Philadelphia Free Press: Mayor Elect Jim Kenney hits ground running with town hall meetings
December 09, 2015
Nicole Contosta, Philadelphia Free Press
When Mayor Elect Jim Kenney won the November election in a landslide victory, he emphasized, “to meet our city’s greatest challenges we will all have to come together.”
So in the spirit of uniting the city, Kenney has hosted five town halls in the North, South, Northeast, Northwest, and West sections of the city.
The Philadelphia Free Press covered the meeting held at South Philadelphia High School, 2101 S. Broad Street on Tuesday, December 1st.
“In the next four years, we want to know what you want to see,” Kenney told the 200 or so in attendance. “We’re going to sit down and listen to what you have to say,” Kenney said of himself and the members of his large transition team who were also present. Transition members included representatives such as State Rep Dwight Evans, Anuj Gupta, Andy Toy and Otis Hackney III, who also serves as the Principal of South Philadelphia High School.
“If you do not get the opportunity to ask a question or express your concerns today, please go online to Kenneyforphiladelphia.com and make your recommendation there,” Hackney explained.
Over the next hour, resident comments and questions ranged from bilingual students to trash and cleanliness, affordable housing, education, SRC transparency, small business growth and the type of relationship Kenney foresees between the Mayor’s Office and the Philadelphia City Council.
On bilingual students, a graduate student commented, “research reports that bilingual students do better in schools than other students.” The graduate student went on to suggest that Philadelphia should devise a weekly tutoring program to teach grades 1-12 in Spanish, French and sign language. “Children will gain more skills with those languages…and their employment levels will be higher.”
On trash and cleanliness, one resident asked why every bar and restaurant didn’t provide outdoor ashtrays. And another resident asked if the city could lift its ban on wire trashcans.
“We’re going to have to have a conversation about how we treat our neighborhoods and how we treat our streets from cigarettes to larger trash,” Kenney said, explaining, “we intend to clean up the city in a major way. But it gets dirty again because people throw trash out their windows and onto their steps.”
As for re-installing wire trashcans, Kenney called for accountability. “People go out at night with their little packages because they don’t want to keep the garbage in their homes overnight so the trashcans are overflowing. And when they’re overflowing, people will put mattresses and tires there. If,” Kenney continued, “we could get a commitment from people in the neighborhood, then we would have a better chance of getting wire baskets.”
In addition, “We want to get larger big bellies with a foot pedal so you don’t have to put your hand on the cruddy handle.”
On affordable housing, one women said, “Many are looking for it. And shelters are full to capacity, what are you going to do to address this?”
According to Kenney, “It begins with our CDCs and our communities so when our neighborhoods begin to gentrify, there is enough housing for the long-term residents. We did a little of that when it comes to AVI and the Homestead Exemption and Gentrification Freeze. Funding CDC’s,” Kenney continued, “and the Housing Trust Fund are ways to ensure we have affordable housing with high-end development.”
On education, a substitute teacher and Grays Ferry resident spoke of the long commute she has to take with her son to center city for a good public school. “I’m hoping the city can have better schools so I don’t have to take my son so far from the neighborhood.”
Principal Hackney fielded the question by stressing, “that’s where community schools come in…this is a piece of that.” Hackney’s response refers to Kenney’s plan to adopt the Cincinnati’s community school model, which places city workers from departments such as health, social service, DHS and Parks and Rec in public schools to deliver services to students and the community.
On SRC transparency, a retired teacher, who regularly attends SRC meetings said, “the board members are not responsive to people. They don’t answer questions. They go through pages and pages of resolutions and they don’t deliberate on any of them…at least not publically. The mayor,” the resident continued, “has two representatives on the SRC, the governor appoints three…now that the governor is a democrat, can he make his people on the SRC more responsive and more answerable to the people?”
Kenney agreed that the SRC should have more transparency. As for SRC appointments, “There are terms. Bill Green was appointed by Governor Corbett and when his term expires, Governor Wolf will have the opportunity to pick another….he said he would consult with us.
Many people say they want the SRC disbanded,” Kenney continued. “You can make that argument. It’s a solid argument. However, I fear that if we do that, the [Republican] legislature will say, ‘Here, you wanted it, see you later.”
Another resident wondered what Kenney planned to do to help small businesses grow.
Kenney cited Nolan Atkinson, who he appointed as the city’s first diversity officer “[Atkinson] will go through the entire city budget to figure out why we don’t spend the wealth on every community in our city.”
Kenney went on to say that the city would like to model its struggling business corridors after more successful ones. Take East Passyunk Avenue as an example.
“It was pretty much always a strong business corridor, but some of the business owners were getting older and some of their kids didn’t want to take over. It was getting frayed around the edges. The city got a planning group together and now it’s the number two or three food destination in the city.”
In addition, Kenney said he plans to “diversify our government contracts. I think we will have results in the next four years.”
As for accomplishing his goals, one resident wondered, “How will you make sure you have a fruitful relationship with city council?”
In answering, Kenney compared the mayor to the CEO of a corporation, city council its board members and the city council president as chairman of the board. “And any company where there isn’t a successful relationship between the CEO, the board members and chairman, is going to go out of business.”
But have no fear.
“Clarke and I have a good relationship,” Kenney said of the city council president. “We just traveled to Cincinnati to check out the community school plan together.
I’ve seen the model that worked and that was Ed Rendell as mayor and John Street as president,” Kenney continued. “That model worked because they worked together. You can’t dictate. You can’t tell people what to do. You have to reach consensus. The not sale of the gas works is a really good example of the lack of communication.”
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