Two members of the embattled School Reform Commission are leaving their posts. Chairman Robert L. Archie Jr. resigned Monday and Johnny Irizarry was expected to follow suit.
“I am resigning as chairman and as a member of the School Reform Commission, a very distinguished and hard working body of volunteers, effective immediately,” Archie, who is also a Tribune board member, said in a statement.
Irizarry confirmed that he would be stepping down but declined to comment before an announcement by Mayor Michael Nutter.
Archie, along with state Rep. Dwight Evans, is the subject of an investigation by the city’s integrity office as Mayor Michael Nutter seeks to find out exactly what happened during the Philadelphia School District’s attempt to turn Martin Luther King High School into a charter school.
Nutter, who appointed both men in March 2009, ordered the investigation into Archie in April. Though he promised a report “as soon as possible,” the city has not yet released its findings.
He was expected to make a public statement Monday afternoon.
From one end of Philadelphia to the other, virtually no neighborhood — from Society Hill to Grays Ferry and from University City to Strawberry Mansion — is exempt from the senseless violence that seems to have a vice-like grip on Philadelphia.
According to law enforcement experts, among the top ten cities in the nation, Philadelphia’s homicide rate remains among the worst, with young Black males between the ages of 17 to 25 consistently being the majority of the victims and perpetrators. After a 20 percent decline in homicide over the last three years, the numbers are starting to inch up again. To put the figures in context, there have been 183 murders in Philadelphia as of Tribune press time. By contrast, one U.S. serviceman was killed in Iraq in 2012. In 2011, there were 324 murder victims in Philadelphia, again, mostly Black males. In Iraq for that same year, 54 U.S. servicemen were killed.
The numbers illustrate the glaring and frightening reality that a young Black man is safer in Iraq fighting insurgents than he is walking around the streets of Philadelphia’s African American neighborhoods.
The contributing causes of what drives the senseless violence in Philadelphia seem to defy the best efforts of lawmakers, community leaders and anti-violence advocates to curtail it. Mentoring has been shown to work, but is there enough funding to sustain a major effort to reach the at-risk population? The at-risk population needs living wage jobs, but statistics show that most of the perpetrators of the violence are high school, or even junior high school dropouts with long records of arrests and incarcerations. Then there are the illegal guns. The Gun Violence Task Force has confiscated thousands of illegal weapons since its inception, and still the violence continues. Over and over the refrain is heard from residents and government representatives alike – “We must do something about the violence in our neighborhoods.”
The question is what?
At the ninth Annual Summit on Race, Culture and Human Relation, Mayor Michael Nutter put the issue in context when he compared the country’s reaction to Black on Black crime and its response to terrorism.
“Black men are becoming an endangered species in America — locked up or dead,” Nutter said. “Crime also breeds upon itself. After serving their time, many of the individuals who are released from our prisons cannot find work, and do not have the training or literacy skills to keep a job. In the United States today, one in three African American men will have contact with the criminal justice system at some point during their lives. Of the 316 people who were murdered in Philadelphia last year, nearly 75 percent of those killed were Black men. Around 80 percent of those doing the killing are Black men. Black on Black crime is not an isolated problem. It affects every member of every community. This is a national problem with national implications, and there needs to be a national conversation.”
In 2004, on the morning of Feb. 11, 10-year old Faheem Thomas-Childs was caught in the crossfire of a gunfight at the T.M. Peirce Elementary School in North Philadelphia. The killing of Thomas-Childs touched off citywide outrage - and he was only one of 330 people killed that year in the city.
During military operations in Iraq from 2007 to 2012, 1,482 American service members were killed. In Philadelphia for the same years, 1,654 people were killed — mostly Black males. To color that number even more, according to Philadelphia Police Department figures, 645 Black males between the ages of 17 and 25 were murdered in Philadelphia during those years. By contrast, 27 Black males between the same ages were fatally shot by police officers in the commission of their duties.
