PHILADELPHIA— September 25, 2019 — Today, City Council’s Law and Government Committee unanimously voted to advance Bill Number 190608 introduced by Councilmember Helen Gym (At-Large), to increase transparency and accountability by requiring the City publicly disclose and analyze money paid to settle claims and judgments. The bill is cosponsored by Councilmembers Kenyatta Johnson (2nd District) and Curtis Jones, Jr. (4th District).
The City paid out $48 million last year alone, including $11 million for sidewalk falls and $16 million in civil rights claims against the police department. Additionally, between 2012 and 2018 the City paid $2.2 million to settle sexual harassment claims. But the public does not have access to this information without filing a lengthy and burdensome “right to know” request.
In addition to requiring regular reporting of all settlements and judgments involving public funds in a searchable online format, the legislation also creates an interagency group of City officials to review patterns and to develop policies and procedures to help minimize risk and prevent future misconduct and liability.
“Secret settlements erode public trust, skirt accountability, and thwart systemic reforms,” said Councilmember Gym. “Taxpayers deserve to know where and how their tax dollars are spent.”
The bill received supportive testimony from City Solicitor Marcel Pratt, who said that it furthers the City’s commitment to transparency and “benefits the public by providing online access to an extraordinary amount of data.”
“An open and transparent government is a cornerstone of a healthy democracy,” said Reggie Shuford, Executive Director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “The City must be transparent and accountable to residents and taxpayers on settlements.”
“Currently, there is no requirement that City settlements or payouts be publicly and consistently disclosed, allowing predatory behavior to persist for, in some cases, decades – silencing survivors, shaming them and making them believe they are powerless,” said Nina Ahmad, former President of the Philadelphia Chapter of the National Organization for Women. “Sexual harassment will be exposed for what it is: an abuse of power and of privilege.”
“Every city government agency, and every city worker, should exercise transparency and accountability,” said Pastor Melanie DuBose of POWER. “Everything done in the dark comes out into the light.”
“City government must be accountable, open and transparent to taxpayers in the resolution of claims and lawsuits, including injuries resulting from broken sidewalks, and broken or missing curb cuts for people with disabilities,” said Thomas Earle, CEO of Liberty Resources. “This bill is necessary to achieve much needed transparency.”
“This bill will create greater transparency that will enable Philadelphia to make better sidewalk policy and maintenance decisions, thus improving walkability for everyone,” said Clean Air Council and Feet First Philly in a joint statement.
“Government needs to be transparent,” said Rodney Muhammad, President of the Philadelphia NAACP. “Taxpayers deserve to know how their money is spent.”
“As a public entity, Philadelphia has an obligation to be transparent about claims for and responses to discrimination and sexual harassment claims, and the expenditure of any public funds for resolution of such claims,” said Terry Fromson, Managing Attorney at the Women’s Law Project. “Such transparency will incentivize City government to take appropriate steps to prevent and redress discrimination and sexual harassment and to track instances of discrimination and sexual harassment.”
Watch Councilmember Gym’s opening remarks from the hearing: