City Hall says Inquirer op-ed criticizing deputy mayors’ pay was riddled with errors

Mayor Michael Nutter
Mayor Michael Nutter.
Credit: Rikard Larma/Metro

City Hall is spitting mad over a recent op-ed published in the Philadelphia Inquirer claiming that all of Mayor Michael Nutter’s deputy mayors are illegally drawing salaries prohibited by the city charter.

“Mr. Wolfe is very, very far from the facts,” said Nutter spokesman Mark McDonald of the op-ed by Republican ward leader Matthew Wolfe, based in West Philadelphia.

In the piece, published Sunday, Wolfe named Managing Director Richard Negrin, Director of Commerce Alan Greenberger and Health Commissioner Dr. Donald Schwarz as violating the Philadelphia charter by having two government jobs. Each is a deputy mayor in Nutter’s administration in addition to the aforementioned titles.

Wolfe said he wrote the editorial after 13 assistant recreation leaders at the city’s Parks and Recreation department lost their jobs after it was revealed they also held separate full-time jobs for government entities, and were thus “double-dipping” by collecting two pensions in violation of the city charter.

“It hit me when they kicked around these little people who are just trying to make enough money to send their kid to a Catholic school or something like that, and humiliated them and fired them for something going on throughout the entire term of the Nutter administration,” Wolfe said. “It seemed like the height of hypocrisy.”

But McDonald said that Wolfe misunderstood the charter.

“The three deputy mayors mentioned have a range of duties and titles, but they are paid for one job,” McDonald wrote in an email. “Going back at least to 1969, city solicitors have concluded that this is no violation of the Home Rule Charter by those holding multiple positions in city government as long as they are drawing a single salary.”

Wolfe contested that opinion, saying a solicitor’s opinion was not a “legal authority.”

“That’s not what the city charter says,” Wolfe said. “It should not surprise anybody that a city solicitor who was appointed by the mayor and is receiving a salary in excess of the salary legally given to her by the law will say that so she can continue receiving a higher salary and doing what the mayor appointed her to that position wants her to do.”

Philadelphia charter section 8-301 states that no one working for the city may hold another position of profit with a governmental entity.

Wolfe’s piece also said that salaries are paid to the deputy mayors and other top city officials in excess of the maximum salary for those positions listed in the city charter.

For example, according to charter section 20-303, the salary of the Philadelphia police commissioner must not exceed $120,000. According to a report on the city’s highest paid employees in Philadelphia Magazine published in June, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey receives a salary of $261,375.

But the “maximum salary” charter code also states that it is “subject to the cost of living provisions” McDonald pointed out.

“Those numbers go back to the late 1980s,” he wrote.

Philadelphia City Council set an increased salary range for these city positions based on cost-of-living increases, McDonald said.

“Wolfe is deeply in error, and what’s disappointing is that the Inquirer editorial page didn’t see fit to check any of the facts in this screed before running it,” McDonald wrote.

Wolfe acknowledged that the cost-of-living provision argument may mean the salaries are not excessive.

“If it takes the managing director from $135,000 to $171,000, then they’re right,” he said.

____________________

Follow Sam Newhouse on Twitter: @scnewhouse

Follow Metro Philadelphia on Twitter: @metrophilly

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Comments

3

  1. Today’s Metro reports that City Hall is “spitting mad” over my commentary taking them to task for firing 13 little “double dippers” but failing to enforce the same law with their top officials. “Mr. Wolfe is very, very far from the facts,” said Nutter spokesman Mark McDonald. Well, let’s see.

    McDonald says that I misunderstood the charter because the officials have two positions but are paid for only one job. First, the Metro article misquotes the city charter. Section 8-301 does NOT say that “no one working for the city may hold another position of profit with a governmental entity.” What it says is: “Except as otherwise provided in this charter, no person shall hold more than one office OR position of profit, whether elective or appointive, under the City and no such person shall hold such office or position while holding any other office or position of profit in or under the government of the United States, of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, or of any county, city or other political subdivision thereof, other than the office of notary public, any office in the military or naval service of the United States or of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, or any ex officio office held by virtue of another office or position.” [my emphasis]

    Courts, in interpreting statutes have always held that all of the words in a statute should have meaning. Why say “office or position of profit” if they are the same thing? Probably to avoid the situation that we have here. So they’re wrong that it’s OK for a managing director to also hold the office of deputy mayor, because that is more than one office, whether it is a position of profit or not. I don’t think I’m the one misunderstanding the charter.

