In last week's ElectionEar column, our esteemed news editor Isaiah Thompson implored this year's primary candidates to quit talking about the Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP) "as if not being enrolled in it is some kind of qualification for elected office!"
So far, candidates haven't heeded his advice. In fact, even in the race for the Eighth District Council seat — where no DROP-enrolled candidate is running — DROP is becoming a hot issue.
The campaign for Verna Tyner, who's running for the Eighth District Council seat, just sent out a press release promising that she wouldn't vote for a DROP-enrolled Council president next year — in other words, Councilwoman Marian Tasco, who's vying for the seat and is enrolled.
Tyner's release notes that her one of her opponents, Cindy Bass, hasn't made up her mind about DROP, according to Fox29.
In an earlier press release, Tyner said she called Mayor Michael Nutter "to discuss his involvement in this race and to clear up any rumors about a deal involving Ms. Bass’ promise to support Councilwoman Tasco, a DROP participant, for City Council President next year." As of last week, she says Nutter hadn't returned her call.
UPDATE: Joseph Corrigan, Bass' spokesman, says that the Fox29 report that Tyner's release refers to misquoted her. He says she is undecided about supporting Tasco for Council president, not about DROP. Corrigan says that Bass is against DROP for elected officials, and that the city "must replace DROP" with another retirement program for rank-and-file workers. You can read more about Bass' position on DROP here.
This article is part of our new, expanded coverage of this year's exciting election season. Grab this link for more "ElectionEar" pieces and look for the new column in our print edition.
City Council today passed (14-3) legislation proposed by Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller that prohibits most Philadelphia employers from asking about an applicant's cirminal history on job applications as well as asking about criminal history until after the applicant's first interview.
Among the members of the public tesifying in favor of the bill today was Michael Ta'Bon, the ex-offender who imprisoned himself in a home-made jail as a lesson for neighborhood kids. He also led a group of ex-offenders uninvited into a speech being given by Mayor Nutter to the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce to protest what he calls inadequate help for ex-offenders from the city.
Ta'Bon appeared with his son, wife, and what sure looked like a prison jumpsuit today.
"When ya'll knock that box off, you give me an opportunity to be a man, and to give my chld food and provide for my wife," he said. "I think a picture's worth a thousand words: this is the family of an ex-convict, for those who need to see it. It probably looks kind of like ya'lls. God bless you."
Thanks to Adam Lang of "The New Commonwealth" blog for this one.
The nominating petition of 5th District Councilman Darrell Clarke has been challeneged by former State Rep. Andrew Carn, husband of Suzanne Carn, who is Clarke's sole challenger for re-election in the 5th District.
According to the docket, the case should be before the City Commissioners on March 19, 2010 — which may present temporo-astro-physical problems for all parties invovled.
HALL MONITOR: City-wide "Computer Day," residents speak on Council ethics, and a silent protest against Southwest Philly prison
City Council met this morning and adjourned without making much headway into their proposed agenda.
Three resolutions on final passage were adopted:
110061: Councilmember Jannie Blackwell introduced a resolution to call for public hearings regarding the use of city Health and Social Service Agencies in conjunction with school district nurse and guidance counselor resources in public schools.
110062: Councilmember Bill Green introduced a resolution declaring Feb. 15 as Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC) Day in the city. This day is set to honor UPenn and their invention of the first general-purpose electronic computer in the world on Feb. 14, 1946.
110064: Councilmember Frank Rizzo introduced the resolution to recognize USPS worker and City Hall letter carrier, Leonard Thomas, on his retirement.
Aside from the lack of passed bills and resolutions, there were two speakers from the public. Both Fred Fisher and Sandra Stewart went to the podium to discuss resolution 100128, an ordinance to amend the "Standards of Conduct and Ethics" section of the Philadelphia Code. The changes to this section will establish standards regarding political activities of city officers and employees, and provide penalties for violations.
Fisher took the podium quoting a recent Supreme Court ruling against City Council for violation of the Sunshine laws, previously not recognized by the Council. These laws were adopted by the Council last year.
Stewart also referred to the ethics ordinance on the floor. "This bill is long overdue," she said. "Philadelphia is the number one city with the longest running City Council members." She implored Council to start a discussion about limiting councilmember terms in office.
All of this Council business was conducted this morning in front of an audience of silent protesters. Southwest Philly residents (nearly 30) brought signs and stood behind Council to spread their messages of disapproval of the city's plan to build a prison in the neighborhood.
Hall Monitor: DiCicco jumps into the public fray and more: Electronic billboards, bald eagles, public testimony, tow trucks
It's Thursday, and that means it's time for our City Council roundup.
Public Comment DiCicco jumps in:
This week marked the second in which public testimony is allowed as part of Council's weekly meeting the result of a court decision determining that Council's previous meeting format, in which testimony was not allowed, violated the state's Sunshine Act regarding government openness and transparency.Members of the public may now spend up to 3 minutes commenting on agenda items.
