A good-government group and a political action committee have teamed up to push for the elimination of the Office of the City Commissioners, which oversees elections in Philadelphia.
The Committee of Seventy and Philadelphia 3.0, a PAC created last year to influence City Council races, announced Wednesday the launch of the Better Philadelphia Elections Coalition (BPEC), a group of a dozen organizations, which is endorsing a new elections system.
The coalition is calling for City Council to replace the three elected commissioners with an election director appointed by the mayor and an appointed, unpaid, bipartisan Board of Elections.
"There are a variety of great ways elections are operated across Pennsylvania, but none look like ours," said Ali Perelman, executive director of Philadelphia 3.0. "It is because our problems are systemic that this coalition is advocating for a new system."
Philadelphia's commissioners serve as the city's board of elections. The chairman is paid $138,612; the others receive $129,373. Each is allotted a staff. The office has a $9.6 million budget and 98 full-time employees.
Criticism of the commissioners heated up in January, following the reelection of Anthony Clark as chairman. Clark was known for rarely coming into his City Hall office and failing to vote in six recent elections.
On Wednesday, the coalition supporting the abolition of the commissioners said the fight was about more than Clark. It said the commissioners as a group were "ineffective" and lacked accountability.
The commissioners have rejected the idea that the current system is flawed. They say they are accountable to the voters who elected them.
Commissioner Al Schmidt, the sole Republican on the three-member board, attended the news conference Wednesday as a spectator.
"The key to good governance is electing good people," Schmidt said later. "Seventy is naive to think that political appointments aren't political."
David Thornburgh, executive director of the Committee of Seventy, said if Council agreed to abolish the Office of the City Commissioners, the change would not take effect until the current commissioners completed their terms in 2019.
The coalition working with Thornburgh includes Asian Americans United and Disability Rights Pennsylvania.
The call to end the commissioner posts comes on the heels of last month's primary, which by all accounts went remarkably smoothly.
Thornburgh said he did not think that was reason enough to offer the commissioners a reprieve.