Ed Williams, Lori Schorr say they are partners with Phila. district – not overseers
Lori Shorr and Ed Williams, the new city and state executive adviser appointees for the Philadelphia School District, don’t want their new roles misinterpreted as the district embarks on yet another search for a superintendent.
In their own words, they are not operatives of the city or the state, setting up offices at 400 N. Broad St. to provide oversight to a district that many, following a summer of turbulence, view as out of control.
“No, my role is anything but that,” said Williams, chuckling, recently following last week’s meeting of the School Reform Commission. “Our roles will crystallize in the coming weeks. But the one thing that is completely understood is that this is partnership and the goal is simple: make sure everything we do is geared toward making the next superintendent’s transition work for the children, teachers and parents of the district. That’s all.”
“I have an excellent working relationship with [Interim Superintendent] Lee Nunery,” Shorr said. “I have been working closely with the district for the last three-and-a-half years. The mayor is very concerned about the state of education in the city. This will be an extension and a convenience in that we can be in more constant communication about what happens in the district in real time. But we’ll be following Leroy’s lead. It’s going to be exciting to just be here for the acting superintendent.”
Both Shorr and Williams are lifelong educators.
Before she became the chief education officer in the mayor’s office at the start of 2008 — where her primary focus is to reduce the high school dropout rate and increase college degree attainment — Shorr spent the previous two years as the vice president of Policy and Planning with the Philadelphia Youth Network, a nationally recognized non-profit that manages millions of dollars in investments from government and industry.
Before this, she was a special assistant to the Pennsylvania Secretary of Education, reviewing and analyzing initiatives and priorities to ensure that they met established standards.
Before Tomalis appointed him, the semi-retired Williams had previously served as the chief academic officer for the district. He has also served as the deputy associate deputy associate superintendent for the office of schools, where he oversaw the transformation of the district’s then 264 schools into the neighborhood cluster model.
Williams has also served as both a teacher and a principal at the elementary and secondary levels.
Both will be integral in providing information and input room the city and state as the district embarks on yet another national search for the next superintendent, a search of which Mayor Michael Nutter has not provided a timeline.
Nutter said the process would be ramped up once the SRC is fully constituted.
The SRC on Monday moved one step closer to completion when Nutter named arts advocate and novelist Lorene Cary to the SRC. Cary should be swiftly approved, and then the last piece of the SRC should be finalized around Thanksgiving if gubernatorial nominee Pedro Ramos is confirmed by the state Senate.
Nunery has voiced his approval of Shorr and Williams lending a hand and helping the struggling district.
“This is not only my ringing endorsement,” Nunery said, “but I’m excited about having people on my wings talking all the time about how to get things done and working with the great team of people that have. We’ve got some folks here who are incredibly dedicated to their craft. What we need to do now is charge forward.”
Both Williams and Shorr believe that Nunery – as the interim now and, ultimately, if he becomes the superintendent – must be the person to make all the final decisions on everything.
“This is his plan; we’re just here to advise him and support him in the things he wants to do,” Williams said. “So if he gets the job, great. He will have been involved in all of the things we have talked about. It should be an opportunity for Leroy to move the system where he wants to move it, and then I’m going to support him in any way. That’s how I see the role of the advisers.”
Nutter says city can’t afford resulting revenue loss
City Council let stand a mayoral veto of a proposed cut in the city’s parking tax, but the bill’s sponsor vowed to re-visit the issue next year.
Councilman Jim Kenney, who sponsored the bill that would have cut the tax from 20 percent to 17 percent, said he didn’t have enough votes to pass the measure over Mayor Michael Nutter’s veto, a move that would take 12 votes.
“Apparently the mayor has learned to lobby in the last couple of days,” Kenney said. “So, I will not be asking my colleagues to put up a vote, but I will tell now that the first day back in session, in January, this piece of legislation will be re-introduced.”
Council passed the bill three weeks ago with a 12-5 vote, seeming to guarantee that it could withstand a veto.
But, Kenney told reporters after the meeting that four members of Council — he declined to say who — had changed their minds, temporarily sinking his proposal.
Council members Bill Green, Maria Quiñones-Sanchez, Brian O’Neill, Blondell Reynolds-Brown and Darrell Clarke were the original five members to oppose the bill. O’Neill and Brown reiterated their opposition again on Thursday.
