Let’s hope that Mayor Jim Kenney’s planned reforms of the city’s messy land disposition operation make up for the failure to stop a sweetheart deal orchestrated by a city councilman last year.

Kenney’s actions — stopping city land transfers until he revises the system with an emphasis on competitive bidding and transparency — come following a series of stories by staff writers William Bender and Mark Fazlollah exposing how Councilman Kenyatta Johnson steered property to a friendly speculator. Johnson’s friend, Felton Heyman, took a $165,000 profit on a sale of city lots in the city’s gentrifying Point Breeze section in 2018. WHYY recently reported about a separate, but also troubling transaction.

The Vacant Property Review Committee, staffed by Council and administration appointees, which approves public land sales, ignored its own policies by failing to disclose that there were other bidders for the lots, using outdated assessments to set the prices, and not requiring the buyer to sign an Economic Opportunity Plan, which guarantees that any construction work would include minorities, women, and people with disabilities. Egregiously, the Johnson deal allowed public land to be sold without a public benefit.

Kenney wants to establish new policies that will ensure competitive bidding remains fair. But the administration should also encourage people who have maintained empty lots for decades and want to take ownership of them, says Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez. She rightly argues that those people should be able to buy the lots next to their homes or businesses with a deed restriction requiring them to maintain it as promised for a fixed number of years. An administration official says that will probably happen and there will be exceptions to strict competitive bidding standards for affordable housing as well.

At the same time, the administration should to use its powers to stop Council from pushing through sweetheart deals.

The administration rightly plans to strengthen its role in transactions through the VPRC. The committee is composed of members from 10 administration-controlled authorities and departments including Public Property and the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority as well as two land-oriented nonprofit groups and two City Council delegates, one of whom chairs the commission. Kenney wants to make sure that most land transactions are the result of competitive bidding and has plans to add tough language in contracts with buyers forcing them to keep their promises to develop the land in the public interest. If they don’t, the city wants to take back the land.

Additionally, the administration has another check on the system through the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority, whose members are appointed by the mayor and which processes land deals. Kenney is off to a good start. He used his control of the PRA to freeze land sales in December while he attempts to clean up the system. The big question, however, is whether he has the stomach to face down City Council, which can veto land deals.

Kenney should take on the fight and deserves the public’s support. City land is a lucrative asset that cannot only produce tax revenue, but also be used to improve the quality of life in the neighborhoods.