Clout: Public to get a say in Philadelphia City Council sessions

Posted: November 19, 2010

FOR MORE than half a century, most of the fun in City Council came from what the members said to or about their colleagues. That's about to change.

Now it's your turn to talk.

The state Supreme Court, in a 4-3 ruling made public yesterday, says Council has been violating the state's Sunshine Act by refusing to allow people to comment on legislation during Thursday's weekly sessions. Council argued that allowing people to comment in committee hearings before legislation is considered by the full Council was adequate.

The Homeowners Association of Philadelphia challenged the practice in 2007, amid concerns about legislation requiring property owners to list their city business-license numbers in advertisements for rentals. A Common Pleas judge ruled against the Homeowners Association, a decision later upheld by the state Commonwealth Court.

In the majority opinion, Justice Thomas Saylor said the Sunshine Act does not give Council the power to assign public comment to some other sort of meeting. Chief Justice Ronald Castille, writing the dissent, worried that the ruling would cause "disruption" in Council practices in use for more than 50 years.

"This will have a significant impact for all meetings in the future, way beyond our specific case," said Darrell Zaslow, attorney for the Homeowners Association. "We look forward to participating with Council effectively and respectfully. We're sure all citizens will be appropriate with their conduct before Council."

Victory laps before resolution

Republican State Committee has continued to lambaste Democrats in the wake of the general election, but there's been no word from state GOP chairman Rob Gleason about the still-pending dispute inside Philadelphia's Republican organization.

In September, the state party's credential committee stripped the title of Philadelphia GOP chairman from Vito Canuso, citing "numerous irregularities" in his election in June.

The credentials panel suggested that the seat remain vacant until "an election free of substantial irregularities" is conducted.

Gleason announced then that he was "temporarily" reinstating Canuso until after the election.

"I imagine we'll get to it in a few weeks," party spokesman Mike Barley said. "We're still kind of doing the victory lap here."

Canuso told PhillyClout that Gleason shouldn't bother.

"There won't be a new election, because we don't have to listen to them," Canuso said. "They don't run our organization. . . . If they think I shouldn't sit up there at state committee meetings, that's another issue. They can make that decision. It doesn't make any difference to me. It would save me a lot of time and money."

City Commission strikes back

The fascinating feud continues between the City Commission, which runs elections, and the Committee of Seventy, a nonprofit watchdog group.

The Committee of Seventy in June released a report on the May 18 primary election called "Five Easy Ways to Improve Local Elections." The group suggested the City Commission bring its website "into the 21st century," clamp down on electioneering, take charge of finding polling officials, mandate training for those officials and invite public feedback and then take it seriously.

Bob Lee, the Commission's voter-registration administrator, this week released the first of five responses. It's a fair reading of Lee's 11-page missive that he found the Committee of Seventy's report lacking. Lee spends a page and a half rebutting what Seventy had to say about his wife.

Allow us to explain:

Lee joked at a May 19 Commission meeting that his wife showed up at the wrong spot for her polling place on Election Day.

The Committee of Seventy then used her as an example of confusion in finding polling places.

Lee writes that his wife didn't check before heading to her polling place to see if it had been moved. There was a sign on the door directing voters to the new location across the street.

"Is Seventy implying that because I personally did not remember to tell my wife of the change, that it is indicative of anything more than that?" Lee asks, adding that he can't "personally inform all 1,064,000 registrants of their polling-place location."

Up go Philly insurance rates

Clear the streets and look both ways: Gov. Rendell, who leaves office in January, will soon be driving for the first time in 20 years.

At a Capitol news conference yesterday, Rendell said that like other former governors he'll likely have State Police aid for six months and that during that time he'll "practice" driving.

But Rendell hasn't driven since he was mayor. And then only at the Shore. For about a mile. Only in daylight. And he confessed, "I wasn't, to be honest, a great driver before, when I was driving a lot, so it could be a real problem."


"I want to communicate with the mayor. I've tried to communicate with the mayor. I don't know what the problem is, but anytime I get a chance to match phone calls with the mayor and come out a winner, I have to take it."

- John Dougherty, head of Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, on his lobbying efforts this week to keep state Rep. Dwight Evans from being re-elected as the top Democrat on the state House Appropriations Committee. Mayor Nutter lobbied for Evans, who lost the post he has held for 20 years.

Staff writers Bob Warner and John Baer contributed to this report.

Have tips or suggestions? Call Chris Brennan at 215-854-5973 or e-mail

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