Safety must be priority for L&I department, former commissioners tell Philly Council

The fourth hearing reviewing demolition procedures in the wake of the fatal building collapse on Market Street included testimony from two former commissioners of Philadelphia’s Department of Licenses and Inspections.

Commissioner Bennett Levin, who served under former Mayor Ed Rendell, said the department needs an overhaul with safety as a priority.

“You’ve got to look at the functions,” he said Thursday. “You have construction people, you’ve got to keep them away from the rest of the department let them do their job. You have people who deal with social services like housing inspections, you keep them in their bailiwick.”

Because he didn’t need the paycheck and could fight without the fear of being fired, Levin says he was able to streamline the process for demolitions.

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Former Licenses and Inspections Commissioner Fran Burns, who served during Mayor Michael Nutter’s first term, says when she ran the department, safety was a priority among her people, not revenue generation.

“The mission and function of the Department of Licenses and Inspections has always been life safety,” Burns said. “There’s actually no incentive to be revenue producing from a departmental leadership position. The revenue does not come back to the department.”

City Council members are considering a number of proposals, including breaking up the department and having a separate city agency oversee demolitions.

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