City Council's excellent summer

Here's the column I wrote today on Philadelphia City Council, a legislatative body that doesn't legislate for three whole months. No exaggeration. Council had it's final session last Thursday, June 19 and doesn't reconvene until Sept. 18.

How's your summer going?

Karen Heller: City Council's excellent vacation

By Karen Heller

Inquirer Columnist

In the immortal words of the sublime philosopher Alice Cooper, school's out for summer.

City Council, too.

In a case of harmonic convergence, Philadelphia School District students finished work Thursday, the very same day as did the Sage 17 of City Hall's fourth floor.

City Council is a legislative body that ceases to legislate for three full months. Council members earn a base salary of $102,000 - enviable pay for most of us - while legally allowed to work other jobs.

Which is where those three months come in handy.

"We've got to go to our farms in the country and pick vegetables," Bill Green says.

He jokes. Green's moonlighting job is as a corporate and securities lawyer at Pepper Hamilton.

Council's summer of light lifting follows swiftly on the suntan lotion of Memorial Day Week.

We get a Monday, council takes a week.

It's subsistence governing. Perhaps the three months afford Council time to travel back to the districts. By horse and buggy.

The seventh district's Maria Quiñones-Sánchez - like Green, a freshman - has no outside job. Her plans? "We're going to do a staff retreat. I'm going to spend time with my family. We've got a big litter initiative for my district. And I'm going to take a vacation."

Is the heat too much for Council's sensitive constitution? The mayor continues to mayor. The courts continue to convene. You, perhaps, continue to labor.

Council members insist they keep very, very busy in the summer, penning future legislation and providing constituent service, doing grip-and-grins at barbecues.

Guess what? People who work hard never need to defend themselves. You know, people who work 12 hard months, instead of nine.

As for why the seasonal windfall, inquiries to multiple hall officials yielded a unanimous answer: "Tradition."

You can almost hear Tevye fiddling through the corridors.

Members of the U.S. House of Representatives take off one month. They are paid $169,000 annually, represent more constituents (almost 700,000, half Philadelphia's entire population), maintain two residences, often travel substantial distances between their districts and the Capitol, and work assiduously to be reelected every two years.

By comparison, Council incumbency is nearly papal in its security. Members die in office. People with IQs no higher than toasters cakewalk through elections in perpetuity, all the while able to collect multiple incomes and pensions while slogging through three months of no legislation.

The only time a member gets ejected by a somnolent citizenry is when he or she does something truly heinous. Like driving without a license for 25 years.

Philadelphia is such an oasis of promise that any little boy can grow up to be a member of Council.

Provided Daddy was mayor first.

Three former mayors' progeny - Frank Rizzo, Bill Green and Wilson Goode Jr. - sit in council. It's our version of the Junior League.

As the old adage goes: Politicians, old buildings and prostitutes become respectable with age. This is a boon to politicians' children. Sharif Street's mistake was running for Council while Dad was in still office and not yet some romanticized version of an addled collective memory.

Where else can a guy like Frannie Rizzo, a former Peco lineman, rise to become a vaunted councilman?

Indeed, the money shot in his bio is that he has introduced "Ethics legislation regulating Lobbyists, banning Gifts, prohibiting Nepotism."

Prohibit nepotism? How would Council ever reach a quorum?

Some citizens might argue that City Council meets too often, and they may be right.

In that regard, perhaps the three months is simply a bit of paid insurance for the rest of us. Surf's up! Enjoy that summer!