Darrell Clarke’s School District Power Play

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Left, Darrell Clarke. Right, Bill Hite. | Photos by City Council and Associated Press.

City Council President Darrell Clarke has grown profoundly frustrated with the School District of Philadelphia in recent years. Now he looks poised to turn that frustration into action — and the impact on the district could be huge.

In private and in public, Clarke in recent weeks has ratcheted up pressure on the district and the School Reform Commission. He’s laying the groundwork for a campaign — one that likely will begin in earnest after likely next mayor Jim Kenney takes office in January — that is designed to win back some local control over the district, particularly its finances.

What’s his latest beef? Ostensibly, it was over a number of recent hirings and promotions in the school district’s central offices, which, after three straight years of fiscal crisis, is now staffed by a skeleton crew. Seriously. The number of empty desks in the (admittedly too big) district headquarters at 440 N. Broad is both depressing and alarming.

Clarke’s point, though, is that Superintendent William Hite came to City Council in the spring seeking cash on account of the dire needs in classrooms, not district HQ. He says, in essence, that Council didn’t approve $70 million* in new funding for it to be spent on senior bureaucrats making six figures. Read more »

Council’s New Hires: $105K for a Graphic Designer & a Social Media Maven

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A sample of City Councils new graphic designer at work.

There’s no arguing that City Council could use a little help with its image. And it’s getting it, in the form of two relatively new staff positions in the Office of City Council President Darrell L. Clarke.

The hires? Anthony Buford, a full-time graphic designer, who was put on Council’s payroll in January, and Patricia Gillett, a full-time digital media director, hired in July. Their salaries are $50,000 and $55,000, respectively, plus generous city benefits.

Citified heard about the new positions this week, when council staffers were invited by the “Council Creative Team” to a “quick, 1-hour training course for finding, selecting and preparing photos for print and digital uses.” Also on the agenda? “A short introduction to the new City Council logo…” Read more »

Drexel Food Truck Bill Tabled

spot-burger-400In June, Councilperson Jannie Blackwell introduced legislation to limit food truck numbers and movement on and around Drexel University’s campus. Earlier this month critics called out the legislation for its potential to kill the area’s food truck culture, as it would limit competition and mobility. Josh Kim, owner of SpOt Burger has been a particularly vocal critic of the plan, citing the staleness of the food truck landscape at Penn which has similar restrictions to what was planned for Drexel’s campus.

An online petition to combat the legislation was signed by more 3,000 people this month. And there has been success. Yesterday, Blackwell took to Facebook to announce that the bill would not go forward.

Full statement »

David Oh Fights for His Political Life

Photo courtesy of City Council's Flickr

Photo courtesy of City Council’s Flickr

It’s been a bad year for politicians in Pennsylvania, especially those with a “D” next to their names: Kathleen KaneChaka Fattah, Rob McCord. The list goes on and on.

On Monday, Republican Councilman David Oh reminded the public that lawbreaking isn’t exclusively a Democratic affair. In a settlement agreement with the Philadelphia Board of Ethics, Oh admitted to taking an illegal campaign donation in the 2015 primary election and agreed to pay a $2,000 fine for his violation.

And with that, the City Council At-Large race this November got a lot more interesting.
Read more »

New Legislation Could End Drexel’s Food Truck Culture

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Legislation would limit and lock down Drexel food trucks.

When Philadelphia city councilman Mark Squilla’s legislation to modernize Philadelphia’s code regarding food trucks and carts passed earlier this year, the Philadelphia Mobile Food Association saw it as big first step to making Philadelphia, the East Coast’s most food truck friendly city. But now, new legislation from Jannie Blackwell looks to stifle food trucks in the area the movement began, on and around Drexel University.

The bill, which was introduced on June 18th, would create a special Drexel University District which would limit the number of vendors and lock them to a single spot. The legislation would keep the number of trucks and carts on and around Drexel’s campus to 25 and would require them to vend from a single spot and requiring continuous operation—stifling the churn of food trucks which is so much a part of food truck culture, and a big reason for the success of locations like 33rd and Arch. Additionally, each truck would be charged an annual fee of $2,750 to cover the loss of parking spaces and the cost of regulation.

Read more »

Why Philly’s Special Election Matters

Photo by Derek Hatfield/Shutterstock.com

Photo by Derek Hatfield/Shutterstock.com

In a special election on August 11th, a small sliver of voters will choose Philadelphia’s three newest representatives in the state House. The winners are virtually predetermined, but the race is still worth watching. No, seriously. We promise. Don’t stop reading!

The candidates are Democrat Ed Neilson and Republican Timothy Dailey in Northeast Philly’s 174th District; Democrat Joanna McClinton, Republican Charles Wilkins and Independent Tracey Gordon in the 191st District, which stretches from Southwest Philly to Darby Township; and in the 195th District, which includes parts of North and West Philly, Democrat Donna Bullock, Republican Adam Lang and write-in candidate Judith Robinson.

The Democratic candidates — who were selected by their party ward leaders, not voters — will very likely win because 1) there are innumerably more Democrats than Republicans in these districts; for instance, consider their beastly 13-1 voter registration edge in the 195th district. And 2) it’ll be a low-turnout election in which only diehards will show up the polls. But the races still matter for a few reasons: Read more »

Will Bill Green and Sam Katz Team Up for Surprise City Council Run?

Green-Katz

Bill Green and Sam Katz.

Bill Green and Sam Katz — two of the city’s most capable and pugnacious political pot-stirrers — are considering running for City Council at-large as a two-man slate in this November’s election, Citified has learned.

If they were to run and win, they could upend a political system that, by design, traditionally awards Philadelphia’s under-powered Republican party two at-large City Council seats. It would be an enormous blow for the city’s GOP.

A Katz-Green victory could also change the balance of power in City Council, and present likely next mayor Jim Kenney with a pair of well-informed and high-profile potential critics. Read more »

Finally, Someone Explained Councilmanic Prerogative

Photo by Jeff Fusco

Photo by Jeff Fusco

WTF is Councilmanic prerogative?

That’s a question that has been asked by countless journalists, developers, political junkies and people trying to buy city-owned property in Philadelphia for decades. Put simply, it is a potent combination of city law and tradition that gives Council members an astonishing amount of power over land use in their geographical districts. It not only bestows lawmakers with the power to decide whether a large portion of city land should be sold or not, but also whether some bike lanes should be installed and if certain types of businesses should be banned in specific parts of the city.

In fact, it gives those lawmakers the power to shape development in their districts — and who gets to do the developing. Not everyone is always happy with the results: Developer Ori Feibush sued Councilman Kenyatta Johnson in 2014 over his use of Councilmanic prerogative, saying the lawmaker obstructed his plans to purchase two city lots as political retribution. Johnson strongly denied the charge.

The more you learn about Councilmanic prerogative, the more you realize how much you don’t know about Councilmanic prerogative. It’s that pervasive and opaque.

That’s why it’s a big deal that someone finally wrote a definitive guide to Councilmanic prerogative in plain English: On Thursday, the Pew Charitable Trusts released the report, “Philadelphia’s Councilmanic Prerogative: How it works and why it matters.” (Full disclosure: Citified editor Patrick Kerkstra authored the paper along with others. He had no part in writing or editing this story.) Read more »

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