City Hall: City Council Highlights for Feb. 13, 2020

Philadelphia City Council proposed a resolution pertaining to the future use of the oil refinery site, addressed the possible closure of another area hospital, and held hearings regarding gun violence during the week of Feb. 10, 2020. 

New Business

Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson introduced a bill prohibiting the future use of hydrogen fluoride at refineries within the city of Philadelphia. Johnson said the chemical was a key ingredient used at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions site, and attributed its usage to the July explosion.

According to the Center for Disease Control, hydrogen fluoride, also known as hydrofluoric acid, “goes easily and quickly through the skin and into the tissues in the body.” It then damages the cells and causes them to not work properly.

Johnson said he intended to work with the Environmental Committee and its chair, Councilmember Katherine Gilmore-Richardson, to ensure three major points in the transition of the site.

“[We] need to make sure that all environmental issues are addressed, [to ensure] a smooth transition to the new owner, and, most importantly, to make sure the community has a say on the future development of the site,” Johnson said.

In particular, Johnson was optimistic regarding the development plan submitted by Hilco Global, touting the economic potential of the site.

“In the future this will be an economic boon to the city of Philadelphia,” Johnson said. “[There are] 10,000 projected jobs, which will be a benefit to our region.”

Councilmember Isaiah Thomas introduced a resolution calling for the Public Health and Human Services committee to hold hearings to adequately prepare for, avoid, and mitigate the effect of emergency room and hospital closures, which disproportionately affect people of color and low-income communities.

“As we face the epidemic of gun violence across the city, we also have to look at the impact of closing hospitals, specifically when we have an increased number of incidents and likelihood that someone, unfortunately, will not be saved because there’s not an emergency room near them,” Thomas said.

Thomas’s resolution comes after West Philadelphia’s Mercy Hospital announced it will be “shifting away from an inpatient hospital model over time.”

Councilmember Jamie Gauthier, who represents the third district in which Mercy Hospital operates, said the hospital had nearly 7,700 admissions and 48,000 visits to the emergency room in 2018.

“That means thousands of people will now have to travel further away and wait longer to see a doctor when they are experiencing an emergency,” Gauthier said.

The hospital serves as a vital health care option for many poor and working class people in her district, Gauthier added.

Old Business

Councilmember Derek Green’s resolution easing restrictions on city employees’ political participation passed unanimously.

Green said the legislation was an attempt to allow city employees to more properly exercise their First Amendment rights.

“We’ve had conversations with numerous organizations including staff and the ethics board, the Committee of Seventy, and others,” Green said.  

Councilmember David Oh voiced his opposition to resolution 200040, sponsored by Gilmore-Richardson, which would allow for graduates of Philadelphia’s technical high school programs to receive preference on the civil service exam. Currently, veterans and the children of fallen police officers and firefighters receive preference.

Oh said he opposed the resolution due to a lack of information regarding the final text of the proposed change, and concerns about how a change in preferences affects those who already receive preference.

“The issue is not solely about the number of points [this proposed change would provide CTE students],” Oh said. [It’s] an erosion of the hiring preference for veterans and the children of fallen police officers and firefighters.”

Oh also said students graduating from CTE programs are very employable and do not appear to need preference on the exam. 

“There are other ways to assist and help any group in Philadelphia through legislation, tax credits, and other things,” Oh said. “I believe the playing field should always be level; 10 points for one person is 10 points less for everyone else.”

Gilmore-Richardson said a bill finalizing the potential amount of preference points will be heard in the Labor and Civil Service committee on Feb. 18, 2020. Due to the questions raised by veterans’ groups, Gilmore-Richardson said she has met and will continue to meet with individuals and groups who feel they could be affected by the change.

“We are currently receiving information so that we can be in close contact as we move forward,” Gilmore-Richardson said, noting that she will be meeting with firefighters, the FOP, and labor organizations to continue discussion on the proposed change.

The resolution is being held pending further discussion.

Councilmember Allan Domb discussed how Philadelphian’s were leaving $113 million of federal money unclaimed because they did not avail themselves of the Earned Income Tax Credit.

“We have 45,000 people in the city of Philadelphia who are not applying for the earned income tax credit,” Domb said. 

Domb said the EITC can be back-filed for up to three years, with a maximum credit of up to $25,000. The average credit is around $2,500.

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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