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City: questionable gifts did not influence Verizon contracts

Since the gifts were revealed in a report from inspector general Amy Kurland, the city has fired Joseph James Sr., deputy Chief Information Officer in the Division of Technology.

City Hall. (Photo by Flickr user Michlt, used under a Creative Commons license)

Business between Verizon and the city should continue as usual, officials say, even though a city employee was fired last week for taking more than $50,000 in gifts from the Verizon sales staff and an account set up to provide rewards for the city’s business with the phone company.
“Mr. James had multiple dealings with Verizon and the City has multiple contracts with the company. Each of those contracts was awarded through a competitive bid process and we have no reason to believe that the process was tampered with,” says Brian Abernathy, Chief of Staff to city Managing Director Rich Negrin.

Since the gifts were revealed in a report from inspector general Amy Kurland, the city has fired Joseph James Sr., deputy Chief Information Officer in the Division of Technology, who oversaw cable franchise agreements with Verizon and rival Comcast. Abernathy says James has been replaced by interim Deputy CIO Communications Sandra Carter.
Another city employee, Concetta Lily-Pearson, was reprimanded for taking some of the gifts James received.
James was unavailable for comment.
Verizon officials say they have cooperated with the investigation as well. Most notably, they reassigned the entire sales staff handling the city’s account, firing one employee, according to Verizon spokesman Lee Gierczynski.
“They were involved with the violations of the mayoral order, that really was a violation of verizon’s policy,” Gierczynski says.
Another Verizon employee was reprimanded for gifts he took while working for the city, but Gierczynski says he was not involved with the sales staff.
According to Kurland’s report, James received thousands of dollars in meals from Verizon employees and took merchandise and gift cards from a $48,000 Verizon Business Link Rewards account set up in the city’s name.
In 2009 and 2010 James testified before council in favor of the agreement that allows Verizon to sell their FiOS cable TV services in the city. As James told Technically Philly last week, that agreement paved the way for Verizon to build an all-fiber network throughout the city. But Abernathy points out that even though James received gifts, he was not the only city official who approved the agreement.
“We don’t feel the franchise agreement was negatively affected,” Abernathy says. “City council also approved it, it wasn’t just an administrative action.”

Companies: City of Philadelphia / Division of Technology

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