“There are combinations of different causes behind this senseless bloodshed,” said Philadelphia City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson. “Many times these are petty disputes that rise to the level of violence. Some of the reports I’ve seen indicate drug turf wars in some instances, but all of it has a negative impact on the community, and most of the victims are young Black males. The reality is that we cannot give up and just sit on the sidelines; we have to keep working aggressively to change the mindset of these young men.”
Chad Lassiter, president of Black Men at Penn, said a major part of the problem lies in young Black men returning to their communities from prison and finding limited or no resources in helping them secure living wage jobs.
“We’re not doing nearly enough from an economic standpoint, and we have to truly level the economic and educational playing fields. In both areas, we see what we can almost define as a kind of apartheid,” Lassiter said. “We have major corporations here and major sports franchises - but no training programs to move workers into employment within them. Also, there’s not enough being done in the construction industry in terms of apprenticeships. Are there mentoring programs? Attorney General Eric Holder giving $3 million to hire twenty five police officers doesn’t excite me. I’d like to see that money used to target and prosecute the traffickers of illegal guns.”
Bilal Qayyum, Executive Director of the Father’s Day Rally Committee, Inc., said his organization is in the planning stages of setting up a national level conference on Black on Black crime. Call to Action: Black on Black Violence Conference will be hosted by St. Joseph’s University and will take place from August 10 through August 13. The purpose is to bring African American leaders together from across the country to see what works and what doesn’t, and how to apply successful anti-violence approaches in their cities and communities.
“What works in Baltimore might not work in Philadelphia. What works in Philadelphia may not work in Newark. We are 13 percent of the population of America, but cause 50 percent of the homicides - and we’ve been trying to get a hold on this for years. It requires a response on the national level. What we hope to achieve with the conference is create a national movement to help end the violence. We need to look at fresh models and create a national network of groups to work on the problem,” Qayyum said.
The shooting death of Trayvon Martin has been called everything from a national tragedy to a national disgrace; a hate crime with more and more rallies taking place everyday calling for George Zimmerman’s arrest and justice for the victim and his grieving family.
President Barack Obama has also weighed in on the issue, leaving behind the sound bite, “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon.”
But absent from most of the discussions, most of the rallies, most of the righteous anger and all of the remarks from an increasing plethora of Black leaders and media figures is the other national disgrace — the abominably high murder rate among young Black males.
“This is an epidemic that’s been going on too long,” said Mayor Michael Nutter in a recent interview. “And unfortunately, you will find African-American males at the bottom of good categories and at the top of negative categories.”
Last Thursday, Mayor Nutter spoke at a rally in Love Park regarding the Martin killing. Nutter said people are concerned over Trayvon Martin, but also need to be outraged over what’s happening on their own street corners.
“How is it possible that thousands of Black men, thousands of Black people, [are] killed every year, and no one says a word?” asked Nutter in a published report.
Community leader and anti-violence activist Bilal Qayyum, who is also working with other community leaders on the new media campaign Live and Let Live: Promoting Peace and Eradicating the Culture of Violence, also questioned the Black community’s lack of outrage over the meaningless killings that happen in its neighborhoods every single day.
“Everyone is angry about what happened to this kid Trayvon Martin in Florida, but I tell people that in Philadelphia in the last ten years we’ve had 3,760 people killed. And over 2,600 of them were Black males,” Qayyum said. “Where’s the anger about that? In Chicago, there were a bunch of shootings just a couple of weekends ago and again, mostly Black males killing other Black males. Where is the outrage over that?”
The Black genocide taking place in the African-American communities didn’t happen overnight, social experts say. And, many of the factors contributing to it weren’t spawned in the Black community. Systemic racism, government apathy, the poor quality of education in many predominantly Black public schools and the loss of living wage jobs, have all played a part in creating the ongoing bloodshed.
“This is something that affects every aspect of life in our city,” said Chad Dion Lassiter, MSW and president of Black Men at Penn. Lassiter said the level of anger isn’t the same because people are being reactive rather than proactive, which is harder.
