Kenney administration officials have been declining to answer questions, citing the ongoing inspector general investigation. It’s not a valid excuse.
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City Council kicks off its probe into the Philly Fighting COVID scandal on Friday with testimonies from the city’s top health official and leaders of Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration. Whether they’ll provide detailed answers to lawmakers’ questions is still unclear.
Councilmember Cindy Bass, who heads the Committee on Public Health and Human Services, called for the hearings last week after the dramatic implosion of the Health Department’s relationship with PFC, a 9-month-old startup that became a city vaccine distributor despite lack of health care or immunization experience.
“The selection of this entity raises a lot of red flags and requires a lot of questions to be answered,” Bass said on Thursday.
A series of investigative articles from WHYY and Billy Penn raised questions about the city’s partnership with the untested group, shedding light on issues that went ignored by officials. The former deputy health commissioner resigned after the Inquirer reported she gave Philly Fighting COVID and another vaccine provider inside information about a city contract. And 22-year-old CEO Andrei Doroshin admitted pocketing vaccines from the PFC clinic, an act he first vehemently denied.
First up at the Council hearings will be Health Commissioner Tom Farley, who had led the city’s coronavirus response and signed off on the PFC vaccine clinic.
He and Mayor Kenney on Tuesday declined to answer questions about the scandal, citing an ongoing investigation by the Office of the Inspector General. The leaders are “committed to full transparency,” said spokesperson Deana Gamble, but “want to respect the integrity and parameters of the IG investigation.”
Yet the inspector general has made no such request. “We have not instructed any city official to not comment on this investigation,” said OIG spokesperson Brian Tom. “Any comments made by a city official is solely their own.”
Kenney himself will not testify, though Bass reportedly tried to call him to the hot seat. In addition to Farley, five top officials in his administration will be available for questioning:
- Jim Engler, the mayor’s chief of staff
- Tumar Alexander, Philadelphia managing director
- Eva Gladstein, deputy managing director of Health and Human Services
- Adam Thiel, director of the Office of Emergency Management
- Diana Cortes, acting city solicitor (the city’s top lawyer)
State Rep. Elizabeth Feidler will also testify on a panel at the hearing.
Council released a roster of public commenters on tap to speak at the hearings. The list includes the executive director of the Alliance of Community Service Providers, the director of Special Olympics Pennsylvania and a half dozen others.
The hearing will begin at 1 p.m. You can livestream it here.