COUNCILMEMBERS URGE MORE ACTION TO REDUCE GUN VIOLENCE FOLLOWING BROAD AND ONLEY SHOOTING
Following a 2020 that saw homicides and shootings reach levels not seen in Philadelphia since the 1990s, the first six weeks of 2021 have been deadlier still. Homicides are up 42 percent, shootings 51 percent. Wednesday afternoon, it came to Olney, as 8 people were shot in broad daylight near the Olney Transportation Center, a major transit hub. Two victims were in their 70s. Several were teenagers. While multiple-person shootings are sadly not uncommon in Philadelphia, the Olney incident clearly shook City Council.
Council’s Majority Leader Cherelle Parker, whose 9th District includes the Transportation Center, spoke passionately about the shootings in Council Thursday. She spoke of Black and brown communities hard-hit by two pandemics – COVID-19 and gun violence. She spoke of urgent needs for more mental health care, substance abuse counseling, better education and workforce services.
“We need a one-stop shop located directly at Broad and Olney – a resources hub – where people can get help and access to assistance they need,” Parker said.
Councilmembers Cindy Bass (8th District), whose district borders the Olney transit hub, and Kenyatta Johnson (2nd District) and Curtis Jones, Jr. (4th District) – longtime leaders of Council’s gun violence prevention work, echoed Parker’s comments with fresh urgency.
Seeking a positive amid such challenging issues, multiple members commended Councilmember Jamie Gauthier (3rd District), for being named to the National League of Cities’ Reimagining Public Safety Task Force. Gauthier has diligently sought Mayor Kenney’s assent to declare a citywide state of emergency on gun violence, following a resolution she authored that was overwhelmingly approved in Council last year. The mayor said this week he wanted to find ways to accommodate some of the actions called for in Gauthier’s resolution, following a hunger strike organized outside City Hall by a community advocate urging the mayor to support the Council action.
Philadelphia is not alone confronting a surge in gun violence during the pandemic. Other major cities are struggling with a rising tide of illegal guns, shootings, homicides, and a sense of despair in communities hit hard by the pandemic.
MEMBERS SPAR OVER RESOLUTION TO USE SPORTS STADIUMS TO DISTRIBUTE COVID-19 VACCINES
Thursday, following a lengthy speech from Councilmember Allan Domb (At Large), who criticized the mayor again for his handling of the COVID-19 vaccine distribution process, urging him to adopt Domb’s “Operation Philly Special” plan to use Lincoln Financial Field to distribute vaccine, Council President Darrell L. Clarke (5th District) stepped down virtually from his podium to address Domb’s resolution.
“Personalizing the issue of vaccine distribution in our city is counter-productive,” Clarke said, speaking virtually from the floor of Council, while Parker presided over the body. “We must keep this focused on our citizens and residents in neighborhoods. This is about the people of Philadelphia. I do not like this back-and-forth.”
Councilmember Helen Gym (At Large), also spoke, and urged Council not to rush forward with approval of Domb’s resolution. She urged restraint, and urged members to carefully study Domb’s plan, and seek more input from Mayor Kenney, as 1.5 million Philadelphians await the arrival of vaccines from the federal government.
Council ultimately approved Domb’s resolution, with Councilmember Gym voting her dissent. Staff observed that the resolution may have served as a proxy vote on the administration’s handling of the vaccine distribution process thus far.
Clarke also indicated Council leaders have been in close communication with the administration in recent days about vaccine distribution plans. “This has to work,” he said.
COUNCIL HOLDS HEARING ON REOPENING SCHOOL BUILDINGS
Council’s Committees on Children and Youth and Education held a joint hearing Wednesday to gather public input and priorities for a plan to safely reopen school buildings. Amid a new announcement that a partial reopening of schools would be delayed until at least March 1, Council heard testimony from the School District, parents, teachers, principals, staff and PolicyLab at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). The hearing served as a forum to bring together multiple stakeholders to share their perspective as Philadelphia seeks a reopening of public schools.
In response to questioning at the hearing, the school district announced a partnership with CHOP to conduct weekly testing of school staff as well as 20 percent of students and all students who are identified as “high risk,” and to make an initial round of vaccination appointments available to 10,000 school staff starting February 22. The school district also announced a plan to collaborate with the City’s Health Department on contact tracing in school communities, and committed to a 24-hour response time for all questions submitted to its hotline.