“It’s easier to be visceral rather than do the hard work of violence prevention,” Lassiter said. “We’re silent over the Black genocide, yet Trayvon Martin’s assassination gives us an example of the level of outrage that could take place — but deafening silence when the same thing happens on the street corners of our neighborhoods. I think it’s because we’re hypocrites; we’re okay with the moral erosion happening right in front of our eyes. There’s too much talk and too much inactivity — too much silence from the Black churches and the Black community. There are too many Black Zimmermans in our communities right now. Curtis up the street can commit two murders, and no one is willing to say anything. Are we really going to be okay with that?”
To cite a recent example, on March 20 at around 3:30 p.m., an unidentified Black male pulled up in a gold colored car in the vicinity of Fifth and Pierce streets. The still unidentified male fired several shots at a 19-year-old Black male. The victim ran south on Fifth and then onto Pierce Street, according to police. The unidentified shooter pursued him, still firing, and striking two men, ages 51 and 52. The victims were hospitalized in stable condition. That same evening, just before 9 p.m., gunfire exploded again inside a playground near Fourth and Washington where at least 60 people were gathered. An unidentified gunman fired several shots into the crowd, striking a 12-year-old boy and a 15-year-old girl. The boy suffered a graze wound to the ankle and the girl was struck in the thigh. Both were rushed to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania where they were treated and released.
At the publishing of this article, the number of homicides in Philadelphia this year has climbed to 92. According to figures from reports researched by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, across the nation, 85 percent of the Black victims of homicide are male, and 51 percent are between the ages of 17 and 19.
“Should we be outraged over the death of Trayvon Martin? Yes, but cases like this happen everyday,” said Minister Rodney Muhammad of the Nation of Islam. “Martin’s death symbolizes the injustices done to us on a daily basis. The hoodie he wore was part of the stereotypical profile, but Wall Street stuck up the whole nation wearing business suits. The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan called it justifiable homicide — that Zimmerman felt justified because our Black genocide gives a license to people like him. There has to be resentment over the wide spread murder of ourselves and our injustices to each other. I think for too long we’ve relied on someone else for our own betterment. We’re overdue to stop asking America for what’s due to us. We’ve done a great work for America and now it’s time to do a great work for ourselves. We have geniuses in every field of human endeavor, and we need to marshal those strengths. When we do better, America does better. There was a time when our children would walk ten miles to learn to read and write. Now we have children who live across the street from a Free Library and have never been inside it.”
Republican challenger hand-delivers letter to mayor, says she won’t ‘fade away’
Republican mayoral candidate Karen Brown threw down the gauntlet Friday morning, hand delivering a letter to Mayor Michael Nutter challenging him to take part in a series of debates before the Nov. 8 election.
“I’ve been trying to do this since the primary,” Brown said, as she waited in the second floor corridor outside the mayor’s office. “In the beginning I was told that when it gets later in the general [election season] we’ll talk about a debate. Then I was told, ‘We’ll let you know.’”
According to Brown, Nutter has avoided debating her despite repeated attempts on her part to get him to agree to at least one policy discussion. Tired of waiting, she decided to press the mayor personally rather than wait for his campaign staff to act on her suggestion.
Brown was ushered into Nutter’s office at around 9:45 a.m. When she emerged a few minutes later she said the mayor accepted the letter.
Nutter’s campaign spokesperson Sheila Simmons did not return phone calls Friday seeking comment.
Brown’s theory is that Nutter is hoping that if he ignores her she’ll simply disappear.
“I don’t think he wants to give me any more legs,” she said. “I think he’s thinking that the least time I can get with the press or any time in front of the camera will cause me to fade away.”
Asked if she planned on fading away, she replied with a sharp shake of her head: “Nah.”
The plan formally outlined in her letter suggested five debates at events throughout the city.
“If it’s in their neighborhood, people will come,” she said, then quoted the letter: “I have chosen two venues — Southwark School in South Philly and Boys Latin Charter School in West Philly and I welcome you to select venues in Center City, North Philly and the Northeast. Now more than ever it’s important for members of our communities to have a choice. I look forward to hearing from you and giving our voters a fair choice in November.”
She added that she’s open to pretty much any forum as long as the public gets compare the two candidates.
“I just want to get him in a place where I can discuss policy,” she said.
