Monday, January 24, 2011

The writing is on the wall at the Philadelphia City Council.

With the stink of the DROP program hanging low in the air at Broad and Market Sts., some of the "lifetime" council members are calling it a day.  This is turning out to be the most important period in recent history for anyone looking to bring ethical leadership into Philadelphia municipal government.

Remember' every budget, bill, regulation, and senior staff appointment goes through the council.  Therefore, much of the sense of hopelessness and acceptance regarding the corruption and mismanagement in city government is, at one point or another, the responsibility of the Philadelphia City Council (which has been led by Anna Verna). 

It's important to remember that just because many of these council members aren't seeking reelection, doesn't mean that "fresh" blood will be injected in city hall.  Many of the retiring members are "anointing" their replacements through support of the same political clubs (democratic organizations, coalition of ministers, etc.) that have kept them in power (and patronage) for upwards of thirty years. 

When selecting which council member to vote for, keep a close eye on what experience they've had before and what they want to do...
  • Were they already a part of the machine, and are now seeking a promotion in power?
  • Are they allied with the same people who have sunk us deep in debt, mismanagement, and dysfunction?
  • What is their platform?  Any fool can say "I'm going to bring change to City Hall".  Just as you would when hiring a contractor to do a service for you or when buying a new car, don't be afraid to ask important questions like:
1.      How do you intend on bringing real change to city hall?
2.      What changes do you intend to make?
3.      How do you expect to do that when you are beholden to the political machine that has given us leaders like the Street brothers, Vince Fumo, Carl Greene, John Green and others.

A lot of Philadelphians vote along platforms and party lines out of habit.  Whether it's because of your union affiliation, ministry, or sometimes race; many people in our great city don't carefully research all the facts on the candidates requesting their vote....but probably should. 

A great example is the upcoming race for Sheriff.  Months ago, around October, I heard that State Representative Jewell Williams, a former Philadelphia Police Officer, has been picked to succeed Sheriff John Green after 24 years of power as the democratic candidate for Sheriff in the upcoming election.  Shortly thereafter, the media has finally portrayed the Sheriff's role (due to non-collection) in the massive city budget shortfall, as well as the missing $53 Million dollars owed to homeowners following sheriff sales.  Now I ask you, do you feel ok about voting for the guy that Green's people picked to continue "business as usual", simply because he is the only ex-cop who is active in the party that meets the same demographic?

I don't.  I believe ethical leadership means that every candidate should have a fair chance without inappropriate influence asserted by an "old boys network" that have succeeded in plunging our city into a legacy of crime, corruption, crumbling infrastructure, and inept leadership resulting in a ridiculous budget deficit. 

The good news is that it can be reversed…I personally witnessed it in New York in 1993, when New Yorkers elected Rudy Giuliani, an complete outsider to city government and the first Republican Mayor of New York since 1945.  In just two mayoral terms, crime was dropped and businesses saved from leaving the city, reversing a 25-year decline in the average quality of life for residents of the most expensive city in America. 

If a city of 8,391,881 residents can make a u-turn in 8 years, why can’t this city of 1,547,901 say “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH” and make a change as well?    

Verna likely will not seek a 10th term

Friday, January 21, 2011

Grand Jury Report: Lack Of Abortion Clinic Oversight Extraordinary

The problem with agencies that operate under political appointees and advisory boards is that they tend not to operate with the zeal necessary to get the job done.  According to the below-linked story, this appears to have been the situation at the Pennsylvania Medical Board, Department of Health, and Department of State. 

In my experience, State Medical Boards check credentials and issue licenses, but when it comes to investigating complaints, they lack properly trained, equipped, and paid manpower as well as the authority to make sure there is proper oversight for the medical profession.  In my opinion, there is no position necessitating trust and ethical character then doctors.  Why?  They are entrusted to your health when you may need it most.  For years, the medical profession has policed itself, as board certification is 100% voluntary.  This always makes me wonder why anyone would even think about going to a physician that wasn't board-certified. 

Physicians, however, come from an intellectual standpoint of great education and therefore, have a hard time believing that other doctors may be just as crooked as a street criminal or corrupt politician.  This culture results in extremely lenient physician sanctions from medical boards or licensing agencies that, in many cases, have a panel of physicians at their helm. 

