After last year's budget bedlam, City Council battens down the hatches

Posted: March 06, 2014

MAYOR NUTTER'S annual budget address became a City Hall circus last year - complete with posters of Nutter as Bozo the Clown - as furious municipal union members made it impossible for him to finish the speech.

Could this year's address be more like a private party?

Two Democratic insiders familiar with the planning say access to City Council's fourth-floor chamber will be by invitation only when Nutter makes his budget address at the meeting tomorrow morning, while the fifth-floor balconies will be closed to the public.

One said: "Apparently they have a list, and if your name ain't on the list, you're not getting in."

According to the state's Sunshine Act, any scheduled Council meeting is open to the public if nine of the 17 Council members attend. The city's Home Rule Charter says: "The meetings of the Council shall at all times be open and accessible to the public."

A source close to Council said each member will be allowed two invites and the remainder of the seats in the chamber will be sectioned off for Nutter's guests, with Philadelphia police checking identifications at Council's fourth-floor entrances.

"I don't know how they're going to do it," the source said.

Council President Darrell Clarke, asked yesterday how he might avoid the problems from last year's budget address, said it was "probably prudent not to broadcast" what security steps would be taken.

"We will do what we need to do to have a secure environment to ensure that the mayor is allowed to deliver his budget message," Clarke said, adding that he anticipates concerns among the city's blue-collar union workers and employees at Philadelphia Gas Works, which is up for sale.

Clarke, through a spokeswoman, later refused to say whether the public would be allowed to attend the budget address in Council's chamber or the balconies.

Nutter spokesman Mark McDonald yesterday referred questions on security to Clarke.

"City Council has a stated meeting at which the mayor is a guest," McDonald said. "Any information related to that meeting should come from Council."

District Council 33, which represents blue-collar city employees, mailed fliers to its 10,000 members, calling on them to rally tomorrow in Council's chambers, a union official said. "Let the politicians know it's time for a fair contract!" the flier read.

Nutter insisted on making his budget address last year, despite threats from city unions that they would disrupt the proceedings.

Blue-collar and white-collar city employees, along with firefighters, were protesting long-running contract disputes. (Nutter last week reached a tentative deal with the white-collar union.)

Clarke let Nutter try to speak for 10 minutes as union members, packing the chamber, jeered and blew whistles. Clarke then called for a recess, surprising Nutter, who was still trying to speak.

Nutter delivered his speech in a well-guarded Mayor's Reception Room later that day.

It was the first time in modern history that a mayor was unable to deliver his budget address in Council's chamber.

The Home Rule Charter says a mayor must "submit to Council not later than 90 days before the end of the fiscal year his operating budget message and a proposed annual operating budget ordinance," giving Nutter an April 1 deadline to deliver his budget message and ordinance - though it does not have to be a public speech.

Zack Stalberg, president of the good-government watchdog group Committee of Seventy, said that he hopes Council finds a way to admit the public tomorrow but that he doesn't believe the plan would violate the Sunshine Act.

"It's obviously not an ideal solution, but given the national embarrassment that occurred last year, I can understand why they would pursue that," Stalberg said of the security measures.

On Twitter: @ChrisBrennanDN


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