“This industry does not bring tears to my eyes at all,” O’Neill said, noting that the tax cut was only for the parking industry and not across the board. “They absolutely gouge people who come into the city.”
The proposal came at time when city revenue is again falling, added Brown, and parking officials said in public testimony that they would not pass the savings on to their customers.
“The parking industry has not made any real commitment to lower parking rates for customers,” she said, adding that with revenue projections lower than expected, the city could not afford to lose any more money. “Given … the city’s revenue loss we simply cannot provide this reduction for the parking industry.”
Nutter, in explaining his decision, said the cut, which would not have gone into affect until 2014, would have cost the city $24 million over four years.
“This is the wrong time to adopt new tax breaks, particularly for a single industry,” he said, in a letter to Council, noting that sales and wage tax revenues had fallen $10 million below projections so far this year. If that trend continued, he said, the city could lose $60 million over the next two years.
In other news, Council is expected to vote on whether or not to join a suit that would ban natural gas drilling with hydraulic fracturing until a full environmental impact study is completed.
And, the council designated Oct. 8 as Indigenous Peoples Day and approved a resolution that set the first Saturday of October as Indigenous Peoples Day.
Lisa Nutter, wife of Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and an expert on childhood development, will headline the 16th Annual Awareness Dinner of the Montgomery County Commission on Women and Families (MCCWF) on October 25 at Whitemarsh Valley Country Club.
Nutter is president of Philadelphia Academies, Inc., a non-profit youth development organization that works to provide career-based learning, college readiness supports and positive adult networks that motivate young people to graduate and prepare them for the 21st century economy.
Michele Kristofco, community relations specialist at the Montgomery County Office of Children and Youth, will be honored as Service Provider of the Year.
The theme of this year’s dinner is “Montgomery County Service Providers: Supporting Neighbors in Need.”
“It is always difficult to choose an honoree, but Michele has exhibited such passion for her work with children, and often is the face of Office of Children and Youth (OCY) in our community,” said Leslie Richards, vice chair of the Montgomery County Commissioners.
In addition to her work with the Office of Children and Youth, Kristofco works tirelessly for SuperKIDS, a non-profit organization that benefits children known to OCY.
“Michele believes that we, as a community, need groups like SuperKIDS to make sure that abused and neglected children have both material and emotional support to “right-size” their opportunities,” said Dana Greenspan, chair of the MCCWF.
The mission of the Montgomery County Commission on Women and Families is to foster leadership, provide awareness of existing services, promote development of resources and advocate equal access to such resources in order to enhance the lives of women and families.
Ramping up the public pressure on Mayor Michael Nutter, several thousand firefighters descended on city hall Thursday, screaming for the mayor to honor a recent contract award with the International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 22.
“Honor our contract. Implement the award,” chanted Bill Gault, president of Local 22, leading as many as 3,500 firefighters from the Pennsylvania Convention Center to city hall. “This is about a mayor who has no respect for the people who save lives for a living.”
Nutter was clearly the target for the group’s anger. His face was plastered on signs — some with the word “liar” printed across his forehead and others with “binding?” emblazoned across his face.
The mayor was out of town Thursday and could not be reached for comment.
Firefighters and the administration have been sparring for several years over a contract. Earlier this week, Local 22 filed suit to compel the administration to act.
Local 22 was awarded a contract on July 2 by a panel of three arbitrators. It granted union members a 9 percent pay raise and protected them from furlough days while at the same time forcing changes in members’ pension and health care plans.
Under the terms of the agreement, back dated to July 1, 2009, and very similar to a previous agreement, the city would contribute more to members’ health care and benefits, but new hires would be forced into a 401(k) type retirement plan.
The ruling was the most recent skirmish in the contract fight, which dates to 2010 when arbitrators awarded a contract that was also appealed by the city, and ultimately set aside.
That was worrisome for union officials far beyond Philadelphia, who were concerned that the Nutter administration had appealed a previous award, and now appears to be ignoring another, could set a nationwide precedent.
Gault, noting that Nutter is the president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, accused him of plotting with other mayors in a coordinated attack on firefighters.
“He’s with a bunch of other mayors plotting on how he can take your benefits away,” Gault said to a chorus of boos. “And, he’s supposed to be a Democrat.”
Union officials seemed genuinely concerned that the administration’s actions may set the tone for negotiations in the U.S. and Canada.