So what can be done?  I don't think I'm out of line by having the opinion that physicians should be as accountable as law enforcement officers, commercial drivers, members of the gaming community, and other regulated/licensed professionals operating within our state.  Therefore, I think that there should be a transparent reporting process relating to the handling, investigation, and adjudication of medical board complaints with strong oversight by the state Inspector or Attorney General's Office; who in most states already investigates local medicare/medicaid fraud cases.   

Grand Jury Report: Lack Of Abortion Clinic Oversight Extraordinary

Philadelphia Council races shaping up to be dramatic -

Philadelphia Council races shaping up to be dramatic -

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Interim Sheriff removes four staffers, yet denies knowledge of missing $53 Million

When the Committee of Seventy and several state senators voiced their opposition to Governor Rendell's nomination of Chief Deputy Barbara Deeley, it was because they have seen the 23 year track record of the office and therefore could not trust a ranking insider to clean the office up. Granted, the hiring of former city controller Joe Vignola and the dismissal of four ranking cronies of Sheriff Green is a step in the right direction; but what I find utterly insulting is Sheriff Deeley's adamant claims that she had no idea of the missing $53 Million that is currently under investigation by current controller Alan Butkovitz and other agencies.

I served on a 3,600 member municipal police agency and a 30,000 member federal security agency and I can tell you, having served on the command floor in various assignments, that there is NO POSSIBLE WAY that Barbara Deeley, who served as second in command of the under 250-member Sheriff's office, could serve competently for as long as she did and have no knowledge or suspicion of what was happening around the Sheriff sale operations. She was either in on it, looking the other way, or completely asleep at the wheel as Chief Deputy. Either way, she should not be who leads the transformation of the Sheriff's Office into an effective asset forfeiture and public safety agency.

Feel free to learn more by reading the Inquirer story, below:

Issues come to light within the Philadelphia Sheriff's Office

Why is our Sheriff's office in such peril? Is it Corruption? Mismanagement? Waste?

How about Malaise?

When I say malaise, I'm not just talking about 23 years of a law enforcement and tax enforcement agency being run by people who were clearly not qualified to do so. I'm not talking about a complete lack of uniform discipline or tradition of ethics at this office. I'm also not talking about the COMPLETE lack of field presence that this Sheriff's office has.

What I'm talking about is the malaise of my fellow Philadelphia residents who, before the recent scandals, had no idea what the Sheriff's office does or, more importantly, is supposed to do other then hold auctions, stand in court, and move prisoners. Growing up in New York, you'd see the red-striped Sheriff's cruisers in the neighborhood and note that they were there to conduct a seizure. To put it bluntly, they were there to take someone's car, apartment, or freedom because they have owed a LOT of money to the city for a very long time. New York has over 250 deputies in the street in eight-hour shifts to make sure people knew that they had to square their debts with the city or find somewhere else to live. Cook County Sheriffs do the same thing in Chicago, as is done by Sheriff's in Baltimore, Boston, Los Angeles, outside D.C., Atlanta, Florida, etc..etc.

My question to Philly is, why is that not done here?

How, the same day as a class action suit is filed by a group of people owed back revenue from Sheriff's sales;

(see: Where's the Money, Sheriff? - Phila. Daily News) the First Judicial District of Philadelphia has raised the argument as to whether or not they, the courts, should take over the Sheriff's sale process in Philadelphia. (see: Pa. justices consider shifting sheriff's sales to Philadelphia courts - Inquirer)

As an educated citizen of this city, I don't believe that we should reinvent a 200+ year old wheel when a scandal arises. I think it's time for the judicial court and the court of public opinion to ask more of our elected Sheriff. Let's put an honest man in office with a strong, diverse background in law enforcement, critical infrastructure protection, and fair-handed reform who can reinvent this office into one that not only collects the massive debts owed to Philadelphia, but contributes to our public safety by rooting out the derelict properties that often times enable shelter for drug use, prostitution, underage drinking, etc.

