Ballot Questions, November 2, 2010

Each election, the Committee of Seventy analyzes all proposed amendment to the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter and provides detailed explanations to the voters on its website. Since Philadelphians usually get very little information on ballot questions, Seventy believes this is a valuable public service. Seventy is a non-partisan organization that does not endorse candidates for elective office. However, in addition to providing explanations, we do offer non-partisan recommendations on some ballot questions.

Four questions will appear on Philadelphia’s November 2, 2010 ballot. The following list provides the actual language of the ballot questions (in the order in which they will appear on the ballot) and, if appropriate, Seventy’s non-partisan recommendations. This is followed by the “Plain English Statements” prepared for each ballot question by the city’s Law Department.

To to go individual questions, click here: Question 1, Question 2, Question 3, Question 4.

To see the ballot questions, the Plain English Statements, and our Recommendations together in a handy chart form, please click here. To download a copy of this document in PDF form, please click here.

Please see the bottom of this page  to learn about how Seventy arrives at its recommendations.



1. Ballot Question

Shall The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to confirm Council’s power to (i) require the City, its contractors and financial assistance recipients to provide employees a minimum level of pay and benefits, and (ii) provide that failure to comply with such requirements may temporarily prohibit a business from receiving City contracts or financial assistance; and to authorize Council to designate existing City agencies (including Council) or to create new agencies to enforce such provisions?
   

Committee of Seventy’s Non-Partisan Recommendation:

The Committee of Seventy opposes this ballot question. Although we support fair and decent wages and benefits for all employees – including those who work for the city, for contractors paid by the city or for companies that receive city funds – there is insufficient information about how much wage and benefits increases would cost.  
 
There are also conflicting opinions about whether the proposed changes would represent a change in the structure of the government or merely “confirm” powers that already reside in Council, as stated in the ballot question.
For these reasons, we do not feel that this ballot question is ready to be put to a vote and should not be approved until there is more information available on these issues to permit an informed choice by the voters.

(An earlier version of this statement on Seventy’s website may have inadvertently suggested that Mayor Nutter does not support this ballot question. The Mayor supports ballot question #1.)


Plain English Statement:

This proposed Charter change would set out City Council’s power to require certain companies to pay their employees certain minimum levels of pay and to provide their employees with certain minimum levels of benefits.  Council could impose this requirement on companies that do business with the City and on companies that receive grants from the City.  Council also could set a minimum level of pay and benefits for all City employees.

This proposed Charter change would also set out Council’s power to preclude a company from doing business with the City for a period of time, if the company fails to provide the required minimum pay or benefits.  Before being precluded from doing City business, a company would be given a hearing.  Council would specify the City agency that would conduct hearings and that would make the final decision as to whether to preclude a particular company.  The agency could be an existing City agency, including Council itself, or it could be a new agency created for making these decisions.



2. Ballot Question

Shall The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to modernize the City’s procurement process, including by allowing for electronic bidding, electronic reverse auctions and electronic execution of contracts; for appropriate bidder security; and for cooperative purchasing; all to minimize the cost to the City of contracts?
   

Committee of Seventy’s Non-Partisan Recommendation:

The Committee of Seventy recommends a “yes” vote because (1) improving the city’s procurement process is within Seventy’s mission to fight for more effective government, and (2) the changes sought can only be accomplished through a Charter amendment. 

In its September 2009 “Tackling True Reform” report, Seventy urged the city to make it a priority to propel government into the 21st century. The proposed Charter amendment advances this goal by permitting various forms of electronic participation in the process for bidding on city contracts, in addition to other improvements in the city’s procurement rules.

In discussions with Seventy, several current and former city officials stated that many of the requirements contained in the Charter – while well-intentioned and appropriate at the time of their writing – are unnecessarily restrictive and outdated. The advent of the Internet, in particular, has made certain provisions in the Charter obsolete. For example, by requiring “sealed bids,” which was standard in pre-Internet bidding, the city has been prevented from receiving bids in electronic form.

Seventy notes that the Mayor’s Task Force on Tax Policy and Economic Competitiveness also encouraged the city to offer more electronic applications, forms and payment options in its October 2009 Report – “Thinking Beyond Today: A Path to Prosperity.” 

Seventy also endorses permitting greater flexibility in developing joint purchasing agreements among city government and other state, federal, or local agencies, including schools and universities. Greater opportunities for leveraged purchasing makes sense and will inevitably lower the cost of city services. 

Plain English Statement:

This proposed Charter change would modify the rules that the City must follow in purchasing all goods and services except for professional services and unique articles or through sole source contracts.

Currently, for contracts that will cost the City more than $30,000, the City is required to award a contract to the lowest responsible bidder.  Bids must be submitted in sealed form, and no second round of bidding is permitted.  (The $30,000 minimum is adjusted every five years to account for inflation.) 

This proposed Charter change would explicitly allow bidders, in appropriate cases, to submit their bids electronically and to sign their City contracts electronically.  It also would permit the City to conduct “reverse auctions.”  In a “reverse auction,” the City would establish an opening and closing time for bidding.  After the opening, the City could disclose certain information about bids, such as whether a bidder has submitted the current low bid, and then give all bidders a chance to submit additional, lower bids until the closing deadline.
 
