Making it up as they go

Talk about a gang that can’t shoot straight.

The Board of Revision of Taxes can’t even go out of business without breaking the law. Turns out the BRT violated the state Sunshine Act last month when it voted to turn over its main function to the Nutter administration.

The city solicitor found the deal Mayor Nutter reached with the BRT to be in violation of the state Sunshine Act.

The BRT board met in secret to vote on a closed-door deal reached with Mayor Nutter to allow the city Finance Department to take over the setting of property values. The meeting wasn’t advertised, and no one from the public was in attendance.

“Under these facts, a violation of the \[Sunshine\] Act clearly occurred,” City Solicitor Shelley R. Smith wrote in a legal opinion.
City Councilman Bill Green requested the legal opinion after Nutter announced the surprise deal last month. Fortunately, someone is trying to follow the proper procedures at City Hall.

When the deal was announced, Nutter dismissed questions about the legality of the closed-door session, which unilaterally shifted control of the BRT’s assessment function to the mayor’s office without public input. Recall that when Nutter ran for mayor he promised to run an open and transparent government.

Nutter’s spokesman said the BRT will now take steps to advertise and conduct a meeting in public. Such a session will likely be nothing more than a rubber stamp, given that the deal was already signed in secret.

But at least it will give the public a chance to ask questions and voice concerns about the move. For example, in reaching the deal, were any BRT board members promised a job once the agency is revamped?

Shifting the BRT’s main function to the mayor’s office is hardly an inconsequential move; determining property values impacts every home and business owner in the city.

Given that the BRT is so incompetent and politicized, any attempt to fix the agency should be done in the open so as not to repeat or compound past mistakes. But operating in the open — as required by law — isn’t how the BRT has operated over the years.

Indeed, The Inquirer series that prompted the recent reform efforts detailed how the BRT was driven by politics, patronage, and secrecy.

In some instances, the longtime former chairman, David Glancey, a onetime Democratic Party chief, would essentially determine assessments for well-connected property owners on a cocktail napkin. As a result, property assessments are uneven and in disarray.

The BRT board is populated with political hacks who work part time for $70,000 a year. Dozens of agency employees are patronage hires who got their jobs because of who — not what — they know. Many are Democratic ward leaders and committeemen whose main job is to get out the vote on Election Day and secure political favors the rest of the year under the guise of “constituent services.”

Operating in secret in violation of the state Sunshine Act is no way for Nutter and the BRT to try to restore faith in the broken agency.