New Members Attend First Meeting of Philadelphia City Council; Oh Raises Witness Relocation Concerns

Philadelphia City Council welcomed four new members to its ranks on Thursday, December 1st, 2022, raising the number of council members serving their first term to nine.

The new members sworn in earlier this week are (biographical information provided by the office of the City Council President):

Councilmember At Large James Harrity, 50, a resident of Kensington and former aide to State Senator Sharif Street.

Councilmember Quetcy Lozada, 52, a resident of Northwood and former Chief of Staff to Councilmember Maria Quiñones Sánchez. Lozada will represent the 7th Council District.

Councilmember Anthony Phillips, 33, a resident of Mt. Airy, and founder of the nonprofit Youth Action. Phillips was elected to represent the 9th Council District.

Councilmember At Large Sharon Vaughn, 58, a resident of Feltonville, and former Chief of Staff to Councilmember Derek Green.

The new members join Councilmember Mike Driscoll (who replaced Councilmember Bobby Henon) and Councilmembers Kendra Brooks, Jamie Gauthier, Katherine Gilmore Richardson, and Isaiah Thomas as members in their first terms.

Council Approves Budget Transfer

Council passed its mid-year budget transfer, moving nearly $275 million from city coffers to various departments.

The bulk of the funds are dedicated to the city’s pension fund. The transfer comes as the city is experiencing a budget surplus, primarily due to larger-than-expected revenue collections and a significant amount of attrition in the city workforce.

According to the legislation, funds are earmarked for the following uses:

African American Museum of Philadelphia $3,000,000

Calder Museum $2,000,000

Art Museum
$2,000,000

Philadelphia Zoo
$2,000,000

Mann Music Center
$2,000,000

Dell Music Center
$3,000,000

2026 Soccer
$2,000,000

Please Touch Museum
$2,000,000

Cultural Fund
$2,000,000

PHL250
$500,000

Philabundance
$200,000

Please Touch Museum
$100,000 (cameras)

Greater Philadelphia Film Office
$300,000

Franklin Institute
$2,000,000

Mural Arts Program
$300,000

Marian Anderson Museum
$250,000

Welcoming Center
$300,000

Historic Philadelphia
$400,000

Caring for Friends
$100,000

Visit Philly
$350,000

PIAA
$50,000

Center for Black Education Development
$150,000

Young Chances
$100,000

Unity in the Community
$100,000

Mural Arts (MLK/Horton)
$150,000

Granahan Football Field
$150,000

Georgia Gregory School of Music
$50,000

Business Center at New Covenant
$50,000

Danny Rumpf Foundaton-Philly Hoops Month
$100,000

Harold O. Davis Baptist Church
$25,000
Community Center

RW Boys and Girls Club
$150,000
Sayre-Morris Pool
$3,000,000

Oh Raises Concerns Regarding Witness Relocation

Coming on the heels of last week’s Joint Committees on Public Safety and the Special Committee on Gun Violence Prevention hearing, Councilmember David Oh reiterated his concerns regarding the usage of funds allocated for witness relocation.

During the course of the Joint Committee hearing, Councilmember Oh asked the Administration where the allocated funds were currently held, and how the funds were being spent. The representatives from the Administration present at the hearing did not have complete answers, prompting Councilmember Curtis Jones, who was chairing the meeting, to recess the hearing until the answers could be relayed to the committees.

The answers were later provided to council via a letter from the Managing Director’s office, which said the funds had been moved to the Urban Affairs Coalition for use as needed.

While the city has spent nearly $100,000 on witness relocation over the last two years, according to the letter, none of the $500,000 allocated for this specific purpose has been used.

Oh’s frustration with the funds not being spent led to him motioning for the budget transfer vote to be tabled. As there was no “second” to his motion, it failed and the vote proceeded.

“The great failure of our city,” Oh said, “We see in violence, murder, and wanton crime.”

Oh described the impetus for the funds as a response to innocent people being targeted for violence because they either helped police solve a crime or were believed to have helped police. Often, relatives are targeted simply because of their association with someone in the neighborhood who may or may not have helped the police.

Specifically, Oh mentioned the retaliatory violence mothers of young children have been facing-sometimes with their young children present, including a woman who had been shot herself, losing an eye which left her in great pain. Despite this, she has been denied disability benefits and is struggling to make ends meet, and has not received assistance in moving.

“We’re not built for this,” Oh said, regarding witness relocation. “But we better get built.”

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