CITY COUNCIL HOLDS FIRST IN-PERSON MEETING IN CHAMBERS SINCE COVID-19 PANDEMIC OUTBREAK IN 2020
For the first time since Spring of 2020, City Council met in person on Thursday for its regular weekly Meeting to conduct legislative business. The COVID-19 pandemic forced Council to move its weekly meetings and hearings on legislation online, and for the past two-plus years, that’s where Council has introduced, debated and voted on legislation for the people of Philadelphia.
After a series of steps and actions designed to keep Councilmembers, staff and the public safe from an ongoing pandemic that still reports at least 200 new infections on a daily basis across the city, Council returned in person to its ornate chambers on the 4th floor of City Hall.
Some things were different. The Councilmembers’ desks had been moved apart to create social distancing for public health reasons, and the desks are now wireless for the first time ever. Everyone in the chamber was requested to wear a mask, at the request of Council’s leadership and the recommendation of Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole. The public could still testify on the legislation being voted on –behind a plexiglass shield. The press and media were allowed in to cover the meeting, but the press table was relocated, for social distancing protections.
There were fewer Councilmembers than the last time Council met in person. Four Councilmembers have resigned in recent weeks to pursue or explore candidacies for mayor – an election that will take place next year.
For now, Council has 13 members. On Thursday, there were four empty desks. Over the past several weeks, Council President Darrell L. Clarke (5th District) has issued a series of writs for special elections to be held on November 8 to fill those unexpired terms on Council. Two At Large seats are vacant, and two District seats (7th & 9th) are vacant. They’ll be filled after the voters choose candidates on Election Day.
Some things seemed the same. Councilmembers introduced new legislation, and voted on existing bills on the day’s calendar. A minister gave an invocation. Members gave heartfelt, impassioned speeches on various issues.
Its next Meeting is Thursday, September 29, 2022, at 10:00 AM, in Council chambers.
COUNCILMEMBER THOMAS INTRODUCES CITIZEN WATCHDOG FUND BILL
This week in Council, Councilmember Isaiah Thomas (At Large) introduced an ordinance to create a Citizen Watchdog Fund as a way to reward Philadelphians who help government address quality-of-life issues. Quality-of-life issues, such as illegal dumping, are plaguing neighborhoods and residents are looking for solutions. In addition to making residential areas and business corridors less pleasant, these issues can fuel a perception of lawlessness and apathy.
“We see quality-of-life issues, like illegal dumping, worsening across the city,” said Councilmember Thomas. “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.”
The Citizen Watchdog Fund will reward Philadelphians with a minimum of $500 for closed cases that a resident has a part in closing. These quality-of-life issues, relevant to Citizen Watchdogs, include street dumping, illegal alcohol sales, excessive noise, ATV usage, and vehicles that lead to car accidents.
“Fishtown, like many neighborhoods, is known to many for its restaurants, retail, entertainment, housing, and many amenities,” said Marc Collazzo, Executive Director of the Fishtown Kensington Area Business Improvement District (BID). “In order to maintain these ideals and grow our beloved hamlet, our BID employs Fishtown Ambassadors and Ready, Willing & Able, to deal with the high volume of trash and refuse that accumulate each day. The new Citizen Watchdog Fund is a welcome tool to help report and fight this neighborhood epidemic, by empowering our citizenry to stand up and report these incidents that affect our quality of life. Moreover, it financially rewards these dedicated residents at a time when community members could use it.”
The reward, to be determined by the Managing Director’ Office, will be decided based on the extent of the violation, the accuracy of the information provided by the Citizen Watchdog, and the Citizen Watchdog’s cooperation with an potential investigation/legal proceedings. While implementation and distribution of funds will be controlled by the Kenney Administration, this ordinance will be effective upon City Council’s passage and Mayor Kenney’s signature.
LAND BANK POISED TO TRANSFER HUNDREDS OF LAND PARCELS FOR DEVELOPMENT INTO AFFORDABLE HOUSING FOR “TURN THE KEY” PROGRAM
Council began a critical next step in the ongoing Neighborhood Preservation Initiative program this week, the process of transferring hundreds of parcels of city-owned land from the Land Bank to the Neighborhood Preservation Initiative – a $400 million Council-inspired program to invest in city neighborhoods and create more affordable housing and other economic initiatives to preserve communities.
Council President Clarke, who conceived of NPI with his Council leadership team and senior housing officials, has said the goal of the “Turn he Key” program is for 1,000 affordable homes to be built for purchase across Philadelphia. The process of assembling the land parcels and preparing them for transfer for development is a critical next step.
