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Council, Probing Deadly Center City Demolition Collapse, Hears From L&I Alums

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Mike Dunn Mike Dunn
Mike Dunn is City Hall bureau chief for KYW Newsradio 1060. He covers...
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By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Two former heads of Philadelphia’s Department of Licenses and Inspections offered differing views today on whether L&I has lost sight of public safety.

At City Council’s latest hearing on the Market Street building collapse that killed six people (see related story), Bennett Levin — who served as L&I commissioner during Ed Rendell’s first term as mayor — said the agency has become less focused on safety and more focused on generating revenues through fees and licenses.

“L&I has equivalent public safety responsibilities as the police department and the fire department,” Levin told the hearing, “but yet we tolerate and even accept sloth and unaccountability in the name of political expediency and economic development.  Those responsibilities are and should be subordinate to the primary function as a guardian of some of the most critical life safety functions borne by city government.”

This resonated with councilmembers, including Curtis Jones, who have long been concerned that the Nutter administration places L&I in the area of economic development rather than public safety.

Jones questioned Levin further on this.

(Jones:)   “One issue: whether or not L&I should be under public safety or economic development?”

(Levin:)  “There is no reason whatsoever that is in economic development.”

A differing view was heard from Fran Burns (below right), who ran L&I during Michael Nutter’s first term.  She insisted that even as currently organized, public safety has been the top priority at L&I.

(Former L&I commissioner Fran Burns.  Image from City of Phila. TV)

(Former L&I commissioner Fran Burns. Image from City of Phila. TV)

“The issue of public safety, regardless of organizational charts, never left the mission of the employees or the department itself.   Employees, particularly through the years those that have worked at L&I for twenty, thirty years, carry that very, very strongly.  They are, and will continue to be, a life safety department and agency,” Burns told the committee.

This is the fourth of five hearings scheduled by a special City Council committee to look at potential changes in the wake of the fatal center city building collapse in June (other related stories).

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