Watchdog: Philly Council’s budget should be more transparent

    Philadelphia’s City Council will scrutinize the budget of every midsize and large city department at hearings starting this week.

    Well, almost. Council is not planning to hold a hearing on its own budget.

    Zack Stalberg, president of the watchdog group Committee of Seventy, has been trying to convince City Council to put its budget under the microscope for years. He said that Council did not respond to a letter about the issue this year.

    “They’ve been characteristically silent,” he said. “They do not want to go public with their spending or the secret funds they control.”

    Mayor Michael Nutter is proposing nearly $16 million for Council next fiscal year. But its actual budget is more than that if employee benefits and IT support are counted.

    Stalberg said new revelations about Council’s “walking-around money,” which were reported by the now-shuttered Web site Metropolis, further prove the need for a hearing.

    “With this exposure of this secret slush fund that they control, it’s even more important that they go public with the details,” he said. “It’s a fund of roughly $2 million or so that is hidden in the recreation department budget, but is really controlled by Council.”

    Council President Darrell Clarke’s office declined to comment.

    In the past, Council members have said that the public can weigh in on their spending during regular budget hearings. They’ve argued that it would not be useful to question each other about their own budget.

    Clarke’s office issued a press release Friday that Council is also not scheduling hearings this year for some city departments with budgets of $5 million or less, though it can call up any of those department heads for questioning. 

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