Council giving row offices a pass

When independent groups look for potential budget savings within the City of Philadelphia, they can't help but focus on the city's little-known row offices, obscure patronage-rich departments led by independently elected officials.

But City Council apparently sees no waste whatsoever in these politically influential offices, many of which are led by party heavies.

In budget hearings this morning, council members have scarcely questioned the leaders of these offices. Council members had nothing but praise for Ron Donatucci, a powerful democratic ward leader and the chief of the Register of Wills. He was in and out of the witness chair in less than 20 minutes.

Sheriff John Green did not show for his office's budget hearing, but council let his deputies slide with precious little questioning either, even though the office has exceeded its overtime budget. They too were in and out in record time.

The City Commissioner's office is testifying now. Marge Tartaglione, chair of the City Commissioners, is absent, but one of her deputies is now in the witness seat and getting gentle treatment. Indeed, council members seem to be dedicating as much time to praising the performance of row office officials as they have to questioning their budgets.

All of this is a huge contrast with the way Council has treated city departments that fall under the direct control of the Nutter administration. Those officials are grilled, at length, as council probes for potential budget savings and uses the opportunity to critique the performance of the administration.

Typically, Councilman Bill Green takes the lead on questioning. His approach to Nutter administration officials who appear at the witness table may be combative at times, but there is no denying that it is also thorough and his questions are well researched.

But Green apparently has no questions for the row offices that many outside entities consider ripe targets for budget savings. The councilman has not yet shown up for today's hearings.

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