Inquirer Editorial: Mayor still holding back on collapse information

The collapse at 22d and Market Streets as caught on video by a bus camera. SEPTA released the recording to The Inquirer last week.
The collapse at 22d and Market Streets as caught on video by a bus camera. SEPTA released the recording to The Inquirer last week.
Posted: July 22, 2013

Mayor Nutter's decision Friday to release documents related to the Market Street building collapse, which left six people dead inside a Salvation Army thrift shop, is welcome. But it stops short of the full disclosure required to determine how public safety was compromised.

Responding to "numerous requests," including four Inquirer editorials, the Mayor's Office said in a statement that it was posting on its website Department of Licenses and Inspections files, Health Department records related to asbestos found at the site, and e-mails to and from certain city officials.

Nutter initially insisted that a grand jury investigation prevented him from releasing documents related to the June 5 collapse, despite assurances to the contrary by District Attorney Seth Williams' office. On Friday, Nutter still maintained that state law exempts some records from mandatory disclosure, but he said he had concluded that the public interest is better served by their release.

He's right about that, which is why the mayor also should release other pertinent documents, including memos explaining why the city has paid out $878,000 on demolition claims in the past five years. Nutter reversed a decades-old policy by refusing to release the memos. What is he trying to hide?

The mayor also should make available for interviews and public hearings the city officials who played a role in events leading up to this tragedy, including Deputy Mayor Alan Greenberger. And he should release the relevant contents of a video made by L&I inspector Ronald Wagenhoffer before he apparently killed himself.

The only person being held liable so far is Sean Benschop, the excavator operator awaiting trial on six counts of manslaughter for allegedly causing a wall of the building owned by STB Investments Corp. to fall on the thrift shop. Benschop also did some earlier demolition work for the city, but Nutter won't release the related paperwork.

Understandably, the mayor and the city solicitor want to be careful. But they can take some direction from the district attorney, who withdrew his objections to the release of video of the collapse recorded by a SEPTA bus camera. Williams has said any information that was public before the grand jury was impaneled should remain public today. That should be the mayor's guide.

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