That still doesn't cut it, says attorney Darrell Zaslow, who appeared for the second week in a row before Council to urge the body to hear testimony on any issues, whether they're on the agenda or not.
"I believe you are in violation yet of the Sunshine Act," Zaslow told the body.
Another interesting twist came when Bob Caruso stood to testify against a planned development near the riverfront in Old City, which he characterized as a nightclub, and upon which a controversial electronic billboard is proposed to be placed.
So far, Council members have been reluctant to engage with those who testify in them meetings probably out time concerns, and perhaps also not wishing to be dragged into a debate during the session.
But Councilman Frank DiCicco, in whose district the development is being built, couldn't resist:
"I certainly don't want to get into a debate with the folks here to testify, but ... what is the procedure, because I do have a question for the last witness."
And with that, DiCicco helped set what may prove important precedent. The witness was called back to the microphone, and DiCicco engaged with him, emphasizing that the development is not a nightclub:
"I will not let my fifteen years of hard work in Old City be destroyed by one project, which I think is a much-needed project," he said.
Bald Eagles(100776): A rare bald eagle's nest has been identified in Pennypack park. A bill was reported out of committee today that would place parts of the park under special protection.
The Billboard (no vote): Many members of the public testified against the placing of a giant electronic billboard on the aforementioned Old Development, which would face drivers coming across the Ben Franklin Bridge.
Opponents (mostly neighbors) voiced concern over the sign's appearance, effect on neighborhood aesthetics, pollution footprint (they emit CO2, it turns out), and effect on drivers.
AAA spokesman (and Philadelphia taxpayer) Rick Remington testified that "such a sign would pose a hazard to motorists as they weave their way through heavy traffic and tight turns trying to enter the city. For those leaving the city, a safety hazard would be posed as flashing lights suddenly appear in their review mirror."
"Many of you no doubt are aware of the increased attention on distracted driving ... these electronic billboards are another form of distraction which diverts motorists from the job at hand."
Tow Trucks (100536 no vote): Tow truck drivers and company owners appeared to voice their continued opposition to the bill, which would place tow truck dispatch authority under the PPA. Today we heard an interesting take on the mater from Gary (I didn't catch his last name, but will try to supply it) an ex-convict who opposes a provision in the bill that requires the PPA to deny a license to anyone convicted of aggravated assault on an official or convicted of various crimes related to vehicles.
"I'm 46 it's kinda late to be looking for a new career. ... Everybody shouldn't have to pay the price, because I work hard."
"They never mention the good stuff we do," he added: "Help people, take people home, take people to hospitals, get up at 3 o'clock in the morning. Them companies should be dealt with like individuals, because lot of good people including myself are going to be hurt."
This week, for the first time, Philaephia's City Council opened the floor to public commentary.
The change in procedure came not from a push within Council to hear what the Good People of Philadelphia have to say in its weekly Thursday meetings, but as a result of a state Supreme Court decision two weeks ago, which said that the lack of public comment period violated the state's government transparency laws.
A victory for the people, you might say.
But that's not the end of it: of the four speakers who showed up to take advantage of the new policy, reported the Inquirer, was lawyer Darrell M. Zaslow, who, along with the Homeowners Association of Philadelphia, sued the the city over its public comment procedures in 2007.
Zaslow complained that Council's new policy isn't good enough and, he contends, may still violate the state's transparency laws because the public comments are restricted to items on Council's agenda that day versus whatever a member of the public wants to talk about.
But, and as much as CP generally triumphs the cause of transparency and openness in government, I offer a cautionary tale.
Prior to living in Philly, I spent a little while in Miami, working for the Miami New Times.
A big public radio listener, I was surprised to find, one afternoon, that the local station's usual content had been replaced by live coverage of a meeting of the Miami-Dade county School Board and its really, really open public comment period.
I listened fascinated then worked a full day and got back in the car: the public comments were still going. I drove home and turned on the radio: still on.
And that's how it was, once a month: the public comments stretched on, and on, and on, and on. Various proposals raised to limit the time spent hearing them were shot down. The public, it seemed, could not get enough of it!
It wasn't necessarily a bad thing at all: the comment period was full of interesting, and utterly democratic public sentiment, and the Board's members were required to sit there and listen to it.
Still, the idea of placing more limits on the marathon sessions didn't strike me as crazy, either.
So what do you think? How much public comment, and under what restrictions, should Council allow at its Thursday meetings?
The Inquirer's Jeff Shields offers a nice breakdown of the rules currently being proposed:
Council's draft rules allow members of the public to comment for up to three minutes each before official action on bills and resolutions. Subject matter is limited to pending bills, a restriction that ran into an immediate challenge.
