Thursday, February 24, 2011

REMINDER: Our meetup is in ONE WEEK!

Join us next Thursday, March 3rd at 6:30 to discuss your concerns about he unethical ways our city is run and propose solutions that can help move our city forward. Meet us at Cavanaugh's University City - 119 S. 39th St at Sansom for a special guest, drink specials, 40¢ Wings, & 1/2 Price Nachos along w/ a great menu!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

You can't create checks and balances without an opposition.

Before I get into this, let me be clear...this group is NONPARTISAN. I think that the divisive labeling of our citizenry based on "democrat" or "republican" ideals that are defined on the national, not local level have contributed to a political system where the best, most qualified candidate is often NOT on the ballot.

That being said, I will shout from the rooftops for anyone to hear:


Don't believe me? Take a look at the most historically corrupt and/or mismanaged municipalities in the United States and find a common thread:
  • Washington, DC
  • New Orleans
  • Baltimore
  • Chicago
  • Detroit
  • Camden
  • Newark
  • Boston
  • Oakland
  • Philadelphia
All of these cities have had little to no republican opposition for up to (and sometimes greater than) forty years. Not to say that any of these cities (or any others) would be good under republican rule with no democratic opposition; but it's obvious by looking at this list that any time a city lacks a system that would provide checks and balances, it festers in corruption, mismanagement, crime, and political abuse of office.

Think about it - if almost everyone in city government comes from the same party from which they were elected; who is there to oppose any activity that is not in the best interest of the people? I believe everyone is innocent until proven guilty, but then again...there's only so much patronage that can occur before you can assume guilt by association. For example:
  • Can we view Mayor Nutter as a reformer when he was a councilman from the same party as the Street brothers?
  • Can we trust DA Seth Williams to be tough on public corruption when he was appointed by John Street as Inspector General during the same time that the Mayor and his executive staff were under FBI investigation (and indictment)?
  • How can we assume that Barbra Deeley, who served as a Chief Deputy in a small, 230 member Sheriff's office NOT have known about the misappropriation of $53 Million (and $30K in campaign funds), and
  • How could Sheriff Green, who oversees municipal warrants, the sale and seizure of property for delinquent taxes NOT have known about the blatant tax evasion of Councilman Milton Street and the refusal to collect upwards of $1 Billion in bail revenue at the Clerk of Quarter Sessions?
Does our elected leaders actually think that we are that naive and asleep at the wheel to not notice the blatently unethical practices at City Hall? Of course not. They simply know that there's no challengers powerful enough to do anything about it.

Will the republicans do anything to change this? Apparently not. Why? Apparently those in control of local republican party is under the impression that there needs to be party-level patronage here in Philadelphia.

As seen in today's article: Philly GOP has no candidate to endorse for Mayor Old-time party bosses Vito Canuso and Mike Meehan (relation to Sheriff Aus Meehan) apparently feel it's better to stay out of the race then to endorse any candidates to oppose the people who've been fleecing our city for over thirty years...because they apparently failed to "kiss their ring".

If nobody is telling them this...let me:

Dear GOP,
After years of getting away with it, our current leadership is being caught with:
  • Massive theft and/or budget misappropriation scandals at the Sheriff and Clerk of Quarter Sessions,
  • A GIGANTIC budget deficit, and
  • The DROP program scandal
You couldn't ask for a better chance to make a statement in an election, get some more council seats, and possibly take over some line offices.


Our city needs checks and balances. If the opposing party is too weak, lazy, or mismanaged to step up, who will represent us?

Monday, February 14, 2011

What can Philadelphia learn from New Orleans?

What lessons can Philadelphia learn from New Orleans?

For group members who are use to my daily ramblings, you may have thought it’s been a quiet week  This is because I’ve been in the great city of New Orleans, where I took my fiancĂ© to celebrate her birthday and get engaged.  Last week was the first time I’ve been to New Orleans for truly personal reasons, but it brought up a myriad of thoughts in what lessons can be learned by comparing the mismanagement of municipal government in New Orleans with what we are experiencing in Philadelphia.  What many of you may not know is that I received a Deputy Secretary’s Letter of Commendation from the Department of Homeland Security for my work with Surface Transportation Command and Coordination during Hurricane Katrina.  I put myself into this assignment because of the good friendships I had (and still have) with members of the New Orleans Police Department, who in my opinion have the most heart of any cops I’ve ever met.

For most of us, Katrina was the first time we focused our national attention on New Orleans.  Aside from our national love for Marti Gras, Jazzfest, and Cajun food; most people never saw the deep issues of political corruption and/or mismanagement that festered in state and local government since the era of Gov. Huey Long in the 1930’s.  Following Katrina, Gov. Blanco and Mayor Nagin did a masterful job of blaming their delayed rescue and recovery efforts on FEMA and the Bush administration, but to anyone knowledgeable in federal agencies and/or legal issues, that blame could at best be considered questionable.  Why?