She characterized Nutter as “hostile” toward her saying that he has shushed her at several of his speaking engagements when she’s tried to ask questions. At one point, as she stood in the corridor outside Nutter’s office a security guard tried to move her along until a member of Nutter’s staff told him it was OK.
Brown, once a Democratic candidate for city council, has taken an interesting route to the Republican nomination and now appears to be the focus of a coalition of forces that oppose Nutter. They include the Republican establishment headed by the party’s general counsel Michael Meehan; renegade Republican and former candidate for the Republican nomination John Featherman and former Mayor John F. Street, a Democrat.
Nutter is expected to win in the predominately Democratic city.
However, his showing in the May primary was somewhat less than expected when Democratic challenger T. Milton Street garnered about 24 percent of the vote compared to Nutter’s 76 percent.
The race is complicated by vocal opposition from the city’s firefighter’s union and simmering tensions between the mayor and the city’s municipal unions, which have worked for his entire term without a contract.
Give a “cut-above” credit to Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey for quietly traveling to barber shops in numerous neighborhoods around the city to talk with customers, engaging in conservations about community perceptions of police.
The Commissioner taking his time to listen — getting earfuls from folks sharing their complaints and kudos — is smart policing. This is the type of initiative needed to move the phrase “community partnership” from a politically popular cliché to an effective crime fighting practice.
Commissioner Ramsey and Mayor Nutter both know about and care about doing something about the biggest crime related problem confronting Philadelphia: the outrageous levels of murders.
The victims of those murders are disproportionately young Black males as are the perpetrators.
As Philadelphia Tribune City Editor Daryl Gale perceptively noted in a commentary last week, “young Philadelphians are so hopeless and filled with shortsighted desperation that they’ve engaged in what could well be the first case of self-inflicted genocide in human history.”
The 324 murders recorded in Philadelphia last year produced the unenviable distinction of ranking Philly as #1 in murder rates among America’s ten largest cities…more than New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles and Houston.
And before the smoke of New Year’s Eve fireworks dissipated the smoke of gunfire besmirched the dawning of 2012 with another spate of homicides around Philly.
Mayor Nutter, during his inauguration speech last week for his second term, described this murderous behavior among some (and certainly not all) young Black men as “a local and national epidemic not sufficiently talked about, much less tackled.”
Mayor Nutter went beyond the standard “we’re going to put more police on our streets — 120 new officers on foot patrol by summer this year” by promising to “continue to build partnerships with the community through community policing and Philly Rising.” Let’s hope that 2012 is truly the year for new commitment and new thinking in City Hall about engagement with “community” in crafting and implementing crime reduction strategies.
One of the biggest failings in Philadelphia regarding crime reduction is the failure of City Hall to effectively work with community groups that daily work in the trenches with those impacted by crime and those apart of destructive criminal behavior.
As one community activist noted during an interview last week, “There’s been a disconnect between police and community initiatives. The City has to work in partnership with communities. There are groups out there working on violence reduction that never get credit.”
While politicians and police officials talk about partnerships with communities you rarely see community groups included in press conferences where City Hall pats itself on the back by announcing reductions in murder rates and/or decreases in crime generally.
Community based violence reduction efforts already confront uphill battles on the front lines from those they are trying to impact who feel these efforts have little influence among the power-brokers in City Hall and Center City corporate suites that hold real sway over matters involving employment, education and criminal justice policies.
City Hall brushing aside these efforts — deliberately or inadvertently — reinforces the perception of powerlessness of those efforts in the minds of people those efforts are trying to reach. Community groups are getting ready to launch a new violence reduction initiative captioned “Live and Let Live” — phrasing that tactically addresses a prime trigger for much of the conflicts leading to fatal violence: arguments over perceptions of someone not “respecting” someone.
The Mayor, City Council, corporate and civic leaders need to back these kinds of community initiatives, not just with making the easy endorsements but with resources inclusive of providing money.
Mayor Nutter deserves credit for declaring during his inauguration speech his willingness to “extend a hand” to persons ready to “put guns down.” Nutter said, “We must show them that if you put the gun down we’ll work with you to put a book in your hands, to put some work and a job in your hands, to put a paycheck in your hands.”
