6:54 PM / Thursday April 18, 2024

23 Mar 2024

Hanging In The Hallway: The orders of the day

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March 23, 2024 Category: Local Posted by:

Thanks to the conflict between Israel and Hamas, a rule of Philadelphia City Council that’s hardly used got used on Thursday.

By Denise Clay-Murray

I write a lot about public comment because I think it’s one of the most interesting and important parts of any Philadelphia City Council meeting. While the councilmembers themselves are the ones that craft legislation and get it passed and all, much of that legislation is created through the suggestions of the public.

(Or at least that’s what Councilmember Anthony Phillips keeps telling us about his ski mask ban. Let me be nice. It’s his legislative victory and I guess I should stop making fun of it, despite criminalizing clothing’s tendency to bring out the smart aleck in me.)

I also occasionally write about the arcane rules that the legislative half of Philadelphia’s city government lives by. Unless you’re studying to be a parliamentarian or are even more of a geek than I am, you probably don’t know all the ins and outs of Robert’s Rules of Order.

But during Thursday’s Council meeting, my love of all things public comment and Robert’s Rules of Order came together when Council Majority Leader Katherine Gilmore Richardson, a woman who probably knows more about arcane Council rules than most of us ever will, threw out the phrase “I call for the Orders of the Day!”

(The exclamation point is mine.)

The Orders of the Day, a demand that the agenda be adhered to, is one of the few motions made on the council floor that can’t be debated, something that Gilmore Richardson reminded Councilmember Curtis Jones of when he tried to, well, debate it.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here. I guess I should start with how we ended up with the Orders of the Day in the first place.

Under the rules of Council, public comment is restricted to items contained in the final passage calendar, which is the final step a bill takes before it is either passed or voted down.

But there are public commenters who don’t always follow that rule. My personal favorite was the “Writ of Mandamus” guy. I’m interviewing another person, Ogbonna Hagins, who doesn’t always follow the public comment rule for next week’s column.

Lynn Landis, another frequent commenter, believes that making her stick to the agenda is a violation of the Sunshine Law and has filed suit against Council over it. If she wins, I guess that the amount of COVID denial and anti-vaxxer stuff we’ll hear during public comment will go up exponentially. That’s kind of her schtick.

And then, there is Kayla Perez. Every week, Perez comes before Council during public comment to decry the death and mayhem going on as part of the Israel-Hamas war. A resolution regarding that conflict passed in the last Council session led to then-Council President Darrell Clarke taking the unprecedented step of shutting down public comment entirely because, unlike a poetry slam, public comment is not a call-and-response thing.

While current Council President Kenyatta Johnson, the co-author of the resolution mentioned above, hasn’t gone as far as ending public comment when Perez takes the microphone, he does remind her of what the rules say.

Most of the time, Councilmember Curtis Jones sits silently, although as one of the Muslims on Council, he gets where Perez is coming from.
But on Thursday, citing the Holy Month of Ramadan, he decided to end his silence.

“We have to do better,” Jones said. “This is a forum, and we have to follow our protocol. But we need to create a forum where we privately listen to what she has to say.”

Johnson responded by telling Jones that if he wanted a more public discussion of this topic, he would have to put up a resolution, something that Jones said he was all set to do before being talked out of it by fellow Councilmembers.

Phillips offered to speak with anyone who wanted to discuss this issue outside of Council, something that Jones said he would hold him to.
But before the discussion went any further, which it threatened to, Gilmore Richardson ended it with a flip of the rule book.

Now, I can understand that national and international events impact Philadelphians. Although we don’t always act like it, we’re an international city. In fact, I think that folks need to remind our friends in Harrisburg that no one comes to see the “Otis” that is the rest of the state when we come to the legislature asking for our fair share of funding. Or that you stop passing legislation that applies to us and us alone.

(If you’re confused by the “Otis” reference, Google “The Temptations” movie.)

But something that Jones said at the end of the meeting made a lot of sense. Philadelphia has a lot of issues of its own it needs to rectify before it takes on a conflict that is literally as old as time and has been the bane of the existence of much more powerful people than the members of Philadelphia City Council.

One of those issues is the gun violence that continues to plague the city. When I sit down with Ogbonna Hagins, who describes himself as the “Unseated Council Member” for next week’s column, we’ll talk about the bill he’s hoping to get someone on Council to propose designed to fix that.

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