City Council holds private budget meeting

    Philadelphia’s City Council held a private meeting this week to discuss public budget hearings. Legal experts are now asking whether the closed-door session was legal. WHYY’s Kerry Grens reports.

    Philadelphia City Council held a private meeting this week to discuss public budget hearings. Media reports have criticized the legislative body for doing so, and legal experts are now asking whether the closed-door session was within the scope of law. WHYY’s Kerry Grens reports.

    Council President Anna Verna says did not think the private council meeting was in violation of the state’s Sunshine Act, which protects the public’s right to attend meetings on government business.

    Verna’s spokesman Tony Radwanski.

    Radwanski: She did not consider it a violation because, first of all, there were no deliberations that occurred. Second, because the council had no numbers to deliberate. They were merely broadening the process by allowing people to have budget hearings within their communities.

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    Verna has since asked the city solicitor to check no the legality of the closed door meeting.

    Mike Berry is an attorney at a Philadelphia firm that represents media groups and others in transparency suits.

    He says city council’s meeting does not seem to fall under Sunshine Act exemptions, where council would be allowed to conduct in private.

    Berry: They cover things like personnel issues, labor disputes, discussing litigation, the purchase or lease of real property, but nothing that would be implicated here.

    Joseph McLaughlin is director of the Institute for Public Affairs at Temple University and a former public official.

    He says the Sunshine Act is vital to protect the public, but council’s meeting this week doesn’t seem like a major violation.

    McLaughlin: I think we’re talking about a procedural issue here, rather than a substantive decision. So to me, that one doesn’t rise to the level of something that should be of major concern.

    Newspapers in Philadelphia raised concern over private budget meetings between city council and Mayor Nutter last year.

    Although the city solicitor considered them legal, the mayor has since conducted the meetings in public.

    Click on the play button below or right click on this link and choose “Save Link As” to download. [audio: reports20090227council.mp3]

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