To transform the mayor’s sincere rhetoric into reality City Hall has to stop shooting itself in the foot with counter-productive practices like the Police Department’s Stop-&-Frisk campaign and the sweet-heart Project Labor Agreement Nutter announced late last year for trade unions with a history of racial discrimination.
Stop-&-Frisk is infused with racial profiling mainly targeting Black and Latino males. This dragnet policing alienates people who the police need for cooperation in identifying criminals. Commissioner Ramsey bemoaned the lack of community cooperation in solving murders and the impact that has on lower rates of solving murders yet some of that lack of cooperation comes from adverse reactions to offensive policing.
As law professor Sherrilyn Ifill noted in a short essay posted recently on The Root there are “unintended consequences” from the Stop-&-Frisks in New York City that like Philadelphia overwhelmingly targets non-whites. “Fostering a relationship of hostility with the city’s Black and Latino male population is not only wrong; it’s also not smart policing,” Ifill wrote noting disincentives like discouraging providing police with crime solving tips.
Last June the Nutter Administration entered a legal settlement to reform Stop-&-Frisk yet months later the mayor committed city-funded construction jobs exclusively to discriminatory building trade unions, the types of jobs needed for that “hand-up” referenced in his inauguration speech.
The time is ripe for real engagement with communities.
Linn Washington Jr. is a graduate of the Yale Law Journalism Fellowship Program.
National and local news media lavished accolade-filled coverage on Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter last summer when Nutter harshly lashed irreverent trouble-making teens and their irresponsible parents during a Sunday morning church service address.
Nutter’s remarks, a mixture of accurate and disingenuous, fit a favored news media narrative: aberrant behavior among Blacks arises principally from personal deficiencies not perverse reactions to structural inequities ingrained in American society.
Given the command of news media coverage narratives, irrespective of narratives so often contradicting fact, it’s no surprise that the news media blithely by-passed serious analysis of an action by Nutter weeks ago inflaming the inequities undergirding the matrix of behaviors the mayor castigated during his pulpit outburst.
The persistent failures within too much of the white news media — mainstream and alternative — to provide probative coverage of racial realities in America is not a new phenomenon.
These failures are American as apple pie and old as the news media’s beginnings in America according to detailed findings contained in the insightful new book “News For All The People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media” (Verso 2011).
Mayor Nutter’s announcement of exclusive employment deals (Project Labor Agreements) with local building trades unions — infamous for racism — condemns qualified minority construction workers and contractors to years more of exclusion from publicly financed projects with consequent damage to the already tattered economic fabric in non-white communities across Philadelphia.
Mayor Nutter promises that his supervision of PLAs will ensure inclusive opportunities for non-whites and city residents.
But the mayor’s promises will require more than a few miracles to make real based on the lack of inclusion by the building trades unions and major contractors under previous PLAs.
“The majority of the population of a large American city has just been sold-out once again,” stated National Black Chamber of Commerce head Harry Alford in a commentary carried in the Black Press including The Philadelphia Tribune condemning the PLAs announced by Mayor Nutter.
Alford, citing facts ignored by news media coverage, noted that past PLAs in Philadelphia and everywhere else have been a “total disaster in terms of diversity” for Blacks, Hispanics, other non-whites and women.
The awareness-expanding “News For All,” book examining both the development of the news media in America and the role of race in news content, is co-authored by Juan Gonzalez, who began his award-winning journalism career at the Philadelphia Daily News in the late 1970s.
“Why have stereotypes been so persistent in American news, given the nation’s founding commitment to freedom of the press and its many struggles over slavery, territorial expansion and civil rights?” Gonzalez and his co-author Joseph Torres ask in the book’s introduction.
“For more than 250 years the nation’s news media, no matter how politically liberal, conservative or radical, no matter what class they purported to represent, remained the press of its white population.”
Gonzalez, a columnist for the New York Daily News and co-host of the nationally/internationally syndicated TV and radio show “Democracy Now,” was in Philadelphia last week to talk about his latest book.