    Next they argue that the cost of living increases in the law put them in the clear. Not quite. While they are correct that there are cost of living adjustments allowed, there is no possible way that all of these salaries are under the caps even with the adjustments. While it is true that I said that if the cost of living adjustments took Negrin from $135,000 to 171,000, they would be right, the next sentence out of my mouth was something to the effect that there is no way that the cost of living adjustments took Ramsey from $120,000 to $261,375, which would be more than a 100 percent increase (the Metro didn’t print that comment – hey, they have space limitations, too). So they’re wrong about the cost of living increases being the justification for the salaries over the legal cap. If that calculation of the cost of living adjustment for the Police Commissioner is correct, I’ll do a Chris Christie. Note that they have not provided any breakdown.

    Let’s look back to what they were saying when they instituted this policy in 2008. On January 28, 2008, Jim McCaffery of the Bulletin reported as follows:

    “When new mayor Michael Nutter decidd to pay his new managing director and his new police chief each $195,000 per year, he did so knowing those salaries exceeded limite set down in the City Home Rule Charter. Mr. Nutter provided second titles to the managing director, Camille Cates Barnett, and Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey. Ms. Cates is also the ‘deputy mayor’ and Commissioner Ramsey is the “director of public safety,” Mr. Nutter said. Thus, he told inquirers, they are doing two jobs and are eligible for more money.”

    The same article stated that Zach Stalberg of the Committee of Seventy “frowned at Mr. Nutter’s explanation.” He was quoted as saying that “The process, though, makes people question [Mayor Nutter] and his feelings about transparency and the way things work.”

    In a follow up article the next day, January 29, 2008, McCaffery reports:

    “Mayor Nutter has avoided Home Rule Charter limitations on his senior staff salaries by giving them two titles. Ms. Barnett will make $195,000 substantially more than the approximately $175,000 charter limit for the managing director’s job. Mr. Nutter has sidestepped the charter by giving her the additional title of deputy mayor. He believes the added title allows him to bump her salary above the Charter limit. The mayor did something similar with new Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey who also is receiving a $195,000 salary. The charter only allows approximately $155,000 for the commissioner’s job so Commissioner Ramsey also carries the title of director of public safety. Similarly, Mr. Altman will receive $185,000 in his new job. He carries the title of Commerce Director and Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development.”

    As I said, I do not have access to the Inquirer and Daily News archives. I did find in my notes that I relied upon a Daily News article from January 18, 2008 entitled “Breaking the fiscal rules.” There was also a “Heard in the Hall” piece that was probably entitled “Taxpayer dollars at work What Nutter’s paying.” I note that KYW Radio also had a piece “Mayor Nutter Defends High Salaries for Top Staffers.” My guess is that they will say substantially the same thing as the Bulletin articles.

    In 2008 Nutter was not saying that the cost of living adjustments bumped the salaries up to legal levels. He was not saying that they did not really have two jobs. He was saying that they had two jobs and that is why they could pay them more than the salary caps in the Philadelphia Code.

    My guess is that in 2008 they had read about the salary caps in the charter and Philadelphia Code but had not noticed the provision that prevented employees from holding two positions. Now they are caught in a trap of trying to enforce a provision that they are in violation of at the highest levels and are scrambling to say anything to have the controversy did down. In any event, they are wrong.

    “Wolfe is deeply in error, and what’s disappointing is that the Inquirer editorial page didn’t see fit to check any of the facts in this before running it,” McDonald said. I don’t think that either me or the Inquirer have any apologies to make.

    • Today’s Metro reports that City Hall is “spitting mad” over my commentary taking them to task for firing 13 little “double dippers” but failing to enforce the same law with their top officials. Check it out at: http://www.metro.us/philadelphia/news/local/2014/01/13/city-hall-says-inquirer-op-ed-criticizing-deputy-mayors/#comment-1760

      “Mr. Wolfe is very, very far from the facts,” said Nutter spokesman Mark McDonald. Well, let’s see.

