Darryl Johnson completed two tours in Vietnam before he returned home to Philadelphia to face an ugly truth: He needed to get a job in civilian life.

The incentive to get a city job was already there – decent pay, built-in benefits, and the familiarity with working for the government. Because he had been a soldier most of his life, Johnson’s skills were limited. They were useful on the battlefield – not the boardroom, the kitchen or on the computer. 

So, he took the city’s civil service exam and benefitted from the extra credit given him for serving his country. He got a job in the Navy Yard.

Now, some City Council members want that benefit expanded. But while they argue it’s noble and necessary for one group of people, those like Johnson – who testified before Council last week – are calling it a slap in the face to veterans.

If approved, the measure would extend preferential treatment to graduates of Career Technical Education (CTE) programs in the School District of Philadelphia taking competitive civil service exams for city jobs, where there is currently a preferential points system extended only to veterans and the children and grandchildren of first responders killed in the line of duty. 

Introduced on the first day of Council by freshman at-large member Katherine Gilmore Richardson, the bill asks to amend the city’s Home Rule Charter and would trigger a ballot question put to voters in April. Last week, after a number of veterans spoke out in City Council against the bill, Richardson held it over for a hearing.

Although she says she’s merely trying to give grads of vocational and technical schools a leg up in a tough job market, Richardson’s bill is being railed as insensitive to veterans, police officers and firefighters. 

After a number of veterans spoke out in City Council against the bill, Richardson held it over for a hearing.

“I took the apprenticeship test down at the Navy Yard and those points helped me get a good job,” Johnson told Council members last week. 

“If it weren’t for this preferential treatment, it wouldn’t have happened. This is not something we take lightly.”

Joe Eastman, a veteran living in South Philly and the son of a World War II veteran, said he was opposed to the process and speed the bill was moving through Council because he only learned about it 12 hours before it got its first public hearing. 

“I’m a well-connected vet and I found out about this by happenstance. That’s not right,” he said.

“I’m from an era, and some of my colleagues are too, where we were spit on, called baby killers and not welcomed back to the United States, and all we did was what our country asked us to do.”

Richardson said that she and her staff have listened to the concerns of the people who would be affected by her bill and that her father, James William Gilmore, served a tour of duty in Korea in the Army. She said she met with IAFF Local 22, FOP Lodge 5, DC 33 & 47 and the Veterans Advisory Commission and plan to meet with more in the coming days. 

Several veterans groups expressed concern that if the bill is approved, it would set a standard for politicians to cherry-pick other groups for favorable treatment in the future.

“We cannot continue to ask our business community to do more with workforce development opportunities if we’re not doing more ourselves from the perspective of the city,” she said. 

“This legislation cannot and will not take away any point preference that veterans already receive. [It] will simply add a preference in our city charter for graduates of CTE programs and schools.”

Several veterans groups expressed concern that if the bill is approved, it would set a standard for politicians to cherry-pick other groups for favorable treatment in the future. 

But Richardson indicated Jose Morales, who, after graduating from a CTE program, was unable to find work in his field and took low-paying jobs in retail until he was granted admission to a union. 

“This bill would increase opportunity for graduates and help to fill some of the skilled labor vacancies throughout our city government,” she said. 

Cara M. Galob and Mike Galob are the husband-and-wife volunteer couple behind Support Homeless Veterans, Inc., a 501(c)3 non-profit based out of Willow Grove. The organization’s mission is to help military veterans realize a better quality of life after experiencing hunger, homelessness, unemployment and worse. 

After hearing about Richardson’s proposal for the city, the Galobs had differing takes.

“Prioritizing veterans in the city job market has been a powerful statement that veterans are important to the City of Philadelphia. Though we recognize the struggles of the inner-city community, advocating for one disenfranchised group on the backs of another is ineffective,” said Cara M. Galob, founder of SHV., Inc.

SHV’s chairman, Mike Galob, who served in Iraq, said: “As an employable veteran, I am not concerned that these generally young graduates will affect my ability to access employment due to my life experiences, skills, and leadership potential…I believe this [legislation] as an opportunity to improve Philadelphia as a whole. However, I would strongly urge the councilwoman to support a preference tiering system, similar to the Department of Veterans Affairs.” 

Republican council members David Oh and Brian O’Neill voted “no” on Richardson’s bill in committee and voiced concerns again last week. Oh said that of the roughly 30,000 people Philadelphia County government currently employs, less than two percent are veterans. 

“Graduates of career technical schools are very employable and they do not appear to need a charter change hiring preference,” Oh said. 

“There are other ways to assist and help any group in Philadelphia through legislation, tax credits and other things. I believe the playing field should always be level…Ten points for one person is 10 points less for everyone else…Ten points to me, that is a merit-based preference. It is for the service and the sacrifice they have provided. This is a group that is not only deserving, meritorious, but in need.”

On Tuesday, Council’s Committee on Labor and Civil Service approved an amendment to Richardson’s bill that reduces the number of preference points extended to CTE grads from 10 to five. O’Neill was the standalone dissenter. Council is now poised for a final vote on the ordinance next Thursday, and with most members on board, it appears Richardson has the votes to see its passing. 

Testifying before the Labor and Civil Service Committee, Anthony Boyle, commissioner of City Council’s Veterans Advisory Commission, called the process by which veterans are hired in Philadelphia “shameful.” 

“Preferences given for hiring should be under very exceptional circumstances and shouldn’t be something that’s done except under exceptional circumstances,” he said. 

“A veteran is one of those exceptions and a child or grandchild of a police officer or firefighter killed in the line of duty is another person in need and absolutely does not want to be in the position to get that benefit. It’s our way of acknowledging the sacrifice of their family. That’s how high the bar should be.”

So, City Council now faces a question that many local governments are grappling with: Expand a benefit to help a new group of people and risk watering it down, or preserve the present system that help veterans and first responders exclusively? 

A native of New England and a 2005 graduate of the University of Rhode Island, Jenny DeHuff has been a multimedia journalist for the past 15 years in Philadelphia, covering everything from Obama’s Inauguration to the Sandy Hook shooting. Her bylines include the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News, Playboy Magazine, The Morning Call, and Philly Voice. She’s won multiple awards for investigative journalism. Jenny lives in South Jersey with her husband, dog, two cats and nine backyard chickens. @RuffTuffDH

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