The Secrets of Ackerman’s Golden Parachute

What happened to open and transparent, Mayor Nutter?

At this point in the Arlene Ackerman saga, $905,000 to get rid of the Philadelphia School District superintendent seems like a bargain. The bigger issue is the private money used to pay her off and the secrecy behind the payments.

Firing Ackerman certainly would have been a more satisfactory and appropriate end to her tumultuous three-year reign of terror. But it would have also dragged out the ugly circus atmosphere she created the last few months, making for an even bigger distraction at the already beleaguered schools. And it would have resulted in a legal battle that likely would have cost even more in attorneys’ fees in the end. So, give Ackerman her golden parachute and a one-way ticket out of town. Hooray, the queen is dead to Philly.

The more troubling detail stems from the $405,000 that unnamed donors were “asked” to fork over to help get rid of Ackerman. The walking away money is to be donated to a nonprofit and then funneled to Ackerman. In a town often lacking in creative thinking from its political leaders, it’s amazing what sort of schemes they can concoct in the backrooms when the heat is on.

Governor Corbett says the school district is a local issue and that he stayed out of Ackerman’s axing. Given that Corbett seems so completely unengaged in the job of being governor, his response sounds believable. There is just one problem going forward: The state controls the city school district. In or out, governor; you can’t have it both ways.

Mayor Nutter has also tried to distance himself from Ackerman’s demise, yet his fingerprints are all over it. You can’t claim to be the education mayor and then when a major event hits the school district pull a Seargent Schultz. Someone had to do it. And it’s clear the School Reform Commission didn’t pull the trigger alone because that gang can’t shoot straight.

Nutter says he played no role in Ackerman’s ouster, yet he reportedly limited the amount of public tax dollars that could be used to dump Ackerman at $500,000. That sparked the private fundraising scheme, which included Nutter making calls for donations to the “God, sink the queen” campaign. Nutter may think he did the right thing by
passing the hat around to save taxpayers money, but that logic is shortsighted and wrong on several fronts.

First of all, given Ackerman’s role in the school district’s $629 million deficit, forking over another $405,000 to get rid of her is money well spent.

Second, why are the donations secret? If individuals, corporations or law firms feel that giving the money was in the best interest of the schools they should be willing to put their names where their money is. Nutter’s claim of an open and transparent government doesn’t square with keeping the donations secret. What is everyone trying to hide?

Lastly, Nutter has boasted that he has cleaned up the pay-to-play atmosphere that existed at City Hall before he became mayor. Well, these secret private donations reek of potential pay-to-play.

What will the donors expect in return for helping Nutter get rid of Ackerman? Especially the folks he called personally. Did the donors feel pressured to give in order to protect the contracts they have with the school district or City Hall?

The public has a right to know where the money came from to pay for Ackerman’s personal bailout. But even making the names public doesn’t make it right. It’s a bad way to run a government and sets a dangerous precedent going forward.

Especially for the self-proclaimed, open and transparent, education mayor.

Paul Davies spent 25 years in the newspaper business, including stops at the Daily News, the Inquirer and the Wall Street Journal. He can be reached at [email protected]