      McDonald says that I misunderstood the charter because the officials have two positions but are paid for only one job. First, the Metro article misquotes the city charter. Section 8-301 does NOT say that “no one working for the city may hold another position of profit with a governmental entity.” What it says is: “Except as otherwise provided in this charter, no person shall hold more than one office OR position of profit, whether elective or appointive, under the City and no such person shall hold such office or position while holding any other office or position of profit in or under the government of the United States, of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, or of any county, city or other political subdivision thereof, other than the office of notary public, any office in the military or naval service of the United States or of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, or any ex officio office held by virtue of another office or position.” [my emphasis]

      Courts, in interpreting statutes have always held that all of the words in a statute should have meaning. Why say “office or position of profit” if they are the same thing? Probably to avoid the situation that we have here. So they’re wrong that it’s OK for a managing director to also hold the office of deputy mayor, because that is more than one office, whether it is a position of profit or not. I don’t think I’m the one misunderstanding the charter.

      Next they argue that the cost of living increases in the law put them in the clear. Not quite. While they are correct that there are cost of living adjustments allowed, there is no possible way that all of these salaries are under the caps even with the adjustments. While it is true that I said that if the cost of living adjustments took Negrin from $135,000 to 171,000, they would be right, the next sentence out of my mouth was something to the effect that there is no way that the cost of living adjustments took Ramsey from $120,000 to $261,375, which would be more than a 100 percent increase (the Metro didn’t print that comment – hey, they have space limitations, too). So they’re wrong about the cost of living increases being the justification for the salaries over the legal cap. If that calculation of the cost of living adjustment for the Police Commissioner is correct, I’ll do a Chris Christie. Note that they have not provided any breakdown.

      Let’s look back to what they were saying when they instituted this policy in 2008. On January 28, 2008, Jim McCaffery of the Bulletin reported as follows:

      “When new mayor Michael Nutter decided to pay his new managing director and his new police chief each $195,000 per year, he did so knowing those salaries exceeded limits set down in the City Home Rule Charter. Mr. Nutter provided second titles to the managing director, Camille Cates Barnett, and Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey. Ms. Cates is also the ‘deputy mayor’ and Commissioner Ramsey is the “director of public safety,” Mr. Nutter said. Thus, he told inquirers, they are doing two jobs and are eligible for more money.”

      The same article stated that Zach Stalberg of the Committee of Seventy “frowned at Mr. Nutter’s explanation.” He was quoted as saying that “The process, though, makes people question [Mayor Nutter] and his feelings about transparency and the way things work.”

      In a follow up article the next day, January 29, 2008, McCaffery reports:

      “Mayor Nutter has avoided Home Rule Charter limitations on his senior staff salaries by giving them two titles. Ms. Barnett will make $195,000 substantially more than the approximately $175,000 charter limit for the managing director’s job. Mr. Nutter has sidestepped the charter by giving her the additional title of deputy mayor. He believes the added title allows him to bump her salary above the Charter limit. The mayor did something similar with new Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey who also is receiving a $195,000 salary. The charter only allows approximately $155,000 for the commissioner’s job so Commissioner Ramsey also carries the title of director of public safety. Similarly, Mr. Altman will receive $185,000 in his new job. He carries the title of Commerce Director and Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development.”

      In 2008 Nutter was not saying that the cost of living adjustments bumped the salaries up to legal levels. He was not saying that they did not really have two jobs. He was saying that they had two jobs and that is why they could pay them more than the salary caps in the Philadelphia Code.

      My guess is that in 2008 they had read about the salary caps in the charter and Philadelphia Code but had not noticed the provision that prevented employees from holding two positions. Now they are caught in a trap of trying to enforce a provision that they are in violation of at the highest levels and are scrambling to say anything to have the controversy did down. In any event, they are wrong.

      “Wolfe is deeply in error, and what’s disappointing is that the Inquirer editorial page didn’t see fit to check any of the facts in this before running it,” McDonald said. I don’t think that either me or the Inquirer have any apologies to make.