In full disclosure, Gonzalez is a professional colleague and personal friend of mine from our days at Philly’s Daily News. The first journalism award we won at the Daily News was for a 1979 investigative series on housing gentrification in Philadelphia.
Gonzalez and I were founding members of that paper’s Third World Caucus which pushed for more inclusive coverage, hiring and promotion practices at that paper.
Caucus efforts contributed to the Daily News hiring its first Black executive editor in 1985, Jay Harris…an event noted in “News For All.”
Harris hired a Wall Street Journal reporter named Michael Days who eventually became the first Black to lead that paper…one of the few Blacks to ever head a major urban daily newspaper.
Gonzalez, during his remarks last week, presented little known history about the U.S. news media like how the U.S. Postal Service during most of its first one hundred years of operation distributed more newspapers than personal letters.
“The federal government played a pivotal role in the distribution of information because the Founders felt that information was critical to the development of democracy,” Gonzalez said during a talk at Temple University’s Center City campus that followed a reception held in his honor by Al Dia, the Delaware Valley’s largest Hispanic-owned newspaper.
“News For All” also examines some of the news media’s dirtiest laundry — the media’s active roles in lynching Blacks, exterminating Native Americans and brutally harassing Hispanics and Asian-Americans.
“News” recounts the little known Wilmington, N.C. uprising of 1898 where a racist mob, egged on by an influential newspaper editor, overthrew that city’s elected government suffering no reprisals from state or federal officials.
A prime target of those racist rioters was the South’s most successful Black-owned newspaper — forcing that paper’s editor to flee to Philadelphia.
Another of the many interesting stories in the book is that of Pedro Gonzalez, a Latino broadcaster in Los Angeles whose opposition to the racist deportation of Mexicans in the early 1930s led to a false rape conviction and deportation.
“Here is a hero who stood up to oppose mass deportation and was struck down — and no one knows about him,” Gonzalez said.
“A lot of minority journalists were targeted and jailed for fighting for a free press…”
Linn Washington Jr. is a graduate of the Yale Law Journalism Fellowship Program.
While slain civil rights leader Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. often dreamed that his nonviolent crusade would lead to racial equality, he also envisioned the arrival of housing and economic fairness that would lead the downtrodden out of sub-human living conditions.
If alive to see the transformation of the decrepit Hawthorne Square housing project and its immediate surroundings, King himself would be proud.
That was the overriding sentiment when city and housing officials on Wednesday unveiled a plaque at 13th and Fitzwater streets, renaming the vicinity Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza. Symbolically, the renaming of the plaza brings to a close at least one of the chapters of public housing in the city; planners decided to name the new plaza after King to memorialize his famous visit here in 1965, when he addressed hundreds of Hawthorne residents and demanded fair and equal housing for them.
“We continue to feel the ripple effects of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which was a direct result” of King’s work in that arena, said Philadelphia Housing Authority Commissioner Karen Newton Cole. “So it is really important that, moving forward, we commemorate what Martin Luther King did, especially as it relates to housing.”
King visited what was then known as Hawthorne Square for a two-day visit, August 2–3, 1965, and more than an estimated 2,300 people gathered on that corner to hear him speak. In 1970, longtime politician James Tayoun — then the councilman for the district that included Hawthorne Square — petitioned PHA to change its name. Tayoun was also one of the earlier supporters of King’s visit to Philadelphia — a notion that wasn’t all too popular at the time.
“We are standing on hallowed ground,” the veteran politician said, joining the ranks of Council members Jannie Blackwell and Kenyatta Johnson — who grew up in the neighborhood — who made stirring remarks about the neighborhood’s transformation. “It’s hallowed because I remember the faces of the young men and women who died here because they couldn’t get affordable housing. It’s my pleasure to have a small part in his role here.”
PHA Administrative Receiver and Executive Director Michael P. Kelly echoed the sentiment of many when he said that Dr. King, “on this spot, held a rally that addressed economic injustice and housing for the poor. Those ideas are still valid today.”
