This is City Council's final week before the illustrious body adjourns for summer recess. Then, school's out! The legislative body won't legislate for three months. Instead, members will attend block parties and perform services to keep constituents happy, which, correct me if I'm wrong, is the responsibility of city agencies.

Members say they work very, very hard during the summer, which is the sort of thing people who work very, very hard, like you, for example, never need to say. That's because you don't stop doing the thing you're hired to do for three months while being able to legally hold outside jobs. I mean, if Council works so hard in the summer, why does everyone call it recess?

So you might think that in the waning days of the session, Council would be up to major business - like politicians in Washington grappling with health care - passing big bills, wrestling with major problems, taking stands, leaving a mark.

But, no.

On Thursday, Council passed a number of bills on street cafes, zoning ordinances, ads on newsstands, tiny town stuff.

There was no talk of fixing the utterly broken Board of Revision of Taxes, or much discussion of taxes.

And after two years of discussions about plastic bags, the Committee on the Environment prepared a bill that would ban stores from using them. A full Council vote is scheduled for Thursday.

The twist: The ban won't be enforced until July 2011. Coincidentally, that's two months after the primaries for Council. Whether this is the sort of issue that jams up a politician's reelection chances will now remain a mystery for the ages.

Why does it take four years to do what San Francisco accomplished in half that time? Does it take stores that long to adapt? Are Philadelphians so slow, so resistant to change, that they require an additional two years to understand that plastic bags are an environmental nuisance, and cloth and biodegradable ones are so much better? And, yes, newspapers should be looking into alternatives, too. I asked Jim Kenney, who told me to talk to Frank DiCicco, who told me to talk to Curtis Jones, who said:

"The purpose of this, and the beauty of this, is you listen to testimony, listen to everybody, and probably the truth is somewhere in between, and now you have a little change. I just think you allow people the benefit of time to convert to the reality of paper and biodegradable plastic and take it a little slower."

A little change, a little slower.

That ought to be Council's motto.

The only time Council members appeared animated last Thursday was when matters directly affected them. Bill Greenlee excoriated city Realtors for a mailer alarming voters about a nonexistent 19 percent property-tax hike by Council. For a second smash week, Majority Leader Marian Tasco delivered arias of indignation directed at Board of Ethics Executive Director Shane Creamer for violating his board's confidentiality rule.

Which is the very definition of pure Philadelphia politics.

The board, established in November 2006, has oversight over Council. The same day Tasco called for Creamer's resignation, the board was in court suing Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez over alleged 2007 campaign violations.

In City Council, "the private interest, or the personal interest, is paramount over the public good," said former member Dan McElhatton.

Try to find heroes in these battles, politicians willing to take a stand on difficult issues, officials willing to make this city a better place for the long haul.

Astonish us, Council. Take a look at Washington and lead, embrace change, now and in large measures.

Instead, the goal seems to be to get elected in perpetuity, while keeping key constituents and power players happy. The only time members take risks that might cost them votes is when their livelihood or comfort is at stake, as with the DROP program or the use of city vehicles. Otherwise it's best to prolong matters for a few years.

Members can rail about ethics until the cows come home, but the cars returning to the city? Never.

Contact staff writer Karen Heller
at 215-854-2586 or kheller@phillynews.com.