City Hall: Council Highlights for Sept. 12, 2019

Philadelphia City Council convened for its first meeting of the fall session Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019. All 17 members were in attendance, except Councilmember Mark Squilla who was granted leave. 

Three pieces of legislation proposed at the meeting included an ordinance authorizing funds be transferred that will pay for street cleaning throughout business corridors in the city, an ordinance transferring funds to the school district to pay for the improvement and maintenance of school district buildings and related facilities, and an ordinance requiring the city’s new voting machines to be displayed in 16 different languages. 

Councilmember Cherrelle Parker introduced the ordinance authorizing transfers and appropriations of funds to “PHL Taking Care of Business,” a program designed to hire workers to maintain commercial corridors. 

“We’re proud to introduce this transfer ordinance from the City’s fund balance to develop a citywide business corridor cleaning program,” Parker said. “Every council district will receive 30 on-the-job trainees each paid a living wage who will be responsible for litter and blight removal as well as some additional maintenance work.”

Parker said the wide disparity of cleanliness between certain business corridors of the city was the reason for the ordinance.

“The support that business corridors may or may not receive has created a system of haves and have-nots,” Parker said. “With some business corridors remaining relatively clean and well-maintained, while others struggle with litter, blight, storefront maintenance, and branding challenges.”

The ordinance will provide 300 part-time jobs across the city which will pay each worker $15 an hour for 25 hours of work per week. The overall cost of the project will be $10 million. Parker said there were detractors of the bill who, she claims, believe the income earned by those hired to participate in the program will not make an economic difference in their lives. 

“Some have said $10 million for 300 part-time jobs, only 25 hours per week at $15 won’t make a difference in the lives of Philadelphians,” Parker said. “What I say to the naysayers, (some) of whom are sitting in the room right now listening, $15 and hour and 25 hours a week is $375 per week, that’s $1,500 a month.”

Parker said the extra income received by employees of the program will help with everyday expense such as groceries, rent, and utilities.

Councilmember David Oh introduced a bill, “Voting Machine Languages Requirement,” which would require all city voting machines to display ballots in as many languages as possible.

A voting machine was displayed and demonstrated before and after the Sept. 12 meeting. Councilmember Oh said the machine could be difficult to use for elderly voters.

“I think a lot of people got a chance, and many more didn’t get a chance, to see the new voting machine that’s going to be used on November 5th’s general election,” Oh said. “It’s a great machine in terms of technology, but it’s also an extremely difficult machine.”

Oh said the machines have the ability to display ballots in 16 languages but, at the moment, only English and Spanish are available as language options, leaving many who have limited English skills at a disadvantage on Election Day.

“According to our census, we have 138,000 Philadelphians who say that they do not speak English well enough,” Oh said. “This bill would require that the maximum number of languages available on the machine be used so we can ensure all Philadelphians can vote.”

Oh said he is concerned the new voting machines will disenfranchise voters due to the multiple steps it takes to cast a ballot and the complicated format of the machine that those not familiar with technology could find intimidating.

“I’m used to messing with the screens and the younger you are, the more knowledgeable about technology you are, this is a great machine.” Oh said. “However, for people who are older, or for people who don’t speak English, this machine is very prohibitive and extremely intimidating.”

Councilmember Derek Green introduced an bill that would provide $10 million for the school district to address environmental hazards and fund building improvements as a matter of student and staff safety.

Green serves as a member of the Fund Our Facilities coalition, which is a group of nonprofit organizations, members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, and some city council members. The coalition has provided hundreds of millions of dollars to improve school buildings in Philadelphia. Green said the need for this funding stemmed from a teacher contracting a serious illness.

“We learned that a long-serving teacher in the Philadelphia School District was diagnosed with mesothelioma,” Green said. “Which is often connected to being exposed to asbestos, which is a major issue in very old buildings, and so that made this issue even more urgent.” 

Green said the situation was an emergency and needed to be addressed immediately.

“I felt the need to take this action now,” Green said. “And to impress upon not only the coalition members but also the entire General Assembly and the Governor to provide additional dollars to the School District of Philadelphia to address these issues.”

Before the meeting, Nicole Kligerman, Director of Pennsylvania Domestic Workers Alliance, led a group of volunteers into City Hall to support Worker’s Domestic Rights Bill, which is being sponsored by Councilmember Maria D. Quiñones-Sánchez. The bill would provide labor protections to nannies, house-cleaners, and caregivers. 

Nicole Kligerman and members of the Domestic Workers Alliance prior to entering City Hall. The group spoke with councilmembers during the pre-meeting caucus.

“It provides paid time off for domestic workers,” Kligerman said. [It also provides] freedom from sexual harassment and discrimination, written agreements to govern job duties, meals and rest breaks, and protection from retaliation when workers exercise their rights.”

Kligerman said the ordinance would also create a city government board that would make sure domestic workers have a voice in City Hall regarding enforcement of the law.

After the meeting, Quiñones-Sánchez said she was pleased with the progress of the bill due to support from the mayor’s administration and significant work between her office and key stakeholders. 

“(We have) been working through how you operationalize and how the enforcement pieces and educational pieces are in there,” Quiñones-Sánchez said. “We already have a tentative outline of what the schedule looks like in terms of a hearing, a briefing, and hopefully final passage by the end of the year.”

The next general City Council meeting takes place Thursday, Sept. 19, at 10 a.m. 

Lawrence McGlynn is a recent graduate of Temple University’s Klein College of Media and Communication where he earned a master’s degree 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.

Please email any questions or concerns about this story to: editor@philadelphianeighbors.com.

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