SEEN ON SOCIAL MEDIA…
My statement on the passing of a great Philadelphian and a great friend, Rev. Herbert H. Lusk. pic.twitter.com/qiUn89ScGU
— Darrell Clarke (@Darrell_Clarke) September 20, 2022
COUNCILMEMBER GILMORE RICHARDSON INTRODUCES LEGISLATION TO AMEND THE CITY’S BUDGET STABILIZATION RESERVE
Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson (At-Large) this week introduced legislation to amend the City of Philadelphia’s Budget Stabilization Reserve (BSR), also known as the “Rainy Day Fund.” This legislation would amend the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter to require an annual appropriation of three-quarters of one percent (0.75%) of General Fund Revenue when the projected General Fund balance exceeds $100 million. It also updates the target balance of the BSR from a maximum of 5% of General Fund Revenues to a minimum of 7% to align with internal City spending goals.
“The City of Philadelphia is not prepared for future financial crises,” said Councilmember Gilmore Richardson. “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.”
The legislation also requires the Director of Finance to conduct an annual stress test, as well as prioritize restoring any used funds within the Five-Year Plan.
CITY COUNCIL ANNOUNCES NEW LEADERSHIP AND COMMITTEE CHAIR ASSIGNMENTS
City Council reorganized its leadership team today during Council’s regular Meeting, and also announced a series of appointments to chair key committees on Council, a response to vacancies created as Councilmembers have resigned to run for Mayor.
In the first part of Council’s reorganization, members voted to make Councilmember Curtis Jones, Jr. (4th District) the new Majority Leader. Jones was serving as Council’s Whip.
Councilmembers next voted to make Councilmember Mark Squilla (1st District) the Whip of Council, elevating Squilla from the Deputy Whip position.
Councilmembers also voted to make Councilmember Cindy Bass (8th District) the Deputy Whip of Council.
The next part of Council’s reorganization involved the appointment of new Committee chairs, a series of appointments announced by Council President Darrell L. Clarke (5th District) today as well.
Appropriations Committee. The new chair of Appropriations is Councilmember Jones.
Finance Committee. The new chair of Finance is Councilmember Squilla.
Education Committee. The new chair of Education is Councilmember Isaiah Thomas (At Large).
Law & Government Committee. The new chair of Law & Government is Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson (At Large).
Licenses & Inspections Committee. The new chair of Licenses & Inspections is Councilmember Mike Driscoll (6th District).
“As I have said all along, City Council has urgent work to do — reducing poverty, preventing gun violence, creating jobs, preserving neighborhoods – every issue confronting our city,” Council President Clarke said. “We understand members resigning to pursue their hopes and plans for higher office. But Council has no intention of slowing down, not for a minute.”
Clarke said the process of appointing members to Council’s various committee assignments was ongoing, and further announcements regarding positions would be forthcoming at a later date.
Clarke also noted that any new Councilmembers elected by the voters in special elections to fill Council’s vacancies on November 8 would receive appointments to various committees as soon as their elections are certified and the new members are sworn in.
The four Councilmembers who resigned their seats recently are former Majority Leader and Law and Government chair Cherelle L. Parker, former Appropriations and Education chair Maria D. Quiñones Sánchez, former Finance chair Derek Green and former Fiscal Stability and Intergovernmental Cooperation chair Allan Domb.
IN OTHER NEWS…
During closing remarks, Councilmember Kendra Brooks (At Large) offered moving comments on the life and death of noted LGBTQ advocate and activist, Michael Hinson, who died recently. Brooks said she’d known Mr. Hinson for years, worked alongside him on many causes and issues, and deeply respected how he became an exemplary role model for Black queer men across Philadelphia and beyond.
Councilmember Jones offered legislation amending his Civilian Police Oversight Commission, by offering an amendment that clarifies the ban on certain prohibited political activities applying to board members on the commission.
OTHER SIGHTS AND SOUNDS FROM THE COUNCIL WEEK
PHILADELPHIA FACTS AND FIGURES
The next Stated Meeting of City Council is scheduled to take place on Thursday, September 29, 2022 at 10 a.m. in Philadelphia City Hall, Room 400 and will air on Xfinity Ch. 64, Fios Channel 40 and stream at www.PHLCouncil.com/watch.
Weekly Stated Meetings will be in-person for the remainder of the year. Masks will be recommended and provided.
Out of an abundance of caution and with the public’s health in mind, public hearings will continue to be conducted remotely.
Featured Photo: Jared Piper/PHLCouncil