The negative impact of the housing policy to warehouse the very poor in high-rise dwellings that lack the necessary social infrastructure cannot be overstated. Dr. William Tucker, president of the Philadelphia MLK Center for Nonviolence said King should be commended for bringing attention to the housing disparity, noting that the late leader spoke out when authorities began “substituting horizontal slums with vertical slums,” Tucker said. “Now, Philadelphia is ahead of the curve in eliminating housing projects.”
Mayor Nutter, Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers and a host of other city and state politicians also praised the works of King. The dedication also commemorates the 40th anniversary of his assassination.
MLK Plaza joins Martin Luther King Jr. Drive as two of the city’s most prominent renaming initiatives, and joins a nationwide trend of cities embracing King with major renaming moves. CNN reported that more than 900 cities have streets named after King, and Memphis, Tennessee — where King was slain while on the balcony of a downtown hotel — is finally dealing with its past and renaming a one-mile stretch of Linden Avenue in King’s honor.
Departing, Blackwell was reminded of King’s overriding compassion.
“Nothing is more important when we think of Dr. Martin Luther King than love,” Blackwell said. “During a time when people were deathly afraid, King stood up for them, and loved them.”
Unresolved labor issues could jeopardize approval in years to come
With a word of warning about next year, the board of the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority on Wednesday approved the administration’s five-year plan, insuring that state funds will continue to flow for the next fiscal year.
Board members worried about the fact Mayor Michael Nutter’s administration has not reached contract agreements with any of the city’s major unions — including the firefighters’ union — and said if that remained the case next year, the plan would have difficulty getting PICA approval.
“Six years to go without a labor contract is a long time,” said board president Sam Katz. “The city’s consistent position of assuming that labor outcosts would have zero impact on the overall operating cost of the city continues to be major concern that builds up over time.”
If the administration is unable to sign contracts by next year, Katz said, he will be unable to support any kind of five-year plan.
“Next year if it’s still unresolved, I’m not going to support the five-year plan,” he said.
Still, the board approved the plan with a 4-1 vote.
Board member Sam Hopkins voted against it, saying he thought the amended plan “would haunt us for many years.”
He declined to elaborate on his specific objections adding, “It is not, in my view, reasonable.”
Last month, the board delayed a vote on the five-year plan so members could study amendments provided after PICA asked the administration to provide greater detail as to how the city would deal with the possibility that the city’s firefighters get a raise that was part of a recent contract award.
The 16-page response from the administration included a range of cuts going as high 5 percent for each department and amounting to a $260 million total. It included the elimination of 380 positions — including more than 100 firefighters — but did not include any cuts to the police department.
Hopkins said he was not satisfied with the city’s response.
“It has a list of cuts, which is just a list, it’s not incorporated into the plan in any way,” he said. “And, I don’t think it’s proper that is should be accepted as such.”
The firefighters’ union is battling the city over an arbitration award — decided in July — that gives firefighters raises totaling 9 percent over a four-year term that is set to end in just few weeks. The city appealed the ruling in court. But if the award stands, it would cost the city $200 million.
The battle over the contract, which ends in 2013, has gone on for Nutter’s entire term, and continues as firefighters prepare to enter negotiations for their next contract.
“We’re disappointed in this decision, but it had to be done,” said Bill Gault, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 22.
Gault said the plan was flawed, and that the city has the funds to pay for raises, but simply won’t do so.
“For them to put forth a budget that has no raises for nine years, it’s fiction,” he said. “There’s money. We’ve proved there’s money.”
The firefighters’ union is not the only union feuding with the administration.
Neither of the city’s municipal unions has contracts with the city. After a one-year extension at the start of Nutter’s term, both have been working without contracts.
If PICA fails to approve a five-year plan, the state can cut off as much as $300 million a year in state funds.
Clarence D. “Clay” Armbrister, former senior vice president and chief of staff of The Johns Hopkins University, Mayor Michael Nutter’s chief of staff and executive vice president and chief operating officer of Temple University, has been appointed president of Girard College.
Armbrister said his work in educational institutional settings and with the city of Philadelphia has given him the ability to enhance his skills.