Let's do more then just transport prisoners...let's create a gang intelligence unit within the Sheriff's office to learn more about gangs in our city from inside the custodial environment, like other cities where the Sheriff's are known for providing valuable intelligence to the police, as opposed to being court appointed bus drivers.

Let's see the Sheriff take responsibility for our critical infrastructure protection to provide protective services to our city-owned facilities in the same way that they protect the courthouse (as is done with Sheriff's offices and special-purpose police agencies in a variety of other larger and smaller cities).

Why do pundits and candidates like John Kromer always talk about doing away with what could potentially be a proactive, revenue generating agency? I personally find it odd that three democratic candidates have expressed interest in running for Sheriff, which include two people from housing (to include a PHA official, in the wake of a massive scandal in that small agency), and a State Representative from a session and party that has been cited for causing a great deal of waste and gridlock in Harrisburg during the last budget crisis.

What we need is a true outsider, one who is not beholden to the state or local machine, one who knows what a Sheriff's office is supposed to look and operate like and who is not afraid to break it down to the foundation and rebuilt it from the ground up - correctly.

Let's see if anyone steps up for the challenge.

When addressing mismanagment in city government, why disband when you can consolidate?

With the ever-prevalent discussions in the media revolving around our area's budget deficit, there is often talk of disbanding troubled city agencies instead of going to the trouble of running them properly and fixing the issue(s) that contributed to their recent downfall. While it seems like that may be a good, quick fix...that isn't what has been proven to work in other cities with similar issues. Many of the suggestions for improving city government come from other cities, mostly because I have worked throughout our nation, living in four of our biggest metropolitan areas. I do this because I personally picked Philly as a place I wanted to come home (as opposed to ending up here for a job), and feel as if I am a bit of a "soothsayer", giving examples of effective management while desperately trying to keep Philly from taking the path of Washington, Baltimore, Detroit, and New Orleans.

So why are we constantly trying to disband entire agencies and re-assign their duties to other beleaguered city agencies when very little effort is being invested in consolidation or privatization?

Many of our city services are redundant and can be consolidated into agencies for better, more streamlined management, resulting in better interoperability with other government agencies and customer service to taxpayers. I believe that there are some ideas that deserve exploration in saving our city money while improving city services to boot:

  • Merge the Parking Authority and Housing Police with the Philadelphia Police Department. Anyone who spent anytime in New York prior to the mid-1990s will remember that there used to a NYC Department of Traffic, NYC Transit Police, and NYC Housing Police. These were three extremely expensive, highly political agencies with their own senior management structures. In 1995, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani merged these agencies with the NYPD, with extremely positive results on the efficiency of the operating budget (since the police department already had geographic areas of command, payroll, management, etc) and a notable drop in crime due to increased police presence. In Philadelphia, city police already handle over 80% of the calls for service in city housing projects, and over 90% of the investigative caseload; making the housing police a redundancy that is beholden to an ethically challenged housing authority.

    The PPA has an annual budget of over $212,985,321, which should raise eyebrows because it is designed to be a revenue generating agency, and it only brought in $20,019,422 (roughly 10%). Aside from the management of city-owned garages, they primarily enforce parking violations and taxi/limo regulations. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Police Department maintains the elite Highway Patrol Division alongside the Traffic Division. While both of them are extensively trained in the vehicle code, the Traffic Division (which is extremely overtime intensive) remains responsible for the direction of traffic, construction details, etc throughout the city. I suggest we merge the Parking Authority with the Police Department, and put the roughly 1,000 PPA employees under the command of the traffic division. This will let the city downsize the bloated PPA executive payroll, allow cheaper, civilian employees traffic direction duties, and cross-train police officers with taxi/limo enforcement that can be done on routine traffic stops. Furthermore, it will do away with a known patronage pit by putting these parking/traffic enforcement positions under a civil service system.

