Archive: July, 2011
Do you feel there is something missing from your life, Philadelphia? Do you long for more high-profile fights over abortion and homosexuality waged under the aegis of the Holy Trinity? Is Rick Santorum’s presidential campaign just not doing it for you?
Amidst a widespread sexual abuse scandal that has led to the indictment of priests and a higher-up church official, Pope Benedict has appointed a relentless culture warrior, Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput, to replace the discredited Justin Rigali as Archbishop of Philadelphia’s Catholic Church.
Chaput, as The New York Times says, is “known for his aggressive public opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage.” Aggressive indeed.
In 2004, he told Catholics that if they voted for John Kerry they were “cooperating in evil” and needed “to go to confession” because of the Democrat’s support for abortion rights.
This past April, he rallied Colorado Catholics against a civil unions bill, saying it was “about securing legitimacy for social arrangements and personal behaviors that most societies and religious traditions have found problematic from long experience” and calling gay rights activists the purveyors of “the real bigotry in this debate.”
Get ready for a crusade, Philadelphia.
And while Archbishop Chaput has taken well-publicized action against one priest accused of abuse, his record on holding child sex abusers accountable is pathetic. He vigorously opposed Colorado legislation to lift the statute of limitations on sexual abuse, safeguarding church coffers--and protecting geriatric molesters from prosecution.
And, according to The Inquirer, “in a case last year involving a woman who said she had been raped by a lay minister, the archdiocese defended itself with the argument that sexual abuse lay outside the scope of a minister's duties. Thus, the church hierarchy could not be held financially liable, it argued.”
Wow. This logic is like Rupert Murdoch and Donald Rumsfeld rolled into one big hot, clerical mess.
Chaput’s appointment, of course, is coming from a Pope who equates the sin of ordaining women as priests to that of child molestation, and has nothing to do with helping stop the sexual abuse of minors or holding predator priests accountable.
It appears that the hierarchy of the Catholic Church is once again opting to just change the conversation. Angry about a vast criminal conspiracy to protect thousands of child-abusing priests? Look over there: abortion, gays and euthanasia!
"Who is Philadelphia Daily News columnist Stu Bykofsky hating on right now?" is, I’m sure, what you roll over in your mind each morning as you brush your teeth and clip your toenails. Bicyclists? Immigrants? Those who do not celebrate Christmas?
Well, today, thankfully, you don’t have to read Byko to find out: In today’s paper, columnist Bykofsky condemns City Council for opposing Philadelphia’s participation in the Secure Communities deportation program. (Worse yet: he employs a grating fictitious "dialogue" between himself and a psychiatrist to do so.)
Last week, City Paper published a story about Harriett Spencer, an African-American woman and a Philadelphia Prisons System employee who claims that she has been a victim of gender discrimination under Commissioner Louis Giorla.
Now, CP has found, another African-American woman in the Prisons System alleges that she, too, has been a victim of gender discrimination under Giorla.
Her name is Joyce Brown Adams, and her claims are remarkably similar to Spencer's. In 2009, the Prisons System was on the hunt for a new deputy commissioner, the second-highest ranking official in that department, and Adams thought she was the woman for the job: She has a bachelor's and a master's degree, she says, and had nearly 30 years of experience in the city's prisons, moving from social worker to employment counselor to her current job as warden.
But Adams, who spoke through her lawyer Nancy Ezold, didn't get the job. Instead, a man named Clyde Gainey did — who, according to Adams, does not have a degree. (A Prisons System spokeswoman and Gainey declined to confirm or deny this.) Adams sees this as the city flouting its own rules: According to the Prisons System's documents, the "minimum acceptable training and experience" for a deputy commissioner is a graduate degree in a relevant field, or a bachelor's degree accompanied by workplace experience.
Adams says the city also didn't formally announce the opening of the deputy commissioner position, even though she expressed interest to Giorla.
So in 2009, Adams filed a charge with both the Pa. Human Relations Commission and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (By state law, you must do this before filing suit.) Adams and the Prisons System are still in negotiations, but Ezold says it is possible she will file a lawsuit soon.
Prison spokeswoman Shawn Hawes declined to comment for this article.