“Our members expect the fair treatment of a process,” said Harold Schaitberger, president of IAFF. “A process that says if two parties can’t agree, a neutral third party is going to come in and arbitrate a decision. If he doesn’t implement this award, he is going to deal with the full force of this international.”
Schaitberger added that the IAFF was gearing up for elections later this year, and planned on backing only candidates that supported their cause.
“We follow one principle: Those willing to stand with us, we’re willing to stand with,” he said. “The flip side of that is, you screw our members, you do the wrong thing … and we are going to use every political ability, every political dollar that we have to get you. I don’t care if you’re a Democrat or a Republican.”
One mayor, Tony Spitaleri, mayor of Sunnyvale, Calif., who is also a retired firefighter, said honoring the contract was a mayor’s duty. He compared Nutter’s tactics to those of a terrorist.
“The domestic enemies that you have across the country are mayors and we’re going to fight back,” said Spitaleri. “So I say from this mayor to you — do the right thing and give these guys what they deserve.”
Debate over fees totaling $2.7 million, the topic of discussion at a gas commission meeting Tuesday Dec. 11, has paralyzed the possible sale of the Philadelphia Gas Works — generating opposition from community advocates and the utility workers union who contend PGW customers should not be footing the bill.
“Should customers have to pay?” asked Robert W. Ballenger, an attorney with Community Legal Services, the city’s public advocate. “We think the city should ultimately pay for the costs of exploring whether to divest itself of its own asset.”
Gas commissioners meet Tuesday to discuss the matter. Mayor Michael Nutter, in February, suggested selling the 176-year-old utility.
Commission chair City Councilwoman Marian Tasco said she has not yet formed an opinion.
“My role tomorrow is listening,” she said. “It’s a hearing. I’m trying to be a facilitator in this discussion.”
She emphasized that the hearing will not deal with the idea of the sale, but merely who should pay the fees.
The utility workers union, Local 686, also opposes PGW payment of the fees. Union president Keith Holmes did not return phone calls Monday, but union attorneys have publicly expressed their concerns.
Administration officials argue that PGW should fund the study into any sale.
“The city solicitor … has determined that it is appropriate for it to come from PGW,” said Mark McDonald, a spokesman for the mayor.
He quoted an April 4 letter Solicitor Shelley Smith sent to Ballenger and the gas commission.
“It is only prudent and in the interests of rate-payers for any owner to consider from time to time whether the enterprise would be better served by different ownership,” he said. “I conclude that PGW may pay for contracts related to the potential sale of PGW, if it has the budget authority to do so.”
The fees have been included in the PGW’s $697 million budget, said executive director Janet Parrish.
Questions about who should pay have stalled PGW’s entire budget process, and it could be early next year until the issue is resolved.
Parrish said a final vote on the expenses — not the pending sale — may not come until mid-January or later.
“Commissioners will have to decide if they’ve gathered all the information they need,” Parrish said.
In a summary of the process to date, Parrish questioned a number of proposed expenses.
Her primary concern was the $750,000 agreement with the international bank Lazard Freres, and more than $400,000 earmarked for public relations consultants and lobbyists.
For the sale to be feasible it would have to generate between $1.5 and $1.85 billion for the city. A majority of those proceeds would be used to cover PGW’s liabilities – approximately $1 billion in debt and about $500 million in other liabilities.
The remainder, as much as $496 million, would go to the city’s coffers.
Administration officials contend that, if done properly, the sale can benefit customers through lower rates, and provide the city with an infusion of cash.
“A private buyer was not likely to need a rate increase as soon as a city-owned PGW,” said budget director Rebecca Rhynhart. “And, probably the level of service would be maintained.”
Gas rates in Philadelphia have historically been high.
“The typical resident in Philadelphia pays significantly more for gas service than other customers in Pennsylvania,” Nutter said when he announced his proposal. “PGW has the unenviable distinction of generally leading the list of the highest cost of service in the state.”
Administration officials hope to have a broker by Jan. 21.
If the concept is approved, city officials hope that a sale could be cemented over the next year. Approval of the Public Utilities Commission could take another year.
The annual celebration of America’s Independence Day, with soaring entertainment in City Center including fireworks, is a bittersweet event for Philadelphians who are military veterans and homeless.