    Unlike New York, unfortunately, SEPTA Police cannot be merged with city police as SEPTA routes are inter-jurisdictional in nature.
  • Merge the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania Warrant Unit, Philadelphia Prisons Department, Clerk of Quarter Sessions (bail collections) and various facility security contracts with the Philadelphia Sheriff's Office. As mentioned in prior discussions, the office of the sheriff is ridiculously underutilized in Philadelphia. Following the example of most other major metropolitan areas in America; the Sheriff is responsible for the transport of prisoners, operating the county jail, court security, (local) witness protection, civil and criminal warrants, asset forfeiture, collection of tax liens, force protection (protective services at city/county-owned facilities), prisoner processing and a great deal of the criminal intelligence caseload. Meanwhile, the currently mismanaged Sheriff's Office is only proficient at court security and prisoner transport, with an extremely questionable management of the sheriff sale program. My suggestion, retain this historic agency but reinvent it into an agency that can actually generate revenue (by enforcing taxes and collecting what's owed to the city) while contributing to our city's public safety (by taking the pressure off of an overworked police department).
  • Merge the Ethics Board and the PHA Inspector General with the Philadelphia Office of the Inspector General. As discussed in the topic "Who are our city's official watchdogs?" last week; our city is currently operating three completely redundant agencies, each with an operating budget; none of which are close to accomplishing their stated objective(s) in a meaningful, efficient manner. First, the Inspector General needs to be legally granted independent investigative authority (now they are only able to investigate executive agencies and cannot initiate audits and investigations without running them by the Mayor) to investigate ALL city agencies and contractors, which will take some of the pressure off of the Controller's office. Once this necessary, transparent task is complete (and has been asked for by the current Inspector General, Amy Kurland), then the ethics board will prove to be a redundant waste of city revenue. The PHA Inspector General exists because the city Inspector General has no authority to investigate PHA, and "missed" the $900,000 + settlements of Carl Greene's sexual harassment complaints with city funds.
  • Last, but not least; GET OUT OF THE UTILITY BUSINESS. While nobody in New York likes Con Edison and nobody in New Jersey likes Aqua, etc…the following facts remain: gas and water service is reliable, and due to a licensee relationship with the areas they serve, a utility provider can't get away with the overt problems that currently exist with PWD and PGW. Case in point, 7 weeks ago PWD addressed an issue on the 2700 block of Indiana St. They opened up a giant hole in the street, fixed the issue, then proceeded to close the street with jersey barriers and leave the gaping hole there. It is still an open hole today. Coincidentally, the PWD had to fix an issue last Sunday in the 3000 block of Edgemont St. (literally around the corner), tearing open the street, fixing the problem, and again; leaving a giant hole in a closed thorofare. How can a construction crew tear up a street then not fix it thereafter? A vendor would be accountable to the city and therefore not find this acceptable. More importantly, how much would a sale of these utilities be worth to the city? It may be as much as our total deficit.

    Part of this group's purpose is to share ideas to fix our city's problems...what are your thoughts? Please comment on your ideas!

Economic Development: Short-Term Greed vs. Long Term Prosperity

Every day, I drive from my Port Richmond home to my Independence Square office and see scores of abandoned buildings that were once factories, warehouses, and a thriving part of Philadelphia's industrial complex. Many of my neighbors are skilled members of various labor unions; to include steamfitters, plumbers, carpenters, electricians, iron workers, longshoremen, and teamsters. Being a reasonable intelligent person, I've been having a hard time understanding why Philadelphia has rising unemployment when it has the following going for it:

  • One of the lowest urban costs of living on the Eastern Seaboard
  • Cheap and ready-to renovate or build commercial real estate
  • Fully-operational port complex with great highway access
  • A city with good cultural destinations, social services, healthcare, transportation, and an international airport
  • A myriad of skilled, organized employees who are more than ready to work.
So why aren't potential employers, import/exporters, manufacturers, and business developers flocking to Philadelphia to build their businesses? Because it's obvious we aren't going after them.

The truth is that we aren't the only city in America - or even in a one hundred-mile radius that's hungry for economic development. Philadelphia is competing with politicians who are willing to put the long-term survival of their cities against the short term income gained from over-taxation.

Many can remember a Philadelphia that worked. Shipbuilders, Westinghouse, and other manufacturers employed thousands; giving Philadelphia the distinction of having the highest number of home ownership in the eastern United States. However, when our manufacturing base changed, our city didn’t adapt to become more business friendly. One can remember debates about the infamous Philadelphia wage tax as far back as in the administration of Mayor Frank L. Rizzo, as plants would leave Philadelphia just to give their employees the 4% raise that would be left out of the wage tax. The wage tax, as sad as it is to see the bite it takes out of my paycheck, is somewhat understandable because Philadelphia has some of the lowest property taxes on the east coast.

