Archive: July, 2010
The city continues to struggle with blight and a collection of about 40,000 vacant or abandoned properties.
The DRPA squabble claims a body: Public Safety Chief Mike Joyce resigned yesterday.
The feds want info about claims that teachers are eating subsidized lunches for students at one school.
And U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak struggles with his message on ethics and earmarks.
Mike Joyce, the chief public safety officer for the Delaware River Port Authority, resigned today after weeks of complaints by John Dougherty, a local labor leader who serves on the agency's board. Joyce was suspended last week for three days and had to pay the DRPA $600 after admitting that he used an E-ZPass transponder assigned to another agency employee.
Ed Kasuba, a DRPA spokesman, confirmed this afternoon that Joyce resigned but could offer no other information. Joyce, an attorney, was paid $180,081 by the agency along with a $9,000 car allowance and also did legal work outside of the office.
DRPA executive director John Matheussen last week said that Joyce told him John Lawless, the agency's corporate secretary offered him the E-ZPass transponder in October 2008. Joyce, who had his own DRPA E-ZPass transponder, used the one from Lawless in a family car. Lawless was escorted out of DRPA's headquarters in Camden in April for reasons that remain unclear but is still on the agency's payroll.
DRPA employees are allowed 100 free trips per year across one of the four bridges over the Delaware River maintained by the agency. Dougherty, business manager for Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, has been complaining for weeks about not getting answers to questions about that perk along with DRPA hiring practices and executive pay. Dougherty has been pushing the brother of one of his union's business agents for a high-ranking position in the DRPA Public Safety Department.
The Nutter administration's long-awaited study of the controversial Deferred Retirement Option Plan should be released next week, said spokesman Doug Oliver today.
Nutter first commissioned the study in March 2009 and Boston College was awarded the $80,000 contract. Oliver said that internal review of the report has delayed the release.
Started under Mayor Ed Rendell, DROP lets workers set a retirement date up to four years in the future. At that point, their pension benefit is frozen and they start accruing pension payments in an interest-bearing account. Workers then collect those payments in a lump sum when they retire. After retirement, they also receive their city pension, based on their years worked at the time the benefit was frozen.
The program was designed to help the city better manage the workforce by knowing when employees would retire. But critics have questioned the cost and effectiveness of the program. And some elected officials have taken heat for entering the program, only to run again and retire for a day to collect the payout.
Oliver said the new study will look at how the program has been used in Philadelphia. He said Nutter -- who has stated that DROP is not for elected officials -- is waiting to make any decisions on the future of the program until after reviewing the report.
Today's Inquirer features a column from freelance writer Ralph Cipriano slamming the program as a "scam with no discernable benefit to taxpayers."
Mayor Nutter was in Washington DC today to call on congress to pass a jobs bill that would provide direct aid to cities like Philadelphia.
“I know everyone’s concerned about the deficit, but the people who are talking about the deficit are people who have jobs,” Nutter said in a phone interview.
Nutter’s visit was prompted by a new report which says that local governments will likely cut 500,000 jobs nationwide over the next 18 months due to fiscal declines. The study was done by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National League of Cities and the National Association of Counties. Nutter serves as second vice president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
Those organizations held a Capitol Hill press conference today, pushing congress to consider the Local Jobs for America Act, which would provide $75 billion in direct funding to cities over two years for various jobs programs. Nutter noted that unlike the $787 billion stimulus act -- which could not be used to help cities plug budget gaps -- this jobs bill would provide much-needed direct budget aid.
You can use the money to prevent layoffs, bring people back that you’ve had laid off or hire new employees,” Nutter said.
Fire department poised to start rolling brownouts.
Support gathering for a state corruption investigation commission.
Drexel basketball players* surrender in robbery.
Fresh Air is returning to Mississippi Public Radio.
*The original version of this post mistakenly read "Drexel firefighters." PhillyClout apologizes for the error.
We just got some more details on how the fire department “rolling closures,” designed to save on city overtime costs, will work. Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers is set to brief fire fighters on this topic later this evening.
