WEEKLY REPORT: GUN VIOLENCE STRATEGIES AND ETHICS REFORMS TAKE CENTER STAGE; COUNCIL HONORS A SPORTS LEGEND

In Allan Domb, Cherelle Parker, Council News, Curtis Jones, Jr., Darrell L. Clarke, Derek Green, Helen Gym, Kenyatta Johnson, News by PHL Council

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Violence in Philadelphia: What’s the best way to prevent it?

On a day when the homicide total in Philadelphia hit 36 (33 percent higher than last year), and police disclosed that a four-year-old boy died in a tragic, accidental shooting in his North Philadelphia home, the best ways to deal with violence in the city continued as a priority topic in City Council.

First, Majority Leader Cherelle Parker (9th District) introduced a resolution and ordinance to put this question for voters on the November general election ballot:

Shall The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to call on the Police Department to eliminate the practice of unconstitutional stop and frisk, consistent with judicial precedent, meaning an officer must have reasonable suspicion that a person is engaged in criminal activity in order to stop that person, and, therefore, an officer cannot stop someone unlawfully because of their race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religious affiliation or expression, or other protected characteristic?

Parker’s proposed ballot question comes as Philadelphia police and legal advocates continue to struggle with whether constitutional stop-and-frisk car and pedestrian stops are appropriate, and whether, despite a 10-year-old consent decree, police here are still conducting too many stop-and-frisks.

With homicides and shootings on the rise citywide, and a new Police Commissioner, Danielle Outlaw, due to begin work in Philadelphia in another week, Council continued to grapple on Thursday with what are the best gun violence prevention strategies to deploy.

In addition to Parker’s stop-and-frisk ballot question, Council approved a resolution introduced last week on Council President Darrell Clarke’s behalf that authorizes Council to retain counsel to sue the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for its failure to take action to prevent gun violence across the state, including in Philadelphia.

Under Clarke’s leadership, with the support of Councilmembers Curtis Jones, Jr. (4th District), Kenyatta Johnson (2nd District) and others, Council has repeatedly acted by passing local gun violence prevention laws. But Council has always been thwarted by Harrisburg’s unwillingness to pass stronger gun laws statewide, or to allow municipalities like Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and other cities to enact their own, stronger gun laws to protect their citizens.

As Council debated these latest strategies, gun violence flared anew.  A four-year-old boy was found fatally shot in his bedroom in North Philadelphia. His father initially blamed home intruders, but late yesterday, Philadelphia police said the father admitted the boy tragically accessed a loaded 9mm handgun in a closet. The gun went off, killing the child.

When reporters questioned Clarke after Council on how much a lawsuit against the state might cost, Clarke responded: “I won’t put a price tag on what it costs to stop this gun violence. We’re going to do whatever it takes.”

From the floor, Councilmember Jones, the Majority Whip, put it this way: “It isn’t an “or” – it’s an “and”. We need to do everything we’re doing – and more. These bullets don’t discriminate by age or race or any category. We have a sworn obligation to do everything we can to stop this violence.”

 

 Council Takes Action on Ethics

One day after a federal prosecutor indicted a Councilmember in an alleged pay-to-play scheme, City Council authorized the re-appointment of a Chief Ethics Officer, whose job includes providing ethics training and counsel to every member of Council.

The Ethics Officer reform was instituted last term by Council President Clarke.  The officer is Mary McDaniel, Esq., who previously served as chief counsel to the Judiciary Committee in the State House of Representatives.

The re-appointment of McDaniel as Ethics Officer comes amid news of Councilmember Johnson’s indictment by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, which alleged that Johnson engaged in a scheme to see his wife hired as a charter school consultant by a local business, in exchange for his taking action to help the company obtain a zoning change to redevelop a property in his district.

Johnson is mounting a vigorous defense, proclaiming his innocence and that of his wife, and holding a news conference with a large group of faith leaders and community members supporting his position.

Reporters questioned Councilmembers Thursday on whether Councilmember Johnson should resign from Council, or step down from his committee assignments and chairmanship of the Rules Committee. Here’s what President Clarke told a large scrum of reporters.