·        FEMA was established by President Carter in 1979 to coordinate the responses to disasters that overwhelms the resources of local and state authorities, by providing those state and local agencies with federal assistance to their disaster plans.
·        FEMA can only legally respond after the governor of the state in which the disaster occurs must declare a state of emergency and formally request from the president that FEMA and the federal government respond to the disaster.
·        Mayor Ray Nagin ordered a mandatory evacuation 20 hours before Katrina hit, they were ignoring the advice of experts who had warned it would take 48 hours.
·        Additionally, Blanco was slow to get National Guard troops to restore order, admitting that she had been too slow in requesting federal and military assistance as the category 5 storm was approaching.

As a former federal responder, I take exception to the anti-federal rhetoric that was spewed by the notoriously mismanaged state and local government following the storm.  We pulled resources and manpower from all over the United States and Mexico – this cannot be done overnight.  Furthermore, there was little to know emergency staging or planning done by New Orleans officials, leaving the responders with little to do when they approached an 80% submerged city with little to no transportation resources (vehicles and/or boats). 

Katrina history lesson aside, the important thing to ask is just how such a great city could end up so unprepared and what has happened to correct the issues that contributed to this disastrous response since.  I find that it all rooted in political corruption as the police, fire, and emergency management departments in the city of New Orleans had been on near minimum, if not under staffed due to low budgets and poor recruitment (in the late 1990’s, New Orleans Police Officers still only started in the low $20K range, with a city residency requirement, causing it to be known as one of the most corrupt departments in the US). Meanwhile, politicians lived extravagantly and often stayed in power for multiple terms, despite a steady rising of poverty throughout the city.

Political corruption in New Orleans got its foothold during Reconstruction when fraud, prostitution and gambling flourished. It was during this period that Mardi Gras began.

Political corruption, as in the past, was part of the scene in the early 1900’s. Huey Long and his corrupt cronies dominated New Orleans for a decade until he was assassinated in 1935. Prior to that he had been Governor of Louisiana, later Senator and had planned to run for President.

Political corruption has continued to haunt New Orleans during the 21st century with a list of investigations, indictments, trials and convictions. The names include:
  • Governor Edwin Edwards, convicted of extorting money from applicants for riverboat casino licenses and sentenced to a 10-year prison sentence.
  • Jerry Fowler, a former election commissioner serving a four-year sentence.
  • Jim Brown, a former insurance commissioner released from prison in 2003, the third commissioner in a row to go to prison.
  • Congressman William Jefferson under investigation in the the probe of Governor Edwards.
  • Judge Alan Green, brother-in-law of Congressman Jefferson, convicted.
  • Former Judge Ronald Bodenheimer, under federal investigation.
  • Family members and associates of former Mayor Marc Morial (son of former Mayor Ernest Morial) under investigation, to include Morial’s uncle Glenn Haydel, former manager of the Regional Transit Authority accused of diverting $550,000 in RTA funds into his person accounts.
In other federal cases, 10 people have been charged in an alleged scheme to skim hundreds of thousands of dollars from an $81 million dollar energy management contract that Morial signed with Johnson Controls while in office. Among those indicted are Morial associated Stan “Pampy” Barre and Kerry DeCay.

After Hurricane Katrina, three emergency preparedness officials were indicted, accused of obstruction and lying in the connection with the mishandling of $30.4 million dollars in disaster relief. Other problems include half a million dollars improperly spent on such things as a trip to Germany, professional dues, computer equipment and an automobile.

According to the FBI, Louisiana ranks third in the nation in public corruption cases. You guessed it, folks, Pennsylvania is on that top ten list as well.

A study by the Public Policy Research Lab at Louisana State University found that 66 percent of respondents said they believed Louisiana is just as corrupt as it ever was and might even be more so today. New Orleans continues to be part of the political corruption problem with no signs that much has changed over the years.

So what’s this got to do with us?  Simple.  New Orleans City Hall is as wrought with patronage and mismanagement in the same way that is being seen in Philadelphia.  For years, Philadelphia has had a tradition of no-bid contracts and misuse of public funds just as New Orleans did when the Army Corps of Engineers was giving the Orleans Parish levee district funds to do maintenance on the levee system which was not spent properly. The levee system ultimately failed during Katrina. 

While indictments were handed down and waste, fraud, and abuse soared at city hall, public safety funding waned, causing a depleted level of preparedness during and after the storm.  Even today, almost six-years later, salaries are still nowhere near what they need to be to hire and retain competent government officials.  Case in point – the city of New Orleans Inspector General’s office is currently seeking two Deputy Inspector Generals, one overseeing the compliance and inspections division and one that is to be the Deputy Police Monitor.  These senior, second in command positions that oversee a notoriously corrupt city government are both offered at $90,567 per year.  To compare, a mid-range supervisory inspector general investigator for the federal government (such as SIGTARP) is paid $101K a year upon appointment, and that’s not even the agent in charge of a field office. 

