Mayor names himself, key aides to community college board

Posted: October 05, 2012

Mayor Nutter will appoint himself and several key aides Thursday to seats on the board of trustees of the Community College of Philadelphia, in a clear and unprecedented move to take a more active leadership role at one of the city's most vital postsecondary institutions.

Of the 15 seats on the board, seven will be filled with new appointments, including the mayor's first deputy chief of staff and deputy director of policy, the executive director of the mayor's commission on literacy, a lawyer who previously served on the city's Ethics Board, and another former mayoral office staffer.

The new members will officially take their seats Thursday afternoon at a meeting of the board of trustees. The seats were either vacant or up for reappointment.

Nutter will appoint himself to fill an unexpired term that runs through 2014 - a mayor has not served on the CCP board in the past, at least not in recent memory, according to several sources.

Word of the coming sea change on the college board started to leak out late Wednesday afternoon and was confirmed by Nutter's spokesman, Mark McDonald.

"What's at work here very simply is that Mayor Nutter has been, from the start of his term as mayor, deeply concerned about and invested in the issues of education and job training and workforce development," McDonald said, noting the mayor's commitment to increasing the city's graduation rate and college-degree attainment rate. "At the nexus, really, of all those issues is Community College of Philadelphia."

Asked if the mayor had concerns about how the college was run, McDonald said: "I'm not aware of that as an issue. Any institution can improve the delivery of services, and that's true of city government, the School District, and any other institutions."

College president Stephen M. Curtis, who has been at the helm since 1999, did not return a call for comment.

Neither did Varsovia Fernandez, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, who is listed on the college's website as the current chair of the board. She has not been reappointed and in recent days sent a letter to other board members saying she would no longer be serving.

Also not reappointed was Gilbert A. Wetzel, who is listed as vice chair and is a partner at a human resources consulting firm.

McDonald said he was not sure if Wetzel or Fernandez sought reappointment.

Matthew Bergheiser, executive director of the University City District, who is on the board, will take over as interim chair, McDonald said.

The new appointments and their terms include: Suzanne Biemiller, first deputy chief of staff (2014); Mary Horstmann, deputy director of policy in the mayor's office (2016); Jennie Sparandara, executive director of the Job Opportunity Investment Network and former mayoral staffer; Judith Renyi, executive director of the Mayor's Commission on Literacy; Stella Tsai, a lawyer who had served on the Ethics Board; and Mark Edwards, executive director of Philadelphia Works Inc., the city's workforce-development agency.

Current trustee Jeremiah White Jr., a principal at White & Associates, was reappointed. Helen Cunningham and Dorothy Sumners Rush did not apply to be reappointed, McDonald said. Three others resigned during their terms, including Councilman James Kenney, Harold Honickman, and Bart Blatstein.

The changes come as the college finds itself in protracted contract negotiations with the union that represents full- and part-time professors as well as janitors, secretaries, and other employees. The contract expired in August 2011. Stephen Jones, copresident of the union, said he welcomed mayoral involvement.

"Our union knows that the mayor really is concerned about the connection between higher education and economic development in the city, and the connection between higher education and providing good, middle-class jobs for the people of Philadelphia, and so we're looking forward to the mayor's hands on involvement," he said.

"We've had a counterproductive relationship between the management of the college and the faculty and staff, and we're hoping that the mayor's direct involvement is going to allow us to . . . get going in a positive direction."

Chad Dion Lassiter, a current trustee, also was excited.

"I've served with the mayor in various capacities, and this is another amazing opportunity to learn and listen firsthand from a brilliant mind," said Lassiter, a professor of race relations at Penn.

McDonald said the mayor wanted to closely align the college, the School District, and other higher-education institutions in the city. "The goal obviously is to better prepare a workforce that currently has thousands of people who are coping with substantial literacy deficits," he said.

The college served 37,658 students in credit and noncredit classes in 2010-11, according to its website. It operates on state and city revenues as well as tuition dollars.


Contact Susan Snyder

at 215-854-4693 or ssnyder@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @ssnyderinq.

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