Wednesday, April 16, 2014
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Gold Standard: A litmus test for reform?

Soon City Council and the Mayor will be gearing up for their reelection campaigns. Undoubtedly, they will try to position themselves as reformers. What we need is a scorecard to determine whether they fit the bill.

Gold Standard: A litmus test for reform?

Soon City Council and the Mayor will be gearing up for their reelection campaigns. Undoubtedly, they will try to position themselves as reformers. What we need is a scorecard to determine whether they fit the bill.

Thanks to Clerk of Quarter Sessions Vivian Miller, who last week announced her retirement effective March 31 (while allowing her daughter Robin T. Jones to assume her throne), we now have the beginnings of a reform litmus test for the Mayor and City Council:

Just how long will it take to abolish this antiquated row office now that no one has to worry about hurting Miller’s feelings?

The call for its elimination is not new. PICA called for it last year; the Committee of 70 has also chimed in to support of the idea.

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Why? In short, the Clerk of Quarter Sessions is out of date, costly, and hasn’t done its job. The President Judge of the Court of Common Pleas, Pamela Pryor Dembe, has attempted to assume many of its responsibilities (implying that it’s not very effective). And City Controller Allan Butkovitz recently issued an audit that showed over $1 billion in bail forfeitures and court fines were not reported to the appropriate city departments.

Now, the only things standing in the way of putting this frivolous office into the graveyard of unneeded government departments -- a graveyard that is rather desolate -- are City Council and the Mayor.

Eliminating the office would take a city council ordinance and the mayor’s signature. That’s it. A protracted and costly City Charter amendment is not required.

So will Council and the Mayor act? And how long will it take?

It’s not a complicated process.

First, a council member introduces legislation calling for the office’s abolition;

Second, some co-sponsors show support for the bill;

Third, it gets sent it to the appropriate committee;

Fourth, Council holds hearings to let the public and experts debate the matter;

Fifth, nine members of Council vote for the office’s demise;

Sixth, the mayor signs the bill into law surrounded by city council supporters who can then claim to be reformers.

This could be done in four weeks.

Maybe we can make this even simpler. Let’s assign “reform points,” so we can better judge who, in this process, is acting as a true reformer (note: points are only awarded if this all takes place within the next six weeks):

- The Council member who introduces the measure receives 10 points.

- Each co-sponsor, receives three points.

- Each member who attends the public hearing is awarded two points.

(No points will be awarded for a councilman who sits in his office monitoring the hearings over the speaker system.)

-Two points will be awarded for each member who votes for the bill.

-Minus five points will be deducted if a member votes against it.

-The Mayor will receive five points if he signs it into law within five days of its passage.

No points will be awarded for the Mayor or City Council for attending a bill-signing press conference.

After all, getting rid of an antiquated office that will save money and improve the system is nothing to brag about it. It’s what these folks are paid to do.

Phil Goldsmith writes "The Gold Standard" column for It's Our Money. He was city managing director from 2003-2005.

About this blog
Every year, city government spends slightly more than $4 billion. Where does all that money come from? More importantly, where does it go? Are we getting the most bang for our tax buck? “It's Our Money” is a joint project between Philadelphia Daily News and WHYY, funded by the William Penn Foundation, designed to answer these questions.

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