In the midst of a pandemic that has killed 1,563 people since March, and protests and outcries to upend policing as we know it, Philadelphia City Council is taking their yearly summer break. After Thursday, for 11 weeks, Council is not scheduled to meet as a body. That means no oversight functions, no hearings, bills or resolutions, no deliberations, and no public input.
Philadelphia’s City Council summer recess is among the longest in the country, according to a Pew study from 2011. Almost every year, the break prompts editorials decrying the practice -- and annual arguments from Council that they are not at the beach but hard at work in their districts. But a city facing multiple crises, and where gun violence, overdose deaths, and poverty don’t take breaks needs all hands on deck.
There is much at stake. Nearly every land use decision in the city requires legislation. The next few months will hopefully begin an economic recovery. With so many Philadelphians unemployed, it is unconscionable that potential new jobs could be delayed because Council cannot issue approvals for the disposition of public land, zoning remappings, or the permits that some businesses need to survive.
Multiple critical information committee hearings also didn’t take place, despite being authorized by Council. Those includes a hearing on the city’s preparedness for the pandemic that was authorized before the first COVID-19 case in Philadelphia was reported -- and multiple other hearings about the pandemic’s impact. Another hearing that didn’t take place: one on safe reopenings for small businesses along commercial corridors, which Council authorized in May. Small businesses along commercial corridors are opening as Philadelphia transitions to yellow and green, without City Council’s -- or the public’s -- input.
A hearing about the process of vote by mail in the recent primary will also need to wait for the fall, providing little time to make changes before the November election.
But the power of Council is in its deliberation, law-making and providing opportunities for the public to have input. Largely, Philadelphia residents did not have that power at its full disposal for the past three months-- and it won’t until September.