Philadelphia City Council meetings may soon get a little more interesting. The state Supreme Court, in a 4-3 ruling made public today, says Council has been violating the state's Sunshine Act by refusing to allow people to comment on legislation during Council sessions. Council argued that its current procedure -- to allow people to comment on legislation when it came up in committee hearings before moving on for consideration by the full Council -- was adequate.
The Homeowner's Association of Philadelphia challenged Council's practice in 2007, amid concerns about legislation that eventually became law requiring property owners to list their city license numbers in advertisements for rentals. A Common Pleas Court judge ruled against the Homeowner's Association, a decision later upheld by the state Commonwealth Court.
In the majority opinion, Justice Thomas Saylor said the Sunshine Act does not give Council the power to assign public comment to some other sort of meeting. Chief Justice Ron Castille, writing the dissenting opinion, worried that the ruling would cause "disruption" in Council practices in use for more than 50 years.
“This will have a significant impact for all meetings in the future, way beyond our specific case," said Darrell Zaslow, attorney for the Homeowner's Association. "We look forward to participating with Council effectively and respectfully. We’re sure all citizens will be appropriate with their conduct before Council.”
UPDATE, 4:50 pm: City Council President Anna Verna just responded to the ruling with this statement: "We are disappointed that only three members of the Court agreed with our position that Philadelphia’s Charter-mandated practice of providing ample opportunity for public comment during the numerous public hearings held by Council committees throughout the year satisfied the “public comment” requirement. Of course, Council will comply with all final decisions of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and with all statutory requirements, and if that means changing our procedures to provide a public comment period during Council sessions, we will do so."