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What Happens in City Hall When Council Resigns?

Four City Councilmembers have already resigned to run for Mayor — with the possibility of two more leaving before the new session begins. A former Council staffer explains what that means

What Happens in City Hall When Council Resigns?

Four City Councilmembers have already resigned to run for Mayor — with the possibility of two more leaving before the new session begins. A former Council staffer explains what that means

Right after Labor Day, Philadelphia City Councilmembers Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, Derek Green, and Cherelle Parker resigned to run for Mayor. Before them, former Councilmember Allan Domb resigned to contemplate a run. And besides those four, two more of the 17 members — Helen Gym and David Oh — may resign for the same purpose. All these resignations have people concerned, questioning how the City will function. This column offers some answers.

Why do they have to resign in the first place?

After all, Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman didn’t have to resign to run for the United States Senate, and Attorney General Josh Shapiro didn’t have to resign to run for Governor. So, what’s the deal?

The answer is that the Philadelphia Charter requires all city employees, including elected ones like Councilmembers, to resign before running for any public office. It was meant to curtail people from neglecting their job to campaign (obviously, it wasn’t a foolproof plan).

Despite the changes, City Council will continue functioning. Legislation will still be passed, and Philadelphians will continue to be represented — unless (for now) you live in the 7th or 9th District. 

Who will be left?

After the expected Councilmembers resign to run for Mayor, the following will remain standing:

Council President and 5th District Councilmember Darrell Clarke

1st District Councilmember Mark Squilla

2nd District Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson

3rd District Councilmember Jamie Gauthier

4th District Councilmember Curtis Jones

6th District Councilmember Mike Driscoll

8th District Councilmember Cindy Bass

10th District Councilmember Brian O’Neill

Councilmember At-Large Kendra Brooks

Councilmember At-Large Katherine Gilmore-Richardson

Councilmember At-Large Isaiah Thomas

Current state of affairs

Once the Councilmembers resign, several committees will lack leadership, including the committees on:

Finance (vacated by Green).

Education, (vacated by Quiñones-Sanchez).

Appropriations (vacated by Quiñones-Sanchez).

Labor and Civil Service, (vacated by Parker).

Law and Government (vacated by Parker).

Child and Youth (vacated by Gym, assuming she resigns).

People with Disabilities and Special Needs (vacated by Green).

Fiscal Stability and Intergovernmental Cooperation (vacated by Domb).

Global Opportunities and Creative Innovative Economy (vacated by Oh, assuming he resigns).

Who will be most adversely impacted?

Because of councilmanic prerogative, Council Districts are little fiefdoms where District Councilmembers have near-total control over land in their district. This guarantees zero opposition to legislation that is district-specific. The thinking goes: How should other Councilmembers know better about a District when they weren’t elected to represent it? So, you’ll rarely see another Councilmember vote against district-specific legislation, even when they disagree.

This has benefits like allowing the Councilmember closest to district-specific issues to have the most say in how Council addresses them. But a significant downside to this discretion that Philadelphians in the 7th and 9th districts are about to experience is that no one will guard their interests in place of their District Councilmember.

The volume of work the remaining members of Council have will increase. And that will cause internal chaos, namely, with the committees. 

Having run the legislative teams of two District Councilmembers, I know there are many community needs and wants that only District Councilmembers can provide. Just to name a few: introducing legislation to get permit parking on your block, making no truck-parking zones, creating and extending Business Improvement Districts, changing zoning regulations to permit (or prevent) certain development, approving the sale of city-property in their district, getting a street renamed to honor a local hero, and so much more. All those things can only be addressed by whoever represents the district it’s for. When no one’s representing that district, all those needs go neglected. This will be the case for Philadelphians in the 7th and 9th districts until the special election is held to fill those vacancies. (The 7th District, by the way, includes Kensington, Franklinville, Juniata and Frankford; the 9th District covers Mt. Airy, East Oak Lane, Fern Rock, Lawndale and Oxford Circle).

Since at-large Councilmembers like Derek Green don’t represent specific neighborhoods, their departure from Council won’t leave constituents in the lurch.

What will be the internal impact?

The volume of work the remaining members of Council have will increase. And that will cause internal chaos, namely, with the committees.

Committee chairs hold a patent on issues under their oversight. I’ve previously described it as chairmanic deference — a sort of councilmanic prerogative-adjacent. That deference comes with opportunity. It’ll also transfer some hefty responsibilities to the shoulders of another Councilmember.

On top of the committees they already chair, some Councilmembers will have to take on additional committees. So, instead of dealing with two Department Commissioners under your oversight, some may find themselves dealing with four. And instead of having to schedule and manage two committees, some will find themselves with three.

As for their staff (more on them later), I know this will be painful. (This is the part where I thank God for no longer being in Council). They’ll have to track all the legislation in the new committees their boss takes on, plus the legislation in the committees their boss already has. They’ll also have to field and schedule added internal Council briefing requests from city departments under the oversight of their new committees and draft legislation to address the nitty-gritty legislative needs of a department they might have never interacted with before. It’ll be a grind.

What happens to the staff?

After a Councilmember resigns, their staff remains until someone is elected to succeed the Councilmember they worked for. While there, they continue to do constituent services, helping people who call or walk into the office asking for assistance with trash pickup, applying for city programs, and utilizing numerous city-provided services. Sometimes those staffers end up working for the person who succeeds their former boss. Others will leave to work in a city department or another Councilmember’s office or they’ll leave government to do something else. Of course, if their former boss wins the mayoral election, they may follow them into that office.

What happens next?

Council President Clarke ordered a special election to replace Councilmembers Quiñones-Sánchez and Parker, to be held on Election Day, November 8, 2022. In the case of district seats, the local ward leaders select candidates for the November 8 ballot. The 7th District Democratic ward leaders chose Quetcy Lozada, former chief of staff to Quiñones-Sánchez. In the 9th District, they chose Democratic committee person and executive director of Youth Action Anthony Phillips. The at-large seats will remain unfilled for more than a year, until Election Day next year (November 7, 2023).

The Bottom Line

Despite the changes, City Council will continue functioning. Legislation will still be passed, and Philadelphians will continue to be represented — unless (for now) you live in the 7th or 9th District.

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