As chair of City Council’s Committee on Global Opportunities and the Creative/Innovative Economy — a role dreamed up by Council President Darrell Clarke in January — not much is required of freshman At-Large Councilman David Oh. But he’s opted to take the manufactured post seriously, organizing events like a reception in May for the mayor of Incheon, South Korea — an ultra-high-tech boomtown that Oh believes could be a major role model and trading partner for Philly. The event was a hit. Then came the bills — and an unexpected hitch. “I didn’t want to use tax dollars,” says Oh. So he turned to corporate donors. “I raised the money. After that was the problem.”
Oh tried to open an account in the Fund for Philadelphia Inc., which the administration and Council members use to manage such monies. Only he couldn’t. Months went by, vendors needed paying, but Oh couldn’t deposit his checks. He was told the rules had changed: He would need a project sponsor within the administration — to which he had no interest in being beholden. “I may have to deal with their budget requests, so I don’t think it’s appropriate for them to decide that the projects I’m doing are worthy or not worthy.” So, last week, Council passed a resolution, introduced by Oh — noting, it seemed, a little testily, “Council is an independent branch of government and chooses not to be dependent upon the Administration” — to let Council establish its own nonprofit fund.
Ed Fischer, who runs the $7 million Fund for Philadelphia, says that’s not a bad idea. He notes that a “strategic-planning process” is underway (and long overdue, more than 25 years after the fund’s creation). The fund is now following city procurement rules and pushing for transparency: Managing Council’s slush doesn’t necessarily fit with that mission. “City projects, with the mayor’s office’s backing, we do have the ability to” monitor effectively, he says. “We have no way of overseeing City Council.”