City makes new friends

The new Metropolitan Caucus announced earlier this year brings together local elected officials from the five counties in Southeastern Pennsylvania (including Philadelphia) to focus on issues of common interest.

They include Bucks County Commisioners James F. Cawley, Charles H. Martin and Diane Ellis-Marseglia; Chester County Commissioners Carol Aichele, Kathi Cozzone and Terence Farrell; Montgomery County Commissioners Joseph M. Hoeffel, James R. Matthews and Bruce Castor, and Delaware County Councilors Linda Cartisano and John Whelan.

20090428_dn_g128nutt
Mayor Nutter was inspired by Chicago Mayor Richard Daley when he suggested creating the Metropolitan Caucus with officials from Bucks, Delaware, Montgomery & Chester counties.

We spoke to Mayor Nutter to find out what's on the agenda.

Haven't we been here before? People have been talking about regional decision-making but without much evidence it happens often. How will this be different?

First, there are lots of examples of the region working together: SEPTA is one. So is the Convention Center and DRPA. The airport is one of the biggest regional economic engines around, with two-thirds of it sitting outside the city. But because of the global economy, the world has shrunk and critical issues of sustainability and the environment will be forcing more of us to work together.

It's true that it's not always easy. Regions are complicated. We in Philadelphia have one government, there are county governments and hundreds of smaller political subdivisions. But the region has brought itself together because we have mututal needs, and mutual interests.

How will the metro caucus work?

We'll have five meetings a year, with each county hosting one.

We've so far informally agreed on a path to proceed down, and we'll see where it leads. But I think we're leaning toward a more formalized structure.

The stimulus money has been an organizing principle for this, but since that money come through established systems, how easy will collaboration be?

Well, we're filing a joint regional application for some stimulus dollars, and we'll figure out how to administer the dollars that come in. We're commited to figuring this out.

Look, the stimulus money is important because it's really just a bridge. It will help us create a model that can work after the stimulus money is gone. We all have budgets, and we all have needs that go beyond stimulus dollars. Mass transit, energy efficiency, sustainability efforts, workforce development are all natural areas for working together to leverage our strength. Working together has a multiplier effect that goes way beyond the impact of individual counties.

An example?

We own a lot of real estate.

Working together, we could better demonstrate our ability to retrofit huge amounts of infrastructure for lower energy costs.

Then there are water and sewer projects throughout the region.

And here's another: When the rate caps come off, maybe we could all jump into some large solar project, produce electricity and sell it back to the grid. *

- Sandra Shea