Why Doesn't City Council Post Their Votes on Legistar Anymore?

(Council President Darrell Clarke | Photo credit: WHYY)

City Council used to record the vote breakdown of how different members voted on legislation on Legistar, the vote tracking software that Council uses, but they stopped doing this randomly in 2006. That's ridiculous, and the next Council President should commit to posting the votes again. 

Numerous cities use the Legistar software to track the progress of legislation, and important details like the bill's sponsors, the committees that will review the bill, the legislative language, amendments, and where the bill is on the legislative timeline.  

And other cities also use Legistar's vote recording feature to show how different members voted on all the different bills. Philadelphia City Council, and specifically the Chief Clerk who works for the Council President's office, used to publish all of Council's votes until 2006 when they just randomly stopped doing it after their summer break.

We checked the record, and the last bill in Legistar that has a Council vote breakdown attached is a bill from then-Councilmember Michael Nutter of the 4th District permitting outdoor seating at Johnny Manana's on Ridge Ave. 

Now, to find out how Council voted on different bills in committee, or in the full Council, you have to dig into PDFs of Council transcripts. It's the exact opposite of the more accountable open data ethos embraced by both the Nutter and Kenney administrations.

Council members may not like to have their votes recorded, but this is really a basic building block of democratic accountability. If members aren't proud of the votes they're taking, well, why is that? 

We were reminded of the Legistar problem when it came out in the John Dougherty indictment last week that Bobby Henon was pressured to kill the push for a performance audit of the Philadelphia Parking Authority. 

It seems like what probably happened is Henon was only able to convince enough members to go along with killing the PPA audit if they could evade all accountability for it.

Killing the PPA performance audit was going to be a very unpopular position to take, and sure enough, Council President Clarke did the PPA's bidding by moving to protect members from having to go on the record about it. Clarke called a rare hand vote on the audit that would keep members' votes out of the transcript. The vote isn't even listed on Legistar, so it's like it never happened!

And that's just one high profile instance that we know about. The whole situation just shows a ridiculous amount of contempt for the voters, and the next Council President in 2020 should do the right thing and start posting Council's votes on Legistar again.

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  • Jon Geeting
    published this page in Blog 2019-02-06 23:13:31 -0500