Nutter's a real task-force master

ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Mayor Nutter speaking at a March 7 news conference to announce the establishment of yet another office: This one was for the Office of Immigrant and Multicultural Affairs.
ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Mayor Nutter speaking at a March 7 news conference to announce the establishment of yet another office: This one was for the Office of Immigrant and Multicultural Affairs.
Posted: March 22, 2013

THE MAYOR'S Office of New Urban Mechanics. The Advisory Commission on Construction Industry Diversity. The Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy.

What do these things have in common? They all came into existence with the stroke of Mayor Nutter's pen.

Nutter is on pace to create or remake more offices, task forces, commissions and advisory bodies than any other mayor (he trails only Wilson Goode, who created 34) since the 1951 adoption of the Home Rule Charter. Many of these groups have been lauded for focusing attention and resources on previously ignored issues. Others are seen as political diversions, and observers question whether they're made to solve problems or to create the appearance of problem-solving.

In little more than five years, Nutter has used executive orders to establish 31 such groups. His predecessor, John Street, created 15 in eight years. Before that, Ed Rendell created 30 and Goode created 34. Bill Green, Frank Rizzo, James Tate and Richardson Dilworth rarely used executive orders.

(Mayors also can create or replace entities without executive orders. Nutter has done so a half-dozen times, but there's no conclusive way to compare that number to his predecessors'.)

"Whether they make a difference really depends on the actual circumstances and the people and the leadership and whether the problem can be solved. Sometimes this stuff's just too deep," said Sam Katz, a former mayoral candidate and chairman of a state board that oversees Philly's finances. "When they are created for diverting attention from the problem, they are generally a waste of time and money."

Nutter and past mayors sometimes create entities because they have no other way to attack an issue, said Randall Miller, a historian at St. Joseph's University. Nutter's shaky relationship with Council, he said, could be a reason he frequently turns to what he can control.

"When you're unable to get things done legislatively, you want to get it done through your executive powers," Miller said, adding that mayors use these bodies "partly so they can say they're dealing with the problem without really dealing with the problem."

Nutter said he doesn't create executive bodies to dodge issues.

"If we were trying to hide a problem, why would you have a public executive order and appoint a bunch of people to work on the issue?" he asked. "I give a lot of thought. There is a person and a reason for any of these entities."

Many, like issue-based task forces, comprise people from outside city government "for the purpose of generating information, engaging with the citizenry," he said. Most of those, Nutter noted, cost the taxpayers nothing.

The cost for other entities, such as new mayoral offices, is usually a few new salaries added to the Mayor's Office budget. Some are supported by grants.

Several of the offices and boards established by Nutter have been widely applauded. The ethics task force, for instance, made numerous recommendations that became law, such as the creation of the city's registration system for lobbyists.

Members of the standing LGBT Advisory Board said they are proud of their work aiding LGBT Affairs Director Gloria Casarez.

"I feel like our issues are very well-heard," said board co-chairwoman Elicia Gonzales, director of the Gay and Lesbian Latino AIDS Education Initiative.

Members of some other groups, however, said they were disappointed that their work hasn't resulted in more progress.

A. Bruce Crawley, president of the Millennium 3 Management marketing firm, said his experience with the Mayor's Advisory Commission on Construction Industry Diversity was a mixed bag.

On one hand, Crawley said he's glad that Nutter is paying attention to the issue. He applauded the administration's crackdown on vendors who circumvent minority-participation requirements.

On the other hand, he said, the diversity of the construction workforce is still a major issue and the city could be doing more. Crawley pointed to the group's recommendation that the city put more pressure on project owners to insist on diversity from the top down, which he says hasn't happened yet in a significant way.

"I do appreciate the fact that there was a focus on [the issue], that there was some emphasis on it, but there needs to be a lot more vitality," he said.

In other cases, the groups' goals run into political realities.

Harold Epps, president of PRWT Services, chaired the Mayor's Task Force on Tax Policy and Economic Competitiveness, which called for, in part, reducing the tax burden on businesses and simplifying the tax code.

Some proposals "have been implemented - not as many as we would like," he said. "I would like to see them be more productive if there's going be a task force. . . . I'd like to see the outcomes of them be taken more seriously."

Epps said he's served on task forces in other cities and understands that politics can get in the way.

"We look at it through one lens and the administration has to look through it in many," he said. Nutter spokesman Mark McDonald noted that the city has adopted many of the group's proposals, such as one that presaged the Actual Value Initiative, the city's new property-tax system.


On Twitter: @SeanWalshDN

Blog: PhillyClout.com

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