Philadelphia News & Search
The need for transparency and accountability in city spending, the threat and history of corruption in Philadelphia’s government — these were some of the key points readers hit on in the last week when asked a simple question:
Should Philadelphia’s City Council hold a public hearing about its own proposed $17 million budget?
A little background: Council on Tuesday starts week three of a seven-week budget hearing season, during which every city department with a spending plan of $5 million or more must prepare and present public testimony about how that tax money will be spent and then answer questions.
Every department except Council that it. Our esteemed local legislature refuses to play by the same rules it sets for everyone else.
That is the way Council President Darrell Clarke wants it. And, after talking to all of his 16 colleagues on Council, I haven’t found much gumption to challenge that in the name of transparency.
Speaking of transparency, that was the word most commonly cited by the 185 readers when they replied to the question — posed in last Monday’s column and again in a Daily News editorial Friday.
Another word that popped up frequently was “accountability.” And plenty of people didn’t like the idea of Council setting rules it does not adhere to.
And then were was that concern about corruption.
One reader who cited corruption was former Councilman Rick Mariano, who confirmed that he answered the question online with this: “It would keep them in touch with reality.”
Mariano served time in federal prison on corruption charges that ended his Council career.
He told me last week Council members can become “desensitized” to playing by the rules.
“Why does everyone else have to be transparent but you don’t?” Mariano asked. “Come on.”
Only two readers said Council should not hold a hearing on its own budget. One claimed to be Mayor Kenney. (Not really him.)
The real Mayor Kenney, who served six terms on Council, told me he would have supported holding a dedicated budget hearing back then. But he has to work with Clarke now. So bring on the deference.
“I think transparency is always the best policy,” Kenney said. “That’s up to them. That’s their prerogative.”
The other no-vote came from someone who wondered, if Council has never held a budget hearing before, why its members should be pushed to do it now?
The responses from Council members were a mish-mash of the power of precedent, deference to Clarke and openness to transparency. A reliable recipe for the status quo.
Here is an example of the deference to Clarke, from two-term Councilwoman Cindy Bass.
“I think historically he is following the precedent that has been set,” she said.
Here is another from six-term Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell:
“I’m very happy to support my president,” Blackwell said. “We’re good. I’m happy with it as it is.”
Clarke, Bass and Blackwell are Democrats. But this isn’t about political parties. Council’s three Republicans all either rejected the idea or bowed to precedent.
Did they hear us? Hard to say. If you still have an opinion to express, Council has set up phone line and email address, 215-686-3407 or Budget.Hearings@Phila.gov.
Or you could shout out Council on social media with the hashtag #PHLBudget.
Philadelphia News & Search