The Rookie's Guide To City Council Not That We're Experts . . . But Here's Our Advice Anyway

Posted: November 28, 2006

TO: CAROL CAMPBELL, Bill Greenlee and Dan Savage, the three newest members of City Council sworn in yesterday.

No doubt it's a daunting prospect to step into the footsteps of those who came before you. The three members you replaced had among them decades of experience in City Council, and you have very little. Plus, they were actually elected.

By now, too, the floors of Council chambers are damp from the drool of the members who have been sitting on legislation because they weren't able to line up nine votes needed for a majority (and the 12 for a veto override.) We expect you to be pressed hard for your votes, and we hope you remain independent thinkers and not start selling your votes this early on.

You're there because of the kiss of approval from the city's political machine. Don't assume your incumbency will give you a rubber stamp to a more permanent Council seat. Voters do care about issues. Just ask the Harrisburg legislators who just lost their jobs over the pay raise.

Finally, in the spirit of civic responsibility, we'll offer four words of invaluable advice:

Don't. Get. Too. Comfortable.

Try to get some things done. In the months before May's primary, here are some hot button issues you might tackle:

Violence: With a few exceptions, notably Darrel Clarke and Frank Rizzo, Council hasn't made much of a statement, legislative or otherwise, that shows thatmembers are concerned with the city's rising tide of gun violence. It is a complex problem, but that means there are many areas, such as truancy and dropout rates, that can have an long-term impact and that are logical for Council to address.

Full Valuation: The Board of Revision of Taxes' interest in reforming the way city property is assessed and taxed is the monster in the closet that most people want to keep there. Full valuation has huge implications, and needs to be talked about more. Ignoring it won't make it go away.

Parks: Dissolving the Fairmount Park Commission and replacing it with a more effective governance board was successfully put on hold by park advocates, but it's likely to heat up again soon.

Smoking: The smoking ban has more installments than a "Die Hard" movie. Amendments to the very-long-in-coming bill are likely to hit the Council floor soon. Can't we all just get along?

Budget: How can you possibly figure out this complicated, arcane beast? Easy! We've lined up a tutor for you: Rob DuBow, former city budget director and now head of Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority. He says he'd be happy to give you a budget tutorial. Go to, or call him at 215-561-9160. He's waiting for your call. *

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