What hurts our economic development, however, is a daunting combination of business taxes and a state and city government that is extremely un-user friendly. Bureaucracies and fees between taxation, L&I, and the state make Philadelphia an unappealing place to set up a new, state of the art business.

So what are some success stories?
  • In the 1990s, during the technology boom; the sleepy D.C. suburbs of Montgomery County, MD and Fairfax County, VA competed heavily for the creation of a technology corridor to house new internet businesses and government contractors. In the end, Virginia succeeded in developing the I-66 and VA-267 corridors resulting in a huge business and population boom of the areas of Tyson’s Corner, Reston, and Herndon which has since continued into neighboring Loudoun County. They succeeded because they had reasonable taxation and a streamlined, user-friendly county government system that made Virginia a user-friendly choice to the over-regulated, highly taxed governments of Maryland and Washington, DC.
  • Recently, amid the worst economic crisis since the great depression, Mayor Cory Booker has been aggressively marketing his city of Newark, NJ (a former crime-ridden wasteland) to manufacturers, distributers, and shippers as far away as China. How? Incentives. He has access to a huge seaport, great highways, an international airport, and is fifteen miles from New York City at a third of the price of being in New York City.
What can we learn in Philadelphia?

First, Mayor Nutter needs to hire or contract an economic development team at the Philadelphia Department of Commerce that is educated and well spoken, with strong business acumen. One this team is selected, get out there and start marketing! Philadelphia is an extremely good sell to startup or relocating businesses…but what’s in it for them?

Second, create strong incentives for businesses relocating to or opening in Philadelphia. If a company commits to employing and/or doing capital improvements in the City of Philadelphia, why not give them tax breaks or abatements? Furthermore, how can we restructure L&I, Streets, PWD, and PGW to make them more user-friendly for corporate accounts?

If businesses crate jobs, which brings employed taxpayers to Philadelphia neighborhoods to spend money in our small businesses, restaurants, etc; isn’t it worth short-term tax abatement? Furthermore, is our city government business-savvy enough to create a strong economic development campaign?

Friday, January 14, 2011

Philadelphia courts go after bail scofflaws, but are they doing enough?

Did anyone see President Judge Dembe on Good Day this morning? While I am happy that someone is finally going to try to enforce bail in the city of Philadelphia; I am dismayed by the "friendly" way the judge addressed these scofflaws that now owe upwards of $1 BILLION (yes, with a B) to the City of Philadelphia. Do the math, those funds can bail the city out of it's deficit and still leave over $540 Million for the victim's and public safety fund. When Mike Jerrick flat out asked Judge Dembe if these scofflaws would go to jail, she emphatically said no; saying "do you know how much it costs to put someone in jail?"

Well how much is a strong legal deterrent or compliance mechanism worth? This is an important question. A Judge ordered bail and/or victims compensation as a criminal's condition of release. They failed to pay what they owed. Therefore, they violated their condition of release...remedy? GO BACK TO JAIL UNTIL YOU MAKE ARRANGEMENTS TO PAY WHAT YOU OWE.

When asked what the court is doing to collect these funds, Judge Dembe stated that they are contracting with debt collectors. So are we, the good tax-paying citizens of Philadelphia to believe that a criminal; who obviously didn't see the need to preserve their good name enough to stay out of jail, is going to be afraid of an entry on their credit report? ENOUGH. Anyone who does not come forward to make payment arrangements should be cited for violating their conditions of release. If they do not answer the summons, a bench warrant should be issued. This is how it works in almost every other city; so what makes us any different?

Send a strong message, your honor. It's what your constituency demands.

To read the Inquirer article, please click the link below:
Philly launches aggressive push to collect court debts

Who are our city's official "watchdogs"?

As a part of my job, I interact heavily with the Inspector General community, which makes sense considering I spent close to ten years in the D.C. area where there are hundreds of Inspector General agencies policing federal, municipal, and quasi-government agencies. Last November, at the Assn. of Inspectors General annual conference, I had the pleasure to meet and talk to Amy Kurland, Philadelphia Inspector General.

