Archive: March, 2009
Your pals at PhillyClout take a close look at City Council's budget. And here's more on Councilman Bill Green's idea to dedicate property taxes to the library system. Meanwhile, Mayor Nutter looks to cut the city's fleet of cars.
Our Inky sibling, Clout, finally gets a peek at the old Penn's Landing Corp. payroll and finds a few surprises.
And how goes the state legislature across the river? Why New Jersey is taking a whack at the old Brazilian wax.
Finally, Will Bunch wraps up your questions about massive scam-artist Bernie Madoff.
He forgot his green tie, but Mayor Nutter yesterday told local Irish-Americans that he was ready for St. Patrick’s Day.
“If you want, I will certainly respond to O’Nutter on this particular day,” Nutter told the St. Patrick’s Day Observance Association -- a green-clad crowd -- yesterday as they gathered in City Hall in advance of the Sunday St. Pat’s Parade.
Philly is home to the second-oldest St. Patrick's parade in the nation. But due to budget cuts, the city this year said they could not pay for police or clean-up costs associated with the parade. Philadelphia Media Holdings -- owner of the Daily News -- has pledged up to $20,000 to support the parade.
Gov. Rendell, as a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, knows a thing or two about ticking off powerful players in the party. Politico.com is reporting that Rendell predicted today that Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steel's "days are numbered" as head of his political party.
Mayor Nutter wants to commission a study to find out if the city's Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) is working.
"What is the future of the DROP program, is it helping the city, not helping the city?" said Nutter, who today sent legislation on DROP to City Council for approval, that includes a proposal to commission a formal study on the program.
"I am looking at the DROP program, having listened to numerous members of the public. We need to take a look at what is going on," Nutter said.
Created in June 1999, DROP provides lump-sum payments to eligible workers who delay their retirements for four years. The program was designed to help the city better manage its workforce. In theory the city could better anticipate retirement dates and plan accordingly. And the program could encourage more early retirements.
Nutter said that while there have been previous studies of DROP, there hasn't been one to see how it impacts the behaviour of public employees.
DROP has made headlines in recent years because elected officials have used the perk -- and often kept working. City Councilwoman Joan Krajewski, who was enrolled in the program, retired for a day in January 2008, so that that she could collect almost $300,000, and then was "rehired" to serve her 8th term. Other council members are now enrolled in DROP.
City Council President Anna Verna, known to run public meetings with a schoolmarm style that frowns upon noisy conversations and other disruptions, ordered a little decorum restored to Council's chambers this morning. Council's sergeants-at-arms were instructed to "strongly enforce" rules about who can wander around on the floor of Council's fourth-floor City Hall chambers during sessions and hearings, according to an e-mail from Verna's office. The e-mail notes that "many unauthorized individuals" have been walking around the section of the chamber reserved for Council.
The e-mail was distributed to reporters, who have seats and a table set aside on Council's floor where they can work during hearings and sessions. But sergeants-at-arms have been keeping a much closer eye on where reporters and other non-Council members roam in the chambers.
Why the crack-down? Blame Comcast. The cable television giant waged a lobbing campaign late last year against legislation to give Verizon a cable television franchise in Philadelphia. Verizon eventually prevailed. Eyebrows were raised during hearings when a Comcast executive and a lobbyist for the company were given seats on Council's floor, usually reserved for Council staffers. Another lobbyist was repeatedly spotted whispering with at least one Council member during the hearings. Council sources tell PhillyClout the decorum crack-down grew out of complaints to Verna about Comcast appearing free to roam the chamber.
Nutter took a dig at other elected officials today, as he spoke about reductions he has made to the city fleet.
Nutter said 243 vehicles have recently been taken out of the city fleet and will be sold, part of his ongoing effort to reduce city administrative costs. But he said independent elected officials are doing little to help the effort.
“It is time for all independent elected officials and independent agencies to reevaluate their need for a city vehicle,” Nutter said. “This is an issue the general public continues to raise.”
Since Nutter took office, he has reduced the total city fleet from 6,224 vehicles to 5,917. But only five cars have been returned from independent officials and agencies.
