The Committee of Seventy just put out a press release calling for a "top to bottom" look at City Council's operations and structure. The watchdog group said they were prompted, in part, by today's Daily News report that Councilman Jack Kelly wanted $25,000 in city money to pay for a media aide.
“It is appalling that Councilman Kelly would even think about asking the taxpayers to foot the bill for a consultant to handle media questions related to the federal criminal indictment of his former Chief of Staff Chris Wright,” said Zack Stalberg, Seventy’s President and CEO, in the release.
COMMITTEE OF SEVENTY URGES FULL REVIEW OF COUNCIL’S STRUCTURE AND OPERATIONS
Says Goode’s Proposal On Design of Council, and Councilman Kelly’s Request for a Media Consultant, Create Opportunity for Larger Public Discussion
PHILADELPHIA – September 17, 2008 – The Committee of Seventy today called for a top-to-bottom look at the structure and operations of Philadelphia City Council. Seventy’s call was prompted by Councilman W. Wilson Goode, Jr.’s expected introduction tomorrow of an amendment to the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter to change the design of Council’s at-large membership.
Seventy’s statement was also triggered by today’s Philadelphia Daily News report that Councilman Jack Kelly asked Council President Anna Verna for a $25,000 media consultant. “It is appalling that Councilman Kelly would even think about asking the taxpayers to foot the bill for a consultant to handle media questions related to the federal criminal indictment of his former Chief of Staff Chris Wright,” said Zachary Stalberg, Seventy’s President and CEO. “Since when does the City provide private press consultants for members of Council to respond to allegations concerning their ex-employees?”
In Stalberg’s view, the time is right to take a hard look at Council. “Although we oppose Councilman Goode’s proposal, the question of whether Council’s current structure works for Philadelphia is a legitimate one. It also opens the door for a serious look at other issues directly related to Council’s overall effectiveness.” Stalberg urged Council Committees to invite public testimony on key issues such as the proper balance between the absolute veto power of District Council members over development projects on their home turfs and the economic interests of the City as a whole, and the adequacy of ethics rules governing Council members and their staffs.
Stalberg said Seventy is looking forward to Councilman Frank Rizzo’s introduction of a package of ethics reforms, including regulations on moonlighting by city officials, lobbying, gifts to city employees, nepotism and political activity by City Council employees. “Several City Council members pledged to support ethics reforms during their campaigns,” Stalberg stated, noting that Seventy had presented all the 2007 mayoral and City Council candidates with an Ethics Agenda. “We expect them to step up and fulfill those pledges.” He added that he hoped the ethics reforms would also have the full support of the Nutter administration given then-candidate Nutter’s full endorsement of Seventy’s Ethics Agenda.
While Seventy commended Councilman Goode for providing a springboard for a more expansive discussion of Council, Stalberg expressed the non-partisan organization’s concern that his proposal would weaken the potential for any minority party representation in City government, including Republicans, Libertarians, Greens or others. “While Philadelphia today is essentially viewed as a one-party town, other voices are healthy in a democracy,” Stalberg said. “They should be encouraged rather than quashed.”
Stalberg said he hoped Council would view an open discussion of its structure and functions as a “healthy process that will lead to greater effectiveness and increased public confidence.” In the meantime, Stalberg recommended that Council “refrain from enacting piecemeal changes that nibble around the edges of what should be comprehensive and meaningful reform.”
The Committee of Seventy is a non-partisan organization conducting a permanent campaign to improve the Philadelphia region by demanding ethical conduct of public officials, safeguarding elections, promoting government efficiency and educating citizens.