“The lineup in terms of committees were assigned based on an individual’s, one, willingness to serve, and, two, their ability to serve,” Clarke said. “There is a presumption of innocence in this great country that we live in, and you have an opportunity to defend yourself. I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to indict or cast a guilty verdict on an individual who serves in this body.”

Other Councilmembers voiced similar sentiments. “He’s entitled to the presumption of innocence,” Majority Leader Parker told reporters before Council. “And, voters in his district just voted to re-elect him to Council, despite these stories being out there.”

A 1982 legal opinion by City Solicitor Alan Davis and the Law Department made clear that Councilmembers under charges or indictment have the right to continue performing their duties in Council, including serving on committees, until such time as a conviction or guilty verdict occurs. Under Pennsylvania law, a conviction occurs at time of sentencing.

 

Should Council have Term Limits? Where does Resign to Run Fit In?

Last week, Councilmember Allan Domb (At Large) introduced legislation re-starting the conversation on whether Councilmembers should be term limited. Domb’s bill suggested four, four-year terms is enough.

On Thursday, Council President Clarke offered a different approach, and had legislation introduced on his behalf that would set term limits at five terms for Council members – but also included a provision that would eliminate the “resign to run” provision that has prevented Council members from running for other offices without first resigning. The resign to run provision does not exist at the state or federal levels; Clarke believes that puts local government leaders at a disadvantage.

“Particularly given the way it is in the State of Pennsylvania, where every other state elected official is able to run for any office they want to without resigning — I believe municipal elected officials should be on a par with that,” Clarke said. “Since there is this hue and cry for term limits, I thought consolidating these two issues might get some traction. We’re putting it in the mix – not one without the other.”

 

 In Other Legislative Action This Week…

Councilmember Helen Gym (At Large) introduced an eloquent resolution declaring January 30th to be Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution in Philadelphia.

Fred Korematsu was a Japanese-American citizen whose internment in an American concentration camp during World War II led to a civil rights lawsuit and one of the most infamous decisions in U.S. Supreme Court history, Korematsu v. the United States.

From Gym’s resolution: “WHEREAS, Though the appeal was heard by the United States Supreme Court in 1944, justice was denied to Korematsu when the Supreme Court upheld his conviction by a six to three vote on the grounds that incarceration was a “military necessity” and not caused by beliefs founded in racism, a decision that is now regarded as a black mark on our nation’s constitutional jurisprudence …”

Korematsu’s conviction was overturned four decades later by a federal court ruling that “a grave injustice was done.” Korematsu “stands as a caution that in times of international hostility and antagonisms our institutions, legislative, executive, and judicial, must be prepared to exercise their authority to protect all citizens from the petty fears and prejudices that are so easily aroused.”

Councilmember Derek Green (At Large) introduced a resolution to hold hearings in the Commerce and Economic Development Committee on the “quantitative and qualitative costs of doing business in Philadelphia.”

Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson (At Large) introduced a resolution declaring Philadelphia “the City of Sisterly Love” for 2020 in tribute to the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution recognizing women’s suffrage.

Inside the Rail …

Last Sunday, the nation and the world were stunned by the tragic helicopter crash in California that claimed the lives of basketball superstar Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven others.

Kobe Bryant had deep hometown ties, having attended Lower Merion High, where he first flashed the basketball skills that would lead to 5 NBA titles and an MVP award, among many accolades.

Yesterday, City Council remembered, honoring Kobe, his daughter and the others with a resolution introduced by Councilmember Domb, a beautiful graphic, and eloquent words from the floor by Councilmember Isaiah Thomas (At Large).


Thomas spoke of children being named “Kobe” by their parents as Bryant’s legend grew. And, he noted, “In the past 50 years, only 3 NBA MVPs have passed away – Wilt Chamberlain, Moses Malone and Kobe Bryant – and they all had ties to Philadelphia.”  RIP, Kobe. #BlackMamba. #GirlDad.

The next Stated Meeting of City Council will take place on Thursday, February 6th, at 10 a.m. in Council’s chamber on the 4th floor at City Hall

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