Council Blockage Creates Gas Pains

(October 2014)

In a move that is an embarrassment to the legislative process itself, Philadelphia City Council Leadership announced -- after no public deliberation whatsoever -- that Council has rejected the proposed deal to sell the Philadelphia Gas Works.  Yet, for City Council to reject this deal without public testimony or input is gutless and possibly a violation of Pennsylvania's "Sunshine Act."

As a utility that transports explosive material, PGW gives us wise counsel on what to do in situations like this: if we smell something rotten, we are to sound an alarm.  Well, this just plain stinks.

Cut the Mustard?

I have written about this issue in the past ( and I firmly believe that robust debate about the terms of this potential deal is essential.  No other large, cold-weather city owns a gas utility and Philadelphia's history of municipal ownership is unsatisfying.  City gas rates are too high, customer satisfaction is too low, and the utility's inability to maintain and upgrade the miles of pipeline that carry explosive material throughout the city is troubling.

A sale could dramatically improve utility service in Philadelphia and save lives by better maintaining the city's gas infrastructure.  Proceeds from the sale could help protect the pensions of city workers, provide capital investments for city facilities, and free up resources in future city budgets that could allow for expanded city services.  Of course, the sale would directly impact gas workers and gas customers and ripple throughout the city economy.  Each of these factors should be considered by the city's elected legislature in a public debate so that we all understand the pros and cons.

Cut The Cheese?

Of course, It could be that the proposed deal between the Nutter Administration on behalf of the City of Philadelphia and Connecticut-based UIL Holdings is not the best one possible.  Perhaps the price isn't right, the protections for employees or consumers aren't sufficient, or maybe the deal is flawed in a fundamental way that hearings could illuminate.

Council invested significant public money to commission an independent analysis of the proposed deal, but instead of debating the merits of the proposed sale or the concerns raised by the analysis, we only get the terse announcement that it's a done deal that the deal is done.

The Best Of Disinfectants   

The public's business is to be conducted in public so we can all collectively scrutinize the decision making and its process.  The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's Sunshine Act requires that any time a government body holds a meeting in which deliberation or official action by a quorum of its members occurs, that meeting must be open to the public and subject to public notification requirements.  If Council members decided to reject the proposed deal to sell PGW, that deliberation and action did not occur at an open public meeting.  Proper authorities should review these actions to determine if penalties and sanctions are appropriate. 

If members of City Council have objections to the proposed sale, they should be aired publicly and debated.  Perhaps they could help improve the agreement or shape new negotiations in a way to benefit Philadelphians.  If members of City Council do not want to conduct the public's business in public, they should find another job.