Speakers must be Philadelphia residents and taxpayers, and are asked to sign up ahead of time, though no one wishing to speak will be denied, Verna said. The Council president also has the authority to shorten the time per speaker and to limit repetitious testimony.
In great democratic tradition, the new rules on public comment were introduced by resolution. That will be followed up next week by public comment on the public-comment resolution. A vote will follow.
Straight out of the inbox, direct from Councilman Goode's office, and passed along without comment:
Philly will benefit from more than 60 GOODE Laws
Youngest At-Large Councilmember has proven track record
(PHILADELPHIA, October 28, 2010) City Councilman W. Wilson Goode, Jr. has introduced sixty-three bills that have been approved by Philadelphia City Council since taking office in January 2000. The last three bills which were introduced this fall, concerning fair lending and community reinvestment, will soon be signed into law. Goode's background as an economic development administrator from 1992-99 has given him a policy edge in City Council on economic issues. The 45 year-old Chairman of Council's Commerce and Economic Development Committee formerly served as Vice President of Philadelphia Commercial Development Corporation and as Economic Development Administrator for the Philadelphia Department of Commerce.
In eleven years on City Council, Goode has introduced over sixty ordinances with measurable impact: employment tax credits to create thousands of new jobs; job preferences for local residents for civil service positions and City projects; the local minimum wage standard raised from $5.15 per hour to $10.88 per hour; business diversity goals for City contracting improved from less than 5 percent to 25 percent; small business lending in working class neighborhoods increased from 40 percent to 55 percent; fair lending and community reinvestment goals required for City depository banks; and $30 million in tax credit partnerships for neighborhood economic development.
After receiving a National Achievement Award from the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, Councilman Goode continues to craft landmark economic opportunity legislation.
We go to City Council meetings so you don't have to.
Naming something "DROP" is just asking for it to be hated. We've all read the headline "Drop DROP" ad nauseum, and in today's Council meeting, Councilman Brian O'Neill kept referring to the program as a "DROP in the bucket" in regards to the pension fund problem as a whole. "The pension fund issue is getting lost in the DROP in the bucket issue," he says. "Our pension fund is underfunded by each administration. â¦ I would ask for â¦ Council for the first time to take a more active role" in addressing the larger pension problems.
O'Neill brought this up in light of a resolution Council passed today regarding DROP (more cumbersomely known as the Deferred Retirement Option Plan, which CP's Ralph Cipriano found is costing the city $1 billion). Apparently, when Mayor Nutter announced his plan this August to repeal DROP, enrollment skyrocketed: From the beginning of August to Oct. 12, 2010, 1,888 people have submitted their preliminary applications for DROP. Comparatively, in August of last year, only 82 workers did so. This resolution encouraged workers to re-think their enrollment, assuring them that "in the event Council enacts legislation revising or curtailing [DROP], any such legislation will provide all city employees who are eligible to enroll in the DROP â¦ with a 'window of opportunity' to enroll before any changes affecting their eligibility take effect."
In other news:
- The bill transferring the now-defunct Clerk of Quarter Sessions' $4.5 million budget to the First Judicial District passed unanimously. Read up on why this is disappointing in my article about reform of the Clerk's office falling flat.
- Councilman W. Wilson Goode, Jr. introduced a bill that would allow "a [tax] credit for contributions to community development corporations to add certain nonprofit intermediaries as eligible recipients of contributions." Read the actual bill here.
- And lastly, all Councilpersons were in attendance. Philadelphia, we can fight truancy!
In March, we told you about how 46 percent of Pennsylvania workers don't have paid sick time and how there were two bills, one in the state House and another in City Council, that sought to change this. Seven months later, neither HB 1830 or Philly's "Promoting Healthy Families Workplaces" bill have been signed into law. The Drum Major Institute for Public Policy just released a related study showing that two out of five Philly workers or 210,000 people don't have paid sick days, including thousands who care for the elderly and children, or handle food.
The study advocates for legislation to be passed, noting that a recently enacted law in San Francisco that guarantees paid sick days for all working people did not have a negative effect on business; in fact, job growth improved compared to surrounding counties without such a law:
Since the ordinance was implemented in 2007, job growth in San Francisco (up 3.5 percent since the first half of 2006) has consistently been higher than in neighboring counties (down 3.4 percent over the same period) that do not guarantee paid sick time, despite the recession.
The number of new large and small business establishments in San Francisco has also outpaced the surrounding counties since the paid sick time ordinance was implemented.
A much larger proportion of Philadelphia's workforce is in health care and education sectors in which a greater percentage of employers already provide paid sick time than in San Francisco. This does not detract from the urgent need to guarantee that all 210,000 working Philadelphians without paid sick time receive it: it does indicate that if paid sick leave harmed job growth, the effects would be magnified in San Francisco. Yet even with a larger proportion of the workforce affected, San Francisco's paid sick leave ordinance was found to have no negative impact on business.
You can check out the rest of the study here.
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