JUST HOURS AFTER Election Day 2012 drew to a close, the City Commissioners, who run Philly elections, were busy holding their own vote: Commissioners Al Schmidt and Anthony Clark teamed up to oust chairwoman Stephanie Singer, naming themselves “co-chairmen.” The coup put an end to a dysfunctional bipartisan effort by Schmidt, a Republican, and Singer, a Democrat, to reform the office. It inaugurated a mysterious alliance between Schmidt and machine Democrat Clark.
A little-noted Dec. 12 meeting was yet more remarkable: Schmidt and Clark voted to name Clark chairman and Schmidt vice-chair, a new post. They then determined that the vice-chair “vested with all the authority and responsibilities of the chair, jointly with the chair, [would function] as co-chairs.”
Why would the Commissioners do something so strange? Perhaps money was the motivator. There was no legal provision for “co-chairs,” so neither Clark nor Schmidt could receive the chair’s $8,828 salary bump. Clark, known for spending little time in the office, told the Daily News he wanted that raise (along with Singer’s large office and three new staffers). Schmidt, who had effectively chaired every meeting since Singer’s ouster, said he would not seek the pay raise. It is a fair price, it seems, for the power.
Schmidt called the cryptic Dec. 12 votes “housekeeping … for the Finance De-partment,” based on the Law Department’s advice — which was, according to mayoral spokesman Mark McDonald, that the “Commissioners must elect a chair, and that person is entitled to the chair’s pay. … Until then, all three will be paid at the member rate.” The transcript shows Inquirer reporter Bob Warner had questions — but the Commissioners had moved the public question period from after the meeting to before the meeting. Singer also seemed confused. “Do we know what vice-chair means?” she asked. Singer didn’t get an answer, and neither did City Paper. Asked if Clark’s desire for a pay raise had driven the vote, Schmidt emailed a one-word response: “Malarkey.” Clark did not respond to inquiries.
On Nov. 7, Clark said he had not known about the plan to oust Singer. If he was, in fact, promised a raise in return for Schmidt taking power, it might violate the state’s Sunshine Act, which requires all “deliberation” by a quorum of a public body to be public. For the three-member Commissioners, it just takes two, baby, to make a quorum.
Singer refused to say what she thought of the maneuvers: “Each individual City Commissioner represents the people of Philadelphia. It’s up to the people to decide what is proper.”