Building collapse panel chair faults city's limited cooperation

Members of a Philadelphia police unit remove the Salvation Army thrift store sign on June 24 as evidence from the scene of the collapse.
Members of a Philadelphia police unit remove the Salvation Army thrift store sign on June 24 as evidence from the scene of the collapse. (ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 20, 2013

Philadelphia City Council's special committee on demolition practices tried to focus Thursday on cooperation among city agencies, but its chairman expressed "frustration" with what he called limited cooperation from the Nutter administration.

Among 10 departments the committee wanted to hear from, only four were permitted to appear. One of the no-shows was the Department of Licenses and Inspections, the lead agency granting permits to take down buildings in the city.

"This is a point of frustration but not a point that will deter us from accomplishing the best possible safety methods" for demolitions, said the chairman, Curtis Jones Jr.

Privately, Jones said, the administration attributed its reticence to a grand jury investigation into the June 5 building collapse at 22d and Market Streets that killed six people and wounded 13 more.

Jones said he did not understand that, because his committee has avoided any specific discussion of the accident beyond repeated vows not to let anything like it happen again.

Six departments submitted written testimony, responding to issues that Council identified, said Mark McDonald, an administration spokesman. The city is preparing answers for questions the committee has asked and will continue to respond as requested, he said.

"We're doing what two branches of government do," McDonald said. "We are acting in a prudent way and in the public interest."

The agencies represented Thursday included the Water Department and the city-owned Philadelphia Gas Works, describing their procedures for shutting off service to properties slated for demolition; the Streets Department, which closes sidewalks and traffic lanes for demolitions when necessary; and the Revenue Department, which is supposed to certify that applicants for licenses and permits are paying city taxes.

The building trade unions, with support from some Council members, have been pushing for the city to crack down on suburban contractors operating inside city limits with no licenses and on contractors who hire day laborers as "sub-contractors," avoiding payroll taxes.

"If someone is cheating on their taxes, I guarantee they're cheating on other things," said Councilman Bobby Henon, speculating that a closer look at tax-dodging contractors would find they were taking dangerous shortcuts.


Contact Bob Warner at 215-854-5885 or warnerb@phillynews.com.

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