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Monthly Archives: October 2014

October 30th | Posted In Philadelphia

Your Official YIP 2014 Ballot Questions Guide

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On November 4th, Philadelphians will elect a governor, congresspersons, state legislators, and more. They’ll also vote on three ballot measures.

So what’s a ballot measure? What do they do? How can I be an informed voter when it’s my turn to vote “yay” or “nay” on these things?

Being an informed voter on ballot measures is surprisingly difficult. Even I, YIP Advocacy Vice Chair, had to call some seriously knowledgeable people to get anything close to real information on this. Google, sadly, fails voters sometimes.

Below is the text of the ballot initiatives, as well as a plain-text statement and a YIP-provided translation.  Happy voting!  [Disclaimer: YIP takes no official position on any of these questions.]

 

Question 1

Shall The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to establish and define the functions of the Office of Sustainability, headed by a Director of Sustainability?

 

Plain English version:

 

The City’s current Office of Sustainability was established by the Mayor in 2008 to set sustainability targets and to evaluate the City’s progress in meeting those targets. The proposed Charter change would make the Office permanent by formally creating, in the Charter itself, an Office of Sustainability. The Office would be headed by the Director of Sustainability, to be appointed by the Mayor. The Office would be responsible for developing and coordinating the implementation of policies and programs to meet the City’s sustainability goals. These goals will relate to matters such as energy use, air and water quality, tracking of greenhouse gas emissions, solid waste management, access to open space and local and healthy food, tree canopy coverage and climate change preparedness planning.

 

What does it mean?

 

The Office of Sustainability was created in 2009 by an administrative order by Mayor Nutter. According to the Office’s website, it strives to set “15 sustainability targets in the areas of energy, environment, equity, economy, and engagement to make Philadelphia the greenest city in America by 2015.”

&nbps;

Is Philadelphia the greenest city? Maybe a bit ambitious. Portland, Oregon still exists, after all (and the Maine one, too). But, as of now, this office is subject to the whims of the current mayor. Our next mayor could disband the office entirely.

&nbps;

This ballot measure would prevent that from happening by making the office permanent by adding it to the City Charter. Not much about what the Office does would be any different; it would just be permanent.

 

Question 2

Shall The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to transfer responsibility for managing and operating the City’s jails from the Department of Public Welfare and the Board of Trustees of Philadelphia Prisons to a new Department of Prisons and Board of Trustees?

 

Plain English version:

 

Currently, the City’s Home Rule Charter assigns the responsibility of operating the City’s prisons to two entities. The Board of Trustees of Philadelphia Prisons is responsible for the direction and control of the management of the City’s prisons, which includes selection of the Superintendent of the City’s prisons, who administers the City’s prisons. The Department of Public Welfare (commonly referred to as the Department of Human Services, or “DHS”) has general supervisory responsibility in connection with the City’s prisons.

The proposed Charter change would create a new Department of Prisons, responsible for operating the City’s prisons. The Department would be headed by a Prisons Commissioner, who would supervise the management and operation of the City’s prisons. He or she also would be responsible for maintaining a program for facilitating the reintegration of individuals returning from incarceration. The Prisons Commissioner would be appointed by, and would report to, the City’s Managing Director. The Board of Trustees of Philadelphia Prisons would be responsible for adopting standards and guidelines to be considered by the Prisons Commissioner when making policy relating to the City’s prisons.

 

What does it mean?

 

If you thought Question 1 was getting deep into the bureaucratic weeds, boy does Question 2 have a surprise in store for you!

Right now, City jails are run by the Department of Human Services (DHS) – the same Department that’s responsible for abused and neglected children, as well as for employing your humble author.  Foster care and prison probably don’t go together, but this is how things were set up for some ancient reason.

Technically, then, the Department of Prisons is subordinate to DHS. Functionally, it operates pretty independently.  This ballot measure would pull Prisons out and make it its own, full-grown Department. In addition, the Mayor’s Office of Re-entry would join the new Department of Prisons, putting all of the City’s prison eggs into one concrete-and-barbed-wire basket.

This would also allow the new Prisons commissioner to appoint his/her own deputies (each commissioner gets a certain set number). In theory, this would allow the commissioner to have greater control over the department by allowing him/her to install employees that will best work towards whatever vision the commissioner sets forth.  Right now, deputies are either pre-existing civil-service employees or appointments generously bequeathed by the DHS commissioner.

There doesn’t appear to be any pushback on this by the labor unions.

