request. Lynn thought about how much Parks and Rec's lack of prompt customer service had gotten on his nerves and decided it was only fair that he get on Parks and Rec's nerves with his onerous request.
So he told Bessler. "I still want that information."
Lynn eventually got the permit from Stepp and bought a lot of pizza for what he hoped would be a good crowd at last Saturday's ward meeting.
But before the first person showed, he was met by Democratic state Sen. Shirley Kitchen, on site for a different event.
"She demanded to know who allowed me to hold a ward meeting, because political meetings are not allowed on city property," says Lynn. "She also wanted me to apologize to Greg Stepp. I said, 'All I did was ask for clarification of a policy. Why would that require an apology?' "
I asked Kitchen the same thing.
"I heard that Mr. Lynn had been disrespectful and unprofessional" to Stepp, she said. "He went over Greg's head, which was not very nice. And he bad-mouthed Greg on Facebook and Twitter. That was unnecessary."
Except that Lynn has no Facebook page and hasn't used his Twitter account in two years. Who, he wondered, was blabbing about him with Kitchen?
So (you knew this was coming) he has submitted another Right-to-Know request. This time, he wants phone records and copies of every email and postal letter exchanged between anyone in Parks and Rec with anyone in Kitchen's office, dating back more than a month. And - why not? - he also wants the name, title, email and phone number of every Parks and Rec employee.
I asked Bessler, whom I've found over the years to be a straight-shooter, about Kitchen.
"I don't know Sen. Kitchen. I never spoke to her," he said. "In fact, if she were to visit my office, I don't think she'd even know who I was."
All he did, Bessler says, was confirm to Lynn that Stepp had been incorrect and that Lynn's ward could meet at Penrose.
Kitchen was flustered.
"Maybe there's never been a rule on the books, but it has always been tradition that no political activity but voting is allowed," she said. "If the tradition has changed, someone needs to tell the workers. Because they do not deserve to be disrespected."
As if going over a rec director's head is disrespect.
I would find this clown circus funny if it didn't speak to a deeper frustration and distrust in this city between Democrats and Republicans, citizens and city workers, ward-level politicians and paid, elected ones.
Lynn shouldn't have had to visit Penrose after a week of waiting for a return phone call. That's lousy customer service. But it was petty of him to file a Right-to-Know request after waiting just a day for Bessler's response. As for his latest, time-consuming request, it smacks of payback, which is worse than partisanry.
If only there were a rule against that.
On Twitter: @RonniePhilly