“Reopening schools safely and responsibly must be our top priority, and that starts with building and restoring the public trust needed for a full reopening,” said Councilmember Gym, chair of the Committee on Children and Youth. “Council’s forum allowed us to both hear and seek responses to legitimate and long-standing concerns raised by communities across the city – especially Black and Brown communities which have been hit hardest by the COVID pandemic as well as educational disparities long neglected by our city and state.”
“Most important, it keeps us focused on what’s needed for a full reopening of school. Our ultimate goal must be bringing our young people, school staff, and communities back to schools that are safer, healthier, and more equipped to support our young people than they were before,” Gym said.
SEEN ON SOCIAL MEDIA…
New #DRPA Chairwoman Cherelle Parker is a strong advocate for #transportation & #infrastructure. While a PA State Legislator, she championed a historic $2.3 billion transportation bill to improve transportation infrastructure.
— Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) (@DRPA_PAandNJ) February 17, 2021
IN OTHER NEWS…
Council confirms three new school board members and new City Solicitor. City Council on Thursday gave final approval to a new City Solicitor Diana Cortes; and three new members of the Philadelphia Board of Education Cecelia Thompson, Lisa Salley and Reginald Streater, Esq.
Solicitor Cortes is the first Latina City Solicitor in Philadelphia history.
Councilmember Bass Offers Resolution Highlighting the Importance of Libraries. The resolution recognized February as Love Your Library Month. Bass urged Councilmembers and the public to honor libraries for their crucial role in providing safe, accessible, and free resources for every member of the community, regardless of socioeconomic status. The resolution, which passed unanimously, noted the multiple functions that librarians undertake every week answering questions on computer literacy, job applications, resume writing, filling out government forms and a myriad of other services.
Bass’ resolution noted libraries are often shelters and safe havens for people who are homeless, enabling them to use the library to search for jobs, borrow books for educational training, and access other programs designed to empower them.
During public comment, a member of the Concerned Black Workers of the Free Library spoke in support of the resolution – and also urged Council members to remain engaged as the Library undertakes its search for a new chief executive.
A second resolution from Councilmember Bass Recognizing Black Girl Freedom Week. This resolution honors Black girls and the unique challenges they face, as well as to invest in their safe, free, and successful futures.
The first Black Girl Freedom Fund celebrated Black girls, Black cis and trans girls, Black gender expansive youth, and Black femmes, as well as the opportunities available when investments in their futures, leadership, and dreams are made. The resolution noted that the Fund was founded to call for an investment of $1 billion in the next decade to advance the well-being of Black girls, young women, and their families. This week, Black Girl Freedom Week recognized missing and murdered indigenous relatives and demanded justice for Indigenous women, girls, men, boys, LGBTQI/Two-Spirit, transgender, and gender non-conforming people who are target for murder, abduction and trafficking.
It also engaged co-founder Dr. Monique W. Morris of Black Girl Freedom Fund and Executive Director of Grantmakers for Girls of Color to open the week with actress, writer, and producer Rashida Jones, as well as introduce a conversation on the leadership of Black girls and women to create change.
Council Majority Leader Parker Appointed First Woman Chair of Delaware River Port Authority. Councilmembers commended Parker for being elected to serve as the first woman Chair of the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA), a large, multi-state agency that governs the Delaware River port and bridges. The DRPA also stewards an array of economic development, infrastructure-related projects as well. Parker succeeds labor leader Ryan Boyer in the chair position at the agency.
Council Remembers the Passing of a Former City Budget Director. Councilmember Johnson offered a resolution commemorating the life of Mike Masch, a former Budget Director under Mayor Edward G. Rendell, who later served as Chief Financial Officer for the School District of Philadelphia. He also served as Secretary of the Budget under Gov. Rendell. Mr. Masch was serving in a senior financial position at Howard University in Washington, DC when he passed away suddenly. He was 70 years old.
OTHER SIGHTS AND SOUNDS FROM THE COUNCIL WEEK
Committee on Licenses and Inspections, 2-16-2021
PHILADELPHIA FACTS AND FIGURES
Police reported 31 shooting victims in Philadelphia during the seven-day period ending Sunday, February 14; eight more than during the previous week but still amounting to one of the lowest weekly totals in recent months. That period started with seven people killed and five more wounded in shootings reported in Philadelphia on Monday, Feb 8. Year-to-date shooting victims are up 68.4 percent in comparison with 2020.
The next Stated Meeting of City Council is scheduled to take place on Thursday, February 25, 2021 at 10 a.m. The Meeting will be held remotely due to the ongoing pandemic, and will air on Xfinity Ch. 64, Fios Channel 40 and stream at www.PHLCouncil.com/watch.