City: Private demolitions left to police themselves

Councilmen and women from left, Jannie Blackwell, James Kenney, Curtis Jones, Jr., Bobby Henon, and Maria D. Quinones Sanchez question Licenses and Inspections Commissioner Carlton Williams, center left, and during a public hearing into the building collapse that killed six people and injured 13 others earlier this month, Wednesday, June 19, 2013, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

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.

Later, City Controller Alan Butkovitz spoke to the committee about inadquacies his office found in L&I and other departments. Among the problems, Butkovitz found that L&I was persistently understaffed and poorly communicated violations enforced by other city departments.

"This lack of enforcement permits contractors and developers to violate various codes and safety standards," Butkovitz said.

Williams had testified that L&I had 300 employees during  the 2012 fiscal year, up 10 from 2011, and will additionally increase its size to 320 in 2013. Williams also said L&I has plans to improve communications with other city departments.

This was the first of four hearings to look into reforming the city's oversight on demolition projects. The city has already made some changes. The next hearing will be June 27 at 10 a.m.