Councilman Kenney: OSHA and City are “Hiding Behind Grand Jury”

In the second City Council hearing into this month's deadly building collapse, Councilman James Kenney came out swinging. He accused both the city and federal government of "hiding behind the grand jury" instead of doing all they can to prevent another such incident.

Kenney is upset because the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) was asked to testify and decllined.

“I just want to state for the record my disappointment in OSHA’s refusal to present themselves here today…And everybody either pointing fingers in opposite directions to get the attention away from them, or hiding behind the grand jury, or hiding behind the potential civil litigation, or hiding behind the fact that they just don’t want to admit the fact that they’re responsible is really hampering the work of this committee,” he said.

City Council filed a formal request for a representative from OSHA to be in attendance at the hearing. But, according to Kenney’s office, the agency informed the council that it would not be able to appear. The reply came via an email which cited short turnaround time and conflict with the grand jury investigation as reasons not to attend.

Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr., the leading member of the committee of five was reponsible for creating the list of witnesses requested to appear in court for the hearings. City Council may also has issue a subpoena for the attendance of witnesses at a hearing. Jones' office declined to comment as to why council did not exercise its right to subpeona OSHA to attend. 

OSHA’s regional office issued a statement regarding its failure to appear at today’s hearing which read, “Since OSHA is actively involved in an ongoing investigation into the building collapse, it was not appropriate for the agency to testify at this time.”

Six people died and 13 were injured when the four-story building under demolition collapsed onto the Salvation Army Thrift Store at the corner of 22nd and Market in Center City. District Attorney Seth Williams convened a grand jury to investigate. The goal of the council hearings is to figure out what is wrong with the city's policies or processes for construction and demolition and then figure out how to create a safer system.

Kenney says OSHA’s lack of participation will make it even harder for the committee to meet its goal of creating new legislation that would address flaws in the City’s code on demolition standards by the end of the summer. He also chided Nutter Administration officials’ testimonies at last week’s hearing. Licenses and Inspections Commissioner Carlton Williams and Deputy Mayor Everett Gillison were the first people called to testify.

“I appreciate the Administration’s appearance last week but I wasn’t totally thrilled with the forthcoming nature of their testimony and OSHA’s refusal to come here today just exacerbates the problem. And really does disappoint me because this is about public safety; it’s not about someone’s ego or who’s at fault. And I think that as long as agencies that are responsible for public safety take that attitude, it’s going to be harder to get to the bottom line and to get something fixed,” he said.

Mayor Nutter’s office declined to comment on the councilman’s statements.

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