Clark and Schmidt curbing Singer's power

Clout has a confession:

 

We worried that the City Commission would become a dull affair after the departure of the nine-term chairwoman, Marge Tartaglione, who colorfully dominated the election-running agency for nearly four decades.

 

We had nothing to fear.

It turns out the three-member board's two freshmen, new Chairwoman Stephanie Singer and lone Republican Al Schmidt, along with one-term veteran Anthony Clark, have a power struggle under way after just five months together.

There was a tense meeting in which Singer kept Clark from bringing up subjects that were not on the commission agenda. And both men have boycotted meetings that she called without consulting them.

Schmidt and Clark, concerned that Singer was using her post to make unilateral moves — much like Tartaglione, the woman she unseated in the Democratic primary election last year — took three steps Wednesday to limit her power as chairwoman.

They pushed through a policy that the voter-registration administrator and legal counsel report to all three commissioners, not just to the chairwoman.

They shot down Singer's proposal to adopt Robert's Rules of Order, a 136-year-old manual for parliamentary procedure that they said would give Singer too much sway to shut down issues brought up for discussions and votes.

And they clarified how the chairwoman can get the boot.

Singer said she consulted the city's Law Department to see if her election as chairwoman on Jan. 4 meant a four-year term in that post. It doesn't, she learned.

The new rules say two commissioners can oust the chairwoman at any time.

"The chair serves at the pleasure of the other commissioners," Singer told us. "And the job of the chair is to help the other commissioners get done what they want to get done. And if I do that for them, I don't see them ganging up on me as regards to the chairmanship."

Schmidt said bumping Singer from her post is "not something that we have explored as of yet." He and Clark are trying to prevent the commission from remaining a "one-person show" as it was under Tartaglione's rule.

"Voters rejected Tartaglione's approach to the office and we're just following through on that result," Schmidt explained.

Singer frames the internal strife as the result of three people with "very different ideas" trying to figure out how to work together and run the commission.

"We certainly didn't get an operating manual from the previous commission," she said. "We have to go through this. We have to find our way of operating."

 

Speaking of power struggles

The city's Republican Party, roiled in a civil war about the party's direction, now has two men claiming to be chairmen. They're both playing nice. For now.

Chairman Vito Canuso of the old guard has called a meeting of ward leaders next Wednesday.

Chairman Rick Hellberg — a former congressional candidate whom Canuso tried to recruit to run for mayor last year — was elected by 20 insurgent ward leaders May 22. The insurgents have the backing of the state party.

So who runs the meeting?

"I didn't think about that," Canuso joked. "I hope he has a check to pay for the hall. If he pays for the room, maybe I'll give him at least half the time."

Hellberg, who is not a ward leader, said that he might stop by but isn't trying to "crash" Canuso's meeting, which is expected to be about mundane party matters.

"Vito has always been very straight with me in any dealings I've had with him," Hellberg said. "I like Vito. He's a good guy."

 

Quotable

"The biggest spender on lobbyists in Philadelphia for the first quarter this year was Big Soda. They outspent any other lobbying group by six times. While their budgets continue to be large — ours is shrinking." — Mayor Nutter, speaking Thursday in Washington at the Center for Science in the Public Interest's Inaugural National Soda Summit, about his twice-failed effort to pass a soda tax.

 

Contact Chris Brennan at 215-854-5973 or email him at brennac@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisBrennanDN and read his blog, PhillyClout.com.