Fire safety, redistricting tops a depleted Philly Council’s winter agenda
‘Philadelphia, like other major cities, should take precautionary steps to give residents ways out of fire hazards. This bill is one additional step,’ Councilmember Curtis Jones said
By Brian Saunders
PHILADELPHIA — As it returned to work this week from its holiday break, Philadelphia City Council found itself confronted by some unfinished business: the federal bribery conviction of Councilmemeber Bobby Henon.
Henon handed in his resignation on Thursday, sparking a special election for his council seat. He was convicted last November on nine federal charges in connection with the IBEW Local 98 union and its former leader John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty. The charges included conspiracy, bribery and wire fraud. The most serious charge carries a maximum of 20 years in prison.
“I am grateful to the residents of the sixth district for allowing me to serve as Councilman for the past 10 years,” Henon said in a statement. “I worked hard each and every day to be an outspoken and bold advocate for the hardworking people of the 6th district, but I could not have done it without the support and engagement of community leaders and residents.”
He was not required to step down from his council seat before his February sentencing.
“Although my time in Philadelphia City Council is coming to an end, my dedication to northeast Philadelphia will never diminish,” Henon’s said in his statement. “I will remain, as ever, committed to a life of service.”
City Council President Darrell Clarke said he would follow steps for a special election authorized under the Home Rule Charter to fill Henon’s vacancy. He hasn’t set a date yet for the special election.
“City Council will not be distracted by this event and remains focused on the urgent issues confronting our city — public safety, gun violence, the recovery from COVID-19, restarting our economy, and creating more jobs, opportunity, and hope for every Philadelphian,” Clarke said. “We’ll keep doing our jobs for the people of Philadelphia.”
Mayor Jim Kenney released a statement saying that Henon’s resignation was the right decision under the circumstances.
“As I’ve said before, I’ve always believed that Councilmember Henon would do what he feels is right for his constituents, for the people of Philadelphia, and for the entire city,” Kenney said. “While he must now face the consequences of his past decisions, it is important to evaluate the entirety of a person’s contributions to public service throughout their whole career. He has been a consistent, strong advocate for the working families of Philadelphia throughout his ten years of service on the City Council.”
During Thursday’s session, Councilmember Curtis Jones, D-4th District, introduced legislation that would provide a credit toward city business taxes for property owners who install fire escape rope ladders.
This legislation comes in the aftermath of the fire in the Fairmount neighborhood that claimed 12 lives. Under the legislation, the appropriate city agencies must verify that property owners have bought fire safety equipment. Then, with approval, the property owners can apply for a credit on their Business Privilege Taxes.
“Philadelphia, like other major cities, should take precautionary steps to give residents ways out of fire hazards. This bill is one additional step,” Jones said.
Property owners and landlords will be required to submit their plans to install these escape ladders to the city Department of Licenses and Inspections and have a written analysis done by a qualified professional to confirm that the fire escape ladder is safe.
“This is one small step, but anything that induces property owners and landlords to add additional fire safety measures inside their properties is important and worth doing,” Clarke said.
Also, on behalf of Council President Clarke, Councilmember Cherelle Parker, D-9th District, introduced legislation to revise the boundaries of the 10 Council districts.
The bill will be discussed at a Committee of the Whole hearing on Jan. 26.
“We take our responsibilities seriously to revise our boundaries in accordance with the U.S. Census results once every 10 years, and as we now proceed with the bill to a public hearing, the public will have ample opportunity to let its voice be heard,” Clarke said.
Based on the Census, Philadelphia has 1.6 million residents, an increase of 78,000 over the last decade.
In other Council business Thursday, Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson, D-2nd District, introduced a resolution calling for the U.S. Senate to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom To Vote Act.
If the act is approved, it will review changes in voting jurisdictions across the U.S. and grant the authority of federal observers anywhere in the country where there is a threat of racial discrimination in voting.
“The problem of voter disenfranchisement nationwide continues to deepen,” Johnson said. “The Brennan Center found that at least 19 states passed dozens of laws just last year to make it harder to vote. Access to the ballot is the bridge between our representative democracy and the people that it serves. The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom To Vote Act bills would fortify this bridge, which has been undermined by a long disenfranchisement campaign targeting vulnerable Americans who most need a voice in the government.”
At-large Councilmember Kendra Brooks said it is clear that the Republican Party is an anti-Democratic Party as voter rights legislation is continuously rejected by GOP legislators.
“Today, my colleague Councilmember Johnson introduced the resolution, renewing this urgent call to pass these common-sense pieces of voter rights legislation,” Brooks said. So it is with this determination that I commit to the work ahead of us as a public servant of the city of Philadelphia. It is a grave concern that I monitor developments at the federal level and hope for a national grassroots movement to emerge in response to right-wing attempts to tear down our democracy.”
Restrictive policies to limit voting include voter identification laws, voter roll purges, proof of citizenship measures, challenges to voter eligibility, reducing early voting, eliminating same-day voter registration and polling-place moves or closings.
Brian Saunders is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.
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