The proposed Charter change also would permit the City to determine what form of security a bidder should be required to submit to ensure compliance with a bid or to ensure payment or performance on the contract.  For example, a bidder might submit a certified check, or a bond, or a bank letter of credit.

Finally, the proposed change would expand the City’s authority to enter into “cooperative arrangements” with other public agencies to purchase goods or services, as follows: 

In some instances, the City expects to procure goods or services at lower cost by pooling its purchasing power with other “public agencies.”  A “public agency” includes any government agency, authority, school district or public college or university.  Under a “cooperative arrangement,” the City makes a joint purchase with another public agency or utilizes another public agency’s contract to make purchases directly from a vendor.  These “cooperative arrangements” would be exempt from the City’s competitive bidding rules, but only when the City’s Finance Director certifies that:  (1) The cooperative arrangement very likely will save the City money; and (2) The other agency selected the vendor in a manner designed to avoid favoritism and to procure the lowest price.  A “cooperative arrangement” would not be exempt from any other standard City contract rules, unless the Procurement Commissioner certifies that:  (1) It wouldn’t be practical to comply with these other rules in light of the other public agency’s rules; and (2) The exemption doesn’t make it likely that the City would fail to meet its Annual Participation Goals for disadvantaged businesses.



3. Ballot Question:

Shall The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to add the following additional prohibited grounds for discrimination in City procurement contracts:  discrimination on the basis of ancestry, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, age or disability?   

Committee of Seventy’s Non-Partisan Recommendation:

The Committee of Seventy recommends a “yes” vote because (1) inherent in its mission to fight for clean and effective government is support for comprehensive anti-discrimination provisions in all city contracts, and (2) the changes sought can only be accomplished through a Charter amendment. 

Plain English Statement:

Currently, the Home Rule Charter requires that all competitively bid contracts that will cost the City more than $30,000 must contain a provision prohibiting discrimination in the performance of the contract.  (The $30,000 minimum is adjusted every five years to account for inflation.)  Discrimination on the following bases is prohibited:  Race, color, religion or national origin.  This proposed Charter change would add the following prohibited bases of discrimination:  Ancestry, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, or disability.



4. Ballot Question

Should the City of Philadelphia borrow one hundred six million six hundred ninety thousand dollars ($106,690,000.00) 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?

Committee of Seventy’s Non-Partisan Recommendation:

The Committee of Seventy takes no position on bond questions


Plain English Statement:

This ballot question, if approved by the voters, would authorize the City to borrow $106,690,000.00 for capital purposes, thereby increasing the City’s indebtedness by $106,690,000.00. 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. 100362 (approved September 17, 2010). City Council would have authority, by ordinance, to change the intended allocation of these proceeds.


Methodology for Making Non-Partisan Recommendations on Ballot Questions


The Home Rule Charter. The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter is the city’s permanent governing document. It outlines the structures and procedures of Philadelphia’s government, including the powers and duties of the Mayor, City Council and other elected officials.
State law outlines two ways to amend the Charter:

1.    City Council may propose an amendment by a 2/3 vote of its 17 members. However, before the substantive change outlined in the amendment goes into effect, it must be approved by the voters. The amendment is submitted to the voters as a question that appears on a ballot during either the spring primary election or the fall general election. Approval requires a majority of the voters who answer the ballot question to vote “yes,” or   

2.    A proposed amendment to the Charter can be submitted to City Council by a petition signed by at least 20,000 registered voters. City Council may, by majority vote, decide to submit the proposed amendment to the voters as a ballot question. Just like a ballot question that comes directly from Council, approval by a majority of the voters is required before the substantive change outlined in the amendment goes into effect.

The city’s first Charter was adopted in 1919. The last time it was reformed comprehensively was in 1951. However, many individual provisions within the Charter have been amended since 1951 and new provisions have been added. City Council routinely submits proposed Charter amendments to the voters on an Election Day ballot. If a ballot question is rejected, the same question cannot be resubmitted to the voters for at least five years.

The Committee of Seventy and Charter Amendments. Each election, the Committee of Seventy analyzes all proposed Charter amendments and provides detailed explanations to the voters on its website. Since Philadelphians usually get very little information on ballot questions, Seventy believes this is a valuable public service.

Seventy is a non-partisan organization that does not endorse candidates for elective office. However, in addition to providing explanations, we do offer non-partisan recommendations on some ballot questions. Here is the “two-screen test” we use to determine whether Seventy should take a position on individual ballot questions:

•    Does the ballot question fit within Seventy’s mission to “fight for clean and effective government, fair elections and a better informed citizenry in Philadelphia and the region?” 
•    Is amending the Home Rule Charter either required under law to effect the change proposed or otherwise necessary/appropriate to achieve an effective remedial change, or can the same goal be accomplished by another mechanism, e.g., executive order, city ordinance or City Council resolution?







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