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Archive: January, 2010

POSTED: Thursday, January 28, 2010, 11:04 AM

City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown Thursday morning called for mandatory lead testing for rental apartments and a prohibition on renting those apartments until they are certified safe from lead exposure.

Brown estimated the inspection fees at between $100 and $150 but acknowledged that the lead-free requirement would be a significant expense for landlords. Part of the public hearing process to develop the bill will be finding ways to pay for lead removal to reduce the burden on property owners, she said. 

The bill would apply to rental apartments built before 1978, when lead-based paint -- the primary cause of lead poisoning -- was banned for residences. An inspector could certify a unit lead-safe - meaning there was no exposed lead - or lead-free, which would free the owner from subsequent inspections.

POSTED: Thursday, January 28, 2010, 10:34 AM

Mayor Nutter today asked City Council to confirm his appointments of Sister Mary Scullion, the founder of Project H.O.M.E., and attorney Nolan N. Atkinson to the city's Ethics Board. Nutter also requested that sitting board member Kenya Mann Faulkner be reappointed to the board.

The press release follows.


POSTED: Thursday, January 28, 2010, 10:33 AM

City Councilman Frank DiCicco called on Mayor Nutter and the Board of Revision of Taxes to include properties assessed this year in a citywide freeze.

Nutter announced this week that the BRT would not hike an assessments until his administration was confident that those property values were accurate. But not part of that moratorium were properties reassessed this year, some of which saw large increases that equate with a higher property tax bill. Those reassessments were done using the same allegedly unreliable information that was the basis for the decision by the BRT's new executive director, Richard Negrin.

DiCicco said he understood that Nutter had to draw the line somewhere, and he would not extend the freeze back to 2008. "I think that's only in the interest of fairness to the taxpayers," DiCicco told fellow council members in caucus before Thursday morning's council meeting. Council President Anna C. Verna said she agreed with DiCicco.

POSTED: Tuesday, January 26, 2010, 1:30 PM

Mayor Nutter’s pick to run the embattled Board of Revision of Taxes said today that he could not “in good conscience” continue to value properties in Philadelphia using the “bad data” the department relies on.

He said there would be an immediate moratorium on all reassessments until each and every parcel of land in the city can be assessed anew.

“It became obvious that we could not continue to do assessments in the way we’ve done them in the past,” said BRT Executive Director Richard Negrin, who has been on the job for just over a month. “I was seeing more than enough to give me pause about continuing business as usual at the BRT.”

POSTED: Monday, January 25, 2010, 1:56 PM

Cozen O’Connor did about $450,000 of legal work to help Democratic U.S. Rep. Bob Brady fight a ballot challenge from rival Tom Knox in the 2007 mayor’s race.
Late last month, the firm won a battle in its ongoing legal skirmish over whether that work should count as a campaign contribution. On Dec. 29, the state Supreme Court agreed to hear the part of the case that turns on whether Cozen, as a creditor, had legal standing to make the argument.
It’s not clear yet whether that decision will give Cozen an opening to argue its broader point in the case.
In 2008, Cozen sued the Philadelphia Board of Ethics over its ruling that the legal work was subject to contribution limits of $5,000 for individuals and $20,000 for political committees. That would have forced Cozen to forgive the debt at a rate of $20,000 a year or forced Brady’s political action committee to repay that amount yearly.
That option seems “silly,” Cozen lawyer Adam Bonin said. “It cannot have been Council’s intent to have a 2007 campaign committee technically active for decades after the campaign’s actual termination.”
Cozen argues that the work should not count as a campaign donation for two reasons: Candidates should not have to worry about amounts spent to keep themselves on the ballot, and money collected after an election “cannot possibly influence the outcome of the 2007 election,” according to a court filing.
Shane Creamer, executive director of the Board of Ethics, said Cozen’s logic would allow candidates to back-load vendor payments and “effectively undermine our limits. … Candidates could go to their donors and say, ‘Give me unlimited amounts of money.’”

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POSTED: Monday, January 25, 2010, 1:53 PM

Here’s an interesting exercise. Assume for a moment that each of the city’s labor unions receives a contract identical to the new police arbitration award. That would mean each unionized worker in city government could be furloughed up to 30 days a year.
In its presentation to the police arbitration panel, the city estimated it would save $42.9 million in year one of the deal if it furloughed every police officer the maximum 30 days. Over the five years of the contract, that amounts to $222.3 million, once wage hikes are factored in.
But on practical and political levels, furloughing police officers is tricky. So police would likely be furloughed infrequently, if at all.
Furloughing other city workers, however, is another story. “Heard in the Hall” wondered: How much would the city save if it furloughed all of its unionized workers 30 days a year?
The city is not issuing any such calculations, but according to our estimates the figure tops out at a whopping $549.6 million over the five years of our hypothetical contracts. Exclude police from that total, and it drops to a still-huge $327.2 million. In fact, that covers much of the $350 million over five years in total salary hikes that Councilman Bill Green warns the city is likely to absorb across all unions as a consequence of the police award.
Now for the caveats. There is no guarantee that the city will get 30-day furloughs in its other labor contracts. And even if it does, furloughing every worker for 30 days, or six workweeks, would not be practical.
But it seems clear that furloughs could, at minimum, soften the budget impact of union raises.

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POSTED: Monday, January 25, 2010, 1:51 PM

Republican City Councilman Frank Rizzo’s aspirations to be lieutenant governor will be put to the test this weekend as GOP regional caucuses get going in the western end of the state.
Rizzo has made it plain that he wants the nomination, holding out his potential appeal to Republican and Democratic voters not just in Philadelphia but also in surrounding suburbs. His wider appeal would be at least partly due to the name he shares with his late father, mayor of Philadelphia from 1972 to 1980, who still enjoys a cultlike following among some former constituents.
“The name breaks the ice very quickly,” said Rizzo, 66, who was first elected to his at-large seat in 1995.
Rizzo will hit the Republicans’ Southwest Caucus on Saturday in Latrobe, followed that day by the Northwest Caucus in Clarion. Caucuses across the state will show what kind of clout Rizzo — and about a dozen other contenders, including Philadelphian Joe Watkins — can bring to the table. Presumptive gubernatorial nominee Tom Corbett would traditionally have final say.
Not yet an official candidate, Rizzo will have to resign from Council if he begins circulating nominating petitions in February.

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POSTED: Monday, January 25, 2010, 1:38 PM

Lest it leave any elected or party official unscathed in the city of Philadelphia, the Board of Ethics is now seeking a $3,000 fine against Clerk of Quarter Sessions Vivian Miller for alleged violation of campaign finance laws.

The Board has filed an "enforcement action" in Court of Common Please against Miller, accusing her of using two campaign committees for her reelection in 2007. City campaign finance laws say that a candidate for local office must use only one committee, for the sake of transparency. Miller's campaign was funded both by the Committee to Re-Elect Vivian Miller and the 51st Democratic Ward Committee, where she is the ward leader, according to the Board of Ethics.

In a press release, the Board stated that Miller made expenditures from her Ward committee even after the single-committee rule was explained to her in a letter from the board.

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The Philadelphia Inquirer's Chris Hepp, Tricia Nadolny, Julia Terruso, and Claudia Vargas take you inside Philadelphia's City Hall.

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