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A City Council power shift

A new rule would restore the president's power, diminished when John Street took office in '03.

With the Jan. 7 inauguration of Mayor-elect Michael Nutter, City Council President Anna C. Verna is poised to enjoy powers that she hasn't had for the last four years.

A proposed set of rules now circulating among Council's 17 members would restore Verna's authority to make decisions without the approval of Council's majority leader, a position soon to be held by Councilwoman Marian Tasco.

That hasn't been the case in the last four years.

Mayor Street, when he was elected to his second term in 2003, helped to orchestrate a sweeping power shift in Council by supporting a new rule requiring the president to get backing from the majority leader on issues such as the hiring and firing of Council staff, and the assignment of legislation to committees.

In addition, in cases where the president and majority leader disagreed, Council's minority leader was the tiebreaker.

Critics believed those changes empowered Street - a former Council president himself - since he was then viewed as at odds with Verna but more closely aligned with Majority Leader Jannie Blackwell and Minority Leader Brian O'Neill, a Republican.

With Street's departure, there appears to be little appetite to keep those changes in place.

"There is a collegiality and respect level in the Council that didn't exist in the term before this one," O'Neill said yesterday. Whereas the atmosphere was "kind of ugly" in the past, he said he no longer sees a need for the power-sharing arrangement, even though that means a diminishment of his own power.

"It was basically a way to try to get the Council to put aside political differences, and work together," he said, adding that in reality his role was minimal because Verna and Blackwell rarely disagreed.

A few weeks ago, Blackwell agreed to step down as majority leader, with Tasco stepping up to claim the the title.

Under the proposed changes, Verna would have to "consult" with Tasco, as well as the likely incoming majority whip, Councilman Darrell Clarke, but no formal sign-off by him would be required.

The new rules - which must be adopted when Council opens its new term next month - have drawn no known opposition, O'Neill said.

Tasco did not return a call yesterday.

The proposed rules were first circulated Dec. 10 at a Council luncheon Verna organized at La Veranda restaurant.

Yesterday, Verna's spokesman, Anthony Radwonski, acknowledged the activity, saying, "We are in the process of reviewing rules changes that occurred four years ago."