Archive: August, 2012
It appears that the $2 billion William Penn Foundation will cut funding to the Philadelphia Student Union, which organizes young people throughout city public schools. And so PSU needs your support.
"For 17 years our foundation partners have helped pay the salaries of our hardworking staff and keep the computers on in our media lab," according to a PSU fundraising appeal. "As the City Paper has reported recently a foundation that has been one of our largest funders for over 10 years will probably not renew our funding this Fall. We've known this for some time and have planned and fundraised accordingly. We have a little over a year to replace this funder."
Last month, City Paper reported that William Penn is taking a new direction under president Jeremy Nowak: raising millions to fund a controversial and corporate-minded restructuring plan authored by the Boston Consulting Group; while cutting funds to community and youth organizers who are critical of privatization.
My previous education cover story, "Who's Killing Philly Public Schools?," related how PSU led the fight against privatization and the state takeover in 2001 and what that means for the District's current crisis.
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David Kwiatkowski, the radiology tech who's now infamous around the country for allegedly infecting at least 30 people with Hepatitis-C in the process of stealing intravenous drugs from the hospital where he worked, came to Temple University Hospital in April 2010 as one of 850 workers hurriedly imported by temporary staffing firms to cross picket lines during a strike. At the time, union leaders at the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Health Professionals (PASNAP) cried foul over the quality and training of the workers replacing them; Temple accused them of employing "scare tactics."
"How this particular guy was able to slide thorugh the cracks is fairly typical of these agencies," says Bill Cruice, executive director of PASNAP. "They're so focused on making a quick buck that inevitably they're going to cut corners in screening who they hire, because they're so desperate to get bodies who are willing to cross a picket line and travel to work in a tinted bus and deal with the anger of employees who are forced out on strike. The type of person who will cross a picket line to go to work in these kinds of conditions is frequently somebody who can't get work anywhere else. We have here in this situation somebody who just happened to get caught."
Just a week before Kwiatkowski arrived at Temple, he had reportedly been found passed out in a bathroom at Arizona Heart Hospital, where a worker claimed to have spotted him with a syringe of the narcotic Fentanyl. He was fired from that job, but found work at Temple just six days later.
How he could have passed a drug screen at that point is, by all accounts, something of a mystery. Temple's associate chief medical officer, Dr. Marc Hurowitz, told City Paper that Temple set forth the standards for the screening process, but that actual drug screens were handled by the various staffing agencies the hospital had tapped. "The screening process is absolutely directed by us, not by the agency. … At times, we allow them to gather that [candidate background] information and we review it and make the decision." He said that the staffing agency that hired Kwiatkowski, Advantage RN, had done the drug testing through a "nationally reputable drug testing process," adding, "the information we have and we relied on showed he had successfully passed the drug screen."
However, Matt Price, chief executive of Ohio-based Advantage RN, disputes that. He tells CP that Temple, in a strike situation, would have done all of the drug-testing itself. He says that the firm, which sent only about a dozen workers to fill in during the strike, was told to direct staffers to a single contact at a hotel near Temple, where the hospital took over, presumably either bringing in a lab technician or giving instruction to go to a lab nearby.
Terrance Williams, the Philly man who was convicted of killing two people in 1984, just joined 202 other people on Pennsylvania's execution list — a list that only seems to grow, as Gov. Corbett keeps signing execution warrants (just like Ed Rendell did before him). No one has actually been executed in the state since 1999 — and then it was an inmate who had waived his rights to appeal. The last involuntary execution in Pennsylvania was in 1962.
Whether capital punishment can be considered a deterrent to crime, especially when it is never deployed, is of course a longstanding topic of debate. And as the Inquirer has reported over and over, the poor quality of defense counsel in capital cases in Philadelphia in many cases often leads to tragic missteps — and opens the door for appeals. Meanwhile, death row accommodations for a couple hundred have cost the state more than $27 million since 1999, or $10,000 more per inmate above the state's average per-inmate cost, according to the Morning Call.
