Things were supposed to change at the Philadelphia Parking Authority, a famous patronage mill, when Scott Petri was appointed to lead it last year.
But newly obtained documents suggest political cronyism is alive at the PPA.
A Philly-area state legislator's office lobbied the agency to hire Ryan Pownall, an ex-cop fired in 2017 after twice shooting a fleeing black suspect in the back, emails show.
On March 1, a staffer in Republican State Rep. Thomas Murt's office emailed Sue Cornell, the PPA's senior direct of public engagement, about Pownall. Murt is running for reelection.
"I have a young man with a wife and a family looking for a job with the Phila Parking Authority," wrote Bill Dixon, Murt's legislative aide. "He filled out an application — It is attached — as is his resume. His name is Ryan Pownall and he is a Northeast Phila resident. Rep. Murt is looking to help this young man. Who do I sent [sic] the request to at the PAA? Any help would be appreciated Sue. Thank you!"
Cornell replied hours later, saying she would "look into this."
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The next week, Dixon emailed Cornell again: "As Tom knows Scott, should I just have him sent [sic] it to him? He was a Rep.," he said, apparently referring to Petri's past as a state lawmaker. Cornell then CC-ed another staffer "to see if he can get information from Human Resources."
On March 28, Pownall scored an interview, per emails. He was later hired as an impoundment-lot officer. Petri was copied on a June 8 email announcing the hire.
PPA spokesperson Marty O'Rourke said, "All government agencies receive job inquiries or recommendations for employment, some from elected officials."
Pownall was "subject to every step" of the typical hiring process, including a criminal background check, O'Rourke said.
But did the PPA bother to glance at Pownall's employment history? By the time he left, Pownall had racked up 30 allegations of misconduct — more than nearly any other officer. Police Commissioner Richard Ross had also said that Pownall had shown "poor judgment" when he killed 30-year-old David Jones.
David Foster, a spokesman for Murt, said it was "quite common" for constituents to ask the lawmaker to send letters of recommendation.
"This situation is no different," he said. "Although Rep. Murt does not know Ryan Pownall personally, he lives in his legislative district. He requested a letter of recommendation and for it to be sent to the PPA. That is what was done. That is all that was done."
The emails were provided to Clout by Pay Up PPA!, a progressive organization calling for the authority to nearly double, to $25 million, its annual contribution to city schools.
"Despite Director Petri's claims, the culture at the PPA remains the same under his stewardship," said the group's Susan Schewel, who added that the director was "dishonest about his knowledge of Ryan Pownall's hiring."
In June, Petri said that he had nothing to do with it, and that he follows Auditor General Eugene DePasquale's recommendation to stay away from hiring low-level staff.
O'Rourke said that Petri "did not communicate with any person in or outside of the PPA" about Pownall and that he routinely gets emails about hires.
We talked to DePasquale, whose audit rapped the authority's patronage hiring. "The fact that there was a lobbying effort for the guy and he got a job leads me to the conclusion that it had some impact."
He added: "I wish I could say I was shocked that those types of emails exist."
After game-show host Alex Trebek made Pennsylvania's only gubernatorial debate all about himself, Clout wondered how he became moderator in the first place.
Gene Barr, president of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said his organization tries to book a debate host who can both pose interesting questions and draw a live TV audience. The chamber certainly reached half its goal.
"That depends on how you define 'interesting,' " joked Barr.
Barr said his staff brainstormed some names and landed on Trebek, the host of Jeopardy! "At first, to be honest, I wasn't enamored with the idea," he said. "I thought it would be hokey and cheesy, and everything would have to be in the form of a question."
Instead of hokey and cheesy, we got preachy.
"I think it started out fine," Barr said. "I think as he tried to dig deeper on issues, some of his questioning turned to advocacy."
A source tells us that Independence USA, a political action committee funded by former New York City Mayor and potential 2020 candidate Michael Bloomberg, has booked $1.2 million in the Philadelphia market for TV ads supporting Democratic U.S. House candidates.
Time was reserved for the last two weeks of the midterm campaign.
Chrissy Houlahan, running in Chester County's Sixth District, appears to be a beneficiary. The PAC's website features two commercials backing Houlahan on gun control and women's health issues.