Budget hearings a necessary evil in Philadelphia City Council

Philadelphia City Council holds budget hearings for more than a month, one by one quizzing department heads about spending and pet projects.

Do the hearings change anything?  After they stopped laughing, council members explained the real value of weeks of public, often boring testimony.

Councilman Curtis Jones says even though the majority of the mayor’s budget is approved “as is,” the hearings do influence the rest of it.

“Where we get to work is around that 20 percent edges of new innovations, different discoveries, cost savings and things that we can implement,” said Jones. “Game changing kind of budgeting doesn’t happen in a way that is perceptible to most of the public.”

Councilman Wilson Goode says he uses hearings to ask department heads questions left unanswered during the rest of the year.

“We put a number of things on the record,” said Goode, “so if we want them to be answered we put them on the record.”

Those questions for Goode include minority participation in contracting and on city projects.

Council President Darrell Clarke says even if there the changes are small, budget hearings are needed for the sake of transparency. He believes many people are viewing the sessions live on the city cable channel.

“To some degree only the Puritans can watch it every day, but the reality is that it is part of our responsibility, if not our primary responsibility, of council’s authority to appropriate and authorize expenditures. It’s a significant part of our job,” Clarke said. “So we’ll do what we have to do and at the end of the day we will pass a budget.”

It’s not mandatory for individual council members to attend every meeting, and some come in and out just to have their questions answered. The final scheduled hearing is set for May 6.

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