Philadelphia to publicly disclose city payouts for lawsuits, settlements

By Michael D’Onofrio

PHILADELPHIA — It soon will be easier to track city payouts for lawsuits.

Philadelphia City Council unanimously approved legislation on Thursday that mandates the city’s Department of Finance to report and publicly disclose how much city has paid to settle legal claims and judgments. City officials must publish the data on the city website and update it three times a year — Jan. 31, April 30 and Oct. 31.

Mayor Jim Kenney is on board. Mike Dunn, a spokesman for the Kenney administration, said in an email the mayor intended to sign the bill.

At-large City Councilwoman Helen Gym, a Democrat who was the main sponsor of the bill, said in a written statement that publicly disclosing the data will lead to reforms.

“The public deserves to know how much we’re paying for these systemic issues and how to avoid them in the future,” Gym said.

The city paid out at least $48.6 million in 2018, according to city figures. Those payouts included $16 million in civil rights claims against the police department and $11 million associated with Philadelphia’s sidewalks.

Payouts for sexual harassment claims against the city cost at least $2.2 million between 2012 and 2018, according to a report from City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart.

Accessing city settlement information currently requires someone to file a Right to Know request with the city, a process that can drag on for weeks.

But when the legislation goes into effect, filing requests won’t be necessary.

The tri-annual reports must include all closed and resolved claims, including labor grievances, that resulted in the city paying out funds over allegations against the city, agencies, departments, boards, commissions and employees.

Reports must include the date an action was filed; an identification number for the claim; the city entity or employee that the lawsuit pertains to; whether the resolution included a payment; the dollar figure of the payouts; and whether the resolution of the claim included non-monetary relief, among other things.

The legislation carves out disclosure exceptions for any information related to ongoing lawsuits or legal actions, information subject to attorney-client privileges, and identities of those who filed lawsuits, among others.

The legislation would form an interagency group to review the reports and make recommendations.

Michael D’Onofrio is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared. 

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