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Staff Resigning From L&I In Droves Amid Complaints Over Safety, Political Pressure

The city agency tasked with ensuring the safety of Philadelphia's buildings is shedding staff at an alarming rate, and their reasons for leaving are more alarming still.


The Department of Licenses & Inspections lost a third of its workforce to departures between 2019 and the beginning of this year, and it did not hire a single new inspector last year, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Though L&I officials blame the departures on higher pay in the private sector, seven former inspectors instead cited internal issues at the department as their reasons for quitting.

The division of L&I that has suffered the most attrition is the one tasked with inspecting active job sites, where workers have reported backlogs so long that they didn't feel able to devote enough time to each inspection, the Inquirer reports. Critics called the conditions unsafe both for the building sites and for the overworked inspectors themselves. L&I has 14 enrollees in its training program for new building inspectors and has funding to add 50 to its staff this year, spokesperson Karen Guss told the Inquirer. 

Only 48 staffers qualified to inspect building sites remain in L&I, a shortage approaching what an investigative panel, convened after a 2013 building collapse that killed six people in Center City, called a "stark and fundamental flaw" in its report on L&I's ability to guarantee the safety of buildings and construction sites, per the Inquirer. 

Departed L&I staffers also accused the department's upper-level management of interfering in inspections in response to political influence, whether from special interests or from Philadelphia City Council itself. The control council wields over development in the city has long been a target for criticism by the commercial real estate industry.

Former councilmember Bobby Henon is awaiting sentencing after being convicted of using his office to do favors for former building trades union boss John "Johnny Doc" Dougherty early this year. Henon chaired the council committee that oversees L&I, a position he abused to advance the interests of Dougherty and the building trades.


In April, Council President Darrell Clarke praised the responsiveness of the commissioners in charge of L&I at a budget hearing for the agency wherein council members asked L&I to take on more responsibilities, such as monitoring properties for illegal activity at night.

“There’s nothing like being able to call a commissioner at L&I, especially when you’re out walking the streets with residents,” Clarke said. “It makes life a lot easier.”

Inspectors who pushed back on directives to delay issuing approvals or ignore safety issues at building sites, depending on who was applying pressure, were retaliated against, the Inquirer reports. 

"Council members speak to city officials all the time, advocating for their constituents and their districts’ needs," Clarke spokesperson Joe Grace told Bisnow when asked about the potential for calls from council members to change how the city's building and construction codes are applied. "It’s an important part of their jobs."