Court strikes down Philly council comment practice

Shown is the skyline in Philadelphia, Thursday, March 5, 2009. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke) (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

November 18, 2010 10:13:35 AM PST
The Philadelphia City Council must allow direct public comment on matters under its consideration and may not simply divert those comments to committee meetings, a divided Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled.

The council's current practice of not allowing comment at its full-body meetings violates the Sunshine Act, the justices ruled 4-3 on Wednesday.

"Contrary to council's position, there simply is no authorization in the act, actual or fairly implied, for delegation of the obligation to entertain public comment to some body other than a board or council," Justice Thomas Saylor wrote for the majority.

Chief Justice Ronald Castille, a former Philadelphia district attorney, warned in the dissent that the ruling will likely cause disruption by changing a policy that dates back nearly 60 years.

"I do not view the act as intending to preclude the governing bodies of political subdivisions, such as council, from delegating certain aspects of its business to committees which may be tasked with receiving public comment in an efficient manner," Castille wrote.

The court ruled in favor of Stan Alekseev and the Homeowner's Association of Philadelphia, which challenged the council's practice. Their attorney, Darrell M. Zaslow, said people have the right to address their elected officials directly and seek to persuade them on matters under consideration.

"Every municipality in the state, from Pittsburgh on down to the small municipalities, they all have accommodated themselves to hear from the public," Zaslow said. "And Philadelphia is no different from Pittsburgh or Erie or Scranton or Reading or any borough or township."

Kelly Diffily, an assistant city solicitor for appeals and legislation, declined immediate comment.

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Online:
http://www.courts.state.pa.us/OpPosting/Supreme/out/J-66-2010mo.pdf


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