Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Council wants a seat on criminal justice board

A simple request this week from City Council President Anna C. Verna threatens to upset the delicate balance of a city panel that is just getting its legs - or so fear some of the panel members.

Council wants a seat on criminal justice board

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A simple request this week from City Council President Anna C. Verna threatens to upset the delicate balance of a city panel that is just getting its legs - or so fear some of the panel members.

The panel is the Criminal Justice Advisory Board, a group formed nearly 10 months ago to try to resolve long-simmering issues with no easy solutions, from court backlogs to prison overcrowding. Its powerful members, who meet monthly in a small room in City Hall, include Common Pleas Court President Judge Pamela Pryor Dembe, Deputy Mayor Everett Gillison, DA Lynne Abraham, Court of Common Pleas Administrative Judge D. Webster Keogh, Public Defender Ellen Greenlee, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, Municipal Court President Judge Marsha Neifield... Got the picture?

The issue? Council appeared to have caught up with the board's... well, existence, during budget hearings a few weeks ago. (Unhappy with Mayor Nutter's proposed budget for many of the criminal justice agencies, the board voted on its own proposal and discussed it with Council.)

Now Council wants a seat at the table, a message Verna made clear in a hand-delivered letter Wednesday to Dembe and Gillison asking for the board to amend its bylaws to let Council in.

Excitement did not fill the air when Verna's request was shared at today's board meeting. Nola Joyce, Ramsey's longtime aide who was sitting in for him, put it most gently when she shared her experience on a similar board in another city. When a councilperson from that city joined the board, what that councilperson heard there translated into public hearings and budget cuts, she said.

Abraham pointed out that the monthly meetings are public anyway, and she and Dembe voiced no objection to Verna's request. Also, it was noted that similar panels in other jurisdictions include Council members.

Still, a final decision was delayed as discussion began about who, exactly, would represent Council on the board - a Councilmember, or a Council staffer?

Or, as Judge Keogh put it: "I'm concerned they'll appoint somebody... anybody... some wacko."

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The Philadelphia Inquirer's Chris Hepp, Tricia Nadolny, Julia Terruso, and Claudia Vargas take you inside Philadelphia's City Hall.

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