Prisons, parks and payday loans on Northwest Philadelphia councilmembers’ minds

Northwest Philadelphia’s City Council contingent honored correctional employees and public parks while railing against efforts to legalize payday loans on Thursday.

At the start of this week’s Council meeting, Fourth District City Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. presented a resolution recognizing May 7 through 11 as “National Correctional Employees Week” in Philadelphia.

Jones noted that it “wasn’t a coincidence” that his presentation to a contingent of corrections officers came immediately after Council honored a pair of high schools for athletic accomplishments.

“When we fail to invest in education, we have to invest in our correctional institutions,” Jones said. “It takes special people to do their job.”

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He was joined by several fellow councilmembers in presenting the resolution, but Commissioner Louis Giorla was unable to attend. They pointed out that corrections employees oversee more than 8,000 inmates while suffering the stresses of being understaffed in a job that suffers from a poor public image.

A week-long event

Eighth District City Councilwoman Cindy Bass then presented a resolution declaring May 12 to 19 as “Love Your Park Week.”

The event is billed as a “citywide celebration of Philadelphia’s diverse parks featuring eight days of service projects, fun events, educational programs, family activities, and tours” at more than 100 parks in the city.

“Philadelphia is a beautiful city, and our parks and parks system have a lot to do with that. We want people to ask themselves, ‘What did the park in your neighborhood mean to you when you grew up? What does it mean to you now?'” said Bass.

“We need people to be engaged,” she continued. “If you have a wonderful park, you have a wonderful neighborhood. And, if you have a wonderful neighborhood, you have a wonderful park.”

Among the scheduled events are a Phillies Pep Rally on Monday at Fairmount Park Houses, Mount Pleasant; Speed Dating in Love Park on Wednesday; a Jerry Blavat Record Hop at FDR Park on May 17; a Historic Mansion Bike Tour starting on Boathouse Row on May 18; and a Hula Hoop Exhibition & Contest at Malcolm X Park in West Philadelphia on May 19.

“We’ve gone from one day [of Love Your Park events] to a full week, so that’s really exciting for us,” said Susan Slawson, the city’s recreation commissioner.

“Predatory lending”

Later in the meeting, Ninth District City Councilwoman Marian B. Tasco’s resolution to urge the General Assembly to oppose a bill that would legalize payday lending in Pennsylvania came up for vote.

Germantown attorney Irv Ackelsberg used the public-comment portion of the meeting to rail against House Bill 2191 as a “preposterous concept to make legal what everybody knows is a harmful product.”

He said the push to legalize so-called “payday loans” with exorbitant interest rates translated into an exhibit that “the public good is essentially up for auction to anybody who wants to make an offer to buy it.”

Speaking before the vote, Tasco threw everybody in Council Chambers for a loop when she claimed her “position has evolved” from being “an outspoken critic of predatory lending” into a call for hearings into their positive benefits.

Jones lowered his reading glasses, with a look of surprise across his face, when Tasco noted everybody should have the right to take out a payday loan regardless of conditions attached.

“Now, I want to refute everything I just said,” Tasco then declared before launching into a takedown of usurious rates tied to payday loans. “I just wanted to get your attention. … [Legalization] will not lead to anything good.”

Council then unanimously passed Tasco’s resolution.

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