School Closure Plan Probably a Council Power Grab

How naive of us to have thought otherwise all this time.

"Justice" engraved on Philadelphia's City Hall

The debate surrounding the two competing methods for raising funds for city schools has been unexpectedly wonkish for City Hall. Nutter advocates the borrowing of $50 million against the proceeds from increased sales tax, and council president Darrell Clarke wants to sell off school buildings which he expects to reap something in the 9-figures. Other than accusations that Clarke’s numbers are a tad inflated, the point-counterpoint has so far remained a reasonable argument of arithmetic.

Except, as it turns out, it’s not, and we should have seen it all along.

Sean Collins Walsh today makes the forehead-slapping realization that the school-building-disposal plan is little more than a plan to give council members more political weaponry. Since councilmanic prerogative—the unwritten rule that when it comes to a councilperson’s district, that councilperson has ultimate authority—provides them fiefdom-like power over how the buildings will be conveyed, and to whom. Clarke has held the most properties from being sold by the Redevelopment Authority (46), with his ally Jannie Blackwell at a close second with 43. Mark Squilla comes in a distant third (11).

For example, Blackwell is reportedly threatening to hold up a sale of University City High School to Drexel University after Drexel cut off a $300,000 grant to the Mantua Community Improvement Committee, a community group that Drexel felt kept uncomfortably shoddy records and that has been accused before of being the kind of political tool that many of Philly’s community groups are. [Daily News]