Eight days to go, still no pope contract

Mayor Michael Nutter, left, and Donna Crilley Farrell, executive director of the World Meeting of Families, show the poster from an "OpeninPHL" kit. (CHARLES FOX/Staff Photographer)

With just over a week until Pope Francis and more than a million pilgrims converge on Philadelphia, event organizers have yet to finalize a contract with the city spelling out what costs they will bear.

Neither the World Meeting of Families nor the city would explain what is holding up negotiations.

"We are in active, regular, and daily discussions with our partners at the World Meeting of Families considering the contractual issues while doing all that needs to be done to prepare for this great event," Mayor Nutter's spokesman, Mark McDonald, said in a statement Thursday afternoon. "There will be a signed contract, and there's nothing unusual about where we are now."

A Nutter administration source close to the negotiations said, however, that agreements for such large city events are typically worked out weeks in advance.

"If they have some beef, we don't know what it is," the source said of the World Meeting of Families.

City Controller Alan Butkovitz was critical of how the matter was being handled.

"Every day that goes by, the city's leverage diminishes in negotiations," he said. "It exposes the taxpayers to the possibility of being on the hook for millions of dollars in expenses that would normally be paid by the host."

Though the pope's visit is expected to be history-making, the contracts are reportedly routine. They specify what services the city will provide: police, trash pickup, and emergency services. The contracts are also to spell out who will pay for those services.

Event organizers have set a fund-raising goal of $45 million for the weeklong world meeting and the weekend of papal events.

The city confirmed that it had no firm commitments yet from event organizers after Philly.com and The Inquirer submitted a Right to Know request seeking to see whatever contracts existed. Last week, the city's Law Department responded that that would not be possible.

"There are no executed contracts and agreements yet," Assistant City Solicitor Jill Freeman wrote. As of Thursday, the contracts remained unsigned, the Nutter administration source said.

"One could speculate [that the contract remains unsigned] because if it's not signed, it's not considered a public document open to public inspection and scrutiny," said Phil Goldsmith, who served as the city's managing director under Mayor John Street.

Mark Zecca, a former city lawyer, said it was "highly unusual" to be without an agreement this late in the game.

He said the city has plenty of experience with drawing up compacts for services for large events, such as the annual Welcome America's Independence Day celebration and Made in America, the multiday music festival held on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway Labor Day weekend.

"It should have been signed by now," said Zecca, who worked in the city Law Department for 20 years. "In my opinion, the contracts should generally be available to the public, because the public should see what agreements the city is making in return for the money."

In a statement Thursday night, Kevin Gavin, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, said: "The WMOF has been working closely with the City of Philadelphia to plan for the visit of Pope Francis for several months. . . . The details of the contract are being worked out, and we have every confidence that it will be executed to the satisfaction of all parties."

Officials for the World Meeting of Families did not respond to numerous requests for comment. Robert J. Ciaruffoli, president of World Meeting of Families 2015, did not respond to several emails asking for comment.

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