We told you back on Nov. 19 that the state Supreme Court, overturning the rulings of two lower courts, ordered Philadelphia's City Council to give the public a chance to speak during weekly sessions held on Thursdays. Council President Anna Verna today issued guidelines for how that will work, starting this Thursday.
Philadelphia residents and taxpayers can speak for up to three minutes before Council votes on pending legislation. They won't have to offer any proof that they are residents or taxpayers, however. You can read Verna's news release with more details after the jump.
Council President Anna C. Verna Announces New Procedures
Providing for Public Comment at Council Sessions
PHILADELPHIA, PA- Council President Anna C. Verna today announced the procedures that will be followed in order to provide an opportunity for public comment at the next session of Council, to be held on Thursday, December 2 in Room 400 of City Hall, beginning at 10 a.m.
These measures implement the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s November 17 holding that the Sunshine Act requires that the full Council provide an opportunity for public comment at its public sessions. The Court reversed two lower court opinions holding that Council’s longstanding practice of receiving public comment at its committee meetings met the requirements of the law.
“The procedures I announce today are temporary,” President Verna explained. “Consistent with the spirit of the Court’s ruling, they will remain temporary at least until the public has had an opportunity to comment on them at our December 9 session.”
• Who may speak: Comments may be offered by Philadelphia residents or taxpayers. No proof of eligibility will be required.
• In what order: The Chief Clerk of Council will maintain a list of those wishing to speak, and speakers will be heard in the order in which they sign up. To add your name, call the Chief Clerk’s office at 215-686-3410 or 215-686-3411. If you have not called to sign up by 5 pm on the Wednesday before the Council session, you should sign up in Room 400 City Hall before the Council session starts. However, no one will be denied the opportunity to provide public comment because they have not signed up in advance.
• When: There will be a single public comment period, which will occur immediately before Council votes on bills and resolutions.
• For how long: Each speaker will have 3 minutes. However, the Council President reserves the right based on circumstances to establish a different time limit. The Council President may also limit repetitious comments in order to enable Council to conduct its meeting.
• About what: Speakers may comment on any of the bills or resolutions that are on Council’s Calendar (also known as the Agenda) for possible action at that day’s Council session, even if those items are not actually called up for a vote. This consists of any items on the “Final Passage” and “Second Reading and Final Passage” sections of the Calendar.
To see the Calendar, one may (1) pick up a copy from the Chief Clerk’s Office (Room 402 City Hall), (2) ask the Chief Clerk to add your e-mail address to a weekly distribution list so that you receive it automatically in the future, or (3) look on the Internet at the following address: go to http://legislation.phila.gov/calendar (do not type “www”); then scroll down and click on the Agenda for the next meeting of City Council. The Calendar is usually available by the Friday or Monday that precedes the next Thursday session of Council.
“I want to emphasize that Council has long been committed to receiving public testimony,” Council President Verna noted. “For more than half a century, Council – as required by the Home Rule Charter – has referred every bill to a committee of Council, and any and all persons wishing to testify on that bill have done so at a publicly advertised public hearing. The new public comment opportunity that we announce today supplements that fundamental commitment. My colleagues join me in welcoming those who wish to be heard in this new forum.”