Philadelphia’s homeless population includes nearly 400 veterans, many of whom languish in Center City where those July 4th celebrations will occur.
It’s incredibly funky that military veterans find themselves with little recourse to resources required for adequate shelter, living on the streets and scuffling for food in a nation that spends billions fighting wars that really don’t make America safer.
During the past year America sank $118 billion into just the war in Afghanistan, a recent report from ABC News report stated.
Politicians who preen publicly as patriotic supporters of the military when spending on war too often treat homeless vets with disdain.
A 2011 report from the non-partisan Congressional Research Service stated the U.S. Congress had appropriated $1.27 trillion since the 9/11 incidents for military operations, base security, reconstruction, foreign aid, embassy costs and veterans health care.
Counting dollars in the billions and trillions easily boggles the mind but there’s some accounting that doesn’t require having a super-computer to help with calculations.
It’s clearly evident from simple arithmetic that just a small percentage of those billions/trillions routinely expended on the U.S. military could eliminate the dire funding problems facing Philadelphia’s deficit plagued city government that force reductions in services including help for the homeless.
Just cutting out constructing an aircraft carrier or closing a few of the one thousand military bases America operates in 150 foreign countries could put Philadelphia and other cities on firm financial footing for decades — without doing what conservatives consider sacrilegious: raising taxes on the wealthy.
Last Thursday, Philadelphia City Council took a small, symbolic step toward seeking sanity on America’s military spending.
Council approved a resolution calling on the U.S. Congress to redirect military spending to fund education, jobs in the public and private sectors plus restoration of the nation’s infrastructure and environment.
Funding for domestic needs would come from ending the war in Afghanistan and substantially cutting America’s military budget, stated the non-binding resolution introduced by Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez with the active support of Council colleagues like Blondell Reynolds Brown, W. Wilson Goode Jr. and Curtis Jones.
Content in that resolution listed Philly-centric circumstances crying out for increased federal funding like homeless military veterans, one-third of Philadelphia children living in poverty, one-third of all city residents reporting hardships with having adequate food to eat plus high rates of unemployment.
Now the prospect of the current, Republican-dominated Congress acting to slash military spending is slim to none — despite such actions benefitting constituents of those conservatives.
However, this resolution approved by Philadelphia’s City Council is a solid example of common sense, fiscal responsibility and democracy.
Similar resolutions have won approval in over one hundred cities (large and small) in nearly two dozen states from Maine to Oregon.
The fact that resolutions calling for Congress to use American government money to help Americans has support in nominally non-liberal places like Montana and North Carolina hasn’t immunized those resolutions from ignorant attacks.
A writer for a Michigan-based group that alleges its goal is “sensible education reform” castigated the Philadelphia resolution as the product of “radicals, malcontents and burned-out hippies” approved by Council to mask its miserable handling of “public money…”
The Delaware Valley New Priorities Network drafted the resolution approved by City Council, which underwent changes in language to gain support of some council members.
The Network is comprised of labor, neighborhood, faith and peace organizations, said Network member Ken Heard.
Heard pointed to polls stating 85 percent of African Americans opposed the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq when addressing the misconception that anti-war/peace initiatives enjoy little support among Blacks.
“Two Black religious denominations went on record opposing the war in Iraq before any major white church group. All African-American members of City Council voted for this resolution,” Heard said.
Over half of the homeless veterans around America are African-American and Hispanic according to statistics compiled by national organizations.
Five days after Independence Day the administration of Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter will fight in federal court to preserve its ban on groups providing outdoor meals to the homeless inclusive of homeless vets.
Groups targeted by the Nutter administration’s ban are primarily the two dozen-plus religious groups serving meals on the Parkway who consider feeding the homeless their religious mission.
Ironically preserving religious freedom was one goal behind America fighting its War of Independence.
Nutter said his ban is to preserve dignity for the homeless plus ensuring safe food despite City officials having no reports of food-related illnesses from such outdoor feeding.
Critics of the ban, including those filing the lawsuit against the no-feeding policy, said there are no facilities available for Nutter’s envisioned indoor feeding plus Nutter’s designated outdoor area is adjacent to a City Hall construction site that is dusty and noisy with no seating space.
One of the parties suing Nutter is the Rev. Cranford Coulter of the King’s Jubilee who has provided meals to the homeless at 18th and the Parkway since 1989.
