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If U.S. Senate gets to do it, why can't we?

Councilman Ed Neilson wants the authority to approve all of the mayor's cabinet level positions.

Nevermind the controversy over Council President Darrell L. Clarke's proposal that if voters approve of the creation of a new Department of Development and Planning, City Council would have veto powers over the cabinet-level position appointment.

Councilman Ed Neilson wants the authority to approve not just the Director of Development and Planning but all other cabinet level positions.

In a rather entertaining exchange with Deputy Mayor Alan Greenberger at Wednesday's Committee on Law and Government hearing, Neilson asked:

"Are you aware the President of the United States cabinet positions are confirmed by the Senate?... Do you agree with that?"

Greenberger responded that yes, the confirmations are in the U.S. Constitution.

Neilson then asked why Council couldn't have the same powers.

"Question I have is why single this one out? Why not do it for all of them?," Greenberger said, referring to his opposition to the proposed veto powers for Council on the appointment of the Director Department of Development & Planning.

Greenberger also reminded Neilson that the City Charter would need to be changed to allow for such confirmations. Since the City Charter was signed in 1951, the only cabinet-level appointment subject to Council approval is city solicitor because the job calls for serving as adviser to both the administration and Council.

Neilson responded that he's working to change that.

Clarke ultimately pulled the veto power line from the Development and Planning bill. But he lhinted that the issue might come up later in a broader way.

"There is some thought that Council should have a confirmation process, particularly given the fact that last several administrations have ignored the charter and created either deputy mayors or secretaries that essentially took the roles and responsibilities that were laid out in the charter," Clarke said following the hearing. "You don't know who is going to end up in these positions. There's no vetting process for the existing structure."

Apparently that's Neilson's new project.

In an interview later, the new councilman (Neilson joined Council in August, replacing Bill Green who mid-term to chair the SRC), said that if the state and federal government cabinet positions are confirmed by the legislative branch, why can't local governments do the same.

He wants to include the managing director, director of finance, director of commerce, the city representative and if the Clarke measure passes, the director of development and planning.

Wouldn't that be weakening Philadelphia's strong-mayor form of government?

"To me it's not about power, it's about balance," Neilson said.

He added that his efforts might never come to fruition but he wanted to at least start talking about it with his colleagues and the administration. The Nutter administration doesn't "see the need for it," Neilson said.

But perhaps Council can aim at getting it done before the next administration comes in, he said.

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