It's a no-brainer: Local governments should be in control of local institutions, with exceptions to that rule carefully considered and frequently reviewed.
That's the thinking behind home rule, which stipulates that the state stay out of the business of local governments as much as possible.
In Philadelphia, we have two glaring exceptions to that rule.
The Philadelphia School District is run by the state via a five-member board, the School Reform Commission. Three of the board members are appointed by the governor, two by the mayor. The SRC was created by the Legislature in 2001 when the district was undergoing financial and leadership crises.
The Philadelphia Parking Authority also is run by the state. It once was a locally controlled agency, run by a board appointed by the mayor. In a city government that is mostly civil service, the PPA remains a patronage agency.
In 2001, in a steal move, then-House Republican leader John Perzel got a bill passed that put the PPA under the control of a six-member board appointed by the governor and the Legislature. Perzel basically took the patronage power away from the Democrats and handed it to his own party. Fifteen years have passed since that heist.
It is time to ask: Should the School District and the Parking Authority remain under state control?
The call on the PPA is an easy one since the head of the agency - a Republican ward leader - was ousted after a sexual harassment scandal. At first, the PPA board was working to save Vincent Fenerty Jr.'s job until it was disclosed that Fenerty had been accused of sexually harassing a female employee before - and the board was aware of that case. (Board members argued they "forgot" the first case.)
SRC members have largely served in a bipartisan and thoughtful way. But two SRC members are stepping down - Feather Houstoun, a state appointee, and SRC chair Marjorie Neff, a mayoral appointee. The term of a third commissioner, Sylvia Sims, another mayor's appointment, will end next year.
Should the PPA and the SRC be returned to local control?
The Republicans, who control the Legislature, would be reluctant to hand the PPA's patronage back to the Democrats. They also have shown no willingness to cede on the issue of the SRC.
Between the local demands for return of the agencies and the Legislature's insistence on keeping control - and there are downsides to both - we suggest a third path.
We believe the Legislature should insert sunset clauses - provisions that set a date when the law will expire - in the laws governing the SRC and the PPA. Such clauses would dictate that the laws have a time limit (say, 2018?).
That would set the stage for a debate - locally and in Harrisburg - over the role of the state, the track record of the agencies and the principle of home rule.