“The mayor talks about feeding indoors, but there is no space. Three homeless shelters are closing with no replacements,” Coulter said.
“Sharing food with the hungry is a part of the tradition of all major religions.”
Linn Washington Jr. is a graduate of the Yale Law Fellowship Program.
Attorney General Eric Holder was in Philadelphia yesterday to announce a Department of Justice strategy that applies federal agents and technology to assist local law enforcement in targeting and taking down some of the city’s worst criminals.
The Violent Crime Reduction Partnership is a joint effort by the FBI, the Philadelphia Police Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, along with the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office. Personnel from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the U.S. Marshals Service have also been working with local law enforcement to strategically target the city’s most violent criminals. Holder said that last month law enforcement authorities from the federal agencies began a “surge” to fight and prevent crime throughout the city.
As of Tribune press time, there have been 196 murders in the city; most of them directly attributed to gun violence.
“Despite the fact that the national violent crime rate has continued its downward trend, a number of major cities across the country — including Philadelphia — have experienced alarming increases in the number of homicides over the past year,” Holder said. “In response, the Department of Justice has developed a new initiative — known as the Violent Crime Reduction Partnership — to help target federal resources to areas in need of additional support. Early last month, more than 50 federal law enforcement officials — including agents, investigators and intelligence analysts from the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; the Drug Enforcement Administration; the United States Marshals Service; and representatives of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and the Justice Department’s Criminal Division — began a four-month surge of federal law enforcement resources in order to prevent and combat violent and drug-related crime across the Philadelphia metropolitan area.”
The Violent Crime Reduction Partnership came into being on June 4. Over a period of six weeks, the Partnership has made more than 300 arrests for violent crimes, drugs, illegal firearms and other offenses. The Partnership personnel have been using advanced technology to build intelligence on different crime organizations operating in Philadelphia’s neighborhoods.
“Already, our agents have helped apprehend dangerous fugitives, investigate armed robberies, gather and process valuable intelligence, and bring criminals to justice,” Holder said. “They’ve deployed new, state-of-the-art equipment to support ballistics identification in gun-related crimes. And in the coming months — as they continue to work alongside, and reinforce relationships with key local partners like many of the leaders in this room — their activities will help to refine an innovative public safety approach that is beginning to show signs of tremendous promise.”
Last month $3 million in COPS grants were allocated to Philadelphia to hire 25 more police officers. Mayor Nutter said the Violent Crime Reduction Partnership represents the next step in the joint effort to make the streets of the city safer.
“The Violent Crime Reduction Partnership is the next stage in efforts by local and federal law enforcement to target the most violent offenders in our city and bring them to justice,” Nutter said. “We are grateful for the partnership and the support of the attorney general as we work together to make Philadelphia safer. To the violent criminals hiding in our city, I’m telling you, we are coming after you, we will find you. Your hiding days are over.”
Two firefighters were killed and two others seriously injured while fighting to control a massive five-alarm inferno in the Kensington section of Philadelphia.
The firemen were killed when the ceiling and a wall collapsed inside a furniture store that was burning at Boston Street and Kensington Avenue. They have been identified as Lt. Robert Neary, 60, and firefighter Daniel Sweeney, 25. Both men were attached to Ladder 10 of the Philadelphia Fire Department.
“It is with profound sadness that I announce the deaths of two of Philadelphia firefighters who perished early this morning in the line of duty during a five alarm fire,” said Mayor Michael Nutter. “These firefighters made the ultimate sacrifice for the people of Philadelphia. This is a tremendous loss for their families and the city of Philadelphia. My prayers go out to their families and to the Philadelphia Fire Department, whose members have lost two of their brothers.
“My thoughts also go out to the firefighters and the families of those who were injured in the line of duty this morning. We are grateful that they are receiving the top medical care available. Our first responders — our firefighters, police officers and paramedics — are our heroes and make unimaginable sacrifices each and every day for the citizens of Philadelphia. I would like to thank them for their service, and our hearts go out to those who have lost their colleagues and friends.”
According to Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers, the fire started inside a warehouse at East York and Jasper Streets at 3:13 a.m. Because of the high winds and dry conditions, the blaze quickly escalated to a 5-alarm inferno that spread to six houses and the Giamari Furniture Store. The fire was declared under control around 5:15 a.m.
