Council districts move to new boundaries three years early

STEVEN M. FALK / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Councilman Brian O'Neill
STEVEN M. FALK / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Councilman Brian O'Neill
Posted: April 03, 2013

THOUSANDS of Philadelphians on Monday got a new district City Council person and likely didn't even know it.

Two years ago Council redrew its district boundaries and the changes were set to go into effect in 2016, but on March 14 - the day of Mayor Nutter's chaotic budget address - Council passed a bill that allows members to get a jump-start on their new districts.

Under the resolution, Council members will have control over zoning, constituent services, capital dollars and recreation activity grants for their new districts.

Why the rush?

Councilman Brian O'Neill, who introduced the measure, did not return calls for comment, but sources say O'Neill was looking to make zoning-related changes in the areas he would represent in 2016, if re-elected, including extending restrictions related to residential day-care centers.

But sources said O'Neill was getting resistance from Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez, whose 7th District previously overlapped with O'Neill's new district boundaries in Northeast Philadelphia.

"I'm not completely sure all of the legal protocols were followed as it relates to this," said Sanchez. "I will continue to be active in the old district as in the new one."

A major sticking point in the redistricting debate was the 56th ward in the Northeast, represented by powerful Democratic leader John Sabatina Sr. The ward was divided between Sanchez, O'Neill and Councilman Bobby Henon. O'Neill fought to maintain a majority Republican district, but was stuck with the 56th ward.

Good-government watchdog group Committee of Seventy said the resolution is troublesome and raised concerns over its legality.

"The Committee of Seventy is really disturbed because the districts don't legally change hands until 2016. It should not be up to the district Council person to take over," said commitee policy director Ellen Kaplan. "For voters, their district Council person is the person they voted for. Whose interests are being represented here?"

Elections lawyer Gregory Harvey said he'd be surprised to see a successful legal challenge.

Meanwhile, some Council members like Henon were looking for clarity on district boundaries. "It kind of doesn't make sense," he said. "I'm going to have a whole new area and I won't be able to serve it for a couple of years?"


On Twitter: @Jan_Ransom

Blog: PhillyClout.com

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