Spencer, the Prisons exmployee who City Paper wrote about last week, filed suit against the city in February for gender discrimination — and she also alleges that she was never able to apply for the deputy commissioner position. And she claims that Gainey doesn't have a degree — whereas she has a bachelor's, master's and law degree, as well as more than 30 years of experience in the Prisons System.
"It's amazing to me that these highly qualified women that are also highly experienced are not getting the position, and are not even getting considered," says Ezold. "It makes no sense."
Ezold also notes that, until a few weeks ago, Adams was a warden at the Philadelphia Detention Center — but then, "without asking her opinion," was reassigned to Riverside Correctional Facility, an all-women's jail. Though this was not a demotion and wasn't accompanied by a pay cut, Ezold argues that it could be construed as retribution for her charge.
In a press release last month, the Prisons System announced that two other women were being promoted to the position of warden, and that Adams, "who has led the Detention Center for the past two years, will take over at the women's jail." In the release, Girola says, "We were fortunate to promote these experienced and talented women to warden."
The controversial Chelten Plaza development plan in Germantown — which would erect a Save-A-Lot and Dollar Tree where a Fresh Grocer once stood — may get an additional $1 million in state funding.
The Rendell administration already awarded $3 million in Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) funds for the project, which is set to be located at Chelten and Pulaski avenues, in 2010. This money will likely be dispersed beginning this summer. Now, City Paper has found that Gov. Tom Corbett's office is considering a request from the project's developer, Pat Burns (of Pulaski Partners), for another $1 million in RACP funds.
Corbett spokesman Eric Shirk says that the extra $1 million was already approved by the Rendell administration in late 2010 — but a contract was never executed — so Corbett's office is currently reviewing it. He adds that the administration is considering all RACP projects on a "case-by-case basis," and can't say when a final decision will be made.
The news that the proposed Chelten Plaza project may get even more public dollars shocked some community members. "I am appalled," says Yvonne Haskins, an attorney for the West Central Germantown Neighbors and other local groups. "In all my years in Philadelphia, I have never experienced such disregard for what the community wants."
Critics of the project say that the developer blindsided the community, and that another dollar store is unnecessary in a neighborhood that has more than 70 low-end stores.
Carly Spross, a spokeswoman for Fresh Grocer (which Burns owns), says the additional $1 million would likely go toward better design, landscaping and other improvements that have been advocated for by Germantown Community Connection, another local group that has butt heads with the West Central Germantown Neighbors over how to best deal with the proposal.
Look for more on the Chelten Plaza project in City Paper this week.
Ah, the sounds of chlidren playing in the street; the scent of earth after a summer rain; the long melt of another summer's day gone by — and the sight, everywhere, of summer illegal short dumping season.
Pictures taken on Lemon Hill in east Fairmount Park a week ago.
Last week, members of Congress from New York, Maryland and Massachusetts demanded an investigation of the natural gas industry following a New York Times report uncovering evidence that drillers are inflating projected reserves (the Securities and Exchange Commission, or SEC, has rules that “allow companies to avoid disclosing details about the proprietary technology used to predict future gas production and to avoid some third-party audits of those predictions”--i.e., no one’s checking their math...this is no surprise given the SEC’s see-no-evil regulation of Wall Street leading up to the financial crisis, but that’s another story entirely).
This followed previous articles in the Times’ “Drilling Down” series documenting the lack of regulation of the natural gas industry and the potentially serious harm that could be posed to public health and the environment in our state and elsewhere.
So, what were Pennsylvania’s elected officials doing? Many were writing a letter to President Obama asking for more drilling with less oversight in the Marcellus Shale. Letter writers, including Pennsylvania Democrats Jason Altmire and Mark Critz, and Republican Bill Shuster, condemned “any regulatory regimes that will delay our national security priorities” and “encouraging the continued development and utilization of our Nation’s vast natural gas resources by any means necessary, but most specifically, by unconventional shale gas recovery.”
