Saying the Department of Licenses and Inspections has been "an embarrassment" for too long, Sam Katz, a Philadelphia documentary producer and three-time mayoral candidate, released a video and policy paper Tuesday on how to improve the embattled agency.
Katz, who has not ruled out running for mayor again this year, contended that L&I's "laxity" has played a part in various calamities in city history, including the Meridian Plaza fire in 1991 and the Center City building collapse in 2013.
"The deadly disasters that have occurred repeatedly have left the public shaken and questioning . . . [L&I's] competence as an institution of public safety," Katz, a municipal finance expert, wrote.
He added that the public has lost confidence in the agency's ability to perform its duties.
Katz concluded that the city's approach to the operations, management, and leadership of L&I "has to change dramatically."
Asked to comment on Katz's statements, a spokesman for Mayor Nutter said the administration had been working with City Council to improve public safety.
"Since the tragedy at 22d and Market Streets, the city has reduced the number of imminently dangerous buildings by half and increased by 25 percent the number of vacant properties that are cleaned and sealed," Mark McDonald said in a statement. "The city has adopted new laws and regulations that increase the level of oversight for construction and demolition sites.
"This year, we're hiring and training 27 inspectors, and in the coming year we'll hire an additional 43 staff, including 31 L&I inspectors to increase inspections of vacant properties, construction sites, and to create a new Fire Prevention Unit."
Katz also recommended that the city look into privatizing building inspectors to increase efficiency. The current inspection staff would then provide oversight, and manage inspections of dangerous buildings, Katz said.
He said "political interference" has played a role in L&I throughout the years, with connected builders and politicians having undue influence with the agency in getting projects done. He did not offer details.
He also took exception to Nutter's proposed $5.5 million budgetary increase for L&I. "What CEO would increase resources to a division performing below acceptable levels?" Katz asked.
In his video, Katz interviewed Bennett Levin, who served as L&I commissioner from 1991 through 1995.
Levin said L&I has become an "enforcement agency," charged with collecting fees for the city - a departure from its vital safety mission.