Furious Nutter seeks to slash BRT pay, power

Calling the appointed leaders of the Board of Revision of Taxes a “rogue board,” Mayor Nutter said today he and City Council would immediately attempt to slash their salaries and seize control of their budgeting authority.

“The BRT board appears to be out of control. President Obama had to deal with pirates, and we have to deal with the BRT,” Nutter said.

The mayor’s remarkable comments come a day after the BRT broke off a joint-management agreement that gave Nutter’s staff day-to-day control over the deeply troubled property assessment agency.

Under the agreement – which had an initial term of just six months – the board’s role was relegated to hearing appeals of property assessments, a job for which the seven members receive $70,000 a year for part-time work.

The agreement also gave the Nutter administration day-to-day operating authority over the agency. The administration’s goal was to begin correcting a property valuation system that under the BRT’s leadership had become one of the most inaccurate and unfair in the nation.

By not renewing the agreement, the BRT put itself back in charge.

“Their behavior is bizarre, it is irresponsible, it is irrational and it undermines our reform efforts. It is increasingly clear that the BRT board is becoming a rogue board, operating outside of any commonly held interest of inspiring public confidence,” Nutter said.

In an attempt to pressure the board into renewing the agreement (called a memorandum of understanding), Nutter will ask City Council on Thursday to slash the board’s $70,000 salaries to $18,000, which appears to be the minimum allowed by state law.

Nutter said he was also considering other steps, which he declined to identify, designed to either pressure the board into renewing the memorandum of understanding or to further minimize the board’s role in managing property assessments in Philadelphia.

All these maneuvers are only tangentially related to the May 18 primary election, where Philadelphia voters are scheduled to settle the fate of the BRT once and for all. A question appearing on that ballot would abolish the agency, and replace it with two new entities.

Last month, the BRT board filed a lawsuit in the state Supreme Court geared at thwarting that election. The suit claims that the city has no legal authority to completely abolish the agency, arguing that state law gives the city’s judges sole power to decide who hears property assessment appeals.

Although Nutter considers the matters of the lawsuit and the memorandum of understanding to be unrelated, it is clear that BRT board members felt that formally renewing their agreement with the administration would harm their case in court.

“The fact that they are just being intransigent as part of some litigation strategy means that we have to rethink our strategy,” said Councilman Bill Green, who sponsored the legislation that put the May BRT question on the ballot. “So I’d be delighted to assist the mayor in reminding them that it is City Council and the mayor that make the rules, and the BRT that follows them.”

No BRT members returned calls from the Inquirer yesterday, and board chair Charlesretta Meade replied only with an opaque single sentence e-mail stating that the board had taken “no action” on the memorandum of understanding.

By virtue of taking no action, the agreement expired.