Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The not so democratic Philadelphia Democratic Party

There’s good news and bad news. The good news is that young progressive Democrats are organizing. The Philadelphia Democratic Progressive Caucus has the potential to become a real force in the Democratic Party and Joe Driscoll’s recent efforts to organize committeepeople is another potential game changer. He has begun with a Facebook group which he describes as:
This is a group for committee people of the Philadelphia Democratic City Committee. Members may invite elected or appointed Democratic committee people only. It's a forum for committee people throughout Philadelphia to communicate and share ideas.
Historically committeepeople in Philadelphia have never communicated much with committeepeople in other wards. The idea was to communicate through the ward leader, who communicates to the Party Chair. Most ward leaders have viewed each ward as a little island; communication has generally been top-down, vertical—not the horizontal communication Joe envisions. This is the first effort I’m aware of in my almost 3 decades as a committeeperson to bring together committeepeople across the city and to amplify the voice of committeepeople.

Now the bad news. The Democratic Party apparently continues to engage in undemocratic practices. Joe discovered that—unknown to most committeepeople--the party rules had been revised and a copy dated March 31, 2014 was signed by Bob Brady and submitted to the Board of Elections. According to the Party bylaws, the following should have occurred in order to revise the rules:
Should the County Committee at the time of its organization or