Councilman indicted on union corruption charges introduces contractor review bill

Philadelphia City Councilman Bobby Henon wears a Local 98 T-shirt at the Labor Day parade. Henon's office at City Council was searched by the FBI a month before. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Philadelphia City Councilman Bobby Henon wears a Local 98 T-shirt at the Labor Day parade. Henon's office at City Council was searched by the FBI a month before. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

This story originally appeared on PlanPhilly.

Indicted Philadelphia Councilman Bobby Henon introduced bills that would strengthen City Hall’s power over building contractors on Thursday. The legislation was introduced just hours before the embattled representative of the lower Northeast pleaded not guilty to federal charges of corrupt dealings with a building trades leader.

Henon did not attend Council because of his arraignment but Councilman Bill Greenlee introduced the bills on his behalf.

Henon’s office said in a release that the legislation is meant to “explore economic crimes” in the local construction industry by expanding the inspectorate of the Department of Licenses and Inspections and creating a new Contractor Review Board within the agency.

“2019 is the year the City makes the commitment of prioritizing the enforcement of illegally performed construction work by unlicensed contractors and untrained workers,” the release said.

Critics denounced the bills as a brazen attempt to pressure non-union contractors into working with organized labor. In the indictment, prosecutors accuse Henon of using the Department of Licenses and Inspections to punish the enemies of John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty, the politically influential head of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98.

“We would oppose this legislation,” said Leo Addimando, the vice-president of the Building Industry Association, which represents the city’s residential construction industry. “It strikes us as a thinly veiled attempt by organized labor to further suppress non-affiliated contractors and workers, and hamper people’s right to work.”

A spokesman for Mayor Jim Kenney said the administration had not yet reviewed the bills and could not offer an opinion on their merit.

“We have not had a chance to review [the bills], and we await the decision of Council leadership as to whether a hearing will be scheduled on the bills,” wrote Mike Dunn in an email.

Dunn also said that the mayor can’t comment on the allegations of political tampering at L&I.

“We cannot get into the specifics of this allegation that occurred in 2015 before the start of this Administration, because court proceedings are ongoing,”

Good-government watchdog director Pat Christmas said the new bills seemed like a solution in search of a problem.

“The timing of these proposals certainly seems odd, given this week’s events,” said Christmas, policy director of the Committee of Seventy. “While staffing levels at L&I may be a legitimate issue, it’s unclear what widespread problem the new review board would address.

Greenlee said he introduced the bill on Henon’s behalf as a courtesy to a fellow Council member. Council President Clarke said that any member has the right to introduce legislation, and refused to speculate about whether the bills would get a hearing.

Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sanchez, who heads the Committee on Licenses and Inspections, said that she had “no comment as charter changes require thorough review.”

The bills would expand L&I’s capabilities by setting minimum staffing levels for the agency’s inspectorate of at least 800 inspectors, nearly quintupling the number of inspectors.

They would also create a Contractor Review Board within the agency and grant it broad powers to conduct audits, hold hearings, and suspend a contractor’s license for violations arising from investigations.

The legislative package would require two changes to the Home Rule Charter, one setting minimum staffing levels for L&I’s inspectorate and one establishing the Contractor Review Board.

Disclosure: The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98 represents engineers at WHYY.

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