Introduction. For far too long, Philadelphia’s Department of Licenses and Inspections (“L&I”) has been an embarrassment, mired in crisis management, and the subject of endless studies, transition reports, special commissions and grand juries. The results? In many ways, L&I is as weak and ineffective today as it was in the early 1950’s when a new Home Rule Charter was implemented to professionalize and codify the functions of this department, following a long history of political corruption and dysfunctionality.
The City Charter did not proscribe or empower L&I to be an economic development agency. And in no context, was L&I envisioned being an instrument of the political aspirations or needs of a political party, the Mayor or City Council or the real estate industry. Despite paying lip service to its critical role, the political community and real estate industry has maneuvered L&I into the current crisis, one characterized by scandal, loss of life and political indifference.
In this season of municipal elections, barely a word has been spoken about how to make L&I an agency of City government on which the public can confidently rely to operate with a high level of integrity in the management of its significant public safety responsibility. A long history provides clear evidence of an organization that has too often failed in the implementation of its “protect the public” function. Over more than two decades the litany of deadly disasters that have resulted from the laxity in the performance of L&I’s functional duties has accumulated to create the current crisis.
Changing the mindset and culture of City government’s view of and interaction with L&I represents the biggest challenge to ending the crisis and putting L&I on track to become a trusted and effective instrument of public safety, code compliance and enforcement. It is critical that Philadelphians insist on the changes that will institutionalize excellence, competence and integrity in the conduct of L&I’s core mission and business.
This policy paper outlines a strategic approach that can help bring about these changes.