New Orleans’ municipal mismanagement and corruption was relatively unchecked by voters (despite a steady effort by the FBI) for the bulk of the 20th century.  Katrina served as a catastrophic wake up call to a city that unfortunately “didn’t have it together” when it came time to pull together and selflessly serve its citizens. NOTE: This opinion on the political leadership of New Orleans does not at all reflect my personal opinion of the men and women of the N.O.P.D who continued to work in the ruins of their city despite homelessness, no pay, and next to no basic resources.  Their administrators should be held responsible for their sacrifices as well as the 1836 people who lost their lives due to the storm.

Philadelphia, like New Orleans is one of America’s great cities…rich in culture, cuisine, and great citizens.  But will it take a Katrina sized event to give Philadelphians the wake-up call they need to break the long-term trend of mismanagement, corruption, and patronage that exists within municipal management? 

Many who read this may think that the ongoing discoveries of missing/misappropriated funds at the Sheriff’s Office, PHA, and Clerk of Quarter Sessions in combination with the DROP scandal and an ill-timed budget shortfall should serve as our city’s wake-up call; but will it? 

Will our fellow citizens vote out the politicians who’ve been taking up space at city hall for twenty to forty years and send a clear message to the party bosses backing them that this behavior will not stand and we will not stand by and idly watch this great city…where our nation’s government was born; go down the path that New Orleans went down?  Let’s get involved and make sure our message is heard…before it’s too late.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

DROP, the need for new leadership, and the preservation of the Rizzo namesake

When I founded this group, I promised that it would be nonpartisan...even though the gross majority of the Philadelphia political "machine" is democratic. Well, here's an example of a republican on the hot seat and unfortunately, he bears one of the most legendary names in Philadelphia...Councilman Frank Rizzo.

Even as a New Yorker, I often idolized Councilman Rizzo's father, Frank L. I have old buttons and a photo of Mayor Rizzo with Frank Sinatra in 1976, I've read Sal Paloantonio's book "Rizzo" and even own an original copy of "the Cop Who Would Be King". The senior Frank Rizzo was a high school dropout who joined the Navy and returned to Philadelphia to join the Police Department, becoming a hard-charger. He later rose to the rank of Commissioner, responsible for keeping the peace in this tough city despite a generation of anti-war protests, ethnic militants, and a strong Mafia. The elder Rizzo held the office of Mayor from 1972 to '80 and while other major US cities were going into deep economic depression, rioting, and losing population...Philadelphia stood firm due to an unprecedented crossing of the aisle for Mayor Rizzo (D) to strike a deal with President Nixon (R) for federal assistance. While this was happening, Councilman Rizzo's uncle Joe rose to become one of the most legendary commissioners in the Philadelphia Fire Department.

During the Rizzo reign in public service, Councilman Frank Rizzo had a lucrative job at PECO, where he eventually retired before running for one of the two republican council-at-large seats. While the Rizzo tenure in City Council has been good, I always noted a lack of the intestinal fortitude that Mayor Rizzo had; where he was willing to aggravate voters and risk alienating parts of the population to say what he felt was right and do the same.

I personally thought Councilman Frank Rizzo was a decent public servant who does his job, which is a damn site better than a great deal of the other council members currently occupying space at city hall.

Which, combined with my undying respect for his father and uncle, makes this post so hard to write.

The DROP retirement plan was designed as an incentive for public servants like Police, Fire, Teachers, etc to work (and stay working) for the city. While it was being implemented, City Council got their hooks into it and utilized loopholes to join the program despite their 6-digit salaries. Furthermore, when the ethical issues surrounding DROP came to light, Council Members tried to "retire" for a day before beginning their next term to pad their savings accounts to the tune of $150-$450K, while the city suffers through fire house and library closings due to budget shortfalls. City solicitors (who coincidentally also participate in DROP) ruled this practice "legal", but is it at all ETHICAL?

Many senior council members have been faced with a choice due to voter scrutiny...keep the DROP money or don't run for another term. Some have respectfully "bowed out" and retired, and some are still going to try to have their cake and eat it too.

Frank Rizzo is one of these council members.

Two weeks ago, I attended a "meet the candidates" night at a local watering hole in Center City. Many council candidates appeared, while Rizzo did not. Instead he sent his aide who bravely shouldered a great deal of hard questions...including some from me. Despite the tone in the room, the official stand from Councilman Rizzo's office was that he was going to try and take DROP and come back to work for another term, if elected.

Like Michael said to Fredo after a symbolic kiss..."You broke my heart".

I may be more understanding about this desire for personal preservation if Councilman Rizzo stood for real change at city hall, but I just don't see that. I think it may be time for the Councilman to retire and give his seat to a new, hard charger.

