By Mike Dunn
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Mayor Michael Nutter’s chief integrity officer finds herself in a political firestorm after she injected herself into a Philadelphia Historical Commission debate over a coffee shop near her home.
At last Friday’s meeting of the Historical Commission, chief integrity officer Joan Markman surprised commission members by making a speech before their vote on proposed renovations to a coffee shop in Fairmount that some neighbors oppose.
Markman admitted that she also lives near the site but said she was speaking in her official capacity, and she reminded commissioners to follow proper procedures.
“I want to make sure that as the Historical Commission considers this application, it makes sure that different standards not be applied to this application than to any of the other applications that I heard at today’s hearing,” she said.
Attorney Carl Primavera, representing developer Ori Feibush, objected and called Markman’s comments “a very heavy-handed and inappropriate line of discussion. It makes me think of Shakespeare when he says, ‘they protest too much.’ What’s really going on here?”
At that point Commission member John Mattioni spoke up, saying he was “personally offended” by her comments.
Commission chairman Sam Sherman then took Markman to task:
(Sherman:) “So you are insinuating that that process wasn’t followed here? Is that–“
(Markman:) “No, that is not what I’m insinuating at all.”
(Sherman:) “That’s exactly what you’re doing.”
(Commissioner Mattioni to Markman:) “I resent your implication that we’re doing something inappropriately. I don’t necessarily agree or disagree with all my colleagues on the commission, but I do believe you are out of line. And if you are here at the mayor’s request, he’s out of line.”
Listen To The Actual Meeting Exchange (runs 5:15)…
Speaking, in order:
1) Chief integrity officer Joan Markman
2) Attorney Carl Primavera
3) Commission chairman Sam Sherman
4) Commission member John Mattioni
The commission, after further discussion, approved the coffee shop proposal unanimously.
The ire of commission members at Markman’s comments was such that Markman later that day sent a letter to Sherman, apologizing.
“I fully support the good work of the Historical Commission and its members,” she wrote, “Please convey my regret to the Commissioners.”
View Markman’s Letter of Apology to Sherman (.pdf format)
Both Commissioner Sherman and attorney Primavera told KYW Newsradio they would not comment on the matter. Mattioni did not return our calls seeking comment.
Markman lives approximately 1½ blocks from the coffee shop at 2100 Fairmount Avenue.
Nutter spokesman Mark McDonald refused to make Markman available for an interview. He said Markman had been alerted to the coffee shop matter by a personal “neighborhood” e-mail but that she spoke at the meeting in an official capacity.
When asked what in the e-mail gave Markman concern that procedures might not be followed in the coffee shop matter, McDonald said he did not know.
McDonald denies that Markman was trying to kill the proposal, and he denies that the city’s chief integrity officer was trying to use her office for personal reasons.
“I recognize that some could view an overlap in her public and private functions,” the Nutter spokesman told KYW Newsradio, “but her intention and her actions were consonant with her public role.”
And that role, according to McDonald, is to “carry out the mayor’s mission of transparent and good government, clean government, honest and ethical government.”
But Ori Feibush, the owner of the proposed coffee shop, says Markman — a former federal prosecutor — was in fact trying to use her office to benefit a few neighbors, which he finds ironic.
“The chief integrity officer, charged with ensuring that situations like this past Friday don’t happen, was the one charged with carrying out these political scores,” he said today. “I think every single person in the room was completely offended that she would try to use a position of power to influence what had been a very democratic and straightforward process until that point.”
Feibush, who has clashed with the Nutter administration in the past over other developments (see related stories), believes Markman should be ousted as chief integrity officer. He says her actions were part of the mayor’s attempt to hinder his realty business:
“Because of the collective effort of this administration to waste their time and just pillage taxpayer dollars to do nothing but wage these vigilante campaigns, for that reason I do believe she should lose her job.”
But McDonald, the mayor’s spokesman, says in light of Markman’s letter of apology to the commission, the matter is closed:
“Ms. Markman, who is a consummate professional, apologized for what transpired, and we’re just moving on.”