Sometimes it’s shocking who gets hired at Philadelphia’s famous patronage mills.
Consider Ryan Pownall, who was fired from his job as a Philadelphia police officer last year after shooting a fleeing black suspect in the back for the second time in seven years. Police Commissioner Richard Ross said Pownall, who is white, had committed a host of departmental violations and displayed “poor judgment” when he killed 30-year-old David Jones. That shooting landed him on District Attorney Larry Krasner’s do-not-call list of tainted cops who should not be asked to testify.
But no one said good judgment is required to get a patronage gig. Last week, Pownall was parked in a new job — with the Philadelphia Parking Authority. It seems Pownall — who is still under investigation by the District Attorney’s Office for possible criminal prosecution in the Jones shooting — was hired as an impoundment-lot officer.
He reported to work June 11. But the next day, he was moved to a maintenance job in Southwest Philadelphia after lot employees learned who he was and protested, according to a longtime PPA employee who declined to give his name out of fear of being terminated.
By the end of the week — and after our inquiries — he suddenly was gone.
“Mr. Ryan Pownall has resigned from his maintenance position at the PPA — effective today,” PPA spokesman Marty O’Rourke said in a text message Friday afternoon.
Pownall was hired at a salary of $30,305, O’Rourke said Thursday. Pownall could not be reached for comment, and police union chief John McNesby did not respond to our inquiry.
Who opened the door for Pownall, which levers were pulled, isn’t clear.
Scott Petri, the former state legislator from Bucks County who took over the scandal-plagued PPA in January, denied involvement in Pownall’s hiring or resignation, saying he’s following state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale’s recommendation to avoid getting involved in hiring low-level staff.
“It’s really a personnel matter, and the bottom line is, he has resigned,” Petri said Tuesday after the monthly board meeting at the Parking Authority’s Market Street headquarters.
He said Pownall “went through a normal [hiring] process, as I understand it.”
When pressed on details of the hiring — or if anyone considered Pownall’s background — Petri claimed, um, ignorance.
“I don’t have anything from any district attorney or anyone else that there is an investigation,” he said. “I’ve read two different stories. One says he resigned. One said he was terminated. I don’t know which one is correct.”
Minister Rodney Muhammad, president of the Philadelphia NAACP, was not happy to learn of Pownall’s hiring by the state-controlled PPA.
“This man should not be working for the city,” he said. “The Parking Authority has been notorious for so many other things, so I can’t say I’m surprised that they would hire him.”
The inside story of the feud between Philly’s finance director and city controller
“I think there’s a way to work collaboratively while keeping an independent voice,” said Rhynhart, who was Kenney’s chief administrative officer. After she won election, sources tell Clout, Kenney was thrilled to have an ally, friend, and former staffer in the Controller’s Office.
Well, Rhynhart’s campaign promise and Kenney’s dreams went down the tubes last week when Rhynhart held her first news conference six months into the job. (And, hey, maybe it’s for the best that Kenney and his fiscal watchdog aren’t BFFs.) With damning charts on each side of her, Rhynhart told reporters that her office discovered nearly $1 billion in accounting errors in city government — and she confirmed reports that $33 million is missing.
Since then, a firestorm has erupted between Rhynhart and Kenney. After Rhynhart’s flashy news conference, Rob Dubow, Kenney’s finance director, defended his team and hinted that Rhynhart exaggerated her findings. Then Kenney wrote a scathing op-ed that compared Rhynhart’s tactics to those of a mean teacher failing a student over a draft and not the final term paper.
There’s a backstory to the friction between Rhynhart and Dubow. There’s always a backstory — and sometimes several backstories — in Philly politics.
When Kenney came into office, rumor is Rhynhart wanted to be the city’s finance director. But Kenney kept Dubow, who had the same job under his predecessor, Michael Nutter. Kenney then created the chief administrative officer gig, which he gave to Rhynhart.
Clout hears that the position was supposed to be equal to Dubow’s, but Rhynhart found that he had a greater say. Then she got the upper hand by becoming city controller.
But back to Kenney. Political insiders said he helped Rhynhart behind the scenes in her race to unseat incumbent Alan Butkovitz as controller.
One source told us: “Kenney feels betrayed. … He laid the foundation for her credibility and now he’s struggling to say, ‘You can’t believe her.’”
Bill Green has a new job — at Tom Knox’s company
This week effectively marks the end of Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission. That means that for the first time in more than 10 years, SRC member and former City Councilman Bill Green doesn’t have a job in politics.
In fact, Clout has learned that he recently got a new position in the private sector: He’s CEO of Homestead Smart Health Plans, a “disruptive” health benefits company chaired by Tom Knox. Knox is a former mayoral candidate — and a longtime ally of Green’s.
Green said Knox poached him when he was running for Congress against Democratic U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle. “Tom basically said, ‘I’d like you to consider something else,’ ” said Green.
The SRC has been made up of volunteer board members, and Green previously worked as chief legal officer for Homestead. Asked how much he’s making in his new position, Green joked, “A lot more than I make on the SRC.”
Staff writers Mensah M. Dean, Claudia Vargas, William Bender, and Holly Otterbein contributed to this column.