The Committee of Seventy has become increasingly concerned about the proliferation of Charter amendments over the past 20 years. Like a constitution, Philadelphia’s Home Rule Charter determines the overall structure of our local government and should be changed only with great care and deliberation.
But some Charter amendments in recent years and especially during the tenure of Council President Darrell Clarke have chipped away at the Mayor’s powers, warping the relationship between the executive and legislative branches. The proposed creation of a permanent, Charter-mandated Chief Public Safety Director that would be selected by the Mayor but approved by City Council is the most recent example of this power struggle.
We agree there is an urgent need to improve public safety and reduce gun violence in Philadelphia. This is the city’s top priority. But while we take no position on the ultimate merits of having a Chief Public Safety Director, the amendment as drafted could potentially complicate and convolute the current duties within city government for keeping residents safe and addressing gun violence. Therefore, this proposal calls for careful scrutiny.
At a minimum, such a Charter amendment should be vetted thoroughly not only by public safety experts and community stakeholders but also by those officials under the Mayor who would be affected by the change. Instead of taking time for proper vetting, Council made last-minute changes to this proposal before final passage in order to push a question onto the May ballot. If Council didn’t break the law with this maneuver, it certainly violated the spirit of sound legislative process.
Now, despite Mayor Kenney’s concerns, Council today overrode his veto of the legislation, shutting out the executive branch on this important matter, as well as the next Mayor whose public safety leadership and operations will be directly impacted.
Seventy urges those candidates running for Mayor and City Council to consider carefully the ongoing power struggle and its harm to good governance and, ultimately, City Hall’s ability to serve Philadelphians and improve their quality of life. We look forward to hearing those candidates’ specific plans, both about major issues facing the city AND how we should undertake a comprehensive review of the 1951 Home Rule Charter and powers delineated between the Mayor and Council. After more than 70 years, it’s time.
The Committee of Seventy is a nonpartisan civic leadership organization that advances representative, ethical and effective government in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania through citizen engagement and public policy advocacy.