In between calls to collect delinquent property taxes, Philadelphia City Councilman Allan Domb has apparently been thinking about what to do with the troubled Office of City Commissioners, which oversees elections.
Domb’s office confirmed that he’d circulated a draft of a resolution on May 10 recommending a review of the office’s operations.
“We did a preliminary draft of a resolution to hold hearings about the duties and responsibilities of the Office of the Philadelphia City Commissioners,” said Domb’s policy director, David Tusio. “The Councilman is interested in hearing more from the City Commissioners.”
But you wouldn’t know about Domb’s interest in the office from last week’s council session. The modest proposal was scrapped before it could be introduced.
Another council office tried to rat out Domb, claiming he yanked the draft because only a handful of his colleagues supported even a basic review of the office, which has drawn renewed ire over the chronic absenteeism of Democratic Commissioner Anthony Clark. Council President Darrell Clarke also threw cold water on abolition calls from good government group the Committee of Seventy at a budget hearing last Tuesday, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
But Tusio dismissed the notion that the office was too politically sensitive to discuss in council.
“The commissioners testified before City Council [last] Wednesday, and we decided to hold the resolution for the time being,” he said. “We do plan to have further discussions.”
So Domb wants to hear more from the commissioners, but has he also heard enough to know it was premature to call for an inquest into the office?
“I was gonna have a hearing and then I decided not to,” he explained in a phone interview. “I’m not looking to get rid of the office or keep it. I want to understand the issues. But before I make it a public spectacle, I want to hear from them what they do.”
Just how much more there is to hear from the commissioners themselves is certainly open to debate. The three commissioners are on the only independently elected board of its kind in Pennsylvania – every other county in the commonwealth appoints its election officials – and has pretty much been regarded as a patronage den since its inception over a century ago.
Ironically, in addition to a headlines about his apparent allergy to showing up for work on a regular basis, a 2014 Philadelphia City Paper report found Commissioner Clark also hadn’t voted in years.
Committee of Seventy says the row office should be appointed instead – although it’s worth noting that New York City’s appointed board has faced similar troubles as late. But an official Council review of an election board featuring one member who doesn’t participate in elections seems pretty reasonable.