A NEW DAY FOR COUNCIL?
IT'S THE LEAST WE CAN EXPECT
WITH THREE new City Council members being sworn in with a new mayor in January, and Jannie Blackwell opting not to fight over the Council majority leader position, it's tempting to see a new day dawning for City Council.
Let's hope so, anyway. The 17-member legislative body is coming off an unremarkable run that has marked them less as a body and more as a collection of teenagers at turns rowdy, petulant and sometimes even delinquent (c.f. Rick Mariano). The strong-mayor government makes Council weaknesses shine brighter, but the petty issues, lack of leadership and Council alignments and feuds that you need a map to keep track of don't help, either.
Mayor-elect Michael Nutter will start his term under a mantle of great expectations. So why don't we place similiarly high expectations on Council?
For example, let's expect Council members to remember that they are charged with helping to govern the city as a whole. It's too easy to take up side issues like foie gras and plastic garbage bags because the issues that really matter - taxes, full valuation, labor contracts, public safety - are difficult and complicated. And sure, district Council people must represent their constituency, but too often, it seems they're like developers who spend all their time negotiating community benefit agreements instead of putting up the building.
Let's expect Council to remember it isn't Christmas dinner. At its worst, Council is one big dysfunctional family squabbling over a holiday dinner, with shifting loyalties and secret agendas.
And while every mayor needs loyal opposition, too often, Council opposition is fueled by some weird agenda or nasty personal history. That hurts everyone.
Let's expect Council to step up to the plate on the big issues. And while Council's purview is somewhat limited, consider the important policy shifts in the city - tax reduction, ethics reform - that originated there. Council can do plenty on issues like public safety. For example, if the new police commissioner is going to be able to hand-pick his leadership, a charter change will need to be drafted and ready to go for the next election, in April. The specter of full valuation, which no one wants to touch, needs a Council champion.
Will a new day dawn for City Council? Maybe if we expect it, we will get it. *