Bedlam at City Commission on salaries, promotions & hires

City Commission Chairwoman Stephanie Singer (left) clashed with colleagues Al Schmidt (right) and Anthony Clarke at Wednesday's public meeting on staff moves.

With seven weeks to go until the Nov. 6 general election, the Philadelphia City Commission held its first public meeting in months and quickly descended into bureaucratic bedlam as the three members and staffers debated, shouted and complained about new hires, promotions and salaries.

Commission Chairwoman Stephanie Singer tried to propose a series of staff moves for her office that she said would save the Commission $79,000 per year.  Singer was repeated interrupted by commissioners Al Schmidt and Anthony Clarke and staff counsel Fred Voigt as she tried to lay out moves to hire, promote and pay staffers.

They told her personnel matters had to be discussed in a private session while Singer said she had letters from all of the staffers, asking for the matters to be discussed at a public meeting.

Schmidt and Clarke, who have been at odds with Singer for months, quickly over-ruled her proposal, saying the matter would be postponed until after Nov. 6.  Schmidt said they should "focus on the election, which is imminent."

Dennis Lee, who Singer wants to promote from deputy to chief deputy, interrupted and said he needed "full clarity today" on his promotion, which would increase his salary from $72,000 to $84,000.  Clarke told Lee the vote to postpone the discussion was his answer.

Singer countered Schmidt's concern about the election, saying that leaving her staff changes in limbo would "leave us shorter staffed than we are" at a very busy time.

Greg Irving, the commission's voter registration administrator, questioned Lee's raise, noting that a previous chairwoman's chief deputy was paid $66,000 per year.

"We haven't had a raise going on four years," complained Irving, who like many commission employees is a member of a city union. "Why so much and we haven't gotten squat?"

Irving also took a shot at Mayor Nutter, who has angered city unions by not signing new contracts.  He said he understood union salaries are "up to the city and that guy they call a mayor."

The donnybrook drew a rebuke from Ellen Kaplan, the Committee of Seventy's policy director, who urged the commissioners to set aside their differences since they face an upcoming election complicated by a new Voter ID law that requires voters to show state-approved identification at polling places.

"I have very serious and genuine concerns about these elections based on the obvious hostility and rancor in this room between the commissioners, between the commissioners and some staff members," Kaplan said.