When City Council resumes work Thursday after 12 weeks off, members will face a rather tepid agenda and will likely continue to avoid any discussion on the administration's proposed sale of the Philadelphia Gas Works.
With all 17 Council members up for reelection next year and an open mayor's race, every legislative move will be carefully measured, current and former politicians said. The agenda for Thursday's Council meeting could confirm that, with the biggest item - other than a bill to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana - being a nonbinding resolution asking voters to support the idea of getting rid of the School Reform Commission.
"I don't see any significant reform issues or issues that would be controversial being put forward," said Angel L. Ortiz, who served for 20 years on Council before relinquishing his at-large seat in 2004. "I don't see anyone introducing issues that will draw attention to themselves. I don't see anyone trying to ruffle the waters."
The biggest piece of legislation this term would be the sale of PGW, which the administration is hoping for a Council member to introduce. But that is a big if. The bill is on hold while Council awaits a study it commissioned on whether the sale makes sense. Council President Darrell L. Clarke has been skeptical of the deal.
The marijuana bill that passed Council at the end of its spring term, and which Mayor Nutter agreed this week to sign after revisions, will be reintroduced to reflect the amendments agreed upon by Councilman James Kenney, its sponsor, and Nutter.
The compromise calls for a separate offense - and penalty - for public use of the drug. Those caught using marijuana in public would be charged with a noncriminal summary offense, and would face a $100 fine or up to nine hours of community service, according to Kenney, instead of the bill's $25 fine for private possession of small amounts.
Council rules will be suspended to allow for the amendments to be introduced Thursday and final passage of the bill next Thursday, Kenney said.
While the pot bill is ostensibly a done deal, and the PGW sale is still in limbo, the focus Thursday will be on the call for abolishing the School Reform Commission, the state board that has overseen the city's schools since 2001.
A coalition of school activists - including public-sector union members, teachers and parents - is asking Council to put a question on the Nov. 4 ballot asking for voter support to abolish the SRC and return schools to local control.
Council must decide Thursday whether to put the nonbinding resolution on the ballot in time for the printing deadline.
Even if the chamber agrees to put the question on the November ballot, and it passes muster with voters, it can't force state officials to toss out the SRC. The commission was established 13 years ago to replace the school board and shift oversight of the district to the state.
Because of the language in the school takeover law, the only way to abolish the SRC is for the panel to vote itself out of existence.
"We need to open this conversation," Councilwoman Maria Quiñones Sánchez said.
On the PGW sale, Council is awaiting the results of two studies it commissioned for $522,760 from Concentric Energy Advisors of Massachusetts. One study assesses the Nutter administration's proposed $1.86 billion sale of the gas works to UIL Holdings Corp. of New Haven, Conn; the other looks at whether there are better alternatives for the city than selling the 176-year-old utility.