The decision by Philadelphia city officials to exclude the media from their two-day investor conference, scheduled to start Thursday, has triggered numerous objections from news outlets.
Bloomberg News, the Associated Press, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press have written Mayor Michael Nutter, objecting to the non-public nature of the conference, scheduled for the Comcast Center downtown.
"Your decision to have this discussion hidden from public view perpetuates distrust and cynicism not only among voters and the taxpaying public, but distrust of the City of Philadelphia by investors in infrastructure, bonds and other aspects of public finance," wrote Charles Glasser, global media counsel for Bloomberg News. "We urge you to respect the need for transparency and the spirit of Pennsylvania's tradition of open government, and allow the media to attend the conference."
But Nutter's press secretary, Mark McDonald, said the event would remain private.
"We consider this analogous to a road show where city officials go off and meet with groups of an industry or meet several companies. We don't have a reporter riding shotgun for those events," McDonald said in an interview. "We want to simply tell our tale in a pleasant surrounding. In this event we're putting the city's best foot forward."
McDonald said the city intends to make city finance director Rob Dubow and treasurer Nancy Winkler available to the media on Friday afternoon at City Hall, after investors tour the city and its water, gas works and airport facilities.
"Look, the Nutter administration has provided the greatest level of transparency ever in city government," he said.
Dubow and Winkler are scheduled to discuss the city's general obligation credit on Thursday morning. Moody's Investors Service rates the city's GO bonds A2, while Standard & Poor's and Fitch Ratings assign BBB-plus and A-minus ratings, respectively.
Moody's in April 2012 said Philadelphia's strengths were its improved finances; its large, diverse tax base; and its role as an economic center for a multi-state region. Weaknesses, it said, were constrained financial flexibility given very narrow reserve levels; limited tax base growth; and a high debt burden and fixed expenditure pressure.
Nutter himself is the luncheon speaker. Deputy mayor Alan Greenberger will moderate an overview of the city and the regional economy. Other discussions will focus on health care and higher education, the Philadelphia Water Department, city-owned Philadelphia International Airport and the Philadelphia Gas Works, which the city is looking to sell.
Corporate and academic speakers include Comcast Corp. executive vice president David Cohen; Citizens Bank chief executive Daniel Fitzpatrick, who chairs the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce; University City Science Center CEO Steve Tang; Jefferson Health System chief financial officer Kirk Gorman; and Temple University president Neil Theobald.
The agenda does not mention Philadelphia's school district.
According to McDonald, roughly 130 investors have signed up for the conference. "It's oversubscribed," he said. The event cost $8,500, covered by donations. "There is no city cost, as such, to this event."