What's At Stake In The Charter Vote

Posted: April 25, 1994

In July 1992, the 15-member Philadelphia Independent Charter Commission convened to revise the city's constitution, a 200-page document that hadn't been thoroughly reviewed in 43 years.

Since then, the volunteer commissioners have met for hundreds of hours, reviewed more than 2,000 recommendations for charter revision, and produced reams of official materials - enough to fill 21 three-inch-thick binders.

Now it's up to you to decide - voting YES or NO on the question that appears May 10 on the primary ballot.

There are 62 recommendations, with strong arguments for and against many of them. All this week, we're exploring the most hotly debated questions on these pages. (See Page 35.)

As you ponder the issues, here are a few points to keep in mind:

* The commission's stated mission was to make Philadelphia's charter more flexible so government can run more efficiently. The commission vowed to balance increased flexibility with increased accountability, to guarantee that public officials would make changes responsibly. You must determine whether the proposed changes deliver on that pledge.

* Remember that many of the charter change proposals amount to minor - but

worthwhile - tinkering that will improve services, save money, or both. Allowing the Free Library to dispose of old books without losing money is one. So is eliminating the confusion of separate contract numbering systems in the Finance and Law departments. Other recommendations, such as separating the city representative and director of Commerce, legalize accepted practices that technically violated the 1952 charter.

* It's easy - and wrong - to cynically assume that anyone who criticizes the proposed charter changes represents a constituency threatened by change, while anyone who supports the charter revisions has something Machiavellian to gain. Try to keep the undercurrents of politics in perspective, by focusing on the substance of the arguments, rather than on the allegiances of the advocates.

* The charter vote is all or nothing. You'll have to decide whether changes you support balance out objections you may have to other recommendations.

Whatever the politics of the moment, consider whether the proposals serve the city's best interests for the long haul.

Our pro and con columns will help you understand the broad strokes of the debate, but to make a really informed decision, read the commission's summary of its recommendations and "Report to the Voters," which explains their reasoning. Both are available free at branches of the Philadelphia Free Library or the clerk of City Council's office, Room 402 in City Hall.

Even if you do your homework, the charter vote may be a tough call. Like you, we're studying the issues, still making up our minds. We'll air our own views next week.


If a nation could be charged with child neglect, there would be significant evidence against the United States - especially when it comes to childhood immunizations.

More than a third of our children - especially those under 2 - are at risk for serious childhood diseases that could be prevented.

Since he took office, President Clinton has set a goal of increasing immunizations of children, pledging both money and government effort.

But, as Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala says, government cannot solve this problem alone. It's time for the rest of us to act.

Parents should find out whether the kids' immunizations are complete. Doctors must use all opportunities to vaccinate children. Businesses can hang flyers, religious leaders can preach immunizations, volunteer organizations can volunteer.

Rarely do we get such a chance to make a difference.

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