Some of our leaders are looking at neutering, gun control and OBGYN care.
September in Philadelphia means the return of the stinkbug, invading dwellings to share its unique pungency with residents across the region. Likewise, the City Council members come back from their summer recess to take up session again and draw up new laws for the city—no comment about any particular smells emanating from City Hall. Ah, how we’ve missed them.
Thursday, Council will hold its first meeting since June and will attempt to tie up a few loose ends from last year: Stronger witness-intimidation protections, a ban on unsightly satellite dishes and stronger gun-control measures, among others. At some point this year, the legislative body needs to tackle some big, complex issues like the DROP retirement plan, redistricting the city and (shudder) the FY12 budget. Oh, and there are primary elections coming up next spring, the only elections worth paying attention to in Democrat-crazy Philadelphia.
In addition to these looming issues, many Council members have their own pet legislation they will try to push through. We reached out to the 17 Council members, and eight of them got back to us with what’s on their minds for the year.
Taking the idea of pet legislation quite literally is Jack Kelly, who was once dubbed “Councilman Critter” by Inquirer columnist Karen Heller. “One of the many issues I am determined to work on in the coming City Council session is making Philadelphia the first city on the East Coast to have a “no-kill” policy for adoptable cats and dogs, along with developing comprehensive animal licensing legislation and enforcement, and increasing spay/neuter awareness,” writes Kelly in an email.
Speaking of neutering, Jim Kenney and Frank Rizzo plan to continue their quest to create a viable rotational towing program to cut the balls off reckless wreck chasers who cruise city streets looking for accidents victims. Kenney’s attention is focused on everything to do with concrete and asphalt, on fair implementation of towing licenses and on better regulation and violation enforcement for contractors and public parking lot operators.
Rizzo, meanwhile, wants to address cost-of-living increases for retirees. “Such legislation is critical to help retired City servants and ultimately, their survivors, to maintain their quality of life,” says Theresa Italiano, Rizzo’s director of legislation.
Marian Tasco is targeting health care, planning to examine OBGYN care, infant mortality and HIV/AIDS. And Bill Greenlee wants to crack down on mortgage scams.
Donna Reed Miller is focusing on prisoner and public-safety issues. Miller wants take a look at prison over-crowding and expenditures, as well as making life easier for ex-offenders by not requiring them to inform potential employers of their criminal record on job applications. Additionally, she wants to refine the roll of the Police Advisory Commission to ensure civilian oversight of the boys in blue, who could sure use some discipline after a particularly naughty summer of committing robbery, dealing heroin and beating people.
Miller also says she wants to continue to encourage minority participation in city business, a viewpoint shared by a number of other Council members and which was pursued during last year’s budget sessions to the point of fixation.
Bill Green, of course, is all about business. “The basic theme for the fall is all about helping Philadelphia-based companies create jobs and expanding our economic viability,” he says. He is planning to introduce the business-privilege tax reform that he has been working on over the summer with Maria Quiñones-Sánchez. Green also has a pile of other bills to increase the competitiveness of Philly-based business bidding for city contracts, and to mandate better reporting by the city on how much work goes to local firms.
“I had 15 co-sponsors on these, so chances are looking pretty good,” Green says.
Quiñones-Sánchez is otherwise occupied by a draft plan for redistricting, which is an especially relevant issue for her after the city’s Latino population, which makes up most of her constituency, was carved up and passed around like a turkey dinner during the 2001 Council session. Redistricting is one of those sneaky mandatory tasks creeping up that is likely to overshadow everything else come springtime when Council will need to redraw district lines to reflect population changes from this year’s census. The 2001 round prompted nearly a year of bitter fighting and produced two of the three most misshapen local districts in the whole country, plus a jail sentence for former Councilman Rick Mariano. So, things should stay interesting.
Council has other major problems to address down the road. What to do about the city’s embattled DROP program, for one. Mayor Nutter wants to kill the retirement benefit, after a Boston University study found it costs the city pension fund $22 million a year. Will Council cooperate? Unclear.
Relatedly, will the six Council members enrolled in the DROP program actually retire? Anna Verna, Frank DiCicco, Marian Tasco, Kelly, Miller and Rizzo are signed up to receive lump-sum pension payments next year, which appears to mandate retirement but can be circumvented by collecting the money and un-retiring the next day. If any of the six, or Brian O’Neil and Joan Krajewski, who have represented the Northeast for approximately a billion years apiece, do actually decide to go out to pasture (stud?), it will open the door for some interesting primary elections in the spring, instead of the standard automatic rubber stamp for incumbents.
Oh, yeah, and on top of everything else, Council will have to pass a budget at some point. Remember this, from a Pew report last May? “The National League of Cities has noted that city fiscal conditions typically lag the national recovery by two years, and there is no reason to think that this time will be an exception.”
Last we checked, we aren’t two years into a robust national recovery, and more difficult times lie ahead for Philadelphia. We’ve spent the last few years making Band-Aid fixes to bloated budgets in lieu of addressing structural issues, so the city is really no more prepared for fiscal armageddon this coming spring than before. Can’t wait for a big tax increase for the third year in a row.
All in all, Council has a big year ahead. The fun starts Thursday at 10 a.m. The 11.9 percent of you who are unemployed should come check it out.