Just to clarify: this initiative will not result in the building of more prisons.  It’s a common misconception.  This is just a bureaucratic shuffle.

 

Question 3

 

Should the City of Philadelphia borrow ONE HUNDRED THIRTY-SEVEN MILLION TWO HUNDRED NINETY-FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS ($137,295,000.00) to be spent for and toward capital purposes as follows: Transit; Streets and Sanitation; Municipal Buildings; Parks, Recreation and Museums; and Economic and Community Development?

 

Plain English statement:

 

This ballot question, if approved by the voters, would authorize the City to borrow $137,295,000 for capital purposes, thereby increasing the City’s indebtedness by $137,295,000. Capital purposes means, generally, to make expenditures that will result in something of value with a useful life to the City of more than five years, for example, acquisitions of real estate, or construction of or improvements to buildings, property or streets.

The money to be borrowed would be used by the City for five identified purposes, namely, Transit; Streets and Sanitation; Municipal Buildings; Parks, Recreation and Museums; and Economic and Community Development, all in specific amounts identified in Bill No. 140511 (approved September __, 2014). City Council would have authority, by ordinance, to change the intended allocation of these proceeds.

What does it mean?

 

OH MAN IT SOUNDS LIKE SO MUCH MORE MONEY WHEN YOU PUT IT IN ALL CAPS!  Alright, here’s the deal: The City has decided that it needs more money to fix stuff or buy stuff that it needs. To get the cash quickly, it wants to borrow that money in the form of a bond.  Any such debt would have to be paid off in the future.

Governments do this sort of thing all the time. Maybe you think this is a good thing, maybe you don’t. I’m not an economist, so I can’t help you there.

The practical implications are important but relatively limited. The only real danger to the City is if we fail to pay the bond back. That would hurt our credit rating (which is pretty good right now, a reflection on the City’s good track record of paying back loans). A poor credit rating would make future borrowing more expensive, or even could prevent the City from borrowing altogether.

 

Special thanks to Patrick Christmas, Senior Policy Analyst at the Committee of Seventy, for his insight and advice

October 26th | Posted In News

Last Week in Philly: 10/19 – 10/26 Edition

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(Southeastern PA’s absurdly gerrymandered legislative districts)

 

Welcome to YIP’s Last Week in Philly – a weekly recap of all the vital news stories you might have missed while riding the emotional roller coaster that was the Eagles game this week. Check back every Monday for our recap of last week’s most important stories.

 

[Editor’s note: Sorry for taking a week off.  Back to normal posting schedules!]

 

Education

A Common Pleas judge granted a preliminary injunction against the SRC’s suspension of the teachers’ contract.  For you non-lawyers: (1) well done not becoming lawyers; (2) this means that the contract stays in place at least temporarily while the lawsuit progresses, but it is not a final ruling.

 

Gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf says he would disband the SRC.  Governor Corbett discussed the same issues a week earlier.
Controller Butkovitz says the way that charter school funding is calculated is flawed.  His office claims that the calculation deprives non-charters of funding disproportionately.

 

 

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October 15th | Posted In News

Last Week in Philly: 10/6 – 10/13 Edition

 

Welcome to YIP’s Last Week in Philly – a weekly recap of all the vital news stories you might have missed while riding the emotional roller coaster that was the Eagles game this week. Check back every Monday for our recap of last week’s most important stories.

 

[Editor’s note: Yup, it’s Wednesday evening, not Monday.  Sometimes your humble editors are too busy to meet their own deadlines.  Please accept even-more-belated Philly news!  It’s not as pretty or flowerly as usual, but it’s still just as awesome.  Mostly.]

 

Education

Students strike in support of teachers

In response to last week’s nullification of the teachers’ contract by the SRC, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf has come out in favor of abolishing the SRC and replacing with a locally-elected school board.  We’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to determine if the Philly political process would actually produce a group capable of more effective school governance.
As a result of the cancelling of the teachers’ contract, the District allocated more funds to schools.

 

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October 15th | Posted In Philadelphia, Policy

Recycling Right

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Every day seems to bring another good piece of “green” news in Philadelphia: new parks in underutilized spaces, bike share, and the success of City initiatives like Green City, Clean Waters, TreePhilly, and the new energy benchmarking program, to name a few.

