City Council's Special Investigatory Committee, set up in the wake of the Center City building collapse that left six dead two weeks ago questioned the Nutter administration about its demolition practices.
City Councilman Jim Kenney, one of six members on the investigatory panel criticized the Department of Licenses and Inspection for taking more of a responsibility over public contracts while leaving private projects to largely self-police themselves.
"It's our responsibility at some point, when we issue a permit to ensure that a private contractor doing a private demolition is doing it safely," Kenney said.
Licenses and Inspection Commissioner Carlton Williams said the department takes a larger role in public contracts because they also play the role of project manager, and that private contractors have to take that responsibility on their own contracts.
Kenney asked if the department needed tougher education and work requirement for new trainees.
"Absolutely not, I think our guys are adequately trained," Williams said. While there are no minimum education or work requirements to join the L&I training program, applicants must pass a basic civil service exam, he said.
It's official: The November general election ballot will not include three open seats on Philadelphia Traffic Court. Gov. Corbett signed into law today a state Senate bill that eliminates that election as part of larger move to abolish the scandal-plagued Traffic Court.
Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, a Delaware County Republican, introduced the two bills to abolish Traffic Court on Feb. 1, a day after nine current and former judges were charged by federal prosecutors will a massive scheme to fix tickets as political favors. Three of the judges have already pleaded guilty.
Pileggi this morning tweeted: "SB334 has been signed by @GovernorCorbett. Farewell to Philadelphia's scandal-plagued #TrafficCourt."
One of the bills, which must be approved in the next session of the General Assembly and then by voters in a statewide referendum, changes the state Constitution to abolish Traffic Court. The other bill eliminates the Traffic Court judge positions and transfers those duties to hearing examiners in Philadelphia Municipal Court.
Twenty-seven candidates contested in the May 21 primary elections for the three seats. Traffic Court judges are paid $91,052 per year and don't have to be attorneys. Three Democrats and two Republicans won the primaries.
The Special Investigatory Committee City Council president Darrell Clarke established to examine the city's demolition procedures and operations after the deadly Center City building collapse released a hearing schedule today.
The first hearing will kick off Wednesday at 10 a.m. in Council's chambers, room 400 in City Hall. Licenses and Inspection Commissioner Carlton Williams is scheduled to testify.
Council will also hold hearings during its three-month summer break and the dates are as follows: June 27, July 11, Aug. 1 and Aug. 13. All hearings will begin at 10 a.m.
Sean Collins Walsh
Standard & Poor's Ratings Services last week upgraded Philadelphia's bond rating one level, from BBB+ to A-, the city's highest rating since 1979.
Here's a press release from Mayor Nutter's administration:
S&P RAISES CITY OF PHILADELPHIA BOND RATING
City receives its highest rating in more than 30 years
Philadelphia, June 17, 2013– Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services has raised the City of Philadelphia’s long-term and underlying rating on the City’s general obligation (GO) debt to A- with a stable outlook from BBB+. This is the first time since 1979 that the City has been rated A- by S&P.
Sean Collins Walsh
The Mayor’s Office is disputing a widely disseminated report on the suicide of a city inspector who examined the 22nd and Market streets demolition site prior to its deadly collapse last week.
NBC10 reported Thursday that the Licenses & Inspections employee, Ronald Wagenhoffer, recorded a video on his cellphone before taking his life and said, in part, “It was my fault. I should have looked at those guys working, and I didn't.”
Mark McDonald, Mayor Nutter’s spokesman, said that he has seen the video and that Wagenhoffer actually said, “It wasn’t my fault.”
McDonald said the video, which was shown to him by police, is so clear that he believes the NBC10 reporter did not see the video but was told about it second-hand.
“If they saw it, they could not have made the mistake,” said McDonald, adding that the report was “scandalously wrong.”
Anzio Williams, NBC10's vice president for news, responded with a statement: "We have seen the video. We are standing behind our journalism."
Sean Collins Walsh
With many in city government reeling from the apparent suicide of a colleague and City Council voting on critical measures for next year's budget, Councilman Jim Kenney says he doesn't get why Mayor Nutter is in Chicago.
“It’s a very difficult time for the city,” Kenney said. “This is your town. You’re the manager of this town. Unless it’s absolutely necessary, I don’t see why you have to travel.”
Nutter is attending a conference of the Clinton Global Initiative. He will return Friday night, mayoral spokesman Mark McDonald said.
“The mayor is taking care of the city’s business," McDonald said. “The mayor has been in contact with the family [of Ron Wagenhoffer, the L&I inspector who took his life Wednesday night] multiple times and with his staff from the very early hours when he learned about this."
