A dangerous tree should be removed

Chestnut Hill has many magnificent tree specimens. Unfortunately, quite a few are past their prime and have become dangerous to anything or anyone underneath their spreading branches.

One such tree has consumed a lot of my time in the past two months. On July 20, I was walking home to my apartment on West Evergreen Avenue when I saw that a good-sized branch was lying across the hood of a white VW sedan, parked on the south side of the street.

Upon looking more closely, I realized that the branch had smashed the front windshield. Since there are large oak trees close to the sidewalk on the north side of the street, I looked up and saw a tree that had mostly dead branches.

I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket and took some photos, then called 311 to report the situation. The person who answered said I should call the property owner. As the tree is located at the edge of the SEPTA parking lot at the Chestnut Hill West station, I decided to call SEPTA.

I asked for someone in their property department but was transferred to customer service instead. When I explained the situation, I was told that the proper department would be notified.

Since nothing happened within the next few days, I decided to share my concerns with the Chestnut Hill Community Association, the Chestnut Hill Business Association, the bike cops, the office of Councilwoman Cindy Bass and several business owners. Finally, I was given a contact number at the Fairmount Park Tree Commission and sent them a desperate email.

I have recently been out of town on family business and am dismayed to come back and find that dangerous tree still standing! Aside from the cars that may be damaged by another falling limb, many people walk under that tree from the Hill House apartment to take the train.

Do we have to have a pedestrian severely wounded or killed before that tree is cut down?

Meredith Sonderskov

Chestnut Hill

 

Public defense is at risk in Philadelphia

Last week I introduced a resolution calling for city council to investigate the city’s recent request for proposal seeking a single law firm to provide legal representation to all indigent clients when a conflict of interest requires appointment of outside counsel. An investigatory hearing will be held by the Committee on Law in the next few weeks.

The right to counsel is a fundamental safeguard guaranteed under the Bill of Rights to all persons accused of crimes that are unable to afford a lawyer. In the landmark case Gideon v. Wainwright, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the fundamental role that legal representation plays in a fair criminal justice system.

In Philadelphia, the Defender’s Association provides free legal services to criminal and juvenile clients who are financially unable to obtain counsel. In some cases the Defender’s Association is precluded from providing that legal representation due to a conflict of interest. When this occurs, the courts appoint private attorneys to represent the accused. These attorneys are referred to as “conflict counsel” or “court appointed counsel.”

Each year, the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas makes more than 22,000 conflict counsel appointments in Philadelphia’s family, criminal, municipal, orphans and traffic courts at a cost to the city between 8 to 10 million dollars.

In November 2012, the mayor’s office, intending to assume this appointment power from the courts, posted a request for proposal seeking a private entity to provide legal representation to indigent clients when the Defender’s Association is prohibited from providing representation due to a conflict of interest.

It appears that a contract will soon be executed between the city and a private entity. And this gives me great concern.

My staff and I have built our careers in the criminal justice conversation. Our shared goal in different venues has always been justice. We are collectively uncertain if justice will be served with this new court appointment process and we have so many questions.

What will the quality of representation be for those accused of a crime that do not have the financial means to hire an attorney? This RFP calls for a one year contract. What if the deal is not renewed?

What happens to those poor clients? Where do their cases go? Who will represent them? Where is the transparency in this process? Why is this a one year contract with an option for three successive one year contracts? Was this done to skirt council oversight and input? Will this cost the city more money in hidden or unforeseen expenses? What is this new dynamic modeled after?

The questions are many and the answers are few. I had no other choice but to put us on a path to find the answers.

Dennis M. O’Brien

Councilman-at-Large

 

Learning to live with robots

Responding to Ms. Sloss’s frustration in contacting the local post office or bank branch, her concern is fully understandable. It is true that the new Verizon phone directory does not list all the local city post office branches as they used to.

Instead of starting with dialing 411, she should have dialed 1-800-555-1212 which is a free call for toll free directory assistance. Then ask for the U.S. Postal Service number, which was given to me as 1-800-275-8777. Then I dialed that number and did get a robotic voice asking “How may I help you.” I said, “local post office information.” The robotic voice then asked me for my Zip code to which I entered 19038 ( Ms. Sloss’s in Wyndmoor).

Immediately the robotic voice gave me the address and phone number of Glenside P.O. located at 262 S. Easton Road, phone: 215-884-3059. Next I tried 19118 and similarly got both the locations in Market Square and Germantown Avenue with their addresses and respective phone numbers.

Took me all of under two minutes. I suppose one has to finesse and learn to live with robotic computer voices and use them to one’s advantage rather than fight the system.

Chuck Gupta

Blue Bell