At a press conference Tuesday, Mayor Kenney officially named his new fire commissioner, a Virginia transplant, and his pick for chief of prisons, a local veteran of the system and the first woman to hold the post.
The pick for the fire department, Adam Thiel, elicited some displeasure from firefighter's union officials, who said they would have preferred an internal pick but were eager to work with Thiel, as well as the black firefighter's alliance, who said they wanted Acting Commissioner Derrick Sawyer to stay at the helm.
Thiel has worked in four states, amassing a loaded resume in fire and emergency services, which Mayor Kenney says will serve the city well.
"This was the best choice…I think his breadth and width of knowledge when it comes to all hazards and the number of positions he's held in multiple states will bring the best practice here to Philadelphia that we sorely need," Kenney said. "This is not a knock on Derrick Sawyer or anyone else in the department, but there are things that went on that I did not agree with and I want a fresh set of eyes going forward."
Kenney, the son of a firefighter, had denounced brownouts -- the periodic closing of stations as a cost saving measure -- and a system of forced rotations that occurred under the previous administration and for some of Sawyer's tenure.
Sawyer, appointed by former Mayor Michael Nutter two years ago, was not at the press conference. Kenney said he will stay on through the end of the fiscal year, June 30.
After news of Thiel's hiring broke, Club Valiants, the Philadelphia chapter of the International Association of Black Professional Fire Fighters, issued a statement expressing disappointment at Sawyer's departure.
"Club Valiants is displeased with Mayor Kenney's decision to replace Fire Commissioner Derrick Sawyer," President Lisa C. Forrest said in the statement. "While we respect the mayor exercising his prerogative to choose his own administration, we do not believe that there is justification for removing an effective leader with a stellar record. In Commissioner Sawyer's tenure, Philadelphia has experienced its lowest recorded annual fire death rate in its entire history. It appears to our organization that the motivation behind removing Commissioner Sawyer goes far beyond improving the department or changing its leadership's perspective."
Club Valiants did not return calls for comment Tuesday.
On Tuesday, Thiel said he wants to meet with the union and the alliance to build relationships and plan for the department's future.
"I think job No. 1 will really be sitting down with all the stakeholders, all of our partners including Club Valiants to develop a shared vision for the department, a new vision, a new way forward," Thiel said. "We have a few weeks yet before I get on board, but that is going to be the first thing we do."
The firefighters' union, IAFF Local 22, also expressed some disappointment. In a statement, president Andrew Thomas said, "While Local 22 was initially hoping Mayor Kenney would appoint a Commissioner from the many qualified members within the ranks of the Philadelphia Fire Department, Local 22 nonetheless intends to welcome Commissioner Adam Thiel with the goal of working with him to improve the working conditions for all our members."
After a national search, Kenney found his new prisons chief in Blanche Carney, the current Deputy Commissioner of Restorative Transitional services. Her experience within the Philadelphia system, Kenney said, makes her an expert on reentry, education and drug treatment programs that are essential to prison reform. As the first woman to hold the job, he added, she will bring a unique perspective.
"I was very excited it was a woman we finally picked because I think there needs to be a tone set with people in our custody that it's not just about punishment, it's about redemption and it's about moving forward in their lives," he said.
Carney previously was a social worker in the prisons system and then served as Human Services Program Administrator. She replaces Acting Commissioner Mike Resnick, who took the post when the previous commissioner Louis Giorla retired in January. Resnick will stay on as Carney's chief of staff, Kenney said.