Committee of 70 Presses Council for PGW Sale Hearing

Committee is raising pressure before Council adjourns.

Just a few weeks after its first attempt, the Committee of 70 has renewed its campaign to get City Council to hold a hearing on the proposed PGW sale before it recesses for the summer. Why? Because the proposed buyer could, reportedly, walk away from the deal on July 15th — and the Committee doesn’t want to see the deal scotched without going through an actual public process.

Here’s the text of a letter to Council President Darrell Clarke, just released by the Committee:

10 June 2014
The Honorable Darrell Clarke
President, Philadelphia City Council
Room 494, City Hall
Philadelphia, PA 19107
Dear President Clarke:

A public hearing on the PGW sale before City Council’s summer recess is imperative.

The Committee of Seventy’s first call for a public hearing on the $1.86 billion deal to sell PGW, on May 19, was prompted by a belief that taxpayers deserved to know the facts of the proposal as they existed at that time. New information now raises additional concerns:

The Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority, the city’s financial overseer, has endorsed the PGW sale. Council’s continued refusal to even begin a formal hearing process could endanger PICA’s passage of the city’s five-year plan. This obviously would be bad for Philadelphia. 

In a May 22 press release, Councilwoman Marian Tasco suggests that the July 15 deadline for the winning bidder, UIL Holdings Corporation, to walk away from the deal is a ploy by the Nutter administration to force a premature decision. The public has a right to know whether July 15 is a deal-breaker that Philadelphians should worry about.

Seventy has not taken a position on the PGW proposal. And we respect Council’s desire not to take a position before exercising its due diligence.

A public hearing would not impede this process.

Council often holds hearings to examine serious city issues before taking a vote. For instance, just over a year ago, Council’s Education Committee held a hearing to examine the feasibility of returning the city’s public schools to local control. As the Committee’s Chair, Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell said at the start of the hearing: “[M]any people have varying opinions about this…we thought it is time to at least begin the discussion.”

It is time to at least begin the official, public discussion about the PGW sale.

A public hearing would allow Council members to explore:

The legitimacy of the July 15 deadline. Given UIL Holdings’ heavy promotion of the deal through advertising and media interviews, its chief executive James Torgerson could speak to whether the deadline is a genuine threat to its purchase of PGW.

The pros and cons of continued city ownership of PGW. Representatives of the Nutter administration could address Councilwoman Tasco’s statement, in her May 22 press release, that the administration “never seriously considered or evaluated other alternatives to permit the City to capture the upside benefits of owning PGW.”

The city’s financial projections for reducing the pension deficit by selling PGW, which City Controller Alan Butkovitz recently challenged.

An assertion by the President of the Gas Workers Union Local 686 in a June 5 letter to the Philadelphia Daily News that selling PGW to UIL Holdings is “bad for workers, bad for customers and bad for the city.”

A public hearing would also give Council a formal opportunity to explain its deliberations process, including your own statement to KYW Newsradio on June 3 that the administration contributed to a delay in Council’s review of the PGW deal by giving its staffers “heavily redacted documents…and [forcing] confidentiality agreements.”

A final decision on the PGW sale will not be made on the basis of one hearing. Council can hold a second hearing, or a series of hearings, after its consultant’s report.

For these reasons, we urge you to change your mind before Council’s summer recess starts.

Zachary Stalberg
President and CEO

cc: City Council members