Deputy Mayor for Public Safey Everett Gillison tells us that the city plans to shut Engine 38 for up to two years. That company had been located on Longshore Ave, near State Road, but has been moved between other sites since the firehouse was demolished as part of the I-95 expansion. Gillison said Engine 38 will restart when the new firehouse is built, which could take up to two years.
In addition to shutting down Engine 38 for the near future, the city plans to shut two companies per shift on a rolling basis. Gillison said those companies will be determined based on size, capacity and proximity to other fire facilities. He said a full schedule of what companies will be closed when over the next year, should be released next week.
Gillison said the closures will save about $3.8 million in overtime. The plans go into effect on August 2.
But Gillison said public safety should not be at risk, because the city actually shuts an average of five companies each day for training currently. And he said under the new plans, there will still be five companies closed each day. In future, Gillison said just two companies would close a day for in-person training – and the city plans to provide more web-based training that fire fighters can do in their firehouse.
“We’re definitely doing this. This is not something unusual, this is not something new. We're doing it to attack our overtime. This does not affect safety,” Gillison said.
John Baer says that, much like the heat, he's reached his limit on extreme politics.
A woman motorist slashes another driver in the face. Her motives are still unknown.
Two Drexel basketball players are wanted for a robbery.
And it's Sexy Singles time again.
UPDATE, 6:50 pm: Lisa Mathewson, attorney for Chris Wright, said the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the release of Wright, Chawla and Teitelman late this afternoon.
Chris Wright, the former chief of staff to City Councilman Jack Kelly, is expected to be soon released on bail from federal prison along with two of his former boss' top political supporters. Wright was convicted in February of using his official post to help Ravinder Chawla [one of Kelly's top campaign donors] and Andrew Teitelman [Chawla's attorney and Kelly's campaign treasurer] on real estate, zoning and tax matters. In exchange, the jury found, Wright got a rent-free apartment near Rittenhouse Square and free legal services.
The U.S. Attorney's Office on Thursday told the Third Circuit Court of Appeals that it does not object to Wright, Chawla and Teitelman being released on bail while they pursue their appeal, which is based on ruling last month by the U.S. Supreme Court that struck down part of the federal "honest services fraud" law. The three were convicted on conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, honest services fraud and mail fraud.
The honest services fraud law had two prongs: Bribery and failure to report a conflict of interest. The Supreme Court ruled the conflict of interest section was too vague. The jury in the Wright/Chawla/Teitelman trial were instructed to consider both prongs. Defense attorneys claim there is no way to know if the jury used the part of the law that has been struck down while prosecutors argue the jury would have reached the same verdict, even with the law drawn up then as it is now.
Wright, sentenced to four years, is in a federal prison in Lewisburg, Pa. Chawla, who got two and a half years, and Teitelman, who got two years, are both in the Federal Detention Center in Philadelphia because they are fighting an unrelated civil case in federal court here. Chawla's brother, Hardeep, was charged in the case but acquitted.
William DeStefano, Teitelman's attorney, expects the three men to be released from prison on bail by early next week. "I think, at a minimum, they're going to get a new trial based on this appeal," DeStefano said. "They may do even better than that. They may be acquitted through his appeal."
Robert Zauzmer, chief of appeals for the U.S. Attorney's Office, does not agree since the three were convicted on mail fraud charges that are not covered by the honest services fraud law. Zauzmer says he looks forward to making his case to the Third Circuit.
In the PhillyClout Friday column, former City Councilman Rick Mariano reaches out from federal prison for help fighting the city over his pension payments. Also, Sheriff John Green isn't ready to say when he will step down the Republicans are still fighting over ward elections.
U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak takes on critics, trying to have attack ads pulled from television. Is he playing right into their hands?
The residents of one city street try to fight the blight but could use more help from City Hall.
And cops will no longer put out on the radio the location of car crashes, trying to cut down on confrontations between wreck-chasing two truck drivers.
Listen yourself here.