Philadelphia Municipal Services Building

Why would the Kenney Administration want to shuffle a city official with a six-figure salary to another department?

Rumors were rampant around City Hall that Albert D’Attilio, the current director of human resources, was demoted and on his way to being fired. What we know for certain: A letter to the city’s new chief administrative officer, dated Jan. 21, says he essentially can’t be moved from his current position without changing the city charter — no small feat.

According to a copy of the letter obtained by Billy Penn, the new administration under Mayor Jim Kenney wanted to move the director of human resources position out of the purview of the Civil Service Commission, so it can report directly to the newly-created Office of the Chief Administrative Officer.

But Chief Administrative Officer Rebecca Rhynhart said not so.

“The charter lays out that the personnel director reports to the Civil Service Commission,” she said. “There can’t be a change to that, nor are we attempting to do anything with that. The overarching goal is to create a modern human resources function that embraces best practices.”

Mayor Michael Nutter appointed D’Attilio to the “personnel director” position, officially called Director of Human Resources, in 2008. D’Attilio declined to comment for this story.

Per Philadelphia city charter, the personnel director who oversees human resources among civil service employees (think fire, police, libraries, etc.) reports to the Civil Service Commission. According to the city, this commission’s role is to “advise the Mayor and the Director of Human Resources on problems concerning personnel administration in City service and to uphold the interest of the City’s merit-based civil service system.”

The Commission also serves as a “quasi-judicial” body that holds public hearings, to address appeals by city civil service employees and then issue written decisions on them.

A letter dated Jan. 21 of this year doesn’t mention D’Attilio by name, but is addressed to Rhynhart and signed by two members of the Civil Service Commission who didn’t respond to requests for comment. The letter indicates that the administration notified D’Attilio, the personnel director, that he would now be reporting to Jackie Linton, the newly-named deputy chief administrative officer, a position that falls under Rhynhart. It then goes on to say that the Civil Service Commission “does not intend to relinquish or share” its authority over the personnel director.

“We trust that, being so advised of the legally mandated reporting structure set forth in the Charter,” the letter read, “you will not attempt to further interfere with the administration of the civil service or the operations of the Personnel Department.”

Rhynhart said there wasn’t an attempt to get around city charter and move D’Attilio under the new Chief Administrative Officer’s control. Instead, she said, it was to foster a collaborative relationship between the new office and the personnel director — not a new reporting structure.

“It’s similar to the coordination relationship that existed between HR and the managing director’s office,” she said. “There does need to be coordination, but it’s in no way that there’s an attempt to change the reporting structure.”

Kenney’s administration created the Chief Administrative Office to improve how the city allocates resources, the way it hires and evaluates development, recruitment and compensation of employees — whether they’re civil service employees or not. Some of the offices it oversees are the Department of Records, the Procurement Department, the Office of Fleet Management and the Office of Innovation and Technology.

Rhynhart said her office is in the process of reviewing city practices in each of the offices under her purview and then working with them to modernize systems. These changes, which are still in an evaluation phase, could include steps like identifying technological needs in city departments and upgrading them so city capital projects are completed faster. Rhynhart also mentioned the need to centralize job recruitment and training practices.

She said that over the next month or so, her office hopes to have a more detailed plan that addresses what steps it will take to tackle the “modernization” efforts.

“They may not be perceived as sexy and they aren’t necessarily on the front line of providing services to residents,” administration spokesman Mike Dunn said. “So that’s why they’re back-office. They’re crucial. It’s easy for any administration to focus more on improvements in those areas that directly interact with residents. There is a downside to years of neglect to some of these functions.”

Anna Orso was a reporter/curator at Billy Penn from 2014 to 2017.