"We have two firefighters that lost their lives," said a shaken Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers. Ayers said that Neary and Sweeney were with three other firefighters were inside battling the peripheral blaze when the ceiling of the store and a wall collapsed. It took almost two hours to dig the injured personnel out. "We're asking for prayers for the families. We’re getting a lot of support. Just as we serve our citizens, right now they’re serving us.”
As the fire engulfed the warehouse, high winds blew hot embers to six nearby houses, causing damage but fortunately, no further deaths or injuries. The Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania was on hand and offered comfort and assistance to the displaced local residents.
According to a statement released by the firefighters’ union, Neary had 38 years with the Philadelphia Fire Department after serving three years in the Philadelphia Police Department. He leaves behind a wife, Diane and three adult children, Robert, Christopher and Dianne.
Sweeney, according to the union statement, joined the fire department in 2006, and is the son of a retired Philadelphia fire captain, David Sweeney. He was unmarried.
Seriously injured by the fire were firefighters Francis Chaney, 43, and Patrick Nally, 25. Chaney is an eight-year veteran of the department and Nally has served five years. Both were listed in stable condition, and Nally was released.
More than 9,000 inmates in city jails
Civil rights attorney David Rudovsky was given permission by a federal judge this week to reopen a lawsuit against the City of Philadelphia for its overcrowded prisons, a problem with no easy solution.
Rudovsky took on the issue of prison overcrowding during Mayor Michael Nutter’s first term in 2008, and also during the John Street administration in 2006, when the city’s prison population exceeded 9,000 inmates. According to Philadelphia Prison System spokesperson Shawn Hawes, the current inmate population — in the six facilities on State Road and smaller jails throughout the city — is 9,339. She was unable to comment regarding the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges that more than 1,000 inmates are housed three to a cell in cells meant for two people, air conditioning is a problem at the Detention Center, and these conditions exacerbate volatile issues inmates already have. But Philadelphia or Pennsylvania isn’t the only city or state with overcrowded prisons. Experts say this is a nationwide problem and that, although there have been some reductions, inmate overcrowding continues to be a problem. In fact, according to statistics provided by the Sentencing Project, there are 2.2 million people in the nation's prisons or jails — a 500 percent increase over the past thirty years.
Rudovsky, who was unable to respond by Tribune press time, said in a previous interview that although there had been some alleviation of the crowded conditions, the facilities are still over capacity.
“This was not a new lawsuit,” Rudovsky said. “The judge just agreed to allow us to reopen the previous complaint. Essentially, the city managed to reduce the inmate population to 7,500 several months ago, and it appeared as though we were making progress. But now it’s turned around the other way. We’re back to triple-celling — which we think is unconstitutional. We’ve had some reductions over the last few years. At one point, the city prison population was at 10,000 inmates. On the state level, we’ve had some diversion of the inmate population, and for nonviolent offenders we’re seeing more sentencing to alternative facilities and in-house arrests — and these offenders’ cases are being heard quicker but now the prisons are overcrowded.”
Prison reform has taken on an increasing national stature, particularly in an era of shrinking state and local budgets. Governments are looking for alternatives to prison for nonviolent offenders. In 2010, Republican state Sen. Stewart Greenleaf was among those lawmakers who said that Pennsylvania could save millions on prison costs if the state made better use of alternative sentencing for nonviolent offenders.
“With an aggressive alternative sentencing program and better treatment programs in general, we can actually reverse the increases,” Greenleaf said. Greenleaf sponsored legislation to use more specialized courts like drug courts, and to move nonviolent criminals to halfway houses.
The state legislature passed three of Greenleaf’s prison reform bills during the 2009-2010 session. The measures were combined into Act 95 of 2010, which contained several provisions to save costs.
“Pennsylvania has more than 51,000 prison inmates,” Greenleaf said. “This number is 8,000 more than the rated capacity for the state prison system. Pennsylvania is building three new prisons and, while they are being built, transferring inmates to counties and other states, like Virginia and Michigan, with excess capacity. We must bring this crisis under control. We must fund programs that will help divert low-level offenders from state prison and support re-entry services that lessen the chance for offenders to commit new crimes.”
Although a recently released government report showed a decline in the national prison population in most states, Pennsylvania is among those still showing an increase. But part of the reason for the increase, according to a report by the Pew Charitable Trust, is that Philadelphia’s prisons are transferring a portion of the county population to state facilities.