One success story you might not know as much about, however, is the City’s recycling program. So let’s look at the facts:

Since Mayor Nutter took office in 2008, Philadelphia has seen a 155% increase in tonnage of materials recycled

New materials have been consistently added to the City’s recycling program, including cartons and cardboard

The Philadelphia Streets Department has distributed tens of thousands of recycling bins to residents in every corner of the City

195,000 households have signed up for the Recycling Rewards incentive program, where Philadelphians can earn points for recycling and then redeem those points for coupons and discounts (Eligible, but not signed up? Sign up here! Signed up already? Make sure you’re logging in to your account and collecting your rewards!)

And if you’re a business owner, the Streets Department has you covered with their new Business Recycling Toolkit

All of this has made a measureable impact, too. According to the City’s Recycling Office and the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, Philadelphia’s recycling efforts in 2012 alone helped reduce greenhouse gas emissions equal to 1.5 million tons of carbon dioxide. Not to mention, the City actually makes money from recycling (to the tune of about ten million dollars a year).

So, great, right? We’re doing a really awesome job at recycling in Philadelphia. Go, team!

But that’s not quite the end of the story.

Increasing participation in Philadelphia’s recycling program can too often lead to (innocent) recycling mistakes. As we approach America Recycles Day (a national holiday for us recycling fanatics), it’s important to remind ourselves of what you should and shouldn’t throw in your blue bin.

First and foremost, no plastic bags! They tear easily and end up damaging processing equipment at recycling facilities. Return your plastic shopping bags to specially-marked drop off locations at supermarkets or big box stores. Better yet, figure out a trick to remind yourself to bring that reusable bag along with you to the grocery store, and cut down on your usage of plastic bags. And in no circumstances should you put your recyclables in an opaque or black plastic bag. They’ll be mistaken as regular trash.

Other common “problem items” found in Philadelphia’s recycling stream include:

Food waste (consider composting!)

Garden Hoses

Wire and Christmas Tree Lights

Small appliances

And if in doubt, consult the Streets Department’s comprehensive list of what is and is not recyclable in the City.

With so many exciting things happening all over Philadelphia, it can be easy to forget about every-day municipal functions like our recycling program, and how they impact the health of the City. So we leave you with a call to action: keep up to date on what you can and cannot recycle in Philadelphia, and urge at least one friend to do the same. Then ask that friend to tell someone else. And so on, and so on, and so on.

Phil Bresee is the City of Philadelphia’s Recycling Director, where he oversees and supports programs and policy planning for the City’s recycling program, one of the largest in the country.

Michelle Feldman is the Executive Director of Keep Philadelphia Beautiful, and Outreach Chair for YIP. You can reach her with questions about recycling at michelle@keepphiladelphiabeautiful.org, or find her on twitter at @michelle92486

October 6th | Posted In News

Last Week in Philly: 9/30- 10/05 Edition

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Welcome to YIP’s Last Week in Philly – a weekly recap of all the vital news stories you might have missed while riding the emotional roller coaster that was the Eagles game this week. Check back every Monday for our recap of last week’s most important stories.

 

Education

Late breaking: the SRC cancels the teachers’ union contract. We can expect a lawsuit over this move, which felt very sneaky to many, given that the only notice of the meeting to do this move was a small, legally mandated notice in Sunday’s Inquirer

Charter schools: Less-than-stellar oversight of charter schools may have cost Pennsylvania’s schools $30 million.

Positive news!  A city magnet school has been named one of the nation’s best schools.

The cigarette tax means more charter schools, thanks to a compromise forced by House Republicans.

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October 6th | Posted In Philadelphia

Know a great Philly public servant? Nominate them for the Dilworth Award

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It’s always nice to get a little recognition for a job well done. Most of us can enjoy the simple pleasures of hearing a “thanks” or “good job” when we do something well at work.  But if there is a group of people who toil unnoticed at best, and under the hyper critical scrutiny of complete strangers at worst, it’s city government workers.

More often than not, their work goes unnoticed. When it doesn’t, its usually because something is screwed up.

That’s why Mayor Nutter established the Richardson Dilworth Award for Distinguished Public Service a few years ago.  It’s to say “Hey, usually anonymous bureaucrat – I noticed that you did a great job here, and made Philly better, so let me say thanks.”

This year, the award program has expanded and includes two new award categories, honoring Innovation in Government and Excellence in Public Service.

You can help give your favorite civic servant the attention he or she deserves by nominating them for the Dilworth Award.

If you know someone who has helped make your city a better place to live, work, or play, please submit a nomination at www.dilworthaward.org. Nominations are accepted through November 14th.