“I’m excited, but at the same time, I’m humbled by the selection, excited about the opportunity and the prospects. [I’m] really looking forward to working with the students, administration, faculty, staff members along with the Board of City Trusts to try to maintain what is a gem institution in the city,” Armbrister said.
Additionally, Armbrister discussed his goals for the school.
“My goals are to listen and try to help figure out the best for maintaining the school and hopefully begin to expand with appropriate resources,” Armbrister said.
Bernard Smalley, senior counsel to the Tucker Law Group, has known Armbrister for 20 years. As the chairman of the Girard College Committee Board of City Trusts and chair of the search committee, Smalley said Armbrister has a passion for education and the experience to be successful as the school’s president.
“I’m excited about the opportunity of having Clay as the next president of Girard College. Not only for the city, but especially for the students and the administration of the school, and for what it means to the region,” Smalley said. “He’s always been committed to quality education. We face challenges at Girard College, as does any other major educational system, the School District, the Catholic schools. We’re all facing difficult times. This is the opportunity for someone who is extremely skilled in management [and] has a foundation in education to bring his skills to help the kids at Girard to get a 21st century education.”
Emergency planning in Philadelphia has come a long way in the decade since Sept. 11, 2001.
“There obviously have been dramatic changes in the emergency management posture of the city,” said Liam O’Keefe, deputy-managing director of the city’s Office of Emergency Management. “The best indicator of that is the size and resources provided to the city’s Office of Emergency Management — OEM has expanded from five full-time emergency managers to, in October, what will be 27 full time emergency managers.”
Perhaps the most important change has been the adoption of what is called the “Incident Command System.”
It addresses one of the biggest problems that emerged during Sept. 11, 2001, when the command structures of different organizations responding the attack failed to communicate with each other.
“During 9/11 there was a break down in communications not only on a technology side but also on the command and control side,” O’Keefe said. “So, the city has adopted the ICS that clearly spells out the roles and responsibilities of the command structure and can be used in complex events. Everybody knows who is in charge and who is in command.”
The system is now used routinely as everything from house fires to large events like the recent hurricane.
“It’s been institutionalized and that was one of the primary recommendations that came out of the 9/11 Commission Report,” he said. “So, there is better organization around emergency response in Philadelphia.”
O’Keefe noted that, for the most part, those changes have happened since 2005 and were not a result of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks but rather Hurricane Katrina.
The federal government classifies Philadelphia — the nation’s fifth largest city — as “tier 1” in terms of its risk for terrorist attacks, putting it on the same level as New York City and Washington D.C.
But, according to O’Keefe, planners don’t try to anticipate exactly what might happen. Using terrorism as an example, he said, they leave that up to police and the Department of Homeland Security.
“After 9/11 the city made a tremendous effort to enhance the homeland security side — the police department and the fire department,” he said.
That evolution has continued to the point where the city’s response now hinges on OEM.
Instead, his office tries to draw up plans based on what action might be needed regardless of the triggering event. So, OEM draws up a blueprint for an event requiring mass evacuations or mass shelters. They can be used in the event of a terrorist attack or flooding.
“Our planning department is divided into numerous units,” he said. “So there is a unit dedicated to human services, so they would be dedicated to planning for mass care and sheltering.”
Its plans for mass shelter were of use two weeks ago for Hurricane Irene.
Other units devise plans for health and medical, and work with local hospitals to prepare for any mass casualty event. There is also a recovery unit that focuses financial recovery as well as units devoted to debris removal, damage assessment, energy planners and logistics planners.
“We’re really focused on the functional response to any disaster,” O’Keefe said. “There was a realization that you need emergency management even if your hazard profile doesn’t speak to some of those catastrophic events.”
OEM’s planning methods mirror a national trend with most planners now focusing on response rather than a specific type of catastrophic event.
“So, you could have a debris removal plan which could be executed following any number of disasters,” he said.
While Philadelphia has not had to deal with a major terrorist event, O’Keefe said the recent response to Hurricane Irene demonstrates that OEM is prepared.
“It went very, very well and I think part of that is attributable to the coordination and planning that went on in the four years subsequent to 2007,” he said.