EXCUSE US for being surprised by the news this week that the city will be picking up $8 million of the cost of the World Meeting of Families and the visit by Pope Francis in September.
According to the city, the total bill for city services during that event was $17 million. The World Meeting of families has already paid $5.2 million and has said it will send the city another $3.4 million. The city will pick up the tab for the rest.
During the run-up to the conference, the parties involved - including Mayor Nutter - said that all costs would be covered by the World Meeting organization.
In fact, it was not said once but a number of times during the multitude of news conferences and other statements made prior to the pope's visit.
All costs would be paid by the World Meeting.
Now, the mayor says that the city never intended to ask the World Meeting to cover the costs leading up to and following the pope's visit. The "all costs" statement only covered the Saturday and Sunday the pope was in Philadelphia.
As most of us recall, Center City was put into a virtual lockdown in the period around the pope's visit. City offices were closed on Thursday and Friday of that week. (How much did that cost?) Commuters were diverted from the center of town. (How much did that cost?) Merchants complained that the ultra-high security chased away business - unlike a normal convention when visitors make heavy use of our restaurants, hotels, shops and transport.(How much did that cost?)
City Controller Alan Butkovitz chided the mayor for so finely slicing what was and what was not a city responsibility. If the cost of setting up the security and other steps were a necessary part of the event, the World Meeting should pay for them, Butkovitz said. If they weren't part of the event, then the mayor should explain why the city took such extraordinary (and costly) security measures.
As to Mayor Nutter, he said . . . well, we will quote him directly:
"What I said, what I thought I said, and certainly what I meant is, they [World Meeting of Families] would be billed for the additional costs that went into the actual two-day event in the city of Philadelphia."
If you can make sense of that, go the blackboard and try to diagram that sentence. The mayor is suggesting a new standard for reporters: Their obligation is not to report what he actually said, but to somehow divine what he is thinking he said.
All that said, the fact is that aside from assurances, the city knew that it would have to cover additional costs for the event and we believe city officials hid that simple fact in the weeks proceeding the visit.
Our other reaction is: $8 million is not chump change. Nutter is not leaving his successor, Jim Kenney, much of a surplus. That $8 million will have to be paid at the cost of some programs.
All that said, we believe the pope's visit was a plus for the city. It provided positive exposure of the city to citizens worldwide. We would have had to spent untold millions in advertising to match all the viewers exposed to the images from Philadelphia.
The argument that could be made is that the $8 million was a sound investment that will pay dividends down the road. We don't disagree. We just wish there was full-disclosure before the fact, not after.