Kenney administration aims to reform troubled Mayor's Fund

The Mayor’s Fund for Philadelphia, despite its recent controversies and headlines about mismanagement, is not going anywhere.   

The Kenney administration says it is in the midst of reforming the nonprofit fund.  Since a city controller’s report last summer that said the former chairwoman had misused the fund, the fund’s board created new grant guidelines and moved the operations of the Philadelphia Marathon to the Managing Director’s Office.

Prior mayors and boards have tried to improve oversight of the fund, which for decades has handled millions of dollars in private grants and event revenues to  promote the mayor’s goals. Despite those attempts, in 2015, the chair of the fund, Desiree Peterkin Bell, was able to spend $52,000 on hundreds of Uber rides, meals at fancy restaurants, and shopping at Macy’s without documentation. Her predecessor, Melanie Johnson, was caught misspending fund money.  

David Thornburgh, president of the good-government group Committee of Seventy, was critical of the prior management of the fund, but on Thursday said, “Whatever happened happened.” He said it is now the Kenney administration’s turn to make things right.

“His principal job is to restore people’s confidence in the fund and the way it’s being managed,” Thornburgh said. “That’s the big-picture question. … What do you do to restore that?”

The Mayor’s Fund  is established as a 501(c )(3) nonprofit. Its governing board is made up mostly of city employees along with one elected official. The chairwoman of the fund is the city representative, and the executive director of the board is the city’s chief grants officer.

The fund’s executive director, Ashley Del Bianco, who flagged issues at the fund to the city controller last year, said that the city needs the Mayor’s Fund to continue operating as a nonprofit. She said that some philanthropic groups have rules against donating to municipalities or simply choose to not donate to governments. Therefore, she said, the city needs to have a nonprofit that can be the recipient of private grants on behalf of the city.

“In order for us to be able to utilize those private dollars, we have to have an entity that is available to manage them,” Del Bianco said in an interview this week. 

Since the controller’s report in August, the fund created grant guidelines that require applicants to submit a letter of intent, which is then reviewed by the fund. Those who are selected to move forward in the process would then have to submit a full proposal, which would then be reviewed and voted on by the board. 

“Everything goes through that same application and approval process,” Del Bianco said. (In the past, grants had been given out despite the board's voting them down.)

Additionally, the city’s chief integrity officer, Ellen Kaplan, attends all board meetings and is helping with oversight of the fund. 

In other changes, the City Representative's Office will no longer operate the annual marathon. Instead, it will be operated by the Managing Director’s Office, which already oversees the Blue Cross Broad Street Run and other city races. 

The Mayor's Fund will continue to manage the money for the marathon. City officials said that separating the operations and fiscal management of the marathon is good practice.

Unlike prior chairs of the fund, City Representative Sheila Hess does not have a credit card to her name associated with the fund.   

However, the fund has increased the number of people with credit cards connected to the fund. It went from four people having credit cards during the Nutter administration to 11. 

Del Bianco said the increase in cards was to avoid having people from other departments borrow Mayor's Fund credit cards. "The users are directly linked to the programs that they manage,” she said.

The fund has one Wells Fargo Mastercard currently assigned to Margaret Hughes in the City Representative’s Office linked to marathon expenses. That card will soon be transferred to the Managing Director’s Office, Del Bianco said. 

Two of the fund’s American Express cards are assigned to Del Bianco and Carneisha Kwashie, who also works within the fund, managing the city’s BikeShare program. The eight other credit card users are from various city departments that manage programs funded through the Mayor’s Fund such as Powercorps PHL, the Meals and More feeding program, and the Knight Foundation’s Poetry Challenge. Also, included in those eight is a credit card assigned to the executive assistant to the mayor’s chief of staff to be able to book travel for the mayor and his staff. 

Using the mayor’s fund to pay for travel is not something City Controller Alan Butkovitz believes should be done. 

Butkovitz said the fund should strictly be used for grants. His office is planning to release another audit on the Mayor’s Fund, along with further recommendations, in the next few weeks. 

“Clearly the fund has been used as an alternate means for government expenditures,” Butkovitz said.

Butkovitz said that he has not yet reviewed the changes the Kenney administration has made to the fund. 

Lauren Hitt, the city’s spokeswoman, said  changes the fund has made so far were based on the controller’s recommendations last summer. 

“None of the controller’s recommendations were on credit cards. So the board hasn’t had a chance to meet since the latest round of stories… to discuss what if any changes will be made in light of those,” Hitt said. “That doesn’t mean other changes won’t happen down the line. Some are certainly being considered.”