  2. Mayor Nutter should be more concerned about Deputy Mayor Alan Greenburger holding back on safe demolition protocol. In Oct 2011, Alan Greenburger attended an Environmental Justice conference presented by the Public Interest Law Center. I have the entire transcript of the meeting and was present. Alan Greenburger was present when Vernice Travis Miller spoke and presented the 1st rate Baltimore Demolition Safety Protocol that she and others, including John Hopkins , worked on. The entire protocol was handed to every attendee. Additionally, one of her colleagues in working on the Demolition Protocol presented the same document to City Planning in June 2006. I was at that all day meeting in N. Liberties as well because demolition with no permits on a site that was also contaminated was making me ill and cracking home. I brought the L&I violations with me and showed Director of Community Planning Richard Redding. He showed interest at first and then wrote that there was nothing he could do because of the politics. I was soon hospitalized , needed breathing treatment and told by several doctors to leave the house which was so closely surrounded by this politically connected site. Ward Leader Vernon Price, who now works for the D.A. office, and Derek Green, attorney to Council Woman Marion Tasco, pitched the project at Planning in 2005.

    John O’Connelly, leader of the 9th ward democratic committee confessed in a news article that he set up the project on land that belonged to Stan Smith, who is both an expert profiteer at Sheriff Sales and partner with Ken Weinstein in Philly Retail, the builder of business empires in the NW. Vernon Price also sat with a contractor for the project who had already proven himself “shady”- a term referred to contractors in the recent City Council investigation of the Market Street deaths, the city’s effort to blame anybody except themselves. That contractor had already ruined a project on E Penn Street and people have said he either ‘ran off “ with the money or “mismanaged” the money.

    In the Market Street City Council investigations , they all showed great concern about the quality of workers, yet they allowed drunk workers to ruin the Devon Project into bankruptcy, sleep over night for years on the site , drunk and drugged and fighting till the wee hours of the morning. A projected 9 month project took years, myself, the adjacent neighbor was displaced from her home and made ill by illegally dumped chemicals into the underground stream and excavation and demolition dust and haz mat without permits. Three doctors requested to have me removed and zero response from the city.

    I am still coughing, ill and traumatized by the many years of civil rights violations and hate crimes, deliberately and with malice perpetuated against me by the whole of City Council and the DA office and more. This year, an email from City Planner Richard Redding turned up as I was packing to leave Philadelphia as conditions had become too dangerous for me. When I wrote to Cindy Bass asking for Restorative Justice Mediation, her response was both criminal and highly inappropriate and I knew they were serious about making me disappear.

    The letter from the city planner admitted that a conspiracy had been engineered against me in the Reed Miller office. Essentially , the City Council and D.A. office made me a free target of all kind of crimes and refused any help at all. If the City Officials like Alan Greenburger had corrected the wrongs at the Devon site ( which he was well aware of, as was Eva Gladstein) instead of colluding with the crimes against me and utilized the demolition protocol that was handed to him, the deaths at Market Street would not have happened.

    Mayor Nutter does NOT care about the safety of all the citizens as he stated after the Market Street deaths. None of the high ranking officials of the city care about the citizens. They care about politics and politics is money. The NW where these construction and environmental and hate crimes happened is critical to getting anyone elected in Philadelphia. If the leaders of the NW commit crimes against a nobody citizen and nearly kill her, they do not care. Covering up their crimes and blaming someone else is more important than human life. Why?

    GREED. The same reason the DA gave for the demolition shortcuts on Market Street. What did I do? I was just the neighbor wanting to live my life. What did I get from the highest ranking officials in Philadelphia? I became their target of abuse to distract the public from the crimes they were allowing and covering up on the Devon site. There were even public announcements that I should be raped. They nearly killed me. I would not doubt that was their intention. Their whistleblower retaliation tactics to harm me and cover up their crimes were classic and by the book. There are much bigger ethical problems in the high ranks of Phila.gov. What they did at Devon Street and toward me are felonies and if the deaths had not been so public and downtown at Market, City Council and the DA would not have bothered with the circus investigation and Grand Jury. They already had demolition protocols. Alan Greenburger and City Planning and the protocols for years and I have the same copy right here with me.