Building Collapse Hearing: Union Leader Says Lack of Oversight Should Keep People Up at Night

The head of a Philadelphia building trades union says the lack of oversight of demolition projects in Philadelphia should keep people up at night.

Pat Gillespie, business manager of the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council, says "no one enforces anything" once a permit is handed out.

Gillespie is testifying as part of a City Council investigation into a recent building that collapsed during demolition, killing six people at an adjacent store.

A demolition subcontractor is now charged with involuntary manslaughter.

Council member James Kenney says the building owner picked the cheapest of five demolition bids, ranging from $130,000 to $500,000.

He says you can't do demolition on the cheap, if it means people aren't trained.

Council member Bobby Henon says anyone with $200 can get a Philadelphia construction permit.

Today's hearing is the second of five in which select people are being called to testify before a investigative committee made up of five council members and led by Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr.

The hearings launched last week with testimony by Deputy Mayor Everett Gillison and Licenses and Inspections Commissioner Carlton Williams. They both answered policy and procedural questions. The committee is not addressing, specifically, what led to the deadly building collapse at 22nd and Market on June 5. Six people died and 13 were hurt when a four-story wall came crashing down on top of the Salvation Army thrift store next door.

From the outset, Jones said the goal of the committee is to determine whether a lack of management and oversight led to the June 5 collapse that killed six and injured 13 and prevent future disasters from happening.

“We will not point blame, we will take facts and we will create good public policy,” he said addressing the chamber of three dozen staffers, citizens and reporters. He added that the committee’s findings could lead to new legislation and appropriations.

Commissioner Williams and Deputy Mayor Gillison’s appearance was voluntary, but with conditions.

City Solicitor Shelly Smith sent a letter to Jones saying the administration would be happy to make Gillison and Williams available to testify, so long as they are not asked specific questions about the building collapse due to the Philadelphia District Attorney’s grand jury investigation.

“While we believe that these employees have acted responsibly, by making these individuals available to your committee, we do not wish to place them in a position where they might inadvertently waive important rights that they possess in connection with the grand jury investigation,” Smith wrote in the letter.

While Council respected the wishes of the Mayor’s Office, according to the city charter, the committee could have exercised much more power at the hearing.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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