In the case of Williams — whose execution date was set for Oct. 3, 2012 — attorney Shawn Nolan has issued a statement saying the jury didn't get the full story. Says Nolan, Assistant Chief, Capital Habeas Unit, Federal Community Defender Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania:
“Most Pennsylvanians would agree that the death penalty is the punishment for the worst of the worst offenders, not for traumatized victims of sexual abuse who strike back at their abusers. Terry Williams’ story is one of horrific childhood sexual and physical abuse. A victim of sexual abuse since the age of 6, Terry was preyed on repeatedly by older males throughout his childhood. Born into poverty, with a violently abusive mother and no father, Terry was vulnerable and victimized by a series of predators. Deeply traumatized from the sexual and physical abuse, at the ages of 17 and 18, Terry killed two of those predators. Terry is profoundly remorseful for these crimes.
“Unfortunately, the jury at Terry’s capital trial didn’t hear about his abusive childhood or that the two men he killed were two of his abusers. Also, jurors mistakenly believed that if they sentenced Terry to life in prison he would be eligible for parole. Several jurors now say they would have voted for life in prison without the possibility of parole instead of death if they had known this important information.
"Terry’s case is unique, and Terry is deserving of mercy. We hope that those with the power to prevent this injustice will agree that Terry’s death sentence should be commuted to life without the possibility of parole.”
New research outlines voter ID impact on PA black, elderly, students. GOP chief calls Obama supporters retarded.
“Oh no they didn't” is Daniel Denvir's weekly blog post on last week's state politics. Philadelphians know precious little about the legislature or governor, but pretending that Tom Corbett doesn't exist will not make him go away. Follow on Twitter @DanielDenvir.
You probably didn't know that Pennsylvania maintains a “Voter Hall of Fame” honoring citizens who have exercised the franchise in every November election for fifty years straight. 1,384 of the 5,923 Hall of Famers analyzed, or nearly 25-percent, may not have the identification necessary to vote this November thanks to the state's controversial new voter ID law.
“I just read it in the paper just recently,” says Edith Haagen, a 91-year old from Clinton County who does not have ID. Haagen, a Democrat who worked for the state as a clerk-typist before her retirement, remembers casting a vote for Franklin Delano Roosevelt. “I've done it all my life. And it's a shame when you can't.”
The Hall of Fame was created at a time, it seems, when the government at least pretended they wanted people to vote.
To learn more about SEPTA, fans, or standing in one place -- follow Isaiah Thompson on Twitter.
Of the many subtle touches SEPTA uses to enhances its subway stations, a personal favorite during this hot summer has been the giant fans the agency installs and points at ... what often appear to be completely random spots on the floor.
To enjoy this little fringe benefit, customer, just position yourself directly on the random piece of floor at which the fan is inexplicably pointed and remain standing.
But hurry - many of these fans are positioned so as to reach one -- and only one -- person at a time; tarry, and you might find that precious random spot taken.
There's been lots of speculation recently about whether the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority will reject Philly's latest five-year plan, a forecasted operating budget for the fiscal years ending June 30, 2017. Now City Controller Alan Butkovitz says he, too, thinks the proposal should be scrapped. The problem: It doesn't take into account long-overdue pay increases for city workers who have been years without new contracts, or the raise for firefighters that the mayor is appealing despite two arbitration rulings.
“There is no reasonable basis for the City to assume a favorable outcome in its appeal of the Firefighters (IAFF) award,” said Butkovitz in a statement. “There is also no reasonable basis for the City to assume that there will be no added costs resulting from ongoing negotiations with unions representing the City’s non-uniformed workers. That is why I am forced to issue an ‘Adverse Opinion’ on the City’s Five Year Plan.”
The city could owe $66 million in benefits this year if the award is upheld.
Full statement follows:
Butkovitz Calls on PICA to Reject City’s Five Year Plan
Controller issues adverse opinion based on unreasonable assumptions by City
PHILADELPHIA – City Controller Alan Butkovitz today called on the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority (PICA) to reject the City’s Five Year Plan. As required by the PICA Act, Butkovitz examined the City’s Forecasted General Fund Statements of Operations for the fiscal years ending June 30, 2013 through June 30, 2017 (The Five Year Plan) and found that the City’s assumptions did not provide a reasonable basis for the City’s forecast.
“There is no reasonable basis for the City to assume a favorable outcome in its appeal of the Firefighters (IAFF) award,” said Butkovitz. “There is also no reasonable basis for the City to assume that there will be no added costs resulting from ongoing negotiations with unions representing the City’s non-uniformed workers. That is why I am forced to issue an ‘Adverse Opinion’ on the City’s Five Year Plan.”
