The much anticipated blue-ribbon panel report on the city's Department of Licensing and Inspections is on Mayor Nutter's desk.
The report -- a product of a 10-month review of L&I by the panel Nutter appointed in the aftermath of the fatal June 5, 2013, Center City building collapse -- was finalized Tuesday evening and sent to Nutter, the the Special Independent Advisory Commission's chief of staff Ned Dunham said.
The mayor is in New York City attending the Clinton Global Initiative 2014 Annual Meeting and has appointed an administrative working group to review the recommendations. He is expected to hold a press conference Thursday to discuss the report.
If acted upon the 37 recommendations, L&I would be split into two new departments – the Department of Buildings and the Department of Business Compliance -- give more responsibilities to the Fire Department and implement other structural changes.
The split, which would require a lengthy City Charter change process, is the main recommendation in the report that is more than 40 pages long. The final version of the report will be "very similar," to the draft Nutter and other members of the administration received last week, Dunham said.
The panel that came up with the recommendations was led by Glenn P. Corbett, a fire-safety expert at John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York and executive director, Peter F. Vaira, former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
The commission's recommendations, as we reported last week, include:
- Changing the city charter to allow for the split of L&I into the Department of Buildings and another department to deal with licensing (now determined to be called the Department of Business Compliance).
- Citywide enforcement of the fire safety code should be shifted from L&I to the Fire Department.
- A professional engineer should head the proposed Department of Buildings.
- The City Controller's Office should regularly audit the proposed departments to gauge their performance and ensure that they are adequately funded.
Aside from the splitting of the department, L&I Commissioner, Carlton Williams, has heard most of it before.
Williams said Tuesday he has reviewed a draft blue-ribbon panel report that makes several recommendations for how to improve his department and found that the report is "consistent with many recommendations and initiatives we are working on," implementing.
All except the one big bomb: Get rid of L&I and create two new departments, one to address building safety and another to address the various city-issued licenses.
Williams declined Tuesday to comment on the split recommendation.
"That is the one we will address Thursday," he said. "That is the report."
It is and it isn't. The report has many other recommendations, some of which Williams addressed Tuesday.
One of the main recommendations is that fire safety inspections be done by the Fire Department and not L&I. The commission suggests creating a Fire Prevention Bureau with at least 50 new inspectors to look at large properties, according to sources.
A similar shift in responsibility was suggested by City Council's report on demolition practices and procedures last year.
But that shift has not yet happened because of "legal and administrative reasons," Williams said Tuesday.
"The fire department can evacuate buildings but only L&I can inspect a building," for building code certification, he said. L&I inspectors are state-certified as building code officials.
Having the fire department inspect buildings would require a charter change, Williams said, adding that the more immediate solution is to have both departments work more closely together.
It was not clear Tuesday night whether the final version of the special commission's report would address the commissioner's concerns on the required charter change for the fire department to take on some of L&I's responsibilities.
One of the main points of discussion among panel members, according to two people familiar with the conversations, was that L&I has become a catchall, responsible for licensing or inspecting everything from Dumpsters to day-care centers - and demolition sites.
Williams said Tuesday he was happy to see that the commission acknowledged the improvements that have been made and are being made at L&I, such as the implementation of eClipse, a new data network.
Click here for Philly.com's politics page.