Three City Council members filed an emergency motion in Common Pleas Court yesterday, seeking to prevent Mayor Nutter from closing 11 city libraries by next Thursday without getting Council's permission.
Democratic Councilman Bill Green orchestrated the filing, joined by Republican Councilman Jack Kelly and Democratic Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell.
The motion seeks to compel Nutter and Siobhan R. Reardon, president of the Free Library, "to comply with their duties under valid state and local law and seek the requisite approval of City Council before closing, abandoning or allowing to go into disuse city-owned capital facilities or selling city-owned real estate."
The motion cites two ordinances and a section of the City Charter to claim that the mayor cannot sell city buildings without Council approval.
"I choose to act because there's a law on the books, and I swore to uphold the law of the City of Philadelphia," Green said.
City Solicitor Shelley Smith was unavailable yesterday to respond on behalf of the Nutter administration. She has said that at least one of the ordinances cited in the filing is not valid, as it conflicts with the charter's requirement that the mayor must balance the budget, which will have a $1 billion or more deficit over the next five years.
Yesterday's action follows a lawsuit filed Tuesday by seven city residents and the white-collar municipal union that also seeks to prevent Nutter from closing the libraries without Council permission. That lawsuit included anecdotal accounts of the plaintiffs' library use and described how they would be affected if the branches were closed.
"That's an emotional suit. This is dispassionate. It's a clear and very simple request of the court, which is to ask the Free Library board and the administration to comply with city law," Green said, adding that lawyers on his staff drafted the motion and would handle the court appearances as well.
Irv Ackelsberg, who represents the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said he was "gratified that Council members are standing up in support of the action we took."
A hearing is scheduled on Green's motion and the lawsuit for 10 a.m. Monday in City Hall Room 426.
Green said that in addition to Kelly and Blackwell, who were not available for comment yesterday, he had the support of several other Council members. He did not approach all members before filing, however, and he did not discuss the matter with Council President Anna C. Verna before filing the motion. Through a spokesman, Verna said the Council members who filed the motion were independently elected officials who were free to do what they believed was right.
Some Council members, Green said, were reluctant to sign onto the motion because they thought Nutter might retaliate. He cited the possibility of cuts for recreation centers and other facilities.
"There is a fear if they participate in a suit, they will lose resources," Green said.
Mayoral spokesman Doug Oliver rejected that suggestion.
"Absolutely untrue. This administration doesn't operate that way," he said. "I'd suggest that a more plausible reason for why more Council members may not have signed on is they're more interested in working collaboratively with the administrations toward a solution to this budget crisis."
That view was shared by Councilman Jim Kenney, who has frequently clashed with Green.
"Certainly any Council member who feels they want to take some action has the right to take it," Kenney said. "A responsible elected official, however, should come up with an alternative solution, which has not happened so far."