The FY13-17 Forecasted General Fund Statement of Operations is prepared by the City’s Finance Office and then submitted to PICA.
“The City has already lost two decisions on the IAFF interest arbitration award in front of the same arbitration panel, and even if they are successful on the appeal, the interest arbitration award will be remanded back to the same arbitration panel,” said Butkovitz.
“It is not reasonable to assume that the non-uniformed represented employees who have gone without raises for four years will go without a contract for another five years, especially in light of recent settlements between the City and other labor unions that have resulted in salary increases.”
“If the arbitrator’s award to the IAFF is upheld, the City is facing a benefit payment of approximately $66 million in the current year and if the ongoing negotiations with the non-uniformed workers results in agreements requiring additional retroactive wage and benefit payments, the City under the Five Year Plan as presented would lack the necessary funding to make the payment,” said Butkovitz.
In addition, other questionable forecasts and uncertainties were highlighted:
-The Plan overstated expenditures for debt service over the life of the Plan by approximately $90 million.
-Forecasted FY13 revenue includes a $9 million request to PICA for design work for a new Police Department headquarters, city morgue and health offices in the City’s general fund. These expenditures should be budgeted and recorded in the City’s capital projects fund.
-The probability of additional large funding requests by the Philadelphia School District (District) in future years. The District’s current year deficit is approximately $282 million; a staggering amount which has it on the brink of insolvency.
“Regarding the School District’s financial situation, I want to reiterate my recommendation that the School District prepare a five year plan of its own which would require the approval of an independent authority,” said Butkovitz.
“I urge PICA to reject the City’s Five Year Plan as presented because the assumptions are not reasonable.”
To view a copy of the City Controller’s Adverse Opinion of the Forecasted General Fund Statement Operations for FY2013-FY2017, please visit the Controller’s website at www.philadelphiacontroller.org
A weekly series of foul-mouthed investigations into empty lots, dead-ass proposals and other design phenomena around Philadelphia. Find more stories like this at Philaphilia.blogspot.com.
Northwest corner of 23rd and Walnut -- Does this count as an Empty Lot? It's an active surface parking lot for a 24-hour Rite Aid. Well, of course it does. This dense and well-used part of the city shouldn't have a crappy pharmacy's surface lot occupying valuable-ass land like this. The strange thing about this lot is that it can't make up its damn mind. This piece of fuck has gone through so many uses that it's going to be hard to list them all. One of the fun things about this lot is how it's actually part of the Walnut Street Bridge. It's built up from the ground to the bridge's level.
|That stairway is from the first Walnut Street Bridge, 1888-1893.|
This lot existed as a bunch of trees and shit all the way up into the mid 19th Century. At that time, the area near the Walnut Street Wharf on the Schuylkill River became something of a Marble Works district. A whole slew of different marble companies had yards in all the surrounding blocks and this lot was no different. The marble yard at the northwest corner of 23rd and Walnut lasted a little longer than the others, eventually becoming a wood mill as the rowhouses that still exist down the street were being built.
For the past 60 years or so, residents of Cheltenham's La Mott neighborhood, just across the city line from Philadelphia, have been tending to their plots within a 1.8-acre community garden. For the past three years though, the La Mott Community Garden has been the source of not only a harvest that feeds gardeners and Philly and Montgomery County food banks, but also growing frustration with Temple University. That's because Temple owns the land — having picked up the deed for these and about 12 more acres for $1 back in 1933 — and now wants to sell it, most likely for development.
Stephen McWilliams, a documentary filmmaker and Villanova University film professor, has spent his Saturdays for the past year filming the gardeners and following their attempts to win the property, alternately by donation, sale or conservation easement. The film, called Sacred Soil, is showing at the African American Museum of Philadelphia this Sunday at 2 p.m.
McWilliams says the film is an advocacy effort. But more than that, it's the story of Diane Williams, gardener, president of La Mott Civic Association and determined activist. "The film is about one woman's quest to exercise her democratic rights to protest and save a historically significant piece of land." (Significant, he says, because the site once contained Fort William Penn, the first training ground for black soldiers in the area, and housed a stop on the underground railroad.) "It raises some issues that are always with us about development versus preservation and what's valuable. Temple is a big player in Philadelphia and they keep expanding and expanding. And it's a good thing they're reclaiming a lot of neighborhoods that are really undervalued and decayed. But this is a situation where they could give this away and they wouldn't miss it."
