A national search this year was executed to find someone to lead the Philadelphia Police Advisory Commission. The public, however, wasn’t informed of that fact. As the search continued and the 51 applicants were sifted through, Ms. Erica Atwood, formerly of the Nutter Administration, was named interim Executive Director. That early 2017 hiring wasn’t made public until I wrote about it – and then a late July article published by Generocity gave it mention – and Ms. Atwood didn’t think it needed to be.
The staffing of the PAC, a long-neglected city agency, was marred by secrecy. Transparency appeared obsolete as processes ensued and infrastructure erected. Public input as to who should be chosen to succeed Mr. Kelvyn Anderson at the civilian oversight board wasn’t sought. And publicity of the protocol for how one could obtain the once 13 vacant seats on the commission – this week the Mayor of Philadelphia will announce who the new commissioners are – was nonexistent.
These occurrences aren’t outliers but rather emblematic of how the government here conducts itself: insular, largely siloed off from grassroots people and ideas, and content with expertise offered almost exclusively from the political and consultant class, save for a handful of commissions whose efficacy is questionable but rarely questioned.
A culture of sovereignty and smugness pervades Philadelphia government. The message sent to the people here is: we govern, you submit. For one to think and believe that the Philadelphia government derides its power from the governed would be to engage recklessly in naivety.
Among Mayor Jim Kenney’s most recited soundbites is that “citizens are in charge of the police, not police in charge of the citizens.” But if that were true, decisions about policing – like who will manage the agency tasked with overseeing and critiquing the Philadelphia Police Department – would be formed through a collaborative work model between community and government rather than by bureaucrats in unassuming Center City offices. The Mayor’s words on policing aren’t in keeping with how the City’s business is done.
On Monday, it was revealed that Mr. Hans Menos of New York City will take the reins from Ms. Atwood in October. Mr. Brian Abernathy, the first-deputy Managing Director, confirmed the panel which judged the applicants were representatives of the PAC, the Managing Director’s Office and the Mayor’s Office. Notably missing from the process was any civil rights leaders or activists who’ve for years protested police misconduct.
By isolating itself, the government continually misses opportunities for a cognitive surplus which could add value and depth to discussions and questioning. Government leaders don’t know it all and neither do laymen. But the fusion of the two offer a wealthier knowledge bank than if they were to remain segregated.
Philadelphia’s government institutions belong to the public and are managed, not owned, by elected and appointed officials. How these institutions grow and transition are to be a matter of public debate, not private discourse. Disregarding transparency breeds public cynicism, which morphs into voter apathy and eventually becomes wide spread resentment and distrust; governments can only build trust with communities if transparency is its foundation.
The private manner in which Mr. Abernathy and others sought after a full-time and permanent Executive Director for the PAC may be business as usual, but it’s bad business nonetheless. It made the Mayor’s words on policing ring hollow; it made the government, again, appear classist; and it created cynicism where celebration should be.
Thanks for reading! Until next time, I’m Flood the Drummer® and I’m Drumming for Justice!™
Photo courtesy of the author.