Fourteen of the seventeen members of City Council are assigned take-home city cars. Council members Jim Kenney, Bill Green and W. Wilson Goode Jr. do not have city cars.
The 243 vehicles recently taken out of the fleet come from a range of city departments, including police, streets and recreation. They will be auctioned off and the city expects to make $280,000 off the sales, in addition to saving $1.5 million in annual fuel and maintenance costs.
*UPDATE* We've been informed that Councilman Frank DiCicco also doesn't drive a city car. His staff says he returned his city car last year after the budget crisis hit.
Negative reaction came swiftly this morning to City Councilman Bill Green's idea to take part of the city's property tax and dedicate it to fund the Free Library of Philadelphia. For details, see an earlier post here.
Mayor Nutter, who tangled with Green late last year on the library issue, was not impressed. "I think that at this time given our financial situation, this would be a tremendously irresponsible action," Nutter said immediately after Council wrapped up for the day. "I think the councilman has gotten all the public relations [benefit] he’s going to get out of the libraries."
Councilwoman Marian Tasco, the Democratic majority leader, called Green's idea "a little dangerous" and said it could lead to other Council members targeting money to departments. "I’m not sure that selecting any one department over another would be the right thing to do," Tasco said. "While we all love the Free Library, I love something else. Each Council person has their own pet department. Actually, I’d like dedicated funding to [the Department of Licenses & Inspections]."
Councilman Brian O'Neill, the Republican minority leader, also had "mixed feelings" about Green's proposal. "It isn’t that the libraries aren’t a good cause. It’s that there are a whole lot of good causes in the city," O'Neill said. "I don't know where you stop."
Green's legislation has five Council co-sponsors -- Frank DiCicco, W. Wilson Goode Jr., Joan Krajewski, Curtis Jones Jr. and Jack Kelly. "It prevents the libraries from continuing to be a whipping boy every time there is a budget crisis," Green said after introducing the legislation.
UPDATE, 2:40 pm: Green just called PhillyClout to respond to his critics, especially what he called "name-calling" by Nutter. He said a series of recent budget forums showed that city residents don't want libraries impacted by budget cuts. "It would take politics out of the libraries forever," Green said of his legislation. "Name calling doesn’t help kids. Books do."
City Councilman Bill Green is about to introduce legislation that would ask voters if they want to divert part of the local property tax to support the Free Library of Philadelphia.
The proposal would take 3.1 mills -- worth about $33.48 million per year-- from the tax to pay for libraries. That is roughly the amount the city will pay for the library system in the fiscal year that starts in July.
City property taxes are set at an overall 82.64 millage rate. Currently 40 percent of property tax revenue goes to the city and 60 to the School District. Green's proposal would divert funds from the city's cut, leaving the School District funding intact.
Green said his staff found a 1961 state law that allows the dedicated funding. Those same staffers filed a legal challenge late last year, halting Mayor Nutter's plan to shutter 11 libraries as part of a budget cut package.
Nutter is expected to introduce next week a city budget that increases for two years the property tax rate by 17 percent.
Entertainment Tonight interviewed actors Jamie Foxx and Gerard Butler about the film they've been shooting in Philly, "Law Abiding Citizen." It's about a man who seeks justice from an assistant district attorney 10 years after his wife and daughter are murdered. And from the clip, it looks like there are a bunch of explosions along the way.
But for a guy filming such a tough movie, Foxx sounds pretty weak in this interview, complaining about the weather in Philadelphia.
Foxx says: "We talk about the cold a lot. We talk about how Philly can get so cold. The sun is shining, but it is only 22 degrees. So we always get a kick out of that."
Come on Jamie, man up!
Check out the video here.
Mayor Nutter delivers an overdue tax bill, prompting an attorney to cry foul.
And City Controller Alan Butkovitz tells the School District to keep a better eye on whether its vendors are paying city taxes.
The city Board of Ethics files another lawsuit, this time against a judge, for crafty political action committee accounting.
And SEPTA employees won't strike on Sunday, even though the transit workers are still working on a new contract.