Councilman At-Large Bill Green may or may not be running for mayor in 2015. In the meantime, the extremely vocal pol sat down with PW to share his thoughts on a bunch of local issues, including flash mobs, the School District, the DROP program and whether he’s serious about running for mayor.
Flash mobs have been the biggest story in the city for the past couple of weeks. How would you propose trying to curb this violence?
There’s an underlying reason ... that this sort of activity goes on. If you look at the activity in London recently there’s just a huge sense of frustration and powerlessness by young people. They don’t see themselves having opportunities if they do finish high school. Not having an ability to go to college, not having a chance of living the American Dream. And as a consequence, they can probably see that frustration in their parents. The economy is bad; their parents are probably struggling to put food on the table. And when there’s stress in the home like that it boils over. The kids feel it and they can’t really react there. So they go out and react. We have to address the underlying issues that sort of lead to this kind of behavior. It’s far more effective to address that than simply throw them in jail.
The other day when Mayor Nutter gave what could basically be described as a “good stern talking” to the youth of Philadelphia, do you think that made a real lasting impact?
So you think it is going to come to issuing fines and jail time to them or their parents?
I’d like to think that raising the issue at that level will cause parents to talk to their children. Let’s hope that that’s what happened and it’ll stop. But I think whether it stops for a month or not, the underlying problems that cause this sort of behavior haven’t been changed by a speech. That’s where we need to focus as a city.
This may be a sensitive subject among some of your City Council colleagues. If the DROP program isn’t done away with, do you think that officials that retire to collect a DROP payment should stay retired and not return to work after retiring for one day?
The good news is that my first day in City Council I introduced a bill to eliminate DROP for elected officials. Interestingly, the mayor did not support that measure and help me get that passed. I also talked to State Senators and State Reps about it and got the bill passed at the state level because we could not accomplish it here without the mayor’s support. We then passed a law in City Council consistent with the state law, eliminating DROP for elected officials … so that’s not going to happen in the future. DROP is an emotional issue with the public. To me it’s a question of dollars and cents. City Council passed a bill essentially eliminating all costs associated with DROP on a going forward basis; the mayor vetoed it. The cost of that veto to the citizens is $5 million a year out of the general fund. Which is $5 million we don’t have available to other stuff.
You’ve been quite vocal in other media concerning the school district’s wasteful spending.
How do you think [Arlene Ackerman] can justify having a base salary that is almost rival to that of the President of the United States while a system she is in charge of had to essentially come hat in hand to City Hall and City Council for money for her budget?
I don’t blame Arlene Ackerman for her salary. She negotiated with the School Reform Commission and they gave it to her. The people who gave her that salary are the ones that should be held accountable if we feel that salary is inappropriate. I believe it’s inappropriate; it’s more than the head of the New York City school system. But that was a decision made by the SRC. And in any negotiation an individual is going to try to do the best they can for themselves. And that’s on the SRC, they never should have agreed to anything like that.
How do you think [Ackerman] can justify laying off the number of teachers that she did after the past school year; especially ones with more seniority and keeping others solely because they were employed at her “pet projects” such as the promise academies?
That decision is in court and will be resolved by the courts soon. Obviously she thought she had the authority to do that … We’ll know whether it was permissible in just a few short days. I think the broader issue with the schools is if we could step back from the personality of Dr. Ackerman—because that’s kind of a distraction at this point. There is an SRC; they’re running the schools. Dr. Ackerman is who they hired. The question is what we need to do to the schools to change outcomes for kids so there’s not a frustration that leads to flash mobs. We wrote a 55 page education policy paper about a year and a half ago with 30 specific recommendations for the things the school district could do to try to improve. I still think there’s a lot of things in that paper they could implement today to make a difference for kids. I’m beginning to reach the conclusion that the School District is not capable of doing the job that they are mandated to do. I’m sure I know what the solution to that problem is.
If you had the singular authority would you remove Ackerman from her position?
Since I don’t have the singular authority and since I don’t answer hypothetical questions, I won’t. But if I had the singular authority, I would make a decision.
What’s the No. 1 reason why the people of Philadelphia should vote for Bill Green this November?
I’ll rephrase your question. Do we all agree on what the city’s challenges are and how to fix it? All we have done for the past three and a half years and for many years before that is make marginal and incremental changes And we can’t afford to let that happen. We have to do something radical and quickly with the schools. We have to do something very different to let businesses know we want them to stay here and come here. We have to completely change our tax structure. To me, the two most important things we can do to create and retain jobs in the City of Philadelphia have to do with schools and taxes. Then a lot of the other stuff will begin to take care of itself. We have to shrink the cost and size of government; begin to provide the same services for less money. I’ve outlined a plan to do that with respect to going paperless; saving $200 million a year and having those resources available for tax reduction and other things. And so, to try to answer your question, I have a vision for the future of the city that I think Philadelphians share. It has great schools that provides a free quality public education to every citizen there. It has low tax rates, it has a growing population and we keep our citizens when their children turn five rather than have them move to the suburbs. And we grow over time to become two million citizens again. That’s going to take a lot of hard work. It’s not going to take speeches, but action.