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Councilmember Gym: No Secret Settlements with Taxpayer Money

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Bill would require regular reporting, systemic reforms to prevent future liability

Written by Melissa McCleery  Date: June 26, 2019

Councilmember Helen Gym (At-Large) introduced a bill requiring the City to publicly report on money paid to settle claims and judgments over $20,000 and/or related to discrimination, harassment, or employee misconduct. The legislation also creates a task force of City officials to review patterns and to develop policies and procedures to help minimize risk and prevent future misconduct and liability. The bill is cosponsored by Councilmembers Kenyatta Johnson (2nd District) and Curtis Jones, Jr. (4th District).

Settlements and judgments are a national concern that cost American cities a combined average of over $1 billion each year. In  FY19, Philadelphia paid out at least $48 million to settle lawsuits including $18 million for police misconduct and another $10 million on sidewalk issues. The City Controller’s office found that the City paid $2.2 million over the past 6 years to settle sexual misconduct claims.

“Taxpayers fund this city, and they deserve to know how their money is spent,” said Councilmember Gym. “Transparency facilitates trust and it pushes us to do better. When taxpayer dollars are being paid to settle sexual harassment, discrimination, police misconduct or wrongful conviction claims, we should be doing everything we can to increase transparency, minimize risk, and make sure we are truly learning as a result of any settlements and judgments.”

Currently, there is no requirement that City settlements or payouts be publicly and consistently disclosed. During budget hearings, Councilmember Gym requested data on City payouts which revealed that the City has already made strides to limit liability and reduce the cost of litigation by addressing recurring issues and settling claims to avoid costly litigation. Gym’s bill provides further transparency to this process and encourages collaboration between City departments, agencies, and commissions to build on this work.

“The ACLU of Pennsylvania fully supports this bill requiring the city of Philadelphia to publicly disclose any settlements over $20,000 or those related to harassment, discrimination, or misconduct,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “Open and transparent government is a cornerstone of a healthy democracy. While these agreements are ostensibly available through Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Law, that is a very burdensome process that works to undermine public transparency.”

“It is about time we turned off the spigot of tax dollars to pay for settlements or payouts related to sexual harassment allegations against city officials, law makers and staff,” said Nina Ahmad, Ph.D., National Board member of National Organization for Women (NOW) and President of the Philadelphia NOW Education Fund. “NOW has been at the forefront of fighting for a safe work environment. I am very encouraged that this bill will instill measures of accountability and transparency while protecting the privacy of the survivors.”

“Philadelphia is known as a walkable city, which is great both for residents and for our visitors. But there is still work to do, as indicated by the number of pedestrians injured on sidewalks over the last year,” said Jennifer Barr Dougherty, Chair of Feet First Philly. “That is why Feet First Philly supports this bill, which will provide greater transparency that will enable Philadelphia to make better sidewalk policy and maintenance decisions, and to improve walkability for everyone.”

“The people of Philadelphia deserve transparency and ethical behavior from our city government,” said Rev. Gregory Holston, Executive Director of POWER. “As citizens of the poorest large city in America, it’s imperative that we know our tax dollars are working for us and not to cover up corruption.”