Philly Councilmember Gym wants answers on Parking Authority’s $11M demand from city schools

It’s ‘the latest in a string of outrageous acts of financial mismanagement’ Gym said, calling for ‘direct oversight’ of the agency

By: - February 18, 2022 11:51 am

Philadelphia City Councilmember Helen Gym is looking for answers on the Philadelphia Parking Authority’s demand that the city schools repay $11 million (Philadelphia Tribune photo)

By Brian Saunders

PHILADELPHIA — Two City Council committees will investigate the Philadelphia Parking Authority’s request that the School District of Philadelphia pay back over $11 million.

Council on Thursday approved a resolution by at-large Councilmember Helen Gym authorizing the hearings by the Committee on Children and Youth and the Finance Committee.

Gym called the demand for repayment “the latest in a string of outrageous acts of financial mismanagement” by the PPA and called for “direct oversight” of the agency.

The PPA said in December that it had overpaid the school district for over two years and wants repayment. The parking authority paid the school district $14.7 million in 2020, including the $11.3 million it claims as an overpayment.

“The Parking Authority should operate as a public trust — but they surrendered what little integrity they had the moment they asked schoolchildren to cough up $11 million for no documented reason,” Gym said.

“From secret payouts to victims of sexual harassment, to bloated salaries, to meter hikes that gave no additional promised revenue to schools, these failures have potentially cost our city, especially our public school children, much-needed revenue for services,” Gym said.

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“Now, a string of emails between the PPA and the School District proves yet again that the PPA is involved in questionable financial reporting, and we are going to get to the bottom of this. I intend to use the full authority of the City Council to compel the PPA into full transparency and to ensure they answer questions they have been evading time and time again.”

The school district and the parking authority entered a profit-sharing agreement in 2004. The PPA promised $45 million a year to schools, according to Gym, but has not delivered even a fraction of that amount.

According to Gym, a $34 million trust coupled with high pension payouts have diminished the funds paid to Philadelphia schools.

The PPA was audited by the state auditor general in 2017 and by City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart in 2020.

“Let me make this clear: Not only will we make sure not a single cent rightfully owed to our students goes back to the PPA, we are calling for direct oversight of the PPA’s budget to end the financial mess they are putting upon our schools and our city,” Gym said.

“It’s time we push for real oversight of the PPA and for transparency around where their money is going,” At-large Councilmember Kendra Brooks said.

Police staffing

City Council members also approved legislation by At-large Councilmember Allan Domb to hold a hearing examining staffing in the Philadelphia Police Department to identify problems and solutions to improve public safety and ensure the best use of taxpayer dollars.

“I want to be very clear that this hearing’s goal is to help and support our police department,” Domb said. “And all the officers who positively protect us every day. And I do believe I speak for all of us on Council and all Philadelphians when I say we appreciate and respect our police department and the role they play in protecting us from the violence on our streets.”

Domb said now is the time to bring all the issues to light concerning the police department, including heightened leave usage, hiring delays, increasing retirements, and police officer application shortages.

“We want them to succeed, and that includes ensuring that we have a police force at full strength ready to serve,” Domb said.

Activist honored

In other Council news, a resolution introduced by Councilmember Jamie Gauthier, D-3rd District, was approved to honor contributions by activist Jamal Johnson.

“Jamal has declared a personal and sometimes one-man war against gun violence and demonstrates almost daily on streets,” said Leon Williams, who called in with a public comment. “He has called on other citizens who come out and help, but he gets very little help.”

Johnson started 2022 by staging a monthlong walk to Gov. Tom Wolf’s home to demand something be done about Philadelphia’s gun violence.

“Jamal Johnson has spent decades tirelessly advocating for nonviolence, and he continues his work today,” Gauthier said. “I want to thank Jamal for his years of activism and advocacy. I admire his commitment and dedication, and I’m also proud to call him my friend.”

Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson, D-2nd District, will host a virtual hearing Tuesday to address carjackings and public safety.

“I’ll be joined by Commissioner Danielle Outlaw, in which we’ll discuss the work that they are doing around tracking down and addressing the issue of carjacking but most importantly, the public safety awareness aspect,” Johnson said. “What do we need to do to be aware of our surroundings coming and going?”

Brian Saunders is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.

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