Natural gas is booming throughout Pennsylvania, and the Delaware River Basin Commission may approve wells in our watershed once they develop new regulations. If drilling were to begin up the Delaware River from Philly, environmentalists say that our drinking water supply could be in danger. Philly’s representatives haven’t joined Western PA politicians in calling for more drilling, but they have been far less active and outspoken than New York’s in defending the city’s drinking water supply.
Representative Allyson Schwartz spokesperson Tali Israeli wrote that since the Delaware River Basin Commission “has yet to determine how to proceed...currently, there are no threats from hydrofracking to the Philadelphia water supply..”
Representative Chaka Fattah spokesperson Ron Goldwyn wrote that the congressman was busy “protecting the Environmental Protection Agency from attacks on its regulatory role,” and the EPA could certainly use all the help it can get right now.
He went on to stress that “Congressman Fattah remains concerned about the safety of the water supply and applauds the effort of some in the City Council and from the State. But if the state refuses to protect the water supply then he believes that fracking protection is necessary to ensure the quality of the water supply. If the State won’t act then the EPA must.”
Efforts by the state? If the Republican leadership in Harrisburg can’t even tax natural gas, it seems unlikely they will regulate it.
Senator Bob Casey did introduce legislation that would require companies to reveal what chemicals they use to frack (that’s right: they are not already required to do so).
And Congressman Bob Brady, according to spokesperson Karen Warrington, is the only Pennsylvania member of the House to sign on as a co-sponsor of the House version of the bill, the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals (FRAC) Act of 2011.
“Congressman Brady is very focused and concerned about the possibility of the contamination of Philadelphia’s municipal water supply as a result of fracking,” writes Warrington. “And, he supports the decision by the PA Department of Health to begin tracking health complaints related to natural gas drilling. The Congressman says that there are many issues to be weighed regarding fracking but the protection of our water supply has to be our number one concern and that’s not up to debate.”
He signed onto it yesterday--after I contacted their office.
Though neither Fattah nor Schwartz has yet to sign on as a cosponsor, Fattah did vote for an “amendment [that] would have prevented natural gas industry executives from serving on what is supposed to be a neutral federal advisory panel on shale gas drilling.” Obama’s natural gas advisory panel is already stacked, with six (of seven) members holding industry ties .
Republican Mike Fitzpatrick, who represents a sliver of far Northeast Philly, did not respond to requests for comment.
We already know that state politicians are in hock to the natural gas industry (third year straight with no tax on natural gas, making us the only state in the nation to not have such a tax. See Will Bunch’s discussion of Corbett’s industry ties here). But it’s our representatives in Washington too, and that’s not really surprising: Pennsylvania politics have long been dominated by natural resources, from big coal to steel.
“Pennsylvania has a long history with extractive industries,” says Jan Jarrett, President of Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future. “We are still the 4th largest producer of coal in the country and we've had a natural gas industry in Pennsylvania for more than half a century. We are a coal and heavy industry state and that is important to both Republicans, who generally favor industry, and Democrats, who favor unions - it has always complicated environmental and energy policy.”
But why the silence on fracking from Philadelphia representatives like Bob Brady, Chaka Fattah, and Allyson Schwartz? Our East Coast city doesn’t get any jobs from the natural gas boom while the toxic drilling process could foul our drinking water.
In January, Curtis Jones led Philly’s City Council to pass a (somewhat toothless) resolution calling for a temporary ban on drilling in the Delaware River Basin. The difference between Philly and New York (which passed a resolution in December 2009), suggests Environmental Advocates Water and Natural Resources Program Director Katherine Nadeau, is that vocal leadership by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has prompted a much more aggressive posture on the part of that city’s congressional delegation. And perhaps most importantly, the entire state of New York, unlike Pennsylvania, has held off on fracking until they better understand the risks to the environment and human health.
“New York’s federal representatives have been on the issue since it first started to develop in New York State,” she told me. “By virtue of fact that New York has taken time out to review fracking issue, it has really given our lawmakers time to become really knowledgeable and weigh in on the issue.”
The Philadelphia Public School Notebook (where I have freelanced in the past) is defending their decision to publish a leaked list of schools the District was considering closing, part of a plan to close or consolidate dozens of schools to save money as enrollment declines. Mayor Nutter and the School District have criticized the Notebook for publishing what they call a “far from being...final proposal.” The Notebook says that making the list public is in the public interest--especially in the face of School District intransigence.
