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Philadelphians voted to get rid of the Civil Service’s ‘rule of two,’ which was blamed for limiting diversity

Voters almost always approve ballot questions, and 2021 was no different in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia voters on Tuesday approved all four ballot questions before them.
Philadelphia voters on Tuesday approved all four ballot questions before them.Read moreALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer

Philadelphia voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the city Home Rule Charter that will eliminate a hiring rule that has been blamed for limiting diversity in the municipal workforce.

Voters almost always approve ballot questions, and 2021 was no different in Philadelphia. Along with agreeing to get rid of the “rule of two” — which required city managers to choose between the two candidates who scored the highest on Civil Service exams — Philly voters also approved ballot measures setting a minimum budgetary contribution for the Housing Trust Fund, establishing the Department of Fleet Services, and calling on Harrisburg to legalize recreational marijuana use.

The “rule of two” was established in the 1950s to prevent political patronage in hiring and promotions for city jobs. But Council Majority Leader Cherelle Parker, who championed the ballot measure, said it is now a roadblock in the city’s efforts to make its workforce look like the population of Philadelphia, in particular by preventing many Black and brown employees from being promoted.

“It is one thing for an employer to say, ‘Black Lives Matter,’ and an entirely different thing for an employer to make real, substantive changes,” Councilwoman Parker said in a statement, noting that studies have found standardized testing to be biased against members of racial minority groups. “For too long, the Rule of Two has held back Black and Brown employees, either from obtaining that entry-level job or from getting that promotion.”

With the change, the city’s personnel director will be able to tailor hiring processes for job openings to departmental needs and decide how many applicants make the final rounds of consideration.

The question was approved with about 62% of the vote, the others passed by 2-1 ratios or better.

The housing funding measure, which was introduced by Councilmember Derek Green, requires Council to make an annual appropriation from the general fund to the Housing Trust Fund, which helps keep low-income Philadelphians in their homes and also creates new affordable housing.

The fund currently takes in money through a program in which developers have the option to make payments subsidizing affordable housing efforts in exchange for more favorable zoning for projects. Green’s measure requires lawmakers to additionally set aside 0.5% of the general fund, which would be an estimated $26 million next year, during the city budget process.

“Affordable housing access has been a chronically extended issue in our City and has only become worse as Philadelphia’s poverty rate remains among the highest of the nation’s largest cities,” Green said in a statement. “An equitable economic reset post-COVID-19 begins with ensuring that people’s basic needs, like housing security, are being met.”

The marijuana legalization measure represents a symbolic statement by city voters that they wish to see the state General Assembly change the state law on cannabis use.

Currently, only medical marijuana use is allowed in Pennsylvania, although possession of small amounts of marijuana has been decriminalized in Philadelphia.

The final ballot measure permanently establishes a Department of Fleet Management to oversee the city’s more than 6,000 vehicles, 16 repair shops, and 61 fueling stations.

During Ed Rendell’s mayoral administration, the city created an Office of Fleet Management, but that agency’s authority is dependent on mayoral executive order. The Charter amendment makes the office a full-fledged city department.