Leaving Mini behind

After nearly four dec­ades in city gov­ern­ment, the chief mover and shaker at North­east Philly's pop­u­lar mini-City Hall is mov­ing onto green­er pas­tures: Re­tire­ment

Jim McElvaney is re­tir­ing from North­east Mini-City Hall after 38 years of ser­vice.


Jim McElvaney un­der­stands that not all of his cus­tom­ers are happy.

After all, he’s dir­ect­or of the North­east Mu­ni­cip­al Ser­vice Cen­ter — com­monly known as “mini City-Hall” — and cit­izens are there to pay bills or re­solve dis­putes with the city.

“It’s not like they’ve won the lot­tery and are pick­ing up the pro­ceeds,” he said.

Thus, the six-mem­ber staff works to keep every­one happy. The cashiers and wa­ter de­part­ment rep­res­ent­at­ive try to keep the lines mov­ing along and send cus­tom­ers on their way sat­is­fied with the ser­vice.

“We provide a lot of ser­vices,” McElvaney said. “People, es­pe­cially seni­ors, want a re­ceipt in hand. It’s a job you can make a dif­fer­ence.”

McElvaney has worked for the city De­part­ment of Rev­en­ue for 38 years, the last nine as dir­ect­or of the cen­ter, loc­ated in a store­front at 9239 Roosevelt Blvd., in the rear of the North­east Shop­ping Cen­ter, next to Paddy Whacks Ir­ish Sports Pub.

On Fri­day, however, he will walk out the door for the fi­nal time, re­tir­ing at age 59. It’s a bit­ter­sweet feel­ing, since he likes his job.

“I hate to be leav­ing here,” he said. “It’s been a real priv­ilege to serve the people of the North­east. That’s what I’m go­ing to miss the most, the people.”

Back in the sum­mer of 1974, McElvaney’s dad, a com­mit­tee­man, asked his son if he wanted to work for the city. One night, May­or Frank L. Rizzo him­self called the young­er McElvaney, a St. Mat­thew and Fath­er Judge gradu­ate, to come down­town to see aides Marty Wein­berg and Mike Wal­lace.

After look­ing at a list of job open­ings, he chose to work in the rev­en­ue de­part­ment. He stayed for al­most four dec­ades, leav­ing un­der the De­ferred Re­tire­ment Op­tion Plan.

“DROP came long. It’s a large en­tice­ment to go out early,” he said. “Wheth­er it’s good or bad for the city, I don’t know.”

Most of the people who come to the cen­ter are there to pay wa­ter bills and prop­erty taxes. Oth­ers vis­it to ob­tain li­censes, pay oth­er tax bills or re­store their wa­ter ser­vice. Staff will re­mind seni­or cit­izens about the city’s low-in­come prop­erty tax freeze pro­gram.

Some pro­cras­tin­at­ors don’t seem to worry that their wa­ter and sew­er bills are un­paid.

“They wait un­til the shutoff crew is there,” McElvaney said.

Some in­di­vidu­als come in to pay park­ing tick­ets or com­plain that leaves from a neigh­bor’s tree are fall­ing on their prop­erty. The staff does not handle those mat­ters. Gas and elec­tric bills also can­not be paid on site.

The cen­ter is open week­days from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. The cashiers close at 4:30 p.m. Cus­tom­ers can pay with checks and money or­ders, not cash or cred­it or deb­it cards. They must have a bill to make pay­ment. There’s a five-bill max­im­um per tax­pay­er.

There is plenty of free, off-street park­ing. In­side, there’s a seat­ing area and a tele­vi­sion to keep people oc­cu­pied un­til it’s their turn.

McElvaney star­ted in May 2003, re­pla­cing the re­tired Joan Dillon, who still vis­its the cen­ter, which opened in 1985.

Former May­or John Street was nev­er a fan of the cen­ter. It closed for four months in 2005 for budget reas­ons, re­open­ing in a former hair salon in the same shop­ping com­plex only after the city found a place with cheap­er rent and util­ity bills.

Street be­lieved that people should con­duct their busi­ness “on­line, not in line.” Then-Man­aging Dir­ect­or Phil Gold­smith said mini-City Hall ser­vices were a “nar­row, old-fash­ioned way of do­ing things.”

The Street ad­min­is­tra­tion did not close an­oth­er mini-City Hall at 22nd and Somer­set streets in North Phil­adelphia. That cen­ter has more ser­vices than the one in the North­east.

Still, since the start of the fisc­al year on Ju­ly 1, some 80,000 people have vis­ited the Boulevard site.

Look­ing back, McElvaney, of Rhawn­hurst, de­scribed his time at the cen­ter as a “very fast nine years.” His re­place­ment will be Es­th­er Al­bino.

Re­cently, as he fi­nal­ized re­tire­ment plans, he be­came sen­ti­ment­al while vis­it­ing the Mu­ni­cip­al Ser­vices Build­ing in Cen­ter City.

“Ba­sic­ally, I was in the same spot thirty-eight years ago. I was sign­ing on, now I’m sign­ing off,” he said.

McElvaney, who’ll turn 60 on Sept. 11, and his wife, Eileen, a nurse at the Holy Re­deem­er La­fay­ette in­de­pend­ent re­tire­ment com­munity on Ver­ree Road, are soon to be empty-nesters.

Their son, Jimmy John, just bought a house in Fox Chase. Their daugh­ter, Megan, will get mar­ried on April 21 at Present­a­tion BVM, with the re­cep­tion at the Cot­tage Green.

McElvaney will spend time help­ing his son with his house and will con­tin­ue to serve as the house disc jockey at the Cot­tage Green, though he’ll be off-duty on April 21.

“I’m still there after all these years. It keeps me busy,” he said.

McElvaney has prom­ised his wife he’ll cook one meal a week, serving up a dif­fer­ent dish each time.

The McElvaneys re­cently bought a home in Jim Thorpe from re­cently re­tired po­lice Capt. De­borah Kelly, the one­time com­mand­er of the 8th dis­trict who is mov­ing to Flor­ida.

The couple will re­main in Phil­adelphia but also plan to buy a Win­nebago to travel the United States.

McElvaney will also spend his time cheer­ing on the Phil­lies, study­ing World War II, golf­ing, fish­ing and fix­ing up his house.

“I want to keep busy,” he said. “I don’t think I want to work full-time any­more, but I want to keep act­ive.” ••


You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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