Interest in the District’s plans is high, as evidenced by the turnout at dozens of community meetings held since last fall.
But when asked – by parents, by teachers, by reporters, and even by the mayor – to share information on which schools are being considered for action, the District’s answer has been, “We’re not ready yet.” Officials have not floated a single proposal as to what might happen to individual schools.
Many of us have concluded that the District is consciously keeping its plan under wraps for as long as possible.
That’s why the Notebook recently made a sensitive judgment call to publish a confidential, draft District document that details more than two dozen school closing proposals.
The District certainly has a right to internal deliberations. And the proposed (and perhaps necessary) school closings, when made official, will no doubt prompt a firestorm of neighborhood and City Council protest no matter what decisions get made.
But democracy is messy, and all the more so when so many people distrust the District, which has a rough track record when it comes to community relations (as my recent article about cuts to services for immigrant students and families, or any number of other instances of shady decision-making around the budget shortfall and otherwise, demonstrate). Indeed, the District was supposed to provide school closing documents to the City as part of the widely reported “education accountability agreement” signed in exchange for more City funds.
City Council members also requested more detailed information about the facilities planning process during the city’s contentious school budget negotiations. District officials sidestepped their questions, again acting as if the preliminary plan did not exist.
The Notebook, Philadelphia’s brightest spotlight when it comes to education journalism, was right to error on the side of more sunshine.
Three cheers to Meal Ticket/food/Web editor extraordinaire Drew Lazor and staff writer Holly Otterbein, who were both named as finalists for the 2011 AltWeekly Awards, given out by the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies.
Lazor was nominated for the fight for best food writing for his pieces "Minette Men," "Here Come The Rooster" and "Waiting For Good Dough"; and Otterbein was nominated for arts feature writing for her article "The Island." They're in the company of finalists from such papers as The Village Voice, L.A. Weekly and Miami New Times.
The winners will be announced in July.
Dry town Ocean City, New Jersey is debating whether or not to allow BYOBs. The Philadelphia Daily News should be debating whether a philly.com “web poll” on the town’s alcohol laws constitutes news. It doesn’t.
Online polls are a stupid gimmick with zero scientific credibility. But writing an article about it — “In Web poll on O.C. booze ban, 36% say it makes the town a 'safer, cleaner resort'" — really strains credulity. What say you, People Paper? You are a fine, Pulitzer Prize-winning publication: why did you run this as news?
The horde of fire-breathers, T-shirt sellers, jewelry slingers and other vendors who famously line Old City's streets every First Friday appears to be on its way out — and headed to Fishtown.
The exodus is in response to a recent crackdown by the city's Department of Licenses and Inspections. A coalition of Old City vendors says that L&I officials approached them during May and June's festivities and told them to pack their bags because they lack vending licenses. One L&I official "said he'd confiscate all our stuff if we didn’t leave," says Clinton Meister, a graphic designer.
John Ireland, a T-shirt vendor, says that when he asked L&I "how to make this legal," he was given the runaround: Even if he did obtain a license, that still might not be enough. A zoning law bars vendors from operating in much of the area between Bainbridge and Vine streets, from the Delaware to the Schuylkill rivers.
L&I spokeswoman Maura Kennedy says the agency is "trying to be more proactive," and is responding to "a number of complaints from the business community" about vendors in Old City.
Larry Becker, co-owner of Larry Becker Contemporary Art, argues that vendors deserve to be ousted: "It's a safety problem. Pedestrians don’t have room to walk on the sidewalk because of [vendors], so they're pushed into the dangerous street."
During June's First Friday, after being kicked out of Old City that very day, Meister and other vendors spontaneously moved to Fishtown's Frankford Avenue — where, he says, "the local businesses and the locals were awesome to us!" Meister then created a Facebook event encouraging vendors and patrons to head to Fishtown’s events in the future.
Meister is bummed about abandoning a decades-long tradition. But, he admits, there's at least one upside: "Parking is way better in Fishtown than in Old City."
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