Nutter was informed about Wagenhoffer upon landing in Chicago early Thursday morning, McDonald said. He has been in constant communication with top aides. He spoke with the widow of Wagenhoffer, who reviewed the site of last week's fatal building collapse weeks before it happened, hours after learning about his suicide.
"It is sad that Councilman Kenney finds it necessary to play politics with a tragedy of this nature," McDonald said.
Philadelphians can now figure out what their tax bill will be under the Actual Value Initiative, the city's new property-tax system.
City Council approved today a 1.34 percent property-tax rate and to maintain a homestead exemption that would knock $30,000 from a homeowner's assessment.
The bill passed 11-5 with Council members Kenyatta Johnson, Bill Green, Mark Squilla, Brian O'Neill, David Oh voting against it. Councilwoman Marian Tasco was absent.
Meanwhile, Council president Darrell Clarke amended a bill that would provide relief under AVI for longtime homeowners in gentrifying neighborhoods. The amended bill allows for means-based gentrification relief. State enabling legislation is expected to soon be approved.
Council also approved a new $2 per pack cigarette tax, one of two bills proposed by Mayor Nutter to raise money for the cash-strapped school district. The bill passed 16-0. Another bill that would increase the liquor-by-the-drink tax from 10 percent to 15 percent, raising $22 million has been stalled. Clarke opted against calling the bill up for a vote yesterday in a Council Committee hearing. The measure has been met with some pushback from Council and state lawmakers.
Both bills require state enabling legislation.
Sean Collins Walsh
The city inspector who examined the demolition site and 22nd and Market streets weeks before it collapsed committed suicide Wednesday night, administration officials confirmed Thursday.
Ronald Wagenhoffer, 52, shot himself around 9 p.m., Gillison said. He has a wife and a son.
“He was a dedicated civil service employee who loved his job,” said Everett Gillison, Mayor Nutter’s chief of staff. “We have now lost seven lives” in connection with the Center City building collapse that killed six people last week.
Following citizen complaints about the demolition site at 2134 Market St., Wagenhoffer reviewed the building for the Department of Licenses & Inspections on May 14 and found no violations. At that point, demolition had not begun at 2136 Market St., the part of the site that would lead to the tragedy.
On June 5, a freestanding wall from the 2136 Market building fell onto a Salvation Army store next door and killed six people, including the 24-year-old daughter of City Treasurer Nancy Winkler.
Nutter is in Chicago for a Clinton Global Initiative conference. Gillison said Nutter had been in communication with city officials “pretty much all night" and has spoken with Wagenhoffer's wife, Michele.
State Treasurer Rob McCord of Bryn Mawr today took the first step towards entering the crowded 2014 Democratic primary election for governor. McCord filed with the Pennsylvania Department of State paperwork to launch "McCord for Governor," a political action committee that will allow him to accept campaign contributions for the race.
A copy of McCord's filing, obtained by the Daily News, can be seen here.
"This new committee is a reflection of the fact that, over the last few months, Rob has heard from voters and community leaders from around the state that they want a change in Harrisburg and he's putting the pieces in place to deliver that change," McCord spokesman Mark Nevins said, via email. "The fact is, we can't keep electing professional, career politicians and expect things to be different. As a business leader, not a career politician, Rob is uniquely qualified to deliver real results."
The Democratic field currently consists of U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz of Jenkintown, former state Department of Environmental Protection secretaries Kathleen McGinty of Wayne and John Hanger of Hummelstown, former state Department of Revenue Secretary Tom Wolf of York and Mechanicsburg pastor Max Myers.
McCord easily secured a second term as treasurer last year, defeating his Republican challenger by more than 8 points.
Sean Collins Walsh
City Controller Alan Butkovitz today released a report on the spike in provisional ballots used in Philadelphia in the 2012 election, saying inadequate poll-worker training and a glitch in the printing of voter rolls are the main culprits in the uptick.
"The election system has to do better," Butkovitz said. "To those people and to people who are voting for the first time and the concept that every vote counts, it was a failure. And commissioners have to do better and the Department of State has to do better."
A record 27,000 provisional ballots were cast in Philly's 2012 election, more than double the number cast in the 2008 presidential election. Many of those voters were forced to vote provisionally for legitimate reasons: 9,000 went to the wrong polling place, and 7,600 were ineligible voters, for instance.
But almost 10,000 of those votes should have been cast on the regular voting machines, according to Butkovitz. That group includes 4,800 voters whose names did not appear at their polling places due to a printing error with the site's voter rolls and 4,900 voters who were properly listed in the books but could not be located by poll workers.
One of Butkovitz' recommendations is to increase the pay for poll-worker training from $20 to $50.
City Commissioner Stephanie Singer, who was chairwoman for the 2012 election, said she agrees poll-worker training is an issue, although there is little the Commission can do without increased incentives like higher pay.