WEEKLY REPORT: COUNCILMEMBERS REACT TO RESIGNATION OF HEALTH COMMISSIONER OVER IMPROPER TREATMENT OF MOVE VICTIMS’ REMAINS

In Cherelle Parker, Council News, Darrell L. Clarke, Helen Gym, Jamie Gauthier, Katherine Gilmore Richardson, News by PHL Council

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CITY HEALTH COMMISSIONER RESIGNS AFTER DISCLOSURE THAT CITY IMPROPERLY DISPOSED OF REMAINS OF MOVE VICTIMS IN 1985 BOMBING

Dr. Thomas Farley, the city’s Public Health Commissioner who has led Philadelphia’s response to the COVID-19 Pandemic, resigned suddenly on Thursday, following disclosures that he authorized the Medical Examiner’s Office to improperly dispose of remains of MOVE victims from the 1985 bombing by law enforcement of a West Philadelphia rowhome, an infamous moment in city history. City Councilmembers reacted immediately to the news with dismay, indignation and outrage.

As soon as Mayor Kenney held a news conference, disclosing Farley’s resignation, and expressing his own regret and apology to the relatives and family members of MOVE for the improper disposal of victims’ remains, Councilmembers weighed in with reactions.

“On the heels of a recent controversy at the Penn Museum over its handling of the remains of MOVE victims from the bombing, we learned today that officials at the Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office improperly disposed of other remains of victims from the bombing,” Council President Darrell L. Clarke (5th District) said in a statement. “That is unconscionable, unacceptable, and outrageous.”

“A basic respect for the dead and human decency should have compelled the city to safeguard the victims’ remains in its care, and to seek their return to appropriate families or relatives,” Clarke’s statement read. “The fact that this was not done is yet another injustice committed on MOVE families by the city.”

Councilmember Jamie Gauthier (3rd District), who represents the neighborhood impacted by the MOVE bombing, said in a statement, “These individuals lost their lives at the hand of the state, and even in death were denied the dignity and respect that every human being deserves.”

“The trauma that Dr Farley caused to the family of these young victims is shameful and unacceptable,” said Councilmember Helen Gym (At Large). “The sins of our racist history continue to be perpetuated on grieving and traumatized communities, and apologies alone are not enough. On the 36th anniversary of the MOVE Bombing, we must commit to a process of reparations for the family and the community of West Philadelphia, who continue to grieve and continue to be traumatized by the actions of our city.”

The news of the mishandled disposal of the remains of MOVE victims came just a day after the city announced its latest steps to re-open Philadelphia’s economy and institutions following 14 months of COVID-19-imposed closures. Just two days earlier, Dr. Farley and Mayor Kenney were announcing the good news of the city’s gradual re-opening, as COVID case counts subside and vaccination numbers slowly increase. But by Thursday evening, the city Health Commissioner was gone, and his official Twitter account was shut down. The mayor announced an investigation by a local law firm to get to the bottom of how the decision to dispose of the MOVE remains was made, and he appointed an Acting Health Commissioner, Dr. Cheryl Bettigole, to replace Dr. Farley. The administration also placed Medical Examiner Dr. Sam Gulino on administrative leave, pending the results of the investigation.

COUNCIL APPROVES ORDINANCE AUTHORIZING $400M IN BONDS TO FINANCE NEIGHBORHOOD PRESERVATION INITIATIVE

City Council Thursday voted to approve legislation authorizing $400 million in bonds to finance a massive citywide program that will invest in neighborhood preservation by building more affordable housing, restoring local shopping corridors, assisting first-time homebuyers, helping renters avoid eviction, paying for repairs to existing homes, and multiple other efforts to preserve neighborhoods across Philadelphia.

Called the Neighborhood Preservation Initiative, the bond ordinance passed Council at Thursday’s Meeting, and now goes to Mayor Kenney for consideration. The mayor has already signaled his support for the large-scale preservation effort, initiated by Council President Clarke last Fall, and introduced in Council by Majority Leader Cherelle L. Parker (9th District).

Revenues from a 1 percent Development Impact Tax and a 10 percent reduction in the city’s commercial real estate tax abatement will help pay the interest on the bonds that will fund the Neighborhood Preservation Initiative, or NPI. The program was conceived to address growing economic disparities magnified during the COVID-19 pandemic, including an urgent need for more affordable housing, aid so renters can avoid eviction, assistance to keep residents from becoming homeless, and a myriad of other needs.

