Council rundown: Jim Kenney wants to reform how City Hall handles line-of-duty deaths

Councilman Jim Kenney announced at City Council’s first session of the fall today that he wants to reform the way line-of-duty deaths are reviewed for city firefighters, police officers and paramedics.

“The two deaths we’ve had recently, both police officers – one was Officer Lorenzo in his uniform on his bike on a highway, the other one was Officer Walker, who was trying to pull a service revolver to stop two armed robbers from robbing him, but could have been stopping them from robbing anybody else – I think those are two clearly, easily decided situations, that they were in fact killed in the line of duty,” Kenney said. But, he said, in Officer Brian Lorenzo‘s case, it took over three weeks for his death to be designated as “in the line of duty” and in the case of Officer Moses Walker, Jr., the decision took over two weeks.

“It affects these people’s lives,” he said. “Officer Lorenzo, I think, has a four or five-year-old son. It affected his ability to go to college, it affects the family’s ultimate pension benefits and rights and I think that when you can easily sign something in a hospital at the time of their death and you drag it out for two, three, four weeks, I think it’s disrespectful. I think if we have a panel, it will make that decision in a reasonable fashion, but in a quick way so we can assure these families that they’re going to be taken care of.”

In a bill that was referred to a City Council committee, Kenney proposed the creation of a Hero Panel, with one independent member and one member each appointed by Mayor Michael Nutter, City Council President Darrell Clarke, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 5 and firefighters and paramedics Local 22.

Kenney also addressed the deaths of Firefighter Daniel Sweeney and Lt. Robert Neary, killed while battling a warehouse blaze in April. “My understanding is for Lt. Neary and Firefighter Sweeney, paperwork for federal benefits need to filled out at the fire headquarters,” he said. “They’re still sitting on somebody’s desk. That’s $400,000 each that their families can get. Certainly, it won’t bring them back and it’s not going to make up for their loss, but I think people need to be made as whole as possible so we show them that we respect the sacrifices that they made.”

Council cram session

Here is some other legislation that was discussed at City Council’s first session back this afternoon:

– A bill introduced on behalf of Council President Darrell Clarke providing for certain requirements to be put in place for honeybee exterminators, including training standards, was referred to a Council committee.

– Council unanimously overrode Mayor Michael Nutter’s veto of a bill originally introduced by Councilman Mark Squilla and passed on June 21 allowing Finnigan’s Wake, a bar with past ties to local Democratic Party officials, to construct 61-foot balconies on its second and third floors. Nutter had vetoed the legislation because he said it would convert public space into a primarily private use and because of overwhelming neighborhood opposition.

– Two resolutions introduced by Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown were passed authorizing committees to hold hearings looking into how to properly mitigate the proliferation of street peddling by minor children and investigating human trafficking in Philadelphia, which has been designated a “high incidence” area by the FBI.

“As a proud board member of the Girl Scouts of Southeastern PA, I am in no way trying to diminish legitimate fundraising traditions like selling cookies door to door with a parent or guardian,” Brown said in a statement addressing the former piece of legislation. “However, when we see 8-year-olds selling candy bars in the middle of the street with no parental supervision, nine times out of 10, we question the legitimacy of an organization, if any, and it places the safety of the participating children greatly at risk.”

– Council passed a resolution introduced by Councilman Bobby Henon authorizing the Committee of the Whole to hold hearings on the effectiveness of the city’s delinquent tax collection methods and to identify additional measures and resources necessary to improve them. Henon said that the city will soon issue a new Request for Proposals for a collections agency to oversee the debts and that, in light of a 2010 hearing concluding there were $955 million in outstanding taxes, he’d like to see the process be publicly vetted and to review the technology used to identify and collect the debts.

“The School District just went from $200 million in borrowing to $300 million in borrowing, or $250 million in borrowing to $300 million in borrowing,” Henon said Thursday. “How are we going to fund those obligations as we move forward to the full valuation [of property tax assessments]? I think it’s in the interest, publicly and transparently, that people get the answers, what’s effective and what’s not working.”

– A bill introduced by Councilman Wilson Goode, Jr. was referred to a committee. It reduces the duration of real estate tax abatements from 10 to five years and lowers their amount by 20 percent each year, from a 100 percent abatement in a property’s first year to 20 percent in its fifth year.

Goode cited a study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania’s Fels School of Government on tax abatements as evidence that the incentives’ ability to draw development to the city is unknown. “The Fels study also easily concluded the most direct beneficiaries of 10-year abatements are real estate developers and wealthy private homeowners,” Goode said. “In other words, the few, the new and the well-to-do, not the city of Philadelphia as a whole.”

– Council passed a resolution introduced by Councilman Jim Kenney authorizing a committee to hold hearings examining the positive economic impact of workplace non-discrimination and equal benefits policies for all employees, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. “A number of leading corporations have focused on improving the workplace environment for LGBT employees, not only because it’s morally imperative, but also because it attracts a high caliber workforce, improves employee retention rates, fosters ideas and innovation, satisfies eligibility for some public sector contracts and improves employee relations and morale,” Kenney said in a statement.

–Council passed a resolution introduced by Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell authorizing a committee to hold hearings reviewing the Boston Consulting Group’s report, “Transforming Philadelphia’s Public Schools: Key Findings and Recommendations,” to the School Reform Commission.

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