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The latest chapter in the ongoing drama surrounding America’s 250th birthday celebration in 2026.


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Rosie Rios, pictured here during her time as United States Treasurer, has been named the new chair of the US Semiquincentennial Commission. / Photo by HUM Images/Getty

After months of bad press with accusations of sexism, unequal pay, cronyism and dysfunctional governance, the United States Semiquincentennial Commission, the federal body tasked with planning the country’s 250th birthday in 2026, has made a leadership change. Philly-area developer and former Union League president Dan DiLella, who has served as president since 2018, is gone. Rosie Rios, the United States treasurer under Barack Obama, is in attendance. President Joe Biden made the new appointment.

The change, announced last week, comes amid serious internal schisms (discussed in our July issue) within the federal commission and its affiliated nonprofit, the America250 Foundation. Four female foundation directors resigned last year and filed a lawsuit alleging, among other things, that the foundation misspent much of its $20 million federal grant, that DiLella doled out lucrative contracts to friends and to his associates, that women were paid less than their male counterparts and that virtually all important strategic decisions were made by an insular group of male employees. (DiLella has denied the client allegations, and the foundation has denied wrongdoing in court filings.) Additionally, a group of commissioners, including Philly finance CEO Andrew Hohns, have spoken out against DiLella’s leadership, claiming that he made decisions without subjecting them to a vote of the 24-member, federally appointed commission.

In a press release announcing the changes, Rios said “bringing the country together to recognize the founding of the nation after 250 years is one of the greatest honors I can personally experience.” She also praised DiLella, who will remain as commissioner. The press release did not say why DiLella is stepping down as president, though her tenure has been rocky lately, between handling the process, the resignation of more than 10 women from the foundation in the past 10 months and the cancellation of the America250 program. the largest corporate sponsorship, when Facebook recently he opted out of a $10 million deal. (A spokesperson for the America250 Foundation said of the resignations: “While some people would like to cherry-pick information to support their narrative, the reality is that employees leave organizations for a variety of reasons, and many stay because they believe in the mission, opportunities and values.” )

DiLella, for her part, says she was not asked to leave her post. “It was a situation where we took this thing from scratch and moved it forward, and I think Rosie is the perfect person to take that next step,” he says. He suggested Applicant that there were also political factors at play, telling the newspaper: “I’m still involved. But I’m not a Democrat, and they had to get one.” (DiLella was originally appointed by Donald Trump in 2018 and was renominated for president by Biden last year.)

As chair, Rios becomes the first woman to lead the commission and a high-ranking female executive in an organization that hasn’t had many of them. She will serve alongside America250 Foundation CEO Joe Daniels and commission executive director Frank Giordano, the longtime chairman of the Philly POPs, who is also a friend of DiLella’s. Don’t expect major upsets, though. “Rosie is 100% supportive of the platform we’ve already created,” says DiLella. “Not much will change.” A foundation spokesman described Rios as “a bridge of continuity for the commission and the foundation.”

But for an organization facing so much public criticism, we wonder if the situation calls for a continuity bridge as much as a demolition. According to a source familiar with the discussions, the four women suing the foundation brought their allegations to the attention of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who advocated removing not only DiLella, but also Giordano and Daniels from planning the celebration. Currently, however, all three remain involved in the Semiquincentenary. (A Pelosi staffer did not respond to a request for comment.) An appropriations bill currently in the Senate also proposes taking $1 million of the commission’s money and redirecting it to the Office of the Inspector General to support “Semiquincentenary audits and investigations.” Commission.”

The commission’s internal critics don’t seem to be satisfied either. “Unfortunately, this move does nothing to restore the commission’s integrity, reform its mismanagement, or remedy its unfair treatment of vendors and employees,” Hohns said in a statement, noting that Rios was a close ally of DiLella in this regard. committee, serving both on the executive committee and as treasurer. “We need a revamp: bold thinking, a legacy of impact that future generations can build on, and a commission that operates transparently and within the law.” Hohns says he learned the news about Rios through a press release.

Then there’s the matter of the lawsuit, in which Rios herself is named as a defendant, along with DiLella and Giordano. The suit portrays Rios as unaware of the internal dynamics and finances of America250, despite her position as the commission’s treasurer. In a phone call, according to the lawsuit, Anna Laymon, one of the plaintiffs, told Rios that she believed Giordano did not have the capacity to be executive director of the commission. Rios, the lawsuit alleges, agreed, calling Giordano “an idiot,” but said there was nothing he could do because Giordano was working pro-bono. In fact, Giordano had received an annual salary of approximately $150,000. “At the time, Commissioner Rios, the chairman of the finance committee, did not know [that the] The highest-ranking member of the senior staff of the US Semiquincentennial Commission was drawing a salary,” the lawsuit states. (Reached by phone, Rios referred questions to a foundation spokesman, who declined to comment on the lawsuit.)

In a statement, the four plaintiffs in the lawsuit — Renee Burchard, Keri Potts, Kirsti Garlock and Laymon — described a similar lack of confidence in the new leadership. “Looks like you mixed up the seats on the Titanic,” they wrote. “Rosie Rios is a named defendant in our lawsuit for a reason, and if she does not intend to take seriously the issues of fraud, waste and abuse that we have detailed, this ship will continue to sink. America 250 described Rosie as a ‘uniform’ but it remains to be seen whether she will take action to address the issues of pay inequity, gender discrimination and gross mismanagement we have raised.”

As for what all this means for Philadelphia, which benefited from considerable investment in infrastructure—Fairmount Park, the South Philly stadium complex, and FDR Park, to name a few—during the Centennial (1876), Sesquicentennial (1926) and Bicentennial of the country. (1976) celebrations that took place here, well, America250 is still planning a full-scale multi-day festival in 2026, which America250 CEO Daniels likened to a kind of South-by-Southwest , but for democracy. Those plans include what’s being called a “National Semiquincentennial Convention,” where citizens and celebrities from across the country will gather, in state delegations, to talk (or scream) about the political issues of the day. We imagine the biggest and craziest CNN panel in the history of the world. And hey, if that doesn’t sound like your kind of thing, at least we have that summer’s MLB All-Star Game and World Cup to look forward to.

This story has been updated to include information about the appropriations bill proposed in the U.S. Senate.

By philcp

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