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Phila. Lawmaker Nixes Vote on Consolidation of 311 and 911 Call Centers

By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- A Philadelphia City Council committee today refused to vote on the Nutter administration's plan to consolidate the city's 911 (emergency) and 311 (non-emergency) call centers, leaving the administration "very disappointed."

City Council's public property committee was holding a hearing to consider the administration's plan to consolidate the 911 and 311 centers at the old Quartermaster Depot, at 20th Street and Oregon Avenue, in South Philadelphia.

But the committee chair, 6th District councilman Bobby Henon (photo below), refused to allow a vote on the plan.

"I wanted to have a little time to vet it out, and see if it was the right investment for the city at this time, as we approach a new administration," he said afterward.  "I just wanted to make sure that everybody feels comfortable (with the plan). And I don't feel comfortable at this present time."


henon cap 05-11-15 _philaTV
(Councilman Bobby Henon, chairing the Public Property and Public Works Committee hearing. Image from City of Phila. TV)


The mayor's chief of staff, Everett Gillison, left the hearing looking exasperated.

"I'm very disappointed," Gillison told KYW Newsradio.  "But I will find out exactly what's going on. I'm here to answer any questions.  And we will move on.  I don't know what the questions are that the councilman asked that I sit down and talk with him (about).  I'm always available to talk with him and look forward to it."

During his earlier testimony, Gillison (top photo) said City Council's approval was urgent because the 911 system is aging and in need of an upgrade.  He said the consolidation of 911 and 311 has been in planning for three years, and that he had personally briefed other members of the committee, though not Henon.

The chief of staff testified that consolidating the operations makes sense on a number of levels, including interaction between them.

"Having that operationally will benefit, because you have relationships that are built between 911 and 311," Gillison said. "Those are the kinds of things that 21st-century cities actually do.  Those are the kinds of things that you have to put yourself in a position to do, and that's what this (plan) actually allows us to do."

Gillison also said it is beneficial having the so-called Unified Call Center outside of center city, because of security concerns.  And he noted that the Quartermaster Depot itself is a stronghold against any sort of attack.

"This is a building that could probably withstand a direct hit of a pretty large-sized bomb and still be able to function," he said today.

Under the plan, the city would lease the Quartermaster Depot for ten years, and then have an option to buy it.  Henon didn't care for that aspect of the deal.

"Why isn't the City of Philadelphia the landlord of something like 911 and 311?" he wondered.  "There are several concerns that I wasn't ready to move the bill forward today.  And I look forward to diving in to this discussion a little further."

Henon would not say if or when he will reconvene the hearing to consider the plan.

Operation of Philadelphia's 911 call center is currently split between the police and fire administration buildings, and 311 (the non-emergency call center that opened in Mayor Nutter's first term) is located at City Hall.



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