Tax Travesty fallout: Nutter calls for resignation of BRT members

Revenue Commissioner Keith Richardson alongside Mayor Michael Nutter during a press conference yesterday to address BRT issues raised by an Inquirer series. ( Kevin Cook / Staff Photographer)

Mayor Nutter called on all seven members of the Board of Revision of Taxes to resign this morning, and sent two bills to City Council that would eliminate the $70,000-plus salaries of future board members and bring a large portion of the agency’s funding under the mayor’s direct control.

Nutter said the steps were the first in a series of “short, medium and long-term” measures designed to restore public trust in the agency, which has been the series of recent Inquirer reports that raised questions about the BRT’s competence and ethical conduct.

“I am asking them to resign their positions … and put in place an interim board in an effort to restore a sense of confidence and more fully examine the operations, management and governance structure of the BRT,” Nutter said at a hastily organized press conference at City Hall.

Nutter said he had notified BRT Chair Charlesretta Meade and another board member of his plans. It was not immediately clear if the board members would comply with Nutter’s resignation request, nor was it clear what Nutter would do if they refused.

“I do not know at this moment what any one of the seven members may or may not do,” Nutter said. “I would hope they would look at the larger interest of the City of Philadelphia.”

The mayor does not select BRT board members. Rather, they are appointed by city judges, whose selections are heavily influenced by the opinions of Democrat and Republican Party Leaders.

“There is a culture that has developed over what could be centuries that seems to pervade the organization. It has operated technically of course separately from the city government but the bulk of their funding and certainly all of their activity has a direct impact on the city government as well as all of the property owners throughout the city of Philadelphia,” Nutter said.

Meanwhile, in City Council, Councilman Bill Green and two co-sponsors formally introduced two bills aimed at longer-term BRT reforms. Though both bills create independent boards where property owners could appeal assessments, one seeks to abolish the agency while the other keeps it intact and gives the mayor and City Council the authority to appoint board members, instead of city judges.

Both bills would take ballot measures and a public vote, which could take a year or more.

Nutter also wants to restructure the agency over the long-term, but his steps yesterday were designed to shake up the BRT immediately.

If he succeeds in ousting board members, Nutter would likely prevail upon city judges to appoint candidates more to his liking. And the bills he sent to council would, if approved, essentially give his finance department veto power over a significant portion of BRT spending through the end of the fiscal year.

“The time for change has arrived. The BRT as we know it cannot continue to function in this fashion,” Nutter said.