COUNCILMEMBER GYM CALLS FOR HEARINGS INTO PARKING AUTHORITY’S ATTEMPT TO CLAW BACK $11 MILLION FROM PHILLY SCHOOLS
Councilmember Helen Gym (At Large) introduced a resolution to hold hearings into a controversial request by the Philadelphia Parking Authority for the School District to “repay” the Authority $10.9 Million, funds the Authority paid to city schools as part of its annual financial obligation, but which it now claims it made in error.
Gym’s resolution, approved Thursday by Council, calls for joint hearings to be held by Council’s Committees on Children and Youth and Finance to examine the Parking Authority’s “unorthodox and contested request for the School District to repay the Parking Authority nearly $11 million.”
The Parking Authority issued its demand to the School District last November for the funds, which it claimed were paid to the District “in error.” In her resolution, Councilmember Gym pointed out that the Parking Authority has consistently underperformed and underpaid funds to the School District each year – a promise which state Republican legislators made in 2004 when they authored legislation taking control of parking operations in Philadelphia.
“The Parking Authority should operate as a public trust — but they surrendered what little integrity they had the moment they asked schoolchildren to cough up $11 million for no documented reason,” Councilmember Gym said in a statement accompanying the resolution. “This is the latest in a string of outrageous acts of financial mismanagement by this body. From secret pay-outs to victims of sexual harassment, to bloated salaries, to meter hikes that gave no additional promised
revenue to schools, these failures have potentially cost our city, and especially our public school children, much needed revenue for services. Now, a string of emails between the PPA and the School District prove yet again that the PPA is involved in questionable financial reporting and we are going to get to the bottom of this. I intend to use the full authority of City Council to compel the PPA into full transparency and to ensure they answer questions they have been evading time and time again.”
COUNCILMEMBER DOMB URGES HEARINGS INTO LARGE NUMBERS OF PHILADELPHIA POLICE OUT ON DISABILITY LEAVE
Councilmember Domb introduced a resolution which passed Council, calling for hearings into the large number of city police officers who are reporting out on disability – and receiving 100 percent of their salaries – when some of the officers are reportedly holding down second jobs.
The practice, first exposed by the Philadelphia Inquirer in a series entitled, “MIA: A Crisis in the Ranks,” detailed that over 900 officers in the 6,400-member police force are currently on some form of administrative or medical leave, the resolution states.
Domb’s resolution notes that even as so many officers are reported out on disability, there are nearly 450 vacant positions in the Police Department, at a time when Philadelphia is plagued by historic, record numbers of homicides and shootings.
The resolution authorizes two Council committees – Public Safety and Fiscal Stability & Intergovernmental Cooperation – to jointly hold hearings to “examine the current staffing landscape within the Philadelphia Police Department to identify problems and solutions to improve public safety and ensure the best use of taxpayer dollars.”
THREE COUNCIL COMMITTEES GIVE ARRAY OF BILLS PRELIMINARY APPROVALS
Three Council committees moved legislation forward out of their respective committees to Council on Thursday, and all the bills received preliminary approval.
First, the Public Health & Human Services Committee, chaired by Councilmember Cindy Bass (8th District), reported two bills out favorably. One would require a strengthening of city building codes pertaining to the abatement of rats and other rodents, a recurring issue in neighborhoods where development and gentrification are frequently occurring. The second bill would continue a reform guaranteeing public health emergency leave for frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Next, the Law & Government Committee, chaired by Councilmember Cherelle L. Parker (9th District), moved forward legislation that would amend the Home Rule Charter to order the removal of gender-specific language from city codes, as well as changing the Charter to create an independent Fair Housing Commission. Because the bills require Charter changes, they now go to city voters to decide.
Lastly, the Finance Committee, chaired by Councilmember Derek Green (At Large), reported three bills favorably out of committee to Council. Legislation authorizing a bond borrowing by the Philadelphia Water Department, a contract enabling the Philadelphia Gas Works to move and store gas, and a measure requiring employers to notify workers who may be eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit all received first approval in Council.
SEEN ON SOCIAL MEDIA…
Hey Philly👋🏽! #PHLCouncil here, sending a friendly reminder that wearing a mask 😷 is still mandated and crucial regardless of vaccination status. It is an extra layer of protection in public spaces such as on @SEPTAPHILLY.#COVID19 #MaskUpPhilly #Philly
📸: Jared Piper pic.twitter.com/b7oW8rlg56
— PHLCouncil (@PHLCouncil) February 16, 2022
MAYOR SIGNS COUNCIL’S NEW REDISTRICTING PLAN INTO LAW
Mayor Jim Kenney signed and returned to Council Bill No. 220003, Council’s once-a-decade plan redrawing its 10 district boundaries, in accordance with population shifts captured by the 2020 U.S. Census. Council approved the plan last week.
The main changes to the districts dealt with population growth on the eastern half of the city, compared to more sluggish population changes on the city’s western side. Boundaries were approved so that the smallest district (4th District) has a population size within 10 percent of the largest district (6th District), the legal requirement. Most of the districts average around 160,000; the city’s population is just over 1.6 million.
One lingering issue: prison gerrymandering, the issue of where prisoners should be counted – in the prison where they are incarcerated, or in their home county of origin.
Council President Clarke made clear in public hearings during the redistricting process, as well as in communications to members, that Council is moving forward with plans to address prison gerrymandering.
Council staff are working with the Kenney administration and data vendors to identify approximately 10,000 inmates in state and city prison facilities who will be re-allocated into Council districts corresponding to their last known addresses. Council has the authority to make adjustments to its boundaries when it is done.
The 10,000 figure is one half of 1% of the City’s population of 1,603,797 residents. The adding of these individuals back into Council districts is not anticipated to have any appreciable impact on district boundaries, and it is also not expected to have any impact on federal funds that ultimately are allocated to Philadelphia.
IN OTHER NEWS…
During Black History Month, Council Honors a Pair of Firsts. Councilmember Parker introduced a pair of resolutions honoring significant “firsts” in professional achievements by Black figures in Philadelphia. One resolution honors Eric Pryor on his appointment as the first Black President of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA). Pryor came to PAFA from the Harlem School of the Arts (HSA), where he served as President since 2015.
Parker also introduced a second resolution honoring Carol Stukes-Baylor on her election as the first woman and woman of color to be Vice Chair of the Philadelphia Board of Pensions and Retirement. Stukes-Baylor has served as a trustee to the pensions board for 25 years.
State Court Rules Against City’s Lost or Stolen Handgun Reporting Law, but City Plans to Appeal. A state appellate court this week issued a ruling against the city’s local lost or stolen handgun reporting law – ruling the law is preempted by state gun laws – but a concurring opinion in the case offered some hope to city officials, who are appealing the rule to the state Supreme Court. Council President Clarke issued a statement after the ruling was released: “We always expected we would be arguing the case for Philadelphia’s right to enact and enforce its own lost or stolen gun law in the state Supreme Court, and that’s where this case is now headed.
It’s worth noting that Senior Judge Leadbetter, in a concurring opinion, referenced the ‘overwhelming blight of gun violence occurring in the City of Philadelphia,’ in urging the Supreme Court to reconsider a prior ruling on whether state law must preempt any attempts by cities or municipalities to enact stronger gun safety laws to best safeguard their own communities. ‘When a child cannot leave his home to walk to the corner of his street without risking the prospect of being caught in a crossfire, we are denying him the most fundamental right, that of life and liberty,’ the judge wrote in her concurrence, before urging the Supreme Court to reconsider its prior rulings, and ‘allow for local restrictions narrowly tailored to local necessities.’ We strongly agree, and look forward to Philadelphia making its case for the right to enforce its own stronger gun laws to help make Philadelphia a safer place to live and work.”
OTHER SIGHTS AND SOUNDS FROM THE COUNCIL WEEK
PHILADELPHIA FACTS AND FIGURES
The next Stated Meeting of City Council is scheduled to take place on Thursday, February 24, 2022 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.
Photo: Jared Piper/PHLCouncil