The Mayor’s Fund for Philadelphia is replacing its executive director, board of directors, and chairwoman as part of an overhaul that current officials hope will lead to better accountability.
“We are going to restructure the whole thing,” City Representative Sheila Hess, who serves as chairwoman of the Mayor’s Fund, said Tuesday. “All for a positive end result for the future of the fund.”
Hess hopes to have a new board and a replacement for current executive director Ashley Del Bianco by September. Del Bianco has served as executive director while also being the city’s chief grants officer, and will remain in the latter position.
The Mayor’s Fund is a nonprofit, run mostly by city officials, set up to advance the mayor’s policy goals. The overhaul comes after stories by the Inquirer and Daily News that raised questions about fund spending and the oversight of fund managers.
The Inquirer and Daily News reported this year that the fund’s previous chairwoman and former City Representative Desiree Peterkin Bell incurred $52,000 in charges on fund credit cards in 2015, a sum that covered 458 Uber rides, meals at expensive restaurants, and purchases at Macy’s. She did not provide documentation to justify the spending. The papers also discovered that her predecessor as fund chair, Melanie Johnson, was caught misspending fund money in 2012 and had to repay the city $733.
The new changes are part of the Kenney administration’s continued attempt to reform the fund. The administration announced in March that it had created new grant guidelines and moved the operations of the Philadelphia Marathon to the Managing Director’s Office.
City Controller Alan Butkovitz, who has issued two audits of the Mayor’s Fund in the last year, said Tuesday that concerns over the fund “run much deeper” than the “remedies” that city officials outlined this week.
“We have an extensive ongoing investigation underway. It is premature at this time for anyone to put a period at the end of the review of the Mayor’s Fund,” Butkovitz said in a statement.
Butkovitz has recommended that the fund seek reimbursement for $241,000 in what he says were in purchases by Peterkin Bell and others connected to the fund that “did not meet the mission of the nonprofit,” including $22,100 spent on a farewell party for Mayor Michael A. Nutter at the end of his second term. Asked about the reimbursement, Del Bianco said she did not have a definite answer because the fund’s counsel was still reviewing the recommendation.
Butkovitz has also recommended strengthening board oversight and improving the fund’s credit-card policy.
One of the new changes for the fund is eliminating all credit cards connected with the fund’s various accounts.
“It was very challenging to manage credit-card purchases,” Del Bianco said Tuesday. “Given that we had multiple credit cards, it became challenging sometimes to get the proper documentation from folks.”
The Kenney administration had increased the number of credit cards issued through the fund from four to 11 city employees.
“It was just more trouble than it was worth,” Del Bianco said. “It was just not a feasible way to be operating anymore.”
As part of the fund’s changes, Mayor Kenney will appoint nine board members, four of whom will be city employees and five of whom will be non-city employees. Hess and Del Bianco said they would like to see a diverse group that includes people from other nonprofits.
Del Bianco said a mostly nongovernment board will provide “some independence and some distance from the city in order to be most effective in managing public-private partnerships.”
A national search will be conducted for an executive director. That person will be an employee of the Mayor’s Fund and not the city.
Del Bianco said the fund will continue to operate as a separate nonprofit. The fund will mirror the city’s contracting and procurement policies, Del Bianco said, but the $12 million a year the fund manages — much raised through grants and revenue from the Philadelphia Marathon — will not go through the city’s fiscal checks and balances.
“We don’t manage city or public dollars. We are actually managing private dollars,” Del Bianco said, adding that there is no “mechanism” for private dollars to be managed through the city’s financial systems.
Butkovitz disagreed, noting that the city is creating just such an “oversight role” for the private funds that will be used for the mayor’s $500 million Rebuild initiative.
Del Bianco is expected to be one of the new nine board members.