CITY COUNCIL ADVOCACY LEADS TO COURT ORDER HALTING SHERIFF SALES
Following a six-hour hearing in a City Council committee last week, and an exchange of letters between multiple members of Council and the office of Sheriff Rochelle Bilal about an online sheriff sales process raising questions about homeowners’ rights during the COVID-19 pandemic, the president judge of Common Pleas Court issued an order Thursday halting all sheriff sales in Philadelphia until September.
The order was hailed as a victory for homeowners hit hard by the pandemic, and was praised by Council Majority Leader Cherelle L. Parker (9th District), who has led the advocacy in Council against the online sheriff sales.
“I know I speak for thousands of homeowners in thanking Idee C. Fox, President Judge of the Court of Common Pleas, for issuing a stay on sheriff sales in Philadelphia until September,” Parker said in a statement. “This order provides a lifeline for homeowners who may have fallen behind on their mortgage payments and taxes due to the COVID-19 global pandemic.’’
Parker thanked Council President Darrell L. Clarke, her Council colleagues, legal aid and community groups, and Sheriff Bilal for working together to pause the online sales. She noted that President Biden’s American Rescue Plan will deliver more than $350 million to Pennsylvania homeowners in desperate need of these funds, which may help thousands of homeowners keep their homes.
“This is especially important to Black and Brown and low-income families who have borne the brunt of the pandemic since its onset,” said Parker’s statement. “A stay on sheriff sales until September will hopefully allow for enough time for the federal funds to be distributed to the state, and in turn distributed to our City. Critically, we now also have time to build any necessary structures and systems to ensure that these funds get into the hands of those who need them most, such as those for whom foreclosure moratoriums and payment forbearances are expiring.”
The decision by the sheriff’s office to award a 6-year, no-bid contract to a vendor to manage the online sales has provoked protest in Council and among community and legal organizations.
COUNCILMEMBER GILMORE RICHARDSON’S OUTDOOR ENTERTAINMENT AND DRUG PARAPHERNALIA BILLS PASS COUNCIL
Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson’s (At Large) outdoor entertainment and drug paraphernalia bills both were approved in Council on Thursday.
Bill 210135-AA allows restaurant and entertainment venue owners who have received a sidewalk café, streetery, or temporary use permit for outdoor dining to also offer outdoor entertainment. This bill will allow businesses to safely offer outdoor entertainment, attracting customers and tourists back to Philadelphia. It is crafted to ensure the city has the tools to enforce Covid-19 restrictions and other necessary regulations.
“Our restaurants continue to work tirelessly to make it through this pandemic,” said Councilmember Gilmore Richardson. “We need to continue to be innovative to create solutions that allow business owners to operate safely. Bill 210135-AA does that. I thank my colleagues for their support, and look forward to joining my fellow Philadelphians for safe, outdoor entertainment at local restaurants.”
Bill 210135-AA has significant support from the restaurant and hospitality industry.
“Approval of the Outdoor Entertainment Bill helps Philadelphia’s tourism and hospitality industry recover from the economic impacts of COVID-19,” said Jeff Guaracino, President & CEO of Visit Philadelphia.
“We are pleased that Councilwoman Gilmore Richardson introduced this bill which allows the industry to be more creative by allowing for outdoor entertainment to be part of the guest dining experience,” said John Longstreet, President of the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association.
Bill No. 210159 modernizes the definition of drug paraphernalia and help the city better enforce the code against businesses that intentionally skirt the zoning process.
“We are seeing these stores pop up overnight, applying for permits as groceries or convenience stores, advertising that they are candy stores, but it is clear, they are only operating to sell tobacco and drug paraphernalia,” said Councilmember Gilmore Richardson. “These businesses don’t improve our corridors, they don’t create jobs for our young people, they don’t build wealth for our families. They skirt our rules so they can sell drug paraphernalia right next to candy bars. In Philadelphia, we believe that community members should have a say over the kinds of businesses that operate in their neighborhoods. This legislation will especially help Black and brown communities where these stores are predominately appearing.”
LOW-WAGE WORKERS, COUNCILMEMBERS RALLY FOR FAIR BUDGET FOR CITY DEPARTMENT OF LABOR
As the city’s annual budget hearings are set to begin next week in City Council, a coalition supporting low-wage workers held a news conference Thursday with several Councilmembers, urging the Kenney administration and Council to increase the city Labor Department’s budget for worker protections by $1.65 Million.
The Coalition to Respect Every Worker was joined by Councilmembers Helen Gym (At Large), Mark Squilla (1st District) and Bobby Henon (6th District) at the virtual press conference, calling for the budget increase for Labor’s Office of Worker Protections. Domestic, restaurant, and retail workers spoke about workplace labor violations and the critical need for more funding for labor law enforcement.
As the Mayor and Council work to allocate the $1.4 billion pandemic relief package from the federal government – the American Rescue Plan — workers are demanding increased funding for the Office of Worker Protections. Workers and labor rights organizations call for this funding to be invested in personnel – including labor investigators, lawyers and outreach workers – as well as multilingual resources to ensure protections for immigrant workers.
SEEN ON SOCIAL MEDIA…
Northeast Philadelphia COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic.
Sponsored by @riteaid.
Call any one of my offices to schedule. We are working remotely so please leave a message with your name, address, and phone number, and we will return your call. pic.twitter.com/pFBgF91OgE
— Brian J. O’Neill (@ONeill4NEPhilly) April 28, 2021
IN OTHER NEWS…
Councilmember Henon Honors Two Leaders of Holy Family University in Northeast Philadelphia. The two resolutions offered by Henon honored Sister Maureen McGarrity, stepping down in July after 7 years as President of Holy Family, and a total of 45 years serving the Catholic college, and posthumously honored Sister Francesca Onley, who served as Holy Family’s President for 32 years before that. Sister Francesca passed away earlier this month. Henon’s resolutions honored the two sisters for their lifetimes of commitment to faith, education, Holy Family University, and the city.
Councilmember Oh Calls on Police Department to Adopt Minimum Force Training. The resolution offered by Councilmember David Oh (At Large) urges the city police force to implement minimum force training for all officers. This kind of training provides officers with the physical and psychological skills needed to use the least amount of force required when faced with a confrontation under stress. Oh’s resolution follows a Minnesota jury’s verdict last week convicting a former Minneapolis police officer of murder in the death of George Floyd – a death that sparked massive civil unrest in the United States and around the world. It also follows an incident last fall in which Philadelphia Police shot and killed Walter Wallace Jr., who was experiencing a mental health episode on a West Philadelphia street.
Council Honors Pennsylvania School Nurse of the Year. In a resolution offered by Councilmember Gym, Council honored Eileen Duffey-Bernt as the 2021 PA School Nurse of the Year. Duffey-Bernt was honored by Council and the National Association of School Nurses for 25 years of serving and advocating on behalf of student health and education justice for Philadelphia children. Among her accomplishments, Duffey-Bernt organized a 6-month protest in 2011 after state budget cuts led to the layoff of 47 school nurses in Philadelphia schools. Based on her advocacy, full-time certified nurses in every School District school were restored in 2016.
OTHER SIGHTS AND SOUNDS FROM THE COUNCIL WEEK
Committee on Law and Government, 4-22-2021
Committee on Education, 4-28-2021
Stated Meeting of Philadelphia City Council, 4-29-2021
PHILADELPHIA FACTS AND FIGURES
The next Stated Meeting of City Council is scheduled to take place on Thursday, May 6, 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.
Featured Photo: M. Fischetti for Visit Philadelphia