“From 2008 to 2009, even as Philadelphia’s inmate population peaked and then fell, Pennsylvania’s Prison System was recording the largest increase in prisoners of any state in the nation in absolute numbers,” according to the report. “Only two states, Indiana and West Virginia, had bigger percentage increases than Pennsylvania’s 4 percent. Over the same period, 26 states had population declines.
Philadelphia is responsible for a significant share of the increase being experienced by the state. Last year, the number of new inmates going to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections from the Philadelphia courts rose by 6 percent. Without enough capacity to handle the growing population, Pennsylvania is sending prisoners to Michigan and Virginia. Plans are in place to build four new state prisons.”
According to the report, in Philadelphia the decline in the inmate population started early in 2009 and accelerated as the year went on. A number of factors contributed to the drop, including a marked decrease in the percentage of sentenced inmates because of changes in the law. Rudovsky said that a number of factors contributed to the overall decline in the Philadelphia Prison System but there are still issues.
“I think they started implementing some of the things we recommended in our lawsuit and there have been some changes in the laws. Seth Williams did some things in the charging unit. But Philadelphia still has one of the highest prison populations in the country. I think they’ve done the easy things, now it’s time to take on some of the more difficult issues,” Rudovsky said.
As he dives into a new legislative session with plans to press forward with gun control legislation and expanded voting among other things, Sen. Anthony Williams also has his eye on another option — running for mayor.
“I think I have some ideas I would like to try in the form of chief executive,” he told the Tribune this week. “That’s why I ran for governor.”
Williams, who ran for governor in 2010, outlined his legislative agenda for the upcoming session in an editorial board meeting with the Tribune.
In a spirited conversation, the senator discussed a range of legislative topics from gun control to education and voting rights. He also took a moment to mull over a future outside the state legislature.
“I’m actively investigating the possibility,” replied Williams when asked if he was considering a run for mayor, something long rumored.
His decision would hinge on several factors, Williams said, including finances, and gauging popular and party support for his candidacy
He didn’t expect to make a decision this year, he said. Mayor Michael Nutter’s term runs to 2016 — a campaign would likely start in 2014, as candidates vie for a nomination in the primary in early 2015.
Turning back to his plans for the coming senate session, Williams said his top priority would be job creation.
However, several of his other proposals are likely to garner more attention in the press.
The Philadelphia delegation is working on a package of gun proposals. Williams has come up with a bill that would create a statewide database to track guns. Despite the fact that it is what Williams describes as a moderate approach to gun control, it is something that could generate debate. Gun control measures of any kind have long been a non-starter in the state legislature.
The shootings at Newtown, Conn., have changed that dynamic somewhat.
“There are extremes on both sides, and members in between — and the ones who are in between are indifferent, ‘If it’s not broke, don’t fix it’ — but now some of these folks are willing to talk about it,” he said. “The epidemic of these guns has been with some of us for a while.”
It’s difficult to tell where the proposal might go.
“Where it will go? I’m not exactly sure,” he said, adding that Pennsylvania officials might delay until another state took action. “The timing is right. The votes are there. I don’t think you have the right governor.”
Williams also expects to introduce another bill — one that would create an early voting period — which he also expects the governor to oppose.
“With this particular gentleman, there are things that are problematic,” Williams said.
Under Williams plan, voters would be able to cast their ballots, in person, up to two weeks before an election. Pennsylvania is one of only 15 states that doesn’t have early voting.
Voting became a controversial issue this year as the state enacted a voter ID law that angered many. Williams, along with other members of the Philadelphia delegation, is party to a lawsuit seeking to have the law overthrown.
The senator also has a plan he hopes will energize Philadelphia voters during judicial elections. Under the proposal, names for judge candidates would be rotated on ballots across the city, rather than the current practice of candidates randomly drawing their ballot position from numbers in a coffee can. Williams hopes the move will wake up apathetic voters by forcing them to pay attention to the names on the ballot thus forcing judicial candidates to campaign more actively.
“The quality of the bench has devolved,” he said, the change “would guarantee that people are looking for your name — as opposed to just looking for your position.”
In general terms, Williams said, Pennsylvania is at a political crossroads.
“Pennsylvania is at the intersection of how it wants to operate,” he said. “Is it a D state, an R state, or always operate independently. I think it’s always going to be more independent.”