City Council passes contract with Penn Strategies; Councilman, consulting firm president at odds

A Harrisburg firm was awarded a two-year contract to work on economic development projects by City Council Thursday for key funding, but it was the grilling by a new city councilman of the consulting firm’s president that was the story of the night.

“That was a show,” said Jason Fitzgerald, president of Penn Strategies, the consulting firm hired for a two-year contract not to exceed $200,000.

Fitzgerald was visibly upset after the meeting. While he said he appreciated the multitude of questions from Councilman Derek Slaughter as the camera was rolling, after the meeting he said he wasn’t pleased with the singular attention the firm received from the novice councilman and high school teacher.

“He never once approached me beforehand,” said Fitzgerald, who is going to try to seek up to $5 million, primarily for costs associated with recertification of the levee, priced at $10 million in repairs.

Slaughter, meanwhile, was the lone council member to vote against the contract, which he learned from questioning Fitzgerald, a city resident, was an increase of $50,000, or 33 percent.

“I was elected to council to ask questions, to ensure we have adequate language in our contracts and to live up to our end of the bargain for taxpayers,” Slaughter said, asking for examples of “deliverables” brought to the city through its contract with the Harrisburg-based firm.

Slaughter made the observation that the city at budget time indicated it passed a $2 million deficit-spending budget.

Numerous times during the meeting, Fitzgerald said in response to Slaughter and others on council that if he doesn’t deliver — there’s a 15-day opt out clause in the contract.

Mayor Gabriel J. Campana said Penn Strategies has delivered “millions” of dollars and has the connections to continue to deliver more.

For Councilman Joel Henderson, the vote to rehire Penn Strategies, led by Fitzgerald, wasn’t a matter of whether the company was worthwhile, but whether the city had the ability to pay and because the city had an “aggressive agenda” regarding economic development projects.