An East Falls update on Al Schmidt’s office reforms and Cresson St. wall repairs

Tales of both city and street engaged the members of the East Falls Community Council this week.

Al Schmidt, recently elected City Commissioner and resident of East Falls, provided information regarding reforms his office is undertaking and spoke about his vision for the future of voting in Philadelphia.

Darin Gatti, Chief Bridge and Transportation Engineer for the Streets Department, related his department’s plans for a crumbling retaining wall on Cresson St.

Schmidt talks office reforms and election day efforts 

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Providing an overview of his goals as Commissioner, Schmidt told the EFCC that his primary aims are reduced spending and increased oversight.

Schmidt, a Republican, was elected in 2011 on a reform ticket. He is one of three City Commissioners who are tasked with overseeing elections within Philadelphia County.

Schmidt highlighted streamlining-efforts being implemented in conjunction with his colleague Stephanie Singer – a Democrat, and Chair of the City Commissioner’s Office.

Paramount among them are cost-cutting measures.

In keeping with campaign promises, Schmidt indicated he has taken a voluntary 10-percent reduction in pay and returned his city-owned vehicle.

Schmidt also explained that efforts are underway to dismantle what he termed the “political patronage process.”

Observing a tradition of political ward leaders influencing city employment, Schmidt related that budgetary allowances – as opposed to need – typically dictated employment practices.

As a result of which, he said, “They hired, hired, hired.”

To combat these excessive employee expenditures, Schmidt said that the Commissioner’s office budget will be voluntarily lowered, and added that a standardized application and hiring process will be instituted.

Schmidt also spoke about city election processes.

Given the forthcoming presidential election, he noted that 2012 will be a major election year.

In order to facilitate a fair and transparent voting process, Schmidt plans to take an aggressive stance in regard to preventing electoral malfeasance.

Citing cases of voter intimidation – and the absence of any meaningful response from previous Commissioners – Schmidt indicated that he and Singer will be out in the streets, making the rounds of troubled polling locations to assure voters of a fair – and safe – process.

And, in order to attract a higher-caliber of polling staff, he is proposing increased pay for election workers, who at present earn $95 for a 14-hour day, according to Schmidt.

In addition, he hopes to institute further training for election workers.

Taken together, these steps should result in a more equitable electoral process for the city.

“It’s our Superbowl,” he said, relating his office’s election day efforts.

Repairing Cresson St. wall 

Explaining his department’s investigation – and pending renovations – Darin Gatti provided details in regard to a retaining wall on Cresson St. which is currently in a state of disrepair.

The wall, which is parallel to the SEPTA Norristown train line, extends from the Cresson St. viaduct above Midvale Avenue to the Calumet Street Bridge. SEPTA and the city share responsibility for the structure.

While visible holes initially brought attention to the crumbling wall, Gatti relayed that his preliminary investigations revealed that the entire wall’s structural integrity is compromised.

“Its bad all the way down,” he said.

Gatti said that, at present, the Cresson St. wall plan is still in a design phase, as his department’s immediate attention is focused on an imperiled wall that abuts Lincoln Drive.

In response to a resident’s query about aesthetics, Gatti replied that the resultant wall will be either concrete or rock formliner – the latter of which is akin to that of the Germantown Avenue Bridge in Chestnut Hill.

A final design will be ready in approximately six weeks, according to Gatti, at which point the plan will be presented to the community for selection and approval.

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