PGW Sale: Not Dead Yet

Photo | Jeff Fusco

Photo | Jeff Fusco

No, the City Council doesn’t show much sign of budging. And yes, UIL Holdings — the Connecticut company that has spent most of 2014 trying to buy Philadelphia Gas Works from the city, said last week it’ll walk away from the deal when its contract expires at the end of December.

But the PGW sale isn’t dead yet. Close, but not quite.

Philadelphia Business Journal reports that UIL officials are continuing to meet with and lobby city officials, hoping that the sale can be put on the City Council agenda for one of the year’s two remaining scheduled meetings — or that an additional meeting can be scheduled for just that purpose. The Journal talked to UIL spokesman Michael West:
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PGW Sale Hopes Dim

Photo | Jeff Fusco

Photo | Jeff Fusco

The proposed sale of Philadelphia Gas Works to a private Connecticut company — a sale long considered on life support, at best — is one step closer to outright death.

UIL Holdings said Thursday that it is ending its pursuit of the Philadelphia utility; it will not renew its option to buy when that agreement ends at the end of December. The announcement came after Thursday’s City Council meeting, considered the last chance to jump-start the process to result in a sale by year’s end.

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Kenyatta Johnson Sued Over Development Process

Councilman Kenyatta Johnson

Councilman Kenyatta Johnson

A Montgomery County developer is suing Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, saying Johnson has steered city-owned property to “political insiders” for development — bypassing accepted practices along the way.

Michael Pollack, who does business as Bag of Holdings LLC, filed the suit Monday in Philadelphia’s Court of Common Pleas. While city policy says that city-owned lots should be sold through a competitive process when multiple developers are interested in the land, Pollack says Johnson “is trying to sell city-owned properties to political insiders and demanding purchasers use his preferred developers, in what is a flagrant violation of the City’s documented policies.” (See the lawsuit below)

The lawsuit identifies those insiders as including “but not limited to, Hayman Construction LLC, Tremelle Hayman, and Felton Hayman.” The city campaign finance records show that Felton Hayman has made three $500 donations to Johnson’s campaign in 2013.

That process has cut Bag of Holdings out of the development process in Johnson’s district, the lawsuit says.
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Are State and Federal Exams Dragging Down Philly Schools?

Shutterstock.com

Shutterstock.com

With funding battles likely to rage in City Hall this week, City Council appears prepared to open another front in the battle over public education in Philly — this time, the target is the growing burden of standardized testing on public schools.

The council’s Committee on Education will meet Wednesday afternoon to discuss whether to hold hearings on the growing burden of standardized tests required by state and federal authorities, and whether they ultimately harm or help the education received by Philadelphia students.

“What are we sacrificing, education-wise, for all these required tests?” asked Sean McMonagle, legislative aide to Councilman Mark Squilla, who introduced the resolution calling for hearings.

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UIL Says It’s Not Done Pursuing PGW

At this point, UIL Holdings — the Connecticut company that wants so badly to buy and privatize Philadelphia Gas Works — resembles the old guy from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Yes, he’s in bad health. Yes, the future is dim. But he’s hanging on. “I’M NOT DEAD YET!” he screams.

Despite City Council’s unequivocal rejection of the sale, the company said late Monday afternoon it’s not ready to terminate its purchase agreement. According to a press release:
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Mayor: Council Is Fibbing! Council: Nuh-Uh!

Photo | Jeff Fusco

Photo | Jeff Fusco

So City Council has just released a rebuttal to a rebuttal to a letter summarily rejecting the sale of PGW. At least, I think that’s where things stand. It seems like everyone has a lot to say. Maybe — and I’m just spitballing here — a hearing on the proposed sale would have been a good place to air some of these issues out?

There will be no hearing on the sale, of course, which is at the root of this dysfunctional display. After two years, $21.3 million spent by the leading bidder, and two expensive reports from different analysts, Mayor Nutter figured he would at least get a Council hearing on the potential sale. Council President Darrell L. Clarke and the rest of council leadership — in what increasingly looks like a big political misstep — figured if council didn’t want the deal, why waste time with hearings?

You’ll find Council’s latest salvo below, as well as the Nutter administration’s effective, if dense, six pages of spin on the sale, which was first published last week by the Philadelphia Business Journal.

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Bill Would Require “Labor Peace” at City-Subsidized Hotels

Photo by Jeff Fusco

Photo by Jeff Fusco

Philadelphia’s hotel workers might decide to go on strike someday, but they won’t do it on the taxpayer dime if Councilman Wilson Goode Jr. has his way.

Goode last month introduced a bill (below) that requires hotels which receive support from City Hall — either by leasing public land to the project, or through financing assistance — to assure labor peace by having a collective bargaining agreement in place before the project receives approval. The agreement would have to include a “no strike” pledge on the part of the union representing the hotel’s workers.

Goode this week was careful to stress the bill wouldn’t affect hotels undertaken entirely as private projects.

“If there is no (city) financial interest, then it’s not a problem,” he said.

The bill comes at the end of a year in which the Pennsylvania Convention Center — subsidized by taxpayers — sought and got an agreement with most of the unions working at the center. That followed longtime complaints by the center’s leaders that unions were proving problematic in the task of luring and retaining big events to Philadelphia.

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Philadelphia Sued Over City Council Speech Rules

"Justice" engraved on Philadelphia's City Hall

Photo | Jeff Fusco

A Philadelphia man has sued the city in federal court over the public comment rules at City Council meetings.

Patrick Duff, 38, argues city policy on public comment at City Council meetings violates the First Amendment and the state’s Sunshine Act. Duff’s lawsuit says city policy only allows for public comment on topics on the City Council agenda. Duff believes the city must allow citizens to comment on any subject at City Council meetings.

Four years ago, a lawsuit forced the city to have public comment at City Council meetings at all. For the past 60 years, City Council had limited public comments to committee meetings, rather than its general sessions.

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Philadelphia City Council Passes Hate Crimes Bill

Philadelphia City Council today unanimously passed a hate crimes bill that adds additional penalties for criminal conduct motivated by hate for someone’s sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. The bill was introduced after the assault on a gay couple in Center City last month.

Pennsylvania does not include sexual orientation in its hate crimes law.

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Nutter Slams City Council Over Rejection of PGW Sale in Inquirer Op-Ed

In an opinion piece published in the Inquirer today, Mayor Michael Nutter ripped City Council over its rejection of the deal to sell PGW to UIL Holdings Corporation, a gas company based in Connecticut.

It’s headlined, “Council, do your job on PGW.”

Nutter is particularly incensed that City Council did not even call for a hearing on the sale of PGW. (“What makes far less political sense was Council’s decision to never give the UIL deal a hearing,” our own Patrick Kerkstra wrote yesterday. “It just looks awful.”)

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