Tasco alleges delay on rec center project was political payback

Posted: March 28, 2013

In April, the city was ready to begin more than $3 million worth of renovations at the Sturgis recreation facility in East Oak Lane.

Instead, work at the six-acre site did not start until February, after more than nine months of delay.

Philadelphia City Councilwoman Marian B. Tasco, who represents the area, said she suspected the source of the holdup was her opposition to the way Mayor Nutter was handling the potential sale of the Philadelphia Gas Works.

Tasco, chairwoman and longtime member of the Philadelphia Gas Commission, objected last spring to Nutter's request to use $2.7 million in PGW ratepayer money to pay for advisers exploring the sale.

"My issue was, the city should pay for the cost. That's always been my position," she said. "Somehow or another, maybe they thought they could make me change my mind."

In January, the commission voted, 3-2, with Tasco and City Controller Alan Butkovitz opposed, to approve the mayor's plan.

The issue arose Wednesday at a Council budget hearing, when Tasco went on the attack, demanding that Budget Director Rebecca Rhynhart explain why the Sturgis project was delayed.

"I want it on the public record today," Tasco said.

Rhynhart gave general answers to Tasco's entreaties, saying the process of funding all large capital improvements needed to be speeded up.

"I hear your frustration," she said. "The project is proceeding."

In an interview after the hearing, Tasco said the delay was nothing more than old-fashioned payback for her position on PGW.

If true, the exchange provided a rare peek into the kind of leverage often exerted in the game of political hardball. Tasco and Nutter were considered allies when Nutter took office in 2008, but their relationship has eroded.

Mark McDonald, a spokesman for Nutter, said the Sturgis project was delayed simply "because the administration was focused on other pressing issues."

"Now it's back on track and moving foreword," he said.

He said the administration had to set priorities that "impact policy and projects."

"It's how city government works," he said.

After a recess in Wednesday's budget hearing, Tasco returned to the subject, asking Rhynhart to provide a list of every recreation project since 2008, including when they were approved, when construction began, and when they were finished.

"We're supposed to have openness and transparency, and it seems I can't get an answer about why my rec center was held up," Tasco said.

She also said she would revisit the issue next week when Nutter's chief of staff, Everett Gillison, is slated to testify at a budget hearing.

"We're not going to let this go," Tasco said.

Contact Troy Graham at 215-854-2730, tgraham@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @troyjgraham.

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