To testify at tomorrow’s zoning code hearing, who you gonna call?

Want to testify at the zoning code hearing before City Council’s Committee of the Whole tomorrow?

Don’t call the city clerk. To register, you need to contact Sean McMonagle, First District Councilman Frank DiCicco’s legislative aide.

This seemed odd to Old City resident Joe Schiavo, who is active in zoning matters both for Old City Civic and the Cross Town Coalition. He first called the City Clerk’s office – the same place he always calls to register to speak before city council. He was turned away. So he called DiCicco’s office, where the point person was unavailable. Then he called PlanPhilly.

In the spirit of making sure everyone who wants a voice in this process gets the opportunity to speak, we figured it would be a good idea to spell out the convoluted registration process.

Chief Clerk Michael Decker told PlanPhilly his office is where people should register to speak during the public session at a regular City Council meeting. But while all of council will attend Wednesday’s hearing, this is not a council meeting – it’s a public hearing before the Committee of the Whole on a resolution that would authorize the committee to hold public hearings on the proposed changes to the zoning code.

Those who wish to testify before a council committee should register with the committee’s secretary or acting secretary, Decker said. But who this is, exactly, can vary hearing-by-hearing, even within a single committee.

The committee’s secretary is the legislative aide to the committee’s chairperson. For most meetings of committees other than the committee of the whole, this is the person to call. So, for example, someone wishing to testify before the Committee on the Environment would call the office of At-Large Councilman James Kinney, who is chair.

But the Committee of the Whole tends to work differently, Decker said. Council President Anna Verna is the chair. But usually, the acting secretary for Committee of the Whole hearings is not her aide, but the aide to the council member who introduced the legislation that is the subject of the hearing. This is why McMonagle is the man to call for Wednesday’s hearing on Bill 110459.  “This time, the legislation is DiCicco’s, and he has his own ideas about the way the public hearing would proceed,” Decker said.

Sometimes, other committees also decide to follow this protocol, and have the aide to the legislative sponsor serve as acting secretary and register people who wish to testify.

“This is not a new procedure, I must stress,” Decker said.

The procedure to sign up to speak during the public comment portion of a regular council meeting is detailed on City Council’s website. The posting indicates that the public can also testify at committee hearings, but does not detail the sign-up procedure. 

Schiavo tried to call McMonagle, but was told he was unavailable. He left a message. Decker also took down his name, and said he passed it on to McMonagle. 

Schiavo was glad to know that the testimony sign-up procedure was not changed for this specific hearing, but he remains concerned that some people who want to testify may be confused or dissuaded by the sign-up system. 

“It frankly seems to me, given the degree that so many members of the public are involved in this process (of revamping the city zoning code), that it would have been great if some notice had been given to the public about how to get access,” he said.

Decker said he has gotten at least 10 calls from people wanting to sign up to testify at the hearing, and has either walked or emailed their names to McMonagle.

While the rule is that anyone wishing to testify should sign up in advance, Decker said he doesn’t think anyone who asks in person to be put on the list before the start of tomorrow’s 10 a.m. hearing would be denied. “We generally don’t turn them away,” he said. “They are the public, and we’re here to take care of them.”

Wednesday, Sept. 14: City Council will hear testimony from many individuals and organizations involved in the effort to reform and modernize Philadelphia’s outdated and complex zoning code. This is the first overhaul of the City’s zoning code in 50 years (Wednesday, 9/14 @ 10 a.m.). Public hearing, City Hall, Room 400

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