Philadelphia City Council advances controversial contract bill despite Mayor Parker’s objections

A Philadelphia City Council panel advanced a controversial bill Wednesday to change the city’s contracting rules, despite powerful opposition from Mayor Cherelle L. Parker’s administration.

The the legislation would end the city’s practice of allowing certain agencies to award contracts to nonprofits without going through the regular competitive bidding process, which the council’s Finance Committee approved unanimously.

Voice It came after 11 Parker administration officials testified that the change would significantly burden the city’s operations and make it more complex for agencies to respond to emergencies. Several nonprofit leaders testified that the change could seriously impact their financial performance.

And Alexander DeSantis, the inspector general who recently wrote in a report that the city should re-examine its nonprofit rule, called the law “overly broad and unnecessarily punitive.”

However, Majority Leader Katherine Gilmore Richardson said the change was necessary to improve fiscal oversight following revelations last year that the Office of Homeless Services exceeded its budget by contracting with nonprofits for amounts millions over budget. dollars.

During a briefing with reporters earlier this week, Gilmore Richardson suggested that members of the Parker administration were “fear-mongering” about her legislation, saying people in “government and non-government” were scaring nonprofits into thinking they might not get jobs city ​​if they have to bid for it.

“People are afraid of change,” she said.

The bill, which would enter into force in July 2025, is to be considered by the Council at first reading on Thursday.

” READ MORE: Overspending at the Office of Homeless Services could trigger a change in Philadelphia’s contracting process

The showdown between a key Democrat on the council and the mayor’s administration comes as the two sides negotiate Parker’s first budget proposal, a critical moment for the new mayor, who took office in January. Lawmakers and administration officials were working out details Wednesday, with the goal of finalizing an agreement before the council meets for its weekly session Thursday morning.

Under city regulations, departments are typically required to issue a request for proposals – or invite companies to bid on a contract to provide services to the city – and then select the most qualified supplier with the best price. The purpose of this process is to eliminate political interference and fraud.

An exemption for nonprofits, which has been in place for about 20 years, allows them to contract directly with emergency management and social services agencies.

Parker’s administration said eliminating it would mean increasing the workload of the city’s purchasing department by 80% and could jeopardize existing contracts with vendors who operate in time-sensitive situations.

” READ MORE: How Philadelphia’s Office of Homeless Services spent more than $15 million: ‘Everyone missed it’

For example, the Department of Human Services uses the waiver by contracting with case management providers in other jurisdictions to support children who have been transferred from the child welfare system to relatives outside Philadelphia, said Vanessa Garrett Harley, director of the Office of Children and Family Services .

In written testimony, interim health commissioner Frank Franklin said the Department of Public Health has more than 240 tax-exempt contracts for nonprofits, including with contractors that respond to infectious disease outbreaks.

Additionally, he wrote, the department’s relationships with compact nonprofits could be damaged if those organizations don’t have the resources to compete with larger organizations bidding for city work in the bidding process.

Gilmore Richardson told administration officials that the regulations are not intended to “make life more burdensome” and will “never” be used to negatively impact children or other vulnerable residents.

On Wednesday, several nonprofit leaders testified against the bill. David Childs, executive director of Lutheran Settlement House, a domestic violence shelter in Fishtown, said nonprofits are “not afraid of accountability.”

“What we’re looking for is predictable revenue,” he said. “We need to know that our contract will not be terminated for reasons other than our ability to serve our customers.”

Will Gonzalez, executive director of the Latino development collective Ceiba, said the bill was “a cure that may be worse than the disease.”

“Our nonprofit ecosystem in Philadelphia is strong,” he said, “and overall a good partner with city government.”

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