Philly Mayor Kenney signs orders on racial equity, reshaping Office of Education as he lays out 2nd-term priorities

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney is sworn in during the city's 194th inauguration ceremony on Monday at The Met (Photo via )

By Michael D’Onofrio

PHILADELPHIA — Mayor Jim Kenney signed executive orders Monday to establish new racial equity standards for city departments and reshape the Mayor’s Office of Education as he laid out his priorities for the next four years.

Kenney, a Democrat who won re-election in November, signed the dual orders at a ceremony inside City Hall.

The executive orders were among the first of Kenney’s goals detailed in a new report, “Equity and Opportunity for All: Priorities for Mayor Kenney’s Second Term,” which was released Monday.

According to the report, Kenney’s main objective will be to reduce poverty in Philadelphia, whose 24 percent poverty rate is the highest among the nation’s largest cities, and lift 100,000 residents out of poverty over a decade.

“Poverty and economic insecurity weaken Philadelphia’s competitiveness and limits people from being able to realize their fullest potential,” the report said.

To achieve that goal, Kenney committed to slashing the homicide rate by 30 percent a year and shootings by 25 percent; expanding street sweeping services citywide; diversifying city government; and working with the school district to increase accessibility to the Community College of Philadelphia, among other things.

In the report, Kenney said his first term focused on increasing equity and opportunities for residents throughout the city. Today, the city’s job growth was outpacing the national average, and unemployment and poverty rates were lower than in the past.

Yet Kenney acknowledged the city still faces huge challenges, including those “grounded in economic and racial inequality that have been building for decades,” the city’s “historically under-resourced educational system,” and Philadelphia police officers accused of “heinous acts of sexual harassment and racism.”

Executive orders

All city departments will be tasked with rooting out racial inequities within their offices.

One of Kenney’s executive orders mandates all departments complete a racial equity plan within four years to reveal and address the institutional and structural disparities within Philadelphia’s government.

The order also establishes the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion by bringing together the city’s Office of LGBT Affairs and Mayor’s Office of People with Disabilities in order to streamline the city’s inclusion efforts.

While Blacks make up the majority of the city’s civil service employees, they lag behind their white peers in high-earning and senior leadership positions, including department heads and those in the mayor’s cabinet.

The second executive order creates a new Office of Children and Families, which will take over programs for children and families now handled by the city’s Department of Human Services (DHS) and Mayor’s Office of Education, including the pre-kindergarten program and Community Schools, and coordinate those efforts with the school district.

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Cynthia F. Figueroa, the current DHS commissioner, will become the deputy mayor for the Office of Children and Families. Figueroa will remain DHS commissioner for approximately a month; the administration has not revealed potential candidates to lead DHS.

The city’s chief education officer overseeing the Mayor’s Office of Education, Otis Hackney, will shift his focus to work with the Board of Education on city-school district related issues, and the administration’s new efforts to improve access and affordability of community college.

Targeting homicides, shootings

After years of the homicide rate climbing, Kenney committed to reduce killings by 30 percent and shootings by a quarter annually.

In the administration’s report, the mayor said he will double down on his 2019 plan, Roadmap to Safer Communities, and continue to take a public health approach to reducing the homicide rate from 2018 levels when the city logged 351 homicides and 1,403 shootings.

As part of the approach, Kenney will launch a Group Violence Intervention program, which puts pressure on and provides services to the small groups of offenders who are believed to drive gun violence.

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The new program is similar to the law enforcement strategy “focused deterrence,” which Philadelphia employed during a two-year pilot program starting in 2013. It was credited with reducing shootings by 35 percent, according to a 2017 Temple University study. The Philadelphia Tribune reported in July the administration was considering rebooting the strategy in the city with state leaders.

Kenney’s anti-violence pledge also included:

  • Expanding Philadelphia Police Department’s Operation Pinpoint, which leverages data and community policing to focus on specific neighborhoods at the highest risk of gun violence;
  • Creating a transitional jobs system;
  • Investing in a rapid response team to provide immediate assistance to help residents recover from traumatic incidents and access services; and
  • Expanding youth employment programs.

The city is coming off another violent year when the homicide rate reached 356, beating out last year’s total (353) and reaching a total not seen since 2007 (391).

Shooting victims in 2019 reached 1,459, outpacing the previous year’s total of 1,413, according to city’s Shooting Victim Dashboard.

Other goals

In the administration’s report, Kenney pledges to:

  • Reduce Philadelphia’s jail population 50 percent from 2015 levels (the administration has already reduced the population by more than 40 percent);
  • Expand street sweeping to every neighborhood within four years;
  • Expand the Community Schools model, where students and families can access social, health and behavioral services, to three new schools in 2020;
  • Work with City Council to create 40 miles of protected bike lanes by 2025 (the city has already built 5.2 miles of protected bike lanes);
  • Examine municipal fines and fees, and work with the district attorney’s office and courts to find ways to reduce financial burden on those suffering from poverty.

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