“The COVID-19 pandemic magnified economic and racial disparities that have existed for too long in Philadelphia,” said Council President Clarke. “These disparities are growing, and the need to address them is urgent. We need to act to create a more equitable future for every Philadelphian and every neighborhood. City Council is acting on these needs by creating and financing NPI.”

In city budget hearings this week, Anne Fadullon, the city’s Director of the Department of Planning and Development, told Councilmembers that the Kenney administration was “as excited as you are” to move forward with the goals of the Neighborhood Preservation Initiative. Fadullon told Councilmembers that her department was conducting a search for a director to supervise the NPI program.

Last December, Council approved the 1 percent Development Impact Tax on residential construction, along with legislation reducing the tax abatement for commercial construction by 10 percent. The Development Impact tax is expected to yield between $9 million and $11.7 million per year, according to projections by Council’s budget staff. The commercial tax abatement reduction should generate an estimated $83 million in revenues for city services and schools over the next decade. Revenues from the two reforms will help pay the debt service for the NPI bonds.

The NPI program is also expected to generate a larger burst of economic activity — $2.5 billion-worth – and produce $71 Million in new tax revenues over the first 4 years. It is estimated that it will support over 14,700 jobs with $765 Million in wages.

COUNCIL MAJORITY LEADER PARKER INTRODUCES LEGISLATION TO REDUCE CITY’S PARKING TAX

Councilmember Cherelle Parker speaks at a podium outside of a salonThe legislation, introduced during Thursday’s session, would lower the city’s parking tax rate from its present 25 percent, one of the highest in the country, to 17 percent, effective July 1st.

The legislation follows advocacy that Parker led during the past budget season last June, when Council voted to raise the parking tax from 22.5 percent to 25 percent. That legislation included language creating a “Good Parking Jobs for Philadelphia Review Committee” as an arm of Council, including mayoral and Council appointees, with the goal of studying the parking industry and seeking the development of stable jobs while providing a path to advancement for workers in the industry. If the Good Parking Jobs committee determines those conditions for job creation exist, Parker said it was her intention to move forward the tax rate reduction legislation during this budget season.

“As I have repeatedly stated during hearings this spring, when we are considering lowering tax rates, we need to think carefully through why we are lowering these rates and who may be the beneficiaries of lower tax rates,” Parker said in a statement. “It is my hope that by lowering the parking tax rate, we can further incentivize those who want to return to our great City, including people who want to enjoy our arts and culture, restaurants, hotels, convention center, and overall hospitality and tourism industries. Most importantly though, the goal of lowering this tax rate is for some of the benefits to flow directly to the parking workers, either by bringing back laid off parking workers, or by improving the pay and benefits of parking workers. I believe that it is possible to be both pro-business and pro-worker.”

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IN OTHER NEWS…

Councilmember Gilmore Richardson Introduces Bill Requiring Businesses to Share Information on Workforce Training and Career Pathways. Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson (At Large) introduced a bill to require businesses to share information on workforce training and career pathways. The workforce development and career pathways information sheet would be created and periodically updated by the city Department of Labor, and it would include information on jobless benefits, career and technical skills training, educational opportunities, and other related information. Employers would be required to supply the sheet at the point of separation with an employee. Ride sharing and food delivery companies would need to provide the sheet to workers within 30 days of their start date.

“In order to lower our poverty rate, we need to make it easier for Philadelphians to earn additional skills and certifications,” said Councilmember Gilmore Richardson. “We know that during the COVD-19 pandemic, workers without high school diplomas and in the lowest wage positions were hit hardest. We also know employers are having a hard time filling skilled jobs. By helping to connect Philadelphians in gig economy work or who have recently lost work to local training and skill building resources, we can make it easier for folks to explore new career opportunities and move into a family sustaining and supporting career and help create the skilled workforce that our employers need.”

OTHER SIGHTS AND SOUNDS FROM THE COUNCIL WEEK

Committee on Global Opportunities and the Creative/Innovative Economy 5-7-2021

Committee on Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs 5-7-2021

FY2022 Budget Hearings – Managing Director’s Office, Operations, Law 5-10-2021

FY2022 Budget Hearings – School District of Philadelphia 5-11-2021

FY2022 Budget Hearings – Community College of Philadelphia  5-11-2021

FY2022 Budget Hearings – Public Testimony 5-11-2021

FY2022 Budget Hearings – Police, Fire  5-12-2021

FY2022 Budget Hearings – Prisons, Planning and Development 5-12-2021

Stated Meeting of Philadelphia City Council 5-13-2021

PHILADELPHIA FACTS AND FIGURES

Source: Billy Penn

The next Stated Meeting of City Council is scheduled to take place on Thursday, May 20, 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.

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