Councilmanic prerogative: Boon or bane?

The Committee of Seventy offers up an explainer on the informal council practice of "councilmanic prerogative, which it defines as "the power of District City Council members over land use projects across Philadelphia."

It summarizes some arguments for:

  • "There’s a belief among Council members that the pertinent District Council member is in the best position to understand their constituents and what projects will work well in their districts."
  • "Neighborhood groups often like this practice because it allows them access to a single decision maker – their District Council member – who can serve as gatekeeper for new buildings and businesses in their part of town."

And against:

  • "Developers often raise concerns that they get forced into addressing too many individual concerns by neighborhoods, along with the varying standards among District Council members, which can make the cost of development higher and less predictable."
  • "If someone wanted to give campaign contributions to their favorite Council member – in whose district they either want or don’t want a development to succeed – you’d have to assume this could give them an added dollop of access."

The city's new zoning code will reduce the impact of prerogative, because more development projects will be legal under the code and won't require a "variance" (special permission) from Council -- but the practice will still exist, and matter.

We're curious to hear if you've dealt with prerogative, and what you think of it. If you want to read more, check out Council President Darrell Clarke's op-ed in defense of prerogative, and an Inquirer editorial critiquing it.

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