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With less than twenty-four hours before an almost-certain deadline to pass a land bank bill before Council recesses for the holidays, Council President Clarke appears to doing everything he can to enlist opposition to a bill he’s said he supported for the better part of a year.
And his office has apparently been busy assembling a small army to come to Council tomorrow and testify against the land bank bill as it stands now.
A memo obtained by AxisPhilly and addressed to unknown “community leaders,” indicates that a representative of Clarke’s office met yesterday with a group of constituents it is encouraging to show up and testify against the bill tomorrow — and which his office has dubbed the “Legislative Response Team.” (An email seeking clarification from Clarke’s office on who attended the meeting was not immediately returned).
Over the last couple of weeks, Clarke has raised a slew of objections to the land bank bill — none of which he’d aired publicly since the bill was introduced last March by primary sponsor 7th District Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez. Indeed, Clarke had pledged support of the bill until just after it appeared, somewhat surprisingly to many observers, on Council’s hearing calendar.
In the weeks since the bill was passed to the whole Council for a vote, Clarke’s objections to it have grown almost by the day.
The memo from Clarke’s office also provides a summary of “follow-up points,” including the following talking points, which take a direct swipe at the Philly Land Bank Alliance, the broad-based coalition advocating for the land bank, and which outline the group’s intended message:
The proposed legislation delegates a massive amount of power to the Land Bank Board without any checks and balances. The Philly Land Bank Alliance is advocating to further empower the Land Bank by eliminating the Vacant Property Review Committee and City Council approval. On the other hand, we believe the legislation should be amended to provide the appropriate checks and balances on the various powers of the Land Bank.
The statements aren’t obviously attributed to either the Council President or the group itself, but they closely mirror points raised in an internal memo circulated last week by Clarke to other Council Members in which the President wrote that “the bill is a massive delegation of governmental power to a board that once, appointed, is not answerable to the mayor, the city council, or the public.”
It’s worth noting that this last point is not entirely accurate: The current bill delegates power to a board that is appointed by the mayor and City Council and whose members serve at the pleasure of the public officials who appointed them.
And every version of the land bank proposed so far includes a requirement that Council members approve all “dispositions,” or sales, by the land bank.
On the eve of Thanksgiving, as we reported, Clarke circulated various new proposed amendments which would give Council even more say, including one that would require Council approval to not only sell a piece of land but also to acquire it — a provision previously deemed a “deal breaker” by the land bank’s strongest advocates.
Exactly what Clarke’s office is hoping for form this group remains unclear. The memo asks members of the “Legislative Response Team” to testify — but doesn’t specify whether that testimony would be in favor of Clarke’s most recent proposed amendments, or to hold or kill the bill itself.
Solomon Jones contributed to the reporting of this story.