Study: Philly Council Members are Longest-Serving in the Nation, on Average
By Nicole Houck, Contributing Writer
According to a new report by the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Philadelphia Research Initiative, the Philadelphia City Council features fewer first-term members and a large number of long-term members than councils in other comparable cities.
The study shows the average tenure in Philadelphia at the end of 2010 was roughly 15.5 years in office. The council also features the lowest number of first-term members of any of the cities studied.
“Relative to the other cities, Philadelphia’s council is well-paid and well-staffed, although it is not the highest-paid or most-staffed,” said Thomas Ginsberg, project manager of the Philadelphia Research Initiative and the primary author of the report.
“Philadelphia’s council members have more weeks without scheduled sessions than their counterparts elsewhere, are more likely to use city-owned cars and are among the few who must give up their seats to run for other elective office,” Ginsberg explained.
The report details studies of 15 city councils, including those in each of the 10 largest cities in the nation. In addition to Philadelphia, the report also focuses on Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, San Antonio, San Diego, San Jose and Washington. Additionally, Denver, Nashville and San Francisco were included in some of the cost comparisons because they are similar to Philadelphia in that they have consolidated city/county governments.
One reason that Philadelphia has the longest-serving council is the absence of term limits. Eight of the 15 cities in the study, including New York and Los Angeles, have term limits for council.
However, the results will be much different if it repeated next year. Four veteran members — including Council President Anna Verna, a 35-year incumbent and longest-serving council member since at least 1920, have decided not to seek new terms.
Other key Pennsylvania findings include:
The Philadelphia City Council’s 2011 budget for staff salaries, employee benefits and operations is roughly $1.1 million per member, sixth highest among the cities. Philadelphia has one council employee (including members) for every 7,900 residents compared with 1 for 13,500 across all the cities. Among six cities with consolidated city/county functions, Philadelphia has the second-highest cost per seat and is the third most-expensive on cost per resident.
The average council salary in Philadelphia is $121,107, fourth highest out of 15.
In Philadelphia, blacks make up 43 percent of the population and 41 percent of the council. Philadelphia has the second-highest proportion of women in council, at 41 percent.
Philadelphia City Council has the most weeks during which no hearings or sessions appear on its official calendar—12 weeks during a typical summer—although many members continue to work during that period.
The Pittsburgh City Council spends the least per seat on itself, about $226,000. The 15 councils cost local tax-payers a median of about $607,000 per member this past year, the biggest part of which was salaries and benefits for staff and members.