The inaugural Philadelphia City Council session of 2017 reflected a legislative body still shaking off a long winter break. Along with old bills, incipient bits of new business like a plan to hold hearings on raccoon infestations and a scolding of newly inaugurated President Donald Trump were the order of the day.

Council President Darrell Clarke stole most of the spotlight by making an unprecedented descent from his podium to give a public comment excoriating the auction of city-owned properties outside of the city’s Land Bank. 

“My issue is...around the notion that people within in government can ultimately be making the final decision on how we proceed with how it relates to developing our community,” he said, sitting in the seat normally reserved for colleague Bobby Henon. “We need to have a public hearing on this process.”

Councilwoman María Quiñones-Sánchez introduced a resolution calling for such hearings, and also submitted an updated strategic plan for the Land Bank.

Clarke previously wrote an op-ed calling for a moratorium on other city land sales after the Revenue Department independently pushed several properties to auction that had been previously vetted for assembly and redevelopment under the Land Bank. He took to the airwaves earlier in the day to promote a similar message.

“Some mid-level person at the Revenue Department shouldn’t be making these decisions,” Sánchez said. “We’re going to look at everything...We need to look at all the pieces that could potentially impede the process of the Land Bank to acquire land.”  

Sánchez suggested she would like the Land Bank to prescreen sales.

The bank was created in 2013 to unify and simplify the city’s fragmented dispensation system, but has only recently brought any properties to settlement. Clarke had initially been critical of the new system; his office even fomented community opposition to the original legislation to ensure that additional council control was imposed over the sale process.

With an eye on a “workforce housing” plan for his district, Clarke and Sánchez – who first advocated for the bank’s creation – have pushed dozens of bills through council that have added public land under the control of the new dispensation system. 

To date, few of their colleagues have followed suit.

 

In other business:

  • Kenyatta Johnson introduced an ordinance requiring annual ethics training for all Council members and their staff
  • During public comment, local Muslim groups called for an end to ethnic and religious profiling exacerbated by a recent executive order signed by President Trump that curbs immigration from some Middle Eastern countries.
  • Council meanwhile agreed to hold hearings to examine the impacts of other shifting federal policies, like the possible abolition of the Affordable Care Act.
  • Councilwoman Helen Gym introduced a bill to enhance labor protections for “shift workers” – individuals who work outside of the traditional 9-to-5 business schedule.
  • Councilwoman Cindy Bass won final approval on additional legislation designed to crack down on lead contamination.