Democratic mayoral nominee Jim Kenney says, if elected, he wants the Philadelphia Parking Authority to issue even more tickets — in addition to the parking variety for which the army of meter readers are already notorious.
He would like to see the PPA issuing tickets for things like litter and sidewalk violations on behalf of the Streets Department or checking construction and dumpster permits for the Department of Licenses & Inspections.
"We need to extend the ability to other departments...to issue tickets. I would like to do that with the Parking Authority," he said. "We have people, city employees, out in the neighborhoods. They shouldn't be working in silos, they shouldn't be cross purpose to each other — and help each other do their jobs."
Kenney mentioned the idea last week at a Water Department event. His campaign spokeswoman, Lauren Hitt, later acknowledged that "preliminary conversations" had taken place between Kenney and the PPA.
"His goal is to implement technology that will better integrate city departments and maximize city resources by allowing city workers who are regularly walking the streets, including PPA workers, to report violations to the proper department," she said.
The Parking Authority is a state agency, but the PPA's top official said the expanded powers of his employees might be granted through a "agreement of cooperation" signed by the city and agency. He added that such an agreement still needed further examination.
Both L&I and Streets have struggled in recent years to keep up with their enforcement duties.
L&I, which monitors construction projects and inspects buildings for code violations, has been under intense scrutiny since the 2013 Market Street building collapse, when six people were crushed to death as the result of a shoddy demolition job.
Despite promises of reforms and increased funding, a Controller's report released earlier this year said the Department remained dangerously understaffed. An Inquirer report this year found that officials had pushed trainees to inspect a backlog of hundreds of buildings, even though they were not yet qualified to perform those inspections.
Kenney says he wants the PPA to shoulder some low-level permit inspection work at construction or demolition sites in order to free up capacity at L&I.
"I want to use [PPA officers] in a more expanded role when it comes to checking contractors for licenses and the like. You know, you have boots on the ground every day and those folks come upon folks doing construction work," said Kenney. "I'm not asking [the PPA] to inspect the buildings or inspect the work, but say 'Where's your business activity license?' and that kind of stuff."
Beth Grossman, chief of staff at L&I, seemed to welcome the idea.
"Properly trained PPA Officers could expand the City's oversight of construction sites throughout the city to ensure compliance with construction site ordinances and to maintain public safety," she said. "Enforcement should be limited to issuing code violation notices...which are similar to the violations that PPA Officers issue currently."
The Streets Department also issues tickets for sanitary violations, like littering and early garbage placement on trash nights. Streets is also tasked with ticketing for illegal sidewalk closures, a job that Kenney says is sorely lacking.
The department did not comment on the issues, but Kenney has made it known for some time that blocked sidewalks are his pet peeve — the former councilman proposed legislation that ultimately passed and fines construction companies that block sidewalks without authorization.
"I mean you walk through streets in Manhattan or the Village or the Bronx or Brooklyn or wherever, construction is happening all over there, but you never leave the sidewalk," said Kenney. "I was walking between the intersections of 15th and Chestnut and 15th and Walnut [streets]. And of the eight sidewalks that exist at those two intersections, five of them were taken by constructions sites...It's an enforcement issue."
Kenney added that he could make these changes happen because of his "excellent" relationship with the PPA. The Parking Authority's Executive Director Vincent Fenerty, who is also a prominent Republican ward leader, acknowledged that he had been friends with Kenney for nearly 30 years.
"Jim Kenney and I have known each other since he was a staffer for [former State Sen] Vince Fumo and I was a low-level staffer at the Parking Authority," said Fenerty. "I'd spoken with Kenney when he was a councilman about this idea, and I think it's an absolutely good idea."
Fenerty, who said that Kenney had also mentioned using PPA agents to check that businesses had obtained dumpster permits, said he thought the costs for implementing such a program would be "minimal."
He said he believed that the city and PPA could sign an "agreement of cooperation" formalizing the agreement. Fenerty said that the PPA would not collect fines from newly issued violations, but could ask the city to remit to the PPA any additional costs encountered by their expanded role.
And even though Mayor Michael Nutter said he wanted to hear more details, he said he was "excited" about Kenney's "new and different ideas for expanding City services."
One person less impressed with the idea is former Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Agency chief and three-time mayoral candidate Sam Katz.
"I don't want to throw any cold water on the idea, but it seems to me, given my personal experience with the PPA, that they're busy," said Katz. "To suggest that the parking enforcement officers could do more work in the same time frame, at no cost to the PPA, strikes me on the surface as not very realistic."
Katz said that he would rather see problems at L&I and other agencies resolved directly, as opposed to the city simply paying the state-run PPA to pick up the slack. He also was leery of the city remitting funds to an agency well-known for political patronage.
"Behind all of this, many of the parking authority employees are non-civil service," he said. "Parking enforcement has become a place for ward and committee officers to find employment. So it sounds like there will be more of that."