PGW sale remains in Philly council limbo as deadline looms

 PGW union workers including Business agent Mike Mc Donough (far left) greet council members as they enter caucus room (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

PGW union workers including Business agent Mike Mc Donough (far left) greet council members as they enter caucus room (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

In March, Philadelphia City Council hired a consultant to analyze the proposed $1.86 billion  sale of Philadelphia Gas Works. Much of the consultant’s report is finished, but it has not been made public. The council president keeps deferring, while the Dec. 31 deadline to make a deal gets closer and closer. 

Constant presence

Before council’s Thursday session, there is a caucus meeting. For two and a half years, several members of the union representing PGW workers have shown up each week to buttonhole lawmakers. Union business agent Mike McDonough said it’s a good chance for face-to-face talks. 

“We greet them, we walk around, we go to their offices sometimes,” he said.  “We’ve kept them up to date with information from day one.  Any information we’ve got on the sale — good, bad or otherwise — we’ve shared with council.  I think our honesty and our openness has been helping us all along in this process.”

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The report council commissioned appears to be complete, but you couldn’t tell that from what has been shown to the public, or even Mayor Michael Nutter’s administration. 

The consultant is still putting finishing touches on the review of the sale and whether the city would be better off keeping the utility, according to Council President Darrell Clarke.

“The status of the review is ongoing, should be concluded within the next week,” Clarke said.

When it was pointed out that he said the same thing last week, Clarke responded, “There had to be some additional information as it relates to responses.  Every time you look at a document as complicated as this, you always have questions. We want to make sure all the questions are answered.”

Majority Leader Curtis Jones says he does not feel council is dragging its feet.

“No, I think this is us doing our jobs for being responsible stewards for one of the largest municipal sales in this county,” Jones said.  “Act in haste, repent at your leisure. We have to be responsible to the constituents.

“So we’re going to wait, we’re going to see what’s going on,” he continued. “We’re going to have a public debate and we’re going to have a doggone decision.”

Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez, who has been briefed on the consultant’s report. said it’s time to hold  hearings.

“It has provided council what I believe to be a very good foundation. I’m feeling a sense of urgency for us to begin the public debate, and put an end to whether we are going to … sell or not to sell here in council,” she said.

Nutter, a major proponent of the sale, has said proceeds would help fund the city’s dwindling municipal pension fund. He wants someone on council at least to introduce his bill to sell PGW. 

“This is a large transaction, but it’s also worthy of full and complete public debate and discussion,” he said. “You only get that by introducing a bill, having a hearing, having people come and testify whatever their positions might be. And then what legislators do is that they vote.”

There is still no firm date on when a hearing will occur.

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