Williams has been working in the garden with the 65 other community members, mostly retirees, for the past six years. She's the type of person who can put a positive spin on anything -- even the unyielding denials by Temple University of the gardeners' requests. (She sees it as progress, because the gardeners have been able to move forward with a new idea following each rejection.) "We really do feel as though we'll get the garden; it's only a matter of time. It will take time though! I had no idea it would take three years."
Williams says the property where the garden lies could easily be separated from the larger plot, and that the land trust Neighborhood Gardens Association is willing to take on the lot. But Williams knows it won't come easily, and anyway, she and her fellow gardeners are used to adversity. "The most amazing thing about this entire garden effort is we have no running water. People bring the water from home, in jugs, they carry the water in here. When you look at how green it is in here, the life in here, it's just amazing."
The use of four-legged horsepower to pull tourist carriages around Old City streets has long been a subject of debate: Is it cruelty, or merely a way of life for working animals? The horses cannot, of course, speak for themselves. But members of the two-year-old Peace Advocacy Network (PAN), a local group of animal-rights activists, say the horses’ discomfort is evident.
“Look into their eyes for a few minutes and see how they’ve given up,” insists Brandon Gittelman, the legislative director of PAN.
On a recent Sunday, PAN held a protest against the ubiquitous, slow-moving carriages, a cause that’s been getting more publicity in recent weeks following a horse-drawn carriage crash on July 13 that left one woman severely injured. A PAN petition garnered more than 1,000 signatures in just a few days.
PAN protests also usually elicit plenty of curses from carriage drivers. “They don’t have a legitimate reason to protest,” says Ron Jones, a 15-year veteran of the business. Jones takes particular offense to the claims of animal abuse. “Everything we do is about [the animal],” he says, feeding his horse Caesar half of his cheese Danish. “Abuse happens with private owners,” he adds; these horses have their own vets, a constant supply of water and two meals a day.
Gittelman, though, insists that the truth is in plain sight.
“If you go out during the week, look clearly and you see how miserable [the horses] are,” says Gittelman. This misery, Gittelman elaborates, is evident in the fact that the horses breathe in emission fumes, pull people around on hot asphalt and have no peripheral vision, due to their blinders.
This is the message that Gittelman and other supporters of PAN try to relay to passersby at their protests. They hand out signs, fliers and photos of carriage horses contrasted with photos of wild horses in hopes of hammering home the aforementioned misery.
The goal of all this: legislative action spearheaded by Councilman Mark Squilla, whose 1st District includes Old City. Anne Kelly, Squilla’s chief of staff, says the councilman has heard PAN’s arguments, but has no legislation planned. Carriage drivers aren’t worried about a ban. “It’ll never happen,” Jones says. “They’re wasting their time.” After a moment of thought, he adds that the protesters really “need to get a job.” Gittelman, however, has his own thoughts on employment in the carriage-driving industry: “There are so many other ways … to make a living.”
From this week's print edition: City officials' story of entire neighborhood that won't snitch on behalf of 2-year-old girl is disturbing – and probably not true.
Filed Under: News
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When a two-year-old girl was shot, among three others, at an outdoor party and police were unable to find suspects, city officials pointed fingers at the community in which the crime took place, accusing residents of clamming up and not helping police.
Philadelphia public safety director Michael Resnik described a “total apathy” on the part of neighbors, “plus, maybe, an acceptance that this is the way it is.” He was sure, he added, that “word’s out on the street” as to who committed the crime.
Negrin was even more blunt. The lack of information was “inexcusable on the part of that community,” he told the Daily News. “Everybody there knows who the shooters were.”
Daily News columnist Stu Bykofsky weighed in. “If they don’t care about their community, why should we?” he began, leaving the they/we distinction to the imagination. He concluded, “I can understand why people who live in civilized communities might want to wash their hands of those who have thrown in with the thugs.”
An entire neighborhood unwilling to come forward even to find justice for the shooting of a little girl — it’s a harsh, provocative story, a real teaching moment.
Except there’s almost no evidence it’s true.
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