BLOG: Bombshell Part I

Greater Northeast Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce: Government Affairs Committee Blog
By E. Pluribus Unum

Bombshell Part I—A federal court decision May 11 could end the long-standing sacrosanct custom of giving Philadelphia City Council members complete control over land use in their districts.

Folks, if this holds up in appeals court, this is big!

Known as “councilmanic prerogative,” or “councilmanic privilege,” it has always allowed a district council member to have a firm grip on his or her district, likening it to mayor of their own fiefdom.

The challenge to this custom came from a developer, Ori Feibush, who accused Councilman Kenyatta Johnson of blocking his attempts to buy two city-owned lots in Johnson’s district after Feibush announced he was running against the incumbent in the 2015 Democratic primary.  (Feibush was soundly defeated).

A jury took about two hours to agree with the developer, and awarded him $34,000.  (He sought $275,000).

But, far more significant than the dollars, is the impact the verdict could have on councilmanic prerogative.

Bombshell Part II—Did City Council President Darrell Clarke just kill Mayor Kenney’s most significant policy proposal of his young mayoralty?  Maybe.

You will recall the Mayor is seeking a three-cents per ounce tax on sugary drinks to net about $95 million per year to fund pre-K education, create more community schools, rebuild parks, recreation centers and police districts, and contribute money toward the city’s pension gap.

Well, on May 11, the Council President advanced his own ideas, and dramatically scaled back the sugary drink tax to a maximum of one-cent per ounce, with only $19 million (instead of the $60 million envisioned by Kenney) going toward pre-K education.  The bulk of the money under Clarke’s plan would go toward the infrastructure improvements and provide nothing for the pension fund.

During a Council hearing May 11, reports are that President Clarke was, ahem, less than enthusiastic about a sugary drink tax.  He pointedly told budget director Rob Dubow that since consumption of sugary drinks is highest in low income neighborhoods, then it’s fair to say the tax disproportionately impacts poor people.

It bears noting, that Clarke’s idea is just one of several alternatives being aired, and nothing appears firm at this point.  But, make no mistake:  this City Council does not appear willing to simply rubber-stamp the Mayor’s plan.

Always remember: Out of many, one.

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