New Council Officers and Committee Chairs
Due to the resignations of four councilmembers, including Majority Leader Cherelle Parker, Philadelphia City Council announced the results of a closed-door election. Replacing Parker as Majority Leader is former Majority Whip (and past Majority Leader) Curtis Jones. Replacing Jones as Majority Whip is former Deputy Majority Whip Mark Squilla. Councilmember Cindy Bass will replace Squilla as Deputy Majority Whip.
The Majority Leader in council is the second most powerful member of city council after the council president , and the both whips work to build consensus among members regarding legislation.
City Council President Darrell Clarke also announced committee chair appointments, which had been vacant since the resignations of former councilmembers.
In addition to becoming Majority Leader, Councilmember Jones will chair the Appropriations Committee.
New Majority Whip Mark Squilla will head the Finance Committee (which also makes him third in line to be mayor).
Councilmember Isaiah Thomas will chair the Education Committee.
Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson will take over the Law and Government Committee.
New Councilmember Mike Driscoll will chair the Licenses and Inspections Committee.
Budget Ballot Initiative
Councilmember Katharine Gilmore Richardson introduced legislation that would amend Philadelphia’s Budget Stabilization Reserve (BSR), also known as the “Rainy Day Fund.” Requiring a charter change, the bill would mandate .75% of general fund revenue when the general fund balance exceeds $100 million. The legislation also updated the target balance of the fund from 5% to 7%.
Accordion to the Government Finance Officers Association, an organization that represents and provides advice to municipal financial officers across the country, the best practice for cities is to keep 17% of their annual general fund in reserve. This has not been a realistic goal for Philadelphia.
In a press release, Gilmore Richardson said “The City of Philadelphia is not prepared for future financial crises. Without the significant influx of federal dollars, we would have seen significant cuts to our budget during the COVID-19 pandemic. We must prioritize savings during our annual budget process to ensure that we are prepared to provide our residents with the services they need during our most challenging days.”
Citizen Watchdog Fund
Councilmember Isaiah Thomas introduced legislation that would create the “Citizen Watchdog Fund,” which would be used to reward Philadelphians who help close cases related to quality-of-life issues, such as illegal dumping, illegal alcohol sales, excessive noise, ATV usage, and vehicles that lead to car accidents.
“We see quality of life issues like illegal dumping worsening across the city,” Thomas said via press release. “We’re creating the Citizen Watchdog Fund to reward Philadelphians who help government solve these types of issues. Everyone has a role to play in making Philadelphia a better and cleaner city. We need residents to help us be partners; we also need to reward these citizens who help out and step up.”
Each reward will be a minimum of $500, with the amount of individual awards being determined by the Managing Director’s Office based on the extent of the violation, the accuracy of the information provided, and the “citizen watchdog’s” cooperation with any potential investigation or legal proceedings.
Joint Hearing Resolution
Newly minted Majority Leader Curtis Jones introduced a resolution calling on the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania to fully implement the Philadelphia Gun Violence Protection Program, and authorizing the joint City Council committees on Legislative Oversight and Public Safety to hold hearings regarding the impact red flag laws could have on gun violence in Philadelphia.
Jones introduced legislation in 2018 that allows individuals to petition courts to have a firearm temporally seized from someone who is a danger to themselves or others. The legislation was passed by council in 2019. However, the Philadelphia Gun Violence Protection program has yet to be fully implemented by the First Judicial District.
“This council has taken steps on its own to try to safeguard the citizens in many different ways as it relates to gun violence,” Jones said. “All too often, other governments other entities, other departments stifle that progress we attempt to make, sometimes by lawsuits, sometimes by court decisions, sometimes by inaction. We passed the Red Flag Law long before it got on the radar of the federal government.”
Jones also introduced an amendment to the Citizens Police Oversight Commission legislation introduced last year. The new amendment changes a requirement restricting members of the commission from making political contributions to candidates in state and local elections. The amendment changes the law to apply only to city elections.
Poverty Action Plan Update
In comments after the council meeting adjourned, we asked Council President Darrell Clarke about continuing the work of the Poverty Action Plan, a pre-pandemic collection of ideas aimed at cutting the city’s 26% poverty rate.
“We kind of got away from it a little bit, and all the other things going on. So we’re actually having an update briefing, we’re actually going to be going significant level of focus on the Poverty Action initiative. We want to shift towards underlying issues as it relates to gun violence. So while we have to deal with the immediate challenges that we face in the city of Philadelphia, particularly in law enforcement, why do people find themselves in this position? Is it the lack of opportunity early on in their life? Is it education? Is it family structure? Is it where you live? Those are the things that we can hopefully attack. You’re going to see us pivoting towards dealing with a lot of these other issues, while we concurrently deal with the issues as well. relates to existing challenges of the level of violence in the city.”