AL DIA: Philly gets two new government arms and even more debt

By Christine Killion

November 5, 2014

Philadelphia approved all three of the questions on the ballot, including establishing a permanent Office of Sustainability, creating a Department of Prisons and borrowing $137.3 million for infrastructure improvements.

As they decided the futures of their representatives, Philadelphians also considered the future of the city’s Office of Sustainability. Mayor Nutter established the office six years ago to work with city departments on establishing sustainability initiatives and targets. The office is part of a larger plan to “green” Philadelphia by reducing emissions, promoting a healthy environment and preparing for the effects of climate change. Voters overwhelmingly decided to establish the office as permanent part of city government, regardless of who wins the mayoral election in 2016. 

Voters also agreed to consolidate the Board of Trustees of Philadelphia Prisons that oversee operations and the Department of Human Services which handles rehabilitation into one Department of Prisons. The new commissioner, like a police or fire commissioner, will take care of prison operations and efforts to reintegrate ex-offenders into society. 

Layne Mullett of Decarcerate PA said the implications of the new department are not clear. The bigger picture, Mullett said, is transparency of and within the Philadelphia prison system in light of inmate abuse, among other issues, which is not something that a newly formed Department of Prisons would likely solve.

“Regardless of what Philadelphia voters decide on Tuesday, further action is needed. We urge the city to take immediate action to reduce the number of people being held in the Philly jails, improve conditions within the jails, and provide increased community-based reentry services for people coming home,” Mullett said.

And, as is routine in most every election, Philadelphia voters said that it's OK for the city to borrow more money (to the tune of $137.3 million) to improve transit and street infrastructure, sanitation, museums, recreational centers and government buildings along with investments in development efforts.