After talking to IG Kurland, a former US Attorney with experience in prosecuting government corruption; I came to the conclusion that while I have faith in her as a competent, fair Inspector General; I have little faith in the system that she operates within.

The Philadelphia Inspector General's Office is a small, yet professionally run office in the executive branch of city government (under the Mayor). While she operates an independent office, with her own staff and offsite location; she has been shot down by city council on requests to have the level of authority necessary to investigate the issues that citizens observe with disgust on a daily basis. The recent budget crisis, which hit the media at the same time as public scandals within the Housing Authority, Sheriff's Office, Clerk of Quarter Sessions, and other agencies have brought focus on how government is run and our tax dollars are spent.

So naturally, I want to know why city hall is not lining up behind the Inspector General (an office formerly held by D.A. Seth Williams) to clean up the waste, fraud, and abuse of our public funds. Not surprisingly, I found that there are redundant and poorly operated agencies taking city funding while our Council blocks IG Kurland from having the authority she needs.

A quick trip to tells an interesting tale. First, let's look at the city website's description of the Philadelphia Office of the Inspector General"

"The mission of the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) is to enhance the public confidence in the integrity of the City government by rooting out corruption, fraud, misconduct, waste and mismanagement. The OIG is the watchdog for the taxpayers of the city. The OIG has jurisdiction to conduct investigations and audits over all departments, agencies, commissions and boards under the Mayor's jurisdiction, as well as in contracts with individuals or companies receiving City funds and doing business with the City. The OIG also provides investigative expertise to any agency or authority requesting assistance."

This makes perfect sense and is a common description of an Inspector General, a time-tested mechanism for public oversight and investigation. However, in 2005, city hall passed a charter and has also been operating the Philadelphia Ethics Board, which is described on the city website as:

"The new Ethics Board has investigative and enforcement powers and jurisdiction over all of city government, which works to assure that all city officials and workers are held accountable to the same high standards. To ensure that everyone knows where the boundaries of acceptable conduct are, the Board is responsible for providing guidance and education on the ethics rules to the entire city workforce as well as to city vendors."

Sounds like they do the same thing, eh? Even more disturbing is that the Philadelphia Housing Authority, which has been rocked with scandal over public funds being used to settle Director Greene's sexual harassment complaints and numerous racially-charged remarks by board chair John Street (yes, the fmr Mayor whose aides fell to corruption charges while the FBI was building a case on him); has it's OWN Inspector General's Office which has an almost identical description as the aforementioned offices. Where was their report about the $900K allocated to settle the Greene complaints before the story broke in the media?

My point is, maybe if we wanted to root out municipal waste; we could consolidate the agencies charged with investigating it.
Philadelphia is one of the world's greatest cities. It was in our city that the Constitution was framed, leaders stepped up, and our great nation was born.

However, our city is in a state of emergency with rising debt, falling employment, public safety issues, and a municipal government entrenched with patronage, nepotism, back room politics and malaise. This group is founded on the belief that good citizens can come together; regardless of political party, religion, race, sex, sexual orientation, or class to make a difference and take back our city.

The time to act is now - from the ground up. To make our voices known regarding issues at all levels of government, not just when the highly publicized elections are covered in the media; and send a clear message to our elected leaders that it's time to act responsibly or be replaced.

We started on meetup, you can join us here: Philadelphians for Ethical Leadership


Republican or Democrat, Tea Party or Independent; you are welcome to join with the following caveat:
Be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Rhetoric, arguments, and distractions are what the "machine" has used for years to keep us divided and stay in power regardless of how poor their performance has been. Our group represents the moderate, common sense thinker who wants common sense solutions and hard work to the problems facing the city. Join us, and let's make our voice heard.

Our goals:
  • To send a clear message that educated, informed citizens from all backgrounds are carefully watching city government for waste, fraud, and abuse.
  • To create a live forum for citizens to address questions and concerns to appointees, boards, elected leaders and candidates.
  • To create a public voice for moderates and common sense citizens whose issues are not being represented in the media.
  • To create a place where new ideas and solutions are aired and presented to government.