Kenney appoints new fire, prisons commissioners

Charles Mostoller

Mayor Jim Kenney filled two more positions in his administration Tuesday – new commissioners to lead Philadelphia’s prisons and its fire department.

Adam K. Thiel, most recently the Deputy Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security under Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, was appointed the new fire commissioner.

Blanche Carney, most recently the city’s Deputy Commissioner for Restorative and Transitional Services, was appointed prisons commissioner. Carney has been with the Philadelphia Prison System since 1995 and serves as the first women to take the helm.

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The decision to go with an outsider for the fire chief pick elicited some pushback from the firefighters’ union, whose members have long said they would rather see Acting Commissioner Derrick Sawyer stay in charge.

Kenney, however, said he thought the fire department needed “a fresh set of eyes” to change some of the direction in which the department had been going. He conducted a national search.

“I think the current commissioner has done a good job, but I think some of the decisions made by the [former] administration in the last eight years has created a really serious problem in our department, relative to pensions and brownouts,” Kenney said Tuesday.

“I think the breadth and width of [Thiel’s] knowledge when it comes to all hazards and the number of positions that he’s held in multiple states will bring the best practices here to Philadelphia that we need.”

He said Sawyer would stay on until the end of the fiscal year and work in conjunction with Thiel.

Thiel was a fire chief in Alexandria, Va., and also has operational experiencesin Maryland, North Carolina and Arizona.

“We want to develop a shared vision for the department – a new vision and a new way forward,” he said.

“Again, we have a few weeks yet before I get on board, but that is going to be the first thing that we do. If there’s one thing I know about my brothers and sisters in this business, it’s that they never shy away from a challenge.”

Kenney said he liked the fact that Carney offered a woman’s perspective to the Philadelphia Prison System, and that that would benefitthe inmates.

“I think that there needs to set a tone with some of the people in our custody that its not just about punishment. It’s about redemption. It’s about moving forward with their lives,” he said.

“With the criminal justice reform, the goal is to really manage low-risk offenders that can be safely managed post-release, engaging our city and agency partners to provide those services so that those folks aren’t coming back into our institution,” said Carney.

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“We really want the folks who are high-risk offenders – that are a threat to public safety and need to be managed – away from the public for a specific time and to provide services while they’re there. Unlike the state and federal prisons, where there is a long length of stay, we’re averaging about two years, so, we have a crucial commitment to providing those services so that as folks are released out, we’re not just turning people out with no support, but really handing them off to our providers and our partners.”

Carney replaces Acting Commissioner Mike Resnick, who Kenney said would stay on as Carney’s chief of staff.

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