An insurgent politician who promised to shake things up ousted several veteran employees after taking office last week —and wants more of them gone.
No, we’re not talking about District Attorney Larry Krasner. City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart has cleaned house, though she took a slightly different path than Krasner did when he abruptly dismissed more than 30 prosecutors.
The staffers let go by Rhynhart include the son of a ward leader and a onetime deputy finance director for former City Controller Alan Butkovitz’s campaign committee. Rhynhart, who had never run for office before last year’s election, unseated Butkovitz in the Democratic primary after portraying the party favorite as a “political hack.”
Jolene Nieves Byzon, a spokeswoman for the city controller, said Rhynhart asked all at-will staff members to reapply for their jobs about a week after winning the election in November. Rhynhart decided to not retain 15 employees, and Byzon said she notified them of her decision in mid-December. Their dismissals were effective on or around Jan. 2, the day Rhynhart was inaugurated, according to Byzon.
“Controller Rhynhart has a vision for Philadelphia city government — government that works more efficiently and effectively, with modern strategies, and that shares data with the public,” said Byzon. “From the outset, she has been clear that she wants to reorganize the office.”
Byzon added that “the transition team assessed every former employee who reapplied to stay on in the Controller’s Office with the new direction of the office in mind.” Several of the at-will workers were retained.
Rhynhart was unable to remove five of the 15 targeted employees, however, according to sources in the Controller’s Office. Just a few days after they were told they weren’t being retained, Rhynhart received notice that the five staffers’ positions had been converted to civil service and therefore they couldn’t immediately be terminated.
Bill Rubin, who was first deputy controller under Butkovitz, said those five positions had been civil service in years past.
“It’s been the department’s process to move people to civil service positions to make it a more fair and unified process,” Rubin said. “This is a process that started a long time ago.”
The Civil Service Commission, which agreed to the change, first received the request in June 2017, a month after Butkovitz lost the primary to Rhynhart. City spokesman Mike Dunn said 119 applied for the positions, but the only people who were qualified to take the civil service test were the five employees who were already working in the Controller’s Office.
The 10 staffers who were successfully ousted, according to sources in the Controller’s Office, include Rubin; Frank Oliver Jr., son of ward leader and ex-State Rep. Frank Oliver Sr.; Emily Maher, past deputy finance director of the Friends of Alan Butkovitz; Trina Bodnik, Butkovitz’s former executive assistant; and other assistants to Butkovitz. When asked to confirm that he was dismissed, Rubin said, “I don’t have any comment. I don’t work there anymore and I wish them well.”
The employees who were saved through the civil service process are members of the Fraud and Special Investigations Unit, according to Controller’s Office sources.
The office currently has about 130 staff members.