Germantown Newspapers

The Germantown Chronicle • The Northwest Independent

6661 Germantown Ave • Philadelphia, PA 19119 • 215-438-4000 • germantownnewspapers.com

 

MAYOR AND ADMINISTRATION AT FAULT 


CITY PERMIT POLICY – “DON’T ASK, DON’T TELL”


Mayor Nutter and his sycophants have been deluding the citizens of this city on many fronts, but none of them represent burying the truth and shifting the blame more than his most recent tactics following the death of 6 in the building collapse in center city.   Included in those 6 were the daughter of the City Treasurer.


His language alone was reprehensible from the outset and now he wants to hold one lower echelon individual responsible for a process he authorized and put into effect that made it possible for an unqualified contractor with no employees of record, and no insurance to cover employees that may be hired, to actually get a city permit to tear down a multi-story facility adjacent to occupied premises.   No city in this country would issue such a permit, but we did, we do it on a regular basis and we began doing so in recent years under the direction of the mayor through his L & I Commissioner Fran Burns.


It defies the imagination when one reads the list of “remedies for permit issuance” that Mayor Nutter just issued claiming that his Inspector General Amy Kurland will guarantee enforcement.  Actually, IG Kurland has no enforcement power under the City Charter.  There is only one question that one can ask once they read the list of remedies that have been published, and that is:

“You mean that you have been issuing city permits to demolish buildings prior to now without every one of these requirements already in place?” 

The fact is that this “reformed” Department of Licenses and Inspections has been issuing all manner of permits over the counter without proper oversight and review by experienced plans examiners, and not doing follow up inspections by qualified agents of the department ever since Mayor Nutter elevated Ms. Fran Burns to the position of Director of L & I after he first became mayor.


I have it on reliable authority that the contractor who obtained that permit was on record with the city that he had no employees.  Therefore under the present operating procedures you get the permit anyway with the claim that you will hire the staff you need to do the work.  No checking if you ever obtain a workman’s compensation insurance policy, hire individuals qualified in dismantling multi-floor buildings next to occupied premises or any of the other basic requirements that would precede getting such a permit in prior years.  No senior plans examiner holding you accountable to meet standards and evaluating whether or not you are the most qualified bidder .  All of that is part of the past.


The newly reborn L & I was given goals to meet and they were to speed up permit issuance and save money by any means necessary.  Following the mayor’s wishes Ms. Burns did just that.   Junior level folks issued permits over the counter without knowing all that much about process and procedure, let alone having qualifications to actually inspect progress on a project. But that was no longer an issue and incremental inspections may have only taken place if a complaint was filed.  In this case it was after multiple deaths had occurred in a situation where there is only one way this accident could have happened  - - and that that is there was an unqualified contractor employing unqualified employees with a permit in his hand that never would have been issued anywhere but in this city where political expedience is so far out front of job performance and due diligence that risks like this take place every day on jobs of all types.  Permits that the city has approved through design to subvert the process, inept negligence, payoffs or all three.  The first one is the one you must focus on as the manner in which many contractors can gain permits under the revised system put many projects on the razor’s edge of failure and injury every day in this city.  The folks who allow this knew the risks but did it anyway. 


Trying to place all the blame on a developer with a checkered history or a low level employee with a drug problem is just so outrageous that every citizen should reject the language of the mayor and others with their feigned outrage that clearly is designed to deflect blame away from where it belongs; and that is squarely on the city and those elected and appointed officials who have known that this kind of reckless policy allowed gypsy contractors with no real experienced staff to hire day workers at the nearest Home Depot parking lot and do critical work with pretty much certainty that no one would question it or inspect it.   It sure makes it a lot cheaper to do some of this critical work when no one asks questions and the bidding process lets inexperienced individuals quote ridiculous amounts to perform services that no responsible contractor would even consider.  Reportedly the contractor here was doing this job for $10,000; when experienced estimators claim professionals would want $250,000.  I wonder where the unions were on these issues?


One of the major accomplishments of Ms. Fran Burns according to the Inquirer article when she left L & I for a position on the PICA Board was that she made possible:  “A reduction in demolition overtime costs in this city through an improved bidding process that lower those costs from $749,000 to $220,000.   Incredible!  We have a 70% reduction in cost and are we to believe that there was no compromise to the quality and safety of the work performed?  Looks like we have completely inexperienced contractors bidding $10,000 for a $250,000 job.   Add that to the new “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy at the front desk for permit issuance and almost anyone with a pickup truck might become a demolition contractor with multiple contracts and permits overnight. 


That is exactly how it happened, and this is only one of many examples.  Lots of folks in the city government and political system knew this and let it happen as it allowed folks at the lower end of the economic ladder to get work that they previously were shut out of.  No one was apparently concerned the risk of building collapse and substandard work might eventually cause injury and death and new construction that may never qualify for a certificate of occupancy.   For the record, I know of two such projects in the Northwest that faced CO refusal when competent inspectors looked at the finished work, but those are rare examples.


The mayor knew this; many other elected officials past and present, ward leaders, developers and contractors knew this was a ticking time bomb.  Now it has exploded and the question is how much more of this will the public tolerate before they demand investigating grand juries that have no limit on who may be called to testify?


I would call the DA first thing in the morning.


Jim Foster

Editor, Germantown Chronicle; Northwest Independent

215-438-5171  



Editor’s Note:   It was announced Monday at noon that Philadelphia District Attorney, Seth Williams is impaneling an investigating Grand Jury that will look into all aspects of the building collapse and deaths.  He elaborated that it would include all aspects of the city and its agencies.