Check out today's column by Stu Bykofsky in the News (below) and post your thoughts on the matter:
Stu Bykofsky: Dear Franny, you know it's time to go

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

PHA scrables to cover up after the Federal Government (HUD) takes notice of their waste, fraud and abuse

The below two articles cover a response to federal probes into PHA's waste, fraud, and abuse following the Carl Greene sexual harrassment scandal.  What I find interesting is how "bulletproof" former Mayor John Street remains despite the myriad of ethical issues within the PHA that he chairs as well as in his mayoral reign.  If any readers live in public housing, please comment on this blog so I can better understand the lack of outrage that exists within the stakeholders that depend on PHA services.

U.S. stops covering PHA’s legal tab

The U.S. government has halted most spending by the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) on outside legal firms, escalating a decades-long feud over the agency's dependency on hired attorneys.
In a letter Monday, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) notified PHA that it would not free up funds for future legal services, until the agency answered questions about past bills.
PHA spent $33 million on outside legal bills from 2007 to mid-2010 and expects to spend $40 million in the next five years just on labor and employment services, according to information from HUD obtained by The Inquirer under the Freedom of Information Act.
HUD spokesman Jereon M. Brown said the action was taken because PHA's bills for legal services are "excessive" and far above what other major housing authorities spend.
PHA's spending is quickly becoming a national issue, already prompting Congressional scrutiny.
"We have to justify this to the people who need housing, to the taxpayers...and to funders," Brown said.
Former Mayor John F. Street, PHA's board chairman, called the action "simply HUD's way of trying to coerce us into accepting its point of view" on disclosing certain information.
HUD first challenged PHA on its legal spending in 2002, raising concerns but never suspending funding.
PHA spokeswoman Nichole Tillman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Street said some of the information HUD was seeking was confidential, involving "a complicated attorney-client privilege waiver issue."
HUD has told PHA that it should waive that privilege with the federal government.
"The rights of others could be compromised by our actions," Street said in an email. "We must not set a precedent that could be of concern to PHA for years to come."
Under former executive director Carl R. Greene, the housing agency virtually dismantled its general counsel office, outsourcing most work to 13 law firms.

PHA board to revamp inspector general, general counsel offices

The Philadelphia Housing Authority's board voted Friday to revamp its general counsel and inspector general offices, both gutted under ousted Executive Director Carl R. Greene. The board also authorized PHA's interim executive director, Michael P. Kelly, to "implement comprehensive ethics policies and procedures."
Speaking with reporters after the meeting, Kelly said the actions were aimed at preventing the problems that plagued the agency under Greene, fired in September for secretly settling harassment claims filed against him by female employees.
To some critics, the changes called into question why the board had failed to take action previously.
They noted that PHA has been without a permanent inspector general since 1999. For 10 years the watchdog post was filled by acting Inspector General Joseph Daly, who left in 2009 while still serving in acting status. No one has been named to replaced him.
The staff in the Inspector General's Office has dwindled, as workers retired and weren't replaced.
In 1994, the PHA board - including John F. Street, then City Council president - passed a resolution giving the board power to appoint the inspector general.
The official was required to report to the board. Street, who later served as mayor, is now chairman of the board.
Kelly told reporters that he expected a quick appointment to run the reconstituted Inspector General's Office, which will now be the Office of Audit and Compliance.
He said the office initially would be staffed by the people who have been working in the Inspector General's Office.
Kelly, who is on leave from his high-ranking job at New York City's housing agency, said the new office was part of his commitment "to make PHA a more transparent and accountable agency" and that it "demonstrates our desire to make sure our funding is effectively used."
PHA spokeswoman Nichole Tillman said in a statement that "the responsibilities of the new office are somewhat similar to the inspector general, but this department will be more visible, with a broader scope, assuring compliance across the board on policies such as ethics, procurement, and sexual harassment."
Street said he could not explain why the board never took action after the last permanent inspector general left in 1999.
"It [is] not possible to know for sure how the events which troubled Carl Greene and therefore PHA would have been different had the board acted to hire an inspector general back at that time," Street wrote.
Kelly said the Office of General Counsel would be responsible for overseeing PHA attorneys and outside lawyers hired by the agency.
It will be required to report to the board as well as the executive director. Under Greene, board members said they were blindsided by work he assigned to outside lawyers, including secret settlement of harassment claims.
Between 2007 and mid-2010, PHA paid $33 million to outside attorneys. Experts say that was far more than other public housing agencies paid.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is reviewing the outside legal fees as part of a wide-ranging forensic audit.
During Friday's board meeting, Kelly announced that he had appointed Audrey Lim, who holds a doctorate in psychology, as his acting director of human resources, and Stacey Thomas as PHA's acting equal opportunity officer.