In case you missed it: This week’s best reads from Pa. cities

     The D.L. Johnson and the coal barge it’s transporting approach the Newell Toll Bridge, which spans the Ohio River connecting Newell, W. Va. and East Liverpool, Ohio. (Ryan Loew/For Keystone Crossroads)

    The D.L. Johnson and the coal barge it’s transporting approach the Newell Toll Bridge, which spans the Ohio River connecting Newell, W. Va. and East Liverpool, Ohio. (Ryan Loew/For Keystone Crossroads)

    Lawmakers, law-breakers and one very jolly trolley. 

    Law and order: Pennsylvania

    According to recently released numbers, the Philadelphia Police Department has received an average of 760 complaints a year for the last five years, despite attempts at reform. Only a fifth of those complaints were sustained, which concerns advocates like Dustin Slaughter, co-founder of The Declaration. The alternative news source has launched The Philadelphia Police Accountability Project, which will make those complaints more accessible to the public.

    Philly is also struggling with a back load of post-conviction relief hearings, which puts the city and defendants in a troubling position. You can only seek this type of appeal when you’re incarcerated. If you serve your entire sentence while you are waiting for the hearing, you lose your shot at having your case reconsidered. This is happening to a lot of defendants who say they shouldn’t have served all that time, let alone be left with a charge on their record.

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    Before he takes on the role of highest law enforcement officer in the (Pa.) land, incoming Attorney General Josh Shapiro is touring cities across the state, discussing big issues like opioid abuse and gun violence. In Philadelphia this week, he met with gun control activists and young people affected by gun violence. 

    A promising program that helps ex-offenders secure housing is gaining more support. Union County has managed to significantly lower recidivism rates by helping some formerly incarcerated residents secure housing. Now, Centre, Columbia, and Tioga counties are moving toward similar programs. 

    As the Pennsylvania Supreme Court considers how to handle prisoners serving life sentences without parole who were charged as juveniles, some of them are experiencing freedom for the first time in decades. Jeffrey Cristina was sentenced to life without parole when he was 17. Now, at age 58, he’s Allegheny County’s first release since the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that made such a severe sentence for juveniles all but forbidden. 

    Elected officials

    Local governments have misused millions of dollars of Marcellus Shale impact fees, intended to offset the negative effects of the gas boom. And I mean, really misused them. According to a state audit, one township in Washington County spent more than $32,000 on parties, including a performance by former American Idol contestant Adam Brock. (His rate? $1,200, apparently.)

    Meanwhile, in Harrisburg, our elected leaders are getting a pay raise. It’s not a statement on how well (or not) they’re doing, it’s just a move to keep their salaries in line with cost-of-living increases. Pennsylvania has the second highest paid legislature in the country, after California. 

    And on the federal level, Pennsylvania is likely going to be losing one Congressional seat — and an electoral vote with it. The 2020 census will probably show population decline (as it has for the last century) and that will lose us a congressional district. 

    Our president-elect has been very outspoken about banning sanctuary cities, as has Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey. Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney has doubled-down on the city’s promise to protect immigrant populations. But that could come at a price, like the loss of federal funds that assist low-income communities. 

    Congressman Lou Barletta, a former Hazleton mayor who now represents Northeast and Central Pennsylvania, will not have a position in Trump’s cabinet. Barletta was being considered for Labor or Transportation, but will instead serve out his term in the House. 

    Get out of the city!

    And onto the water! Moving goods, like coal, by water in Pennsylvania annually generates $6.5 billion and supports almost 40,000 jobs. But that transportation depends on sound infrastructure, and, unfortunately, a lot of those locks and dams are teetering on the edge of failure. 

    There needs to be some serious investment in our nation’s waterways, or deckhands like Ryan Gilleran could be out of a job — and we could be out of necessities, like cheaply-delivered fuel.

    Much like the deckhands who work on it, the Ohio River is an unsung hero. But the Allegheny Front is examining it’s importance in a series called Headwaters, which will make you appreciate this magnificent body of water a bit more. 

    Or, get out of the city and into the suburbs! That seems to be what a lot of people are doing these days, despite talk of an ‘urban revival.’ Cities may be growing, but they can’t yet compete with seven decades of suburban growth. And low-income communities and immigrants are heading to the ‘burbs as well now, often driven there by increasing rent prices in the urban core. 

    We can’t talk about suburbs without talking about fair housing laws. A recent fair housing lawsuit against financial institution Fannie Mae alleges that foreclosures were better maintained and marketed in predominately white neighborhoods than minority communities. Philadelphia is among the 38 metro regions included in the lawsuit. 

    Dose of holiday cheer

    All aboard the Jolly Trolley, a SEPTA trolley decorated — inside and out — for the holidays. If this doesn’t put a smile on your face, you are officially a Grinch. 

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