City Hall: City Council Highlights for Feb. 3, 2020

Philadelphia City Council saw three potential charter changes receive hearings, as well as new proposals regarding missing children and evictions during the week of Feb. 3, 2020.

Old Business

The Philadelphia City Council Committee on Law and Government favorably recommended two bills and two resolutions on Feb. 3, 2020 that would allow voters to approve two proposed charter changes in an upcoming election.

The proposed changes would allow for greater participation by city employees in local elections, and create a Department of Labor and a Board of Labor Standards. Both require changes to the city charter to be enacted.

Bill No. 200008, sponsored by Councilmembers Helen Gym, Bobby Henon, Kendra Brooks, Kenyatta Johnson, Cindy Bass, and Isaiah Thomas, places the proposed change on the ballot, and Resolution No. 200042, sponsored by Gym, Henon, Johnson, Brooks, and Bass, would create the department.

Gym said the creation of a department of labor would protect the interests of city workers while upholding and supporting labor relationships.

Referencing past legislation such as the Fair Work Week bill and the Worker’s Bill of Rights, Gym said a department of labor would serve to educate city employees on their rights and help ensure a robust enforcement of laws.

“We are truly invested in educating Philadelphia companies and businesses that do work here and hire our employees, so that we have a powerful labor enforcement agency that will enforce the rights that are in play,” Gym said.

Rich Lazer, deputy mayor of labor, said the proposed charter change represents a pivotal moment in the history of Philadelphia.

“Our residents have fought long and hard for their rights as employees,” Lazer said. “They have fought equally hard for a city government that could view as a partner protecting their interests.”

Despite a mayoral administration and city council that is committed to labor issues, Lazer said, private sector workers are suffering from abuses such as wage theft, refusal of sick leave, and threats of retaliation.

“Establishment of a Department of Labor through charter change is the right way to ensure that these issues remain at the forefront of any future administration,” Lazer said.

The Committee held another hearing on Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2020, to consider Bill No. 200006 and Resolution No. 200040.

The resolution, sponsored by Councilmembers Gilmore RichardsonQuiñones Sánchez, Parker, Green, Brooks, Domb, Squilla, Bass, and Johnson would amend The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter providing for a preference in civil service examinations for any qualified graduate of a Career Technical Education program in the School District of Philadelphia. Bill No. 200006 allows for the resolution to be placed on the ballot in an upcoming election.

Currently, the Philadelphia civil service examination allows preference by way of additional points to certain groups, including the children and grandchildren of Philadelphia firefighters or police officers who were killed or died on the line of duty, and veterans.

Gym stated her support of the proposed change due to the resurgence of Philadelphia career and technical education (CTE) programs and the quality of instruction students receive.

“It’s a real meaningful promise to our young people that we’re taking steps forward to open doors in a real way by allowing them to have consideration within civil service,” Gym said.

Gym was quick to point out the proposed measure was not intended to take away from any other group for whom privilege exists, but that instead was meant to provide an added opportunity for CTE graduates.

In discussing the bill and resolution, Gilmore-Richardson said the hearing was about putting the question on the ballot, rather than finalizing specifics about the actual results of the question, a position that gave some members of the committee pause when considering their vote.

Councilmemebr Brian O’Neill said that while he thought including graduates of CTE programs for preference was a good idea, he thought the proposal in its current form was too vague, particularly regarding the number of preference points a CTE graduate would receive.

“It’s too general for me not knowing how [many points] the sponsor [is looking for],” O’Neill said. “It should be in the low single digits, not the high or low double digits.”

Councilmember David Oh said that while he understood the intention of the bill, he would not support it because he wanted to respect the special sacrifice the children of fallen police and firefighters and veteran have made.

“If we begin to erode [preferences] by giving preferences to any group of persons, for example, 10 points or five points or two points to graduates of Philadelphia’s CTE schools, why not three points for a graduate of the Community College of Philadelphia or a victim of a crime, or someone who has had a felony and served their time?” Oh said.

Opposition was also voiced from the Philadelphia Veterans Advisory Committee, which is made up of veterans from across the city who hold hearings and advise city council on veteran’s issues.

George Ginder, chair of the committee and a graduate of a CTE program, said while there may be a need to recognize people who are graduating from CTE programs, preferences were intended for veterans, firefighters, and police officers.

Anthony Boyle, a member of the Philadelphia Police Department and an Air Force veteran, said preference on the civil service exam should be reserved for the rarest of individuals.

“If we do identify particular groups for preference, it needs to be exceptional,” Boyle said. “It needs to be the exceptional veteran community, or it needs to be the exceptional group of children whose parents have lost their lives in service to the city.”

Boyle said he did not support any preference for CTE students, even if the possible point allotment were reduced to even two or three.

“How can you say because you graduate from CTE program, that somehow you should get two or three points over someone worked through adversity to, say, get their GED?” Boyle said.

Gilmore-Richardson said a companion piece of legislation being heard in the Labor and Civil Service committee will specifically address the number of points a CTE student would receive.

“I think the consternation there is that, right now, the way the bill is currently written, and the way it was introduced, is that career and technical education program and school graduates will receive the same reference as the child of a fallen police officer,” Gilmore-Richardson said.

Gilmore-Richardson said she was open to reconsidering the number of preference points CTE students could possibly receive.

New Business

Johnson introduced a resolution authorizing the committee on Children and Youth to hold hearings to examine issues relating to missing and exploited children and youth in Philadelphia.

Regarding the purpose of the hearing, Johnson said he wanted to hear the City’s plan and associated strategies to find children who are missing and determine the reason children go missing.

“Some say they are being trafficked for prostitution, some say they are runaways, some say they young people are being kidnapped,” Johnson said. “We want to see the answers.”

Councilmember Jamie Gauthier introduced a resolution authorizing the committee on Housing, Neighborhood Development, and the Homeless to hold public hearing on the enforcement of and the expansion of protections for renters provided by Philadelphia’s good cause residential eviction law.

The original bill, passed in 2018, requires good cause for certain residential evictions and to provide a first option for existing tenants to renew a lease.

Despite the legislation, Gauthier said evictions remain a dire concern in the city.

“Over 19,000 convictions were filed in 2019 alone [in Philadelphia],” Gauthier said. “That’s thousands of lives turned upside down, belongings out on the street, days of school missed and jobs lost.”

Gauthier said in addition to the housing market going through a period of volatile change, Philadelphia now has more renters than homeowners for the first time in city history. On average, renters pay over 30% of their income on rent.

“Additionally, 86% of renters making under $35,000 a year are experiencing this burden,” Gauthier said. “These hearings will give us an opportunity to hear from the Fair Housing Commission, Philadelphia renters, and the community at large.”

Coming Up

The Committee on Public Safety will hold a hearing in the 4th Councilmanic District on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020 regarding Resolution No. 200052. The resolution, introduced by Councilmember Derek Green, will center on the anti-gun movement #ManUpPHL.

According to a news release issued by Councilmember Derek Green’s office, the #ManUpPHL movement was founded by radio host Solomon Jones and seeks to surround young black boys and men with the resources and mentorship the need to prevent them from turning to violence.

Jones referenced the 356 fatal shootings and 1466 nonfatal shootings that occurred in 2019 as the impetus for the hearing.

“These are life-changing events,” Jones said. “[Nonfatal shooting victims can suffer from] Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, or can be forever hampered by motion issues or lost limbs, it can affect a whole family.”

Councilmember Derek Green said the city has seen a 40% increase in the number of yearly homicides since 2013.

“We need to work with those who are trying a more grassroots, bottom-up approach,” Green said.

Green said the issue was not one of just public safety, but also economic development.

Lawrence McGlynn is a recent graduate of Temple University’s Klein College of Media and Communication where he earned a Master’s in Journalism. For the next several months he will be reporting out of City Hall on various council and committee meetings, the city’s budget, and how these impact the daily lives of Philadelphians.

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