BRT flexes muscles, shrugs off Nutter's control

Interim Executive Director Richard Negrin, who was appointed by Mayor Nutter, could be off the job as soon as this afternoon after the BRT chiefs refused to renew an agreement with the mayor. ( Michael Bryant / Staff Photographer )

In a surprise move, the seven judicially-appointed chiefs of the Board of Revision of Taxes have refused to renew an agreement that temporarily transferred day-to-day control of the beleaguered agency to Mayor Nutter, the Inquirer has learned.

Although the implications of the decision are not yet clear, the upshot is that the same board that made the BRT into one of the most chronically mismanaged agencies in the city is back in charge of property assessments.

At least for now.

The voters of Philadelphia are still slated to approve or reject a proposal on May 18 that would abolish the BRT effective Oct. 1, and replace it with two new entities.

Until then, however, Nutter’s handpicked choice to overhaul the agency, attorney Richard Negrin, will officially be off the job, possibly as early as this afternoon. And the enormously important work of repairing a property assessment system that is among the most inaccurate and inequitable in the nation could be further delayed.

It was unclear how Mayor Nutter would respond. Administration officials declined to comment immediately. BRT members were not immediately available for comment.

Last fall, the BRT and Mayor Nutter reached an accord — they called it a memorandum of understanding — that turned over all duties and responsibilities associated with property assessing to the Nutter administration for a period of six months. The board’s remaining job was limited to hearing property assessment appeals.

Since then, however, City Council passed the legislation that — if approved by city voters in May — would abolish the BRT altogether. The overhaul would deprive board members of their $70,000 a year part-time jobs.

Last month, the BRT sued the city in an effort to stop the May vote. The suit, which the courts have not yet acted on, contends that the city does not have the authority to strip the board of its appeals powers.

The city, the suit claimed, had “usurped the established exercise of independent judicial power,” since it is judges who appoint BRT members.

Yet the BRT’s refusal to extend the memorandum is not supported by Common Pleas Court President Judge Pamela Pryor Dembe.

“I don’t expect that the members of the board will come out looking too good here,” said Common Pleas Court President Judge Pamela Pryor Dembe.

Extending the memorandum, Dembe said, would be the “prudent and professional thing to do to.”