So far, the competition has not affected the 26 reproductive health providers - hospitals, health centers and family planning clinics - that get money through the council, or the 141,000 mostly low-income clients they serve. But it has raised questions, and eyebrows.
"Some of these relationships have been strained," said Dayle Steinberg, president of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania, which gets part of its funding from the Family Planning Council. "But Melissa has made a commitment to work with us, and the relationship has greatly improved. I wrote a letter of endorsement for the council. I also talked to PHMC. I voiced my concerns."
Gerber, formerly head of Women's Way, a fund-raising coalition, said she was confident that the council would prevail when the Title X grant begins on June 1. "As to [Mann's] motivations for doing this, ask her."
Mann would not discuss it.
"I feel very strongly that we don't talk about our clients," Mann said of her consulting firm, Pine Street Partners in Philadelphia. "It's not good business for us."
During her long tenure, Mann expanded the council's funding and scope to include HIV/AIDS and other programs. But the Title X grant - $5.6 million this year - remains the biggest in the council's budget. By law, the money may pay for services including birth control, sexually transmitted disease testing, breast exams - but not abortion.
The much larger Public Health Management Corp. has little experience in family planning. Its mission includes nurse-managed primary care, chronic disease management, obesity prevention, and health services for the homeless.
Still, PHMC president Richard J. Cohen said, "A number of providers called and encouraged us to consider applying" for the Title X grant. "We didn't go into this on our own." He declined to name the providers.
In an era of growing needs and shrinking funding, four HIV/AIDS agencies last year opted to apply directly for certain federal funding, rather than let the Family Planning Council represent them. The Mazzoni Center, Philadelphia's LGBT health-care center, was one of the four.
The agencies did not get more money - but they didn't get less, said Mazzoni's executive director, Nurit Shein. She says PHMC "could open up more money coming to Philadelphia" for family planning.
But some insiders speculate about darker reasons for the new rivalry. They say the Family Planning Council's board of directors rejected Mann's preferred successor in appointing Gerber, a Princeton University graduate and a lawyer with a strong record of local public service.
"I think it's about payback to the board for not doing what Dorothy wanted," said an agency director who insisted on anonymity because he did not want to offend either side.
By all accounts, including her own, Mann is hard to say no to. But she is altruistic, not petty, Shein said.
"I don't know whether Melissa was Dorothy's choice or not, but knowing Dorothy, she is bigger than that. She had a long and very close relationship with PHMC, and they worked together on many projects that were beneficial to both organizations. I doubt she would want to undermine an organization she built."
In any case, Gerber said, she inherited an organization in need of immediate course corrections.
The first involved the new offices, leased under Mann's leadership, in a prized office building at 1700 Market St. The council is now seeking to sublet about two-thirds of that space for almost $600,000.
"It was apparent to me right away that we had more space than we needed," Gerber said.
The second correction, she said, involved the budget, which had a $1 million deficit because of unanticipated pension liabilities and budgeting errors. Gerber obtained a grant to hire a nonprofit accounting consultant. That firm helped review everything from staffing to banking relationships to payroll, including executives' pay. (The council's tax returns show Gerber's salary and other compensation for her first 10 months was about $84,000, while Mann received $196,000 in salary plus about $152,000 in retirement and other benefits in her last year on the job.)
The budget is now balanced.
"I came into an organization that had a very proud history and a mission that I love," Gerber said. "I've . . . brought fresh eyes to see how an agency that has been around for 40 years can work smarter and better in a different environment."
Contact Marie McCullough at 215 854-2720 or email@example.com.