Commerce

Philly commerce division staffers say director Michael Rashid made anti-Semitic feedback and verbally abused them

Philadelphia’s Commerce Division served as a lifeline for pandemic-battered native companies during the last yr. However now the division is dealing with its personal disaster.

Senior division leaders and different workers have left the workplace during the last yr, with some blaming the allegedly abusive conduct of Commerce Director Michael Rashid. Others described anti-Semitic feedback allegedly made by the previous health-care government, who was appointed by Mayor Jim Kenney in November 2020 and earns $170,874 a yr, based on payroll data.

In interviews with The Inquirer, workers recalled Rashid lately relating an anecdote about his viewing of Schindler’s Record — Steven Spielberg’s award-winning film concerning the Holocaust — as a complicated inspirational metaphor. On a number of events, Rashid reportedly mentioned he had averted watching the 1993 movie as a result of he perceived it as “Jewish propaganda,” however upon viewing got here to understand the story of a heroic businessman in Nazi-occupied Poland.

Rashid’s social media posts, surfaced by information web site PhillyVoice on Thursday, additionally include inflammatory statements about Jewish folks and regulation enforcement. In a single put up he made in April, he appeared to condone the taking pictures of law enforcement officials who’re deemed racist. One other options an unverifiable quote attributed to Malcolm X that describes Jewish neighborhoods as “Jew City.”

Kenney condemned the feedback and mentioned they’d be investigated, however didn’t say whether or not he would ask Rashid to step down. Rashid didn’t reply to calls or textual content messages for remark.

At Rashid’s urging, nevertheless, the previous CEO’s allies have rallied round him, arguing that workers allegations about his office demeanor are reflective of a “tradition conflict” between the private and non-private sectors. One famous that Rashid was contemplating stepping down.

Mayoral spokesperson Kevin Lessard mentioned Rashid apologized for the Schindler’s Record feedback.

“The Mayor clearly doesn’t help it and believes it was offensive,” Lessard mentioned in an announcement to The Inquirer, including that Kenney additionally “doesn’t help the messages in any of the social media posts and thinks they’re inappropriate and offensive.”

The administration mentioned Rashid’s conduct could be investigated for compliance with metropolis office guidelines, however officers declined to debate the personnel grievances. Nonetheless, workers considerations about Rashid date to the start of his tenure, and officers acknowledged that questions on his management partially led to a $505,000 audit of the division’s tradition. That report, reviewed by The Inquirer, described low morale and excessive turnover amongst workers.

Some have already left the division over points with Rashid. In a resignation letter shared with Kenney administration leaders final week, former Commerce Division communications director Taj Magruder wrote that Rashid, 74, regularly “berated” workers members, made “irrational” selections, and appeared disinterested within the workings of the division, which was lately tasked with distributing hundreds of thousands of {dollars} in pandemic reduction.

Magruder shared the resignation letter with The Inquirer out of concern for his former colleagues and concern that situations wouldn’t change. He known as Rashid’s conduct the motivating issue for his departure and people of different high workers. He additionally known as for Rashid’s speedy dismissal.

“He’ll proceed to lose workers and hole out the Division, and his anti-Semitic feedback might ultimately change into public,” Magruder wrote to Kenney chief of workers Jim Engler and mayoral spokesperson Lessard on Nov. 22.

Within the letter, Magruder recounted Rashid’s feedback aboutSchindler’s Record, which he’d heard him relay in public and in personal amongst workers.

Pat Christmas, coverage director of the nonpartisan authorities watchdog group Committee of 70, additionally known as for a right away management change.

“Issues aren’t working in Commerce Division,” mentioned Christmas. “And it’s not simply the disturbing feedback that had been made, or the poisonous office atmosphere. It’s the crucial providers they’re meant to be offering for native companies.”

Rashid, who holds an MBA from Harvard, got here to the Commerce Division after a protracted profession as a health-care government. Upon his appointment, Kenney praised his “entrepreneurial ardour,” in addition to “his spectacular background main and rising multibillion-dollar corporations.”

Staffers, lots of whom spoke on situation of anonymity for concern of retaliation, mentioned Rashid’s conduct goes past anybody anecdote.

Some mentioned incidents hint again to an introductory assembly with Rashid after he was employed. At that assembly, one worker recalled Rashid “belittling” the small enterprise advocacy work of the division, and changing into hostile when his subordinates pushed again.

A number of described specific hostility or disregard for high feminine workers.

“He embarrassed us. He talked right down to us in entrance of our workers,” mentioned one feminine ex-staffer, talking on the situation of anonymity to guard her present employment, about his remedy of ladies. “He began attempting to tear away at our confidence.”

Associates and allies — with no direct connection to the Commerce Division — reached out to The Inquirer at what they mentioned was at Rashid’s urging to forged the director in a extra optimistic mild.

Advisor Salima Suswell, whose agency Rashid had retained up to now, blamed “cancel tradition” for the assaults on the social media posts. Labor chief Ryan Boyer, a longtime buddy, known as Rashid “considerate and measured,” and mentioned town may benefit from extra of a “CEO mindset” in management.

However mates additionally acknowledged that his company management fashion may rub some the flawed approach in metropolis authorities.

“Should you ship a product that’s lower than stellar, he’ll let you realize and he doesn’t mince phrases,” mentioned Jasmine Sessoms, a buddy of Rashid’s. “It’s a must to have thick pores and skin.”

She mentioned the social media posts had been unacceptable and that Rashid was weighing whether or not to step down. Sessoms claimed that the division had a “poisonous” popularity earlier than Rashid’s tenure and that a number of the departed workers already wished to go away.

A deputy commerce director resigned in June, then was adopted by fellow deputy Iola Harper this month. Rashid’s second in command tendered a resignation earlier this week, whereas Magruder submitted his in late November. Harper confirmed to The Inquirer that she had left her place sooner than deliberate because of Rashid’s conduct and declined additional remark.

Different lower-ranking workers have additionally left, and town confirmed the 50-plus particular person division has 19 open vacancies.

Nonetheless, the Kenney administration refuted that Rashid was accountable for all the turnover, asserting that solely six current exits had been because of voluntary separations.

In response to normal considerations about Rashid’s total administration, nevertheless, town’s human sources division surveyed staffers about his efficiency in September. Whereas these outcomes haven’t been made public, Magruder wrote in his resignation letter that 69% of respondents agreed that Rashid “single-handedly abused, enraged, and demoralized the workers.”

The half-a-million-dollar audit reviewed by The Inquirer recognized quite a few threats, together with excessive turnover in senior management positions, “low morale and belief” throughout the board, and inside tensions that threaten the division’s popularity.

With tensions intensifying, some workers mentioned Rashid seemed to be flouting town’s residency requirement, which requires workers to determine a residence in Philadelphia inside six months of employment.

Though Rashid rents a Middle Metropolis residence on Arch Avenue, staffers mentioned he appeared to spend many working hours at his residence in Montgomery County.

Staffers recalled that even after Rashid indicated he had obtained an residence within the metropolis, he nonetheless seemed to be teleconferencing from the identical Montgomery County residence.

Kenney’s workplace mentioned it didn’t have credible proof of a violation. Rashid established residency in August of this yr, Lessard mentioned, with an authorized extension past the routine six months, and famous town has versatile distant work alternatives.

“He might have at the least modified his Zoom background,” mentioned one former staffer.

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