Fairmount Park Conservancy the Latest Victim of William Penn Foundation Grant Suspensions

Last night, City Paper reported that the $2 billion William Penn Foundation would be suspending grants to city-related agencies indefinitely. The report identified a funding request for Bartram’s Mile, a trail extension linking the East and West banks of the Schulykill River, though it’s unclear which group applied for the grant.

Today, I learned that the Fairmount Park Conservancy also received a letter announcing that its grant application had been suspended. (FPC operates under a public-private partnership.) The proposal, submitted in late 2012, requested $75,000 for planning work in West Fairmount Park. FPC Executive Director Kathryn Ott Lovell says she’s not exactly sure where the money would have gone, except to “work with parks and rec. in the community to really think about some possible improvements to West Park.” FPC has received numerous recent grants from the William Penn Foundation, including one in 2011 for $82,500.

Still optimistic that her grant will eventually come through, Lovell stresses that she thinks the William Penn Foundation “has a great vision for parks space.”

The WPF suspended such grants in order to deal with an ethics complaint submitted by a coalition of public school advocates that charges the mega-philanthropy has violated the city’s lobbying code. (The first complaint that’s been issued under the city’s new code.) The coalition argues that by providing the Boston Consulting Group with a grant to conduct the report that led to Philadelphia’s school-closure plan, it was effectively doing BCG’s bidding to encourage the “privatization” of public schools, and thus, should have registered as a lobbyist. In order to make sure they’re in compliance with the lobbying ordinance, WPF is suspending grants that may violate it. All previously awarded grants will, however, be disbursed; this decision only affects pending and forthcoming applications.

The city, for the record, doesn’t think there’s an issue with grants like these. “We don’t see the problem with the lobbying registration and reporting ordinance [with respect to] these grant requests and grant funding the way the William Penn Foundation seems to,” said the Mayor’s press secretary Mark McDonald.

Nor does Parents United for Public Education, one of the groups that submitted a complaint, which stresses it’s never had an issue with the sort of benign grants to city agencies and public-private partnerships WPF’s been disbursing for years.

There are, of course, more groups whose requests have been put on hold, and I’ll update the item as I learn more.