City Council members are out for the first week of their annual 12-week summer recess. The break is one of the longest of any City Council in the country, according to a 2011 review by Pew. Members of City Council object to characterizing the recess as a paid summer vacation. They have argued in the past that the recess is their time to listen to their constituents and craft legislation. Consider us skeptical.

The summer recess means that some basics functions of city government are frozen. For example, because every sale of public land requires Council’s approval, Philadelphia can’t sell public land over the summer. Our city has 40,000 vacant properties, but we freeze sales every year for three months so that Council will get its full uninterrupted vacation. In New York City, City Council meets every other week to vote on bills. In the summer, they meet once a month, but still vote on bills — and land use decisions can move forward.

The summertime freeze on legislative action is an issue that Council should pick up when they are back from recess. Waiting for vacation is not all Council did before summer. We looked back at the good, the bad, and the ugly of their past session.

The good

  • An easy budget season: Members of City Council preferred to save energy for their reelection campaign, not budget fights. Mayor Jim Kenney proposed a “more of the same” budget and City Council bought in. Another reason for the smooth budget season was that Kenney did not attempt to raise taxes, as he did the year before.
  • Promising bills: Councilman Mark Squilla introduced three bills in response to long-standing public dismay over the ease with which architecturally, historically, or culturally significant older buildings in Philly are demolished for redevelopment. Made at the Mayor’s request, the ordinances would encourage re-use and renovation of such structures largely by streamlining the nomination and designation process for those worthy of preservation. We also hope to see Councilwoman Helen Gym’s bill that requires public reporting of the details of any lawsuit the city settles for more than $20,000.

The bad

The ugly

  • Henon’s indictment: In January, Councilman Bobby Henon was indicted by federal prosecutors, accused of using his public office to serve the interests of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98 — Henon’s second employer — over the interests of his constituents. Henon did not resign from Council or from his post as majority leader, something that his colleagues did not demand. Moreover, his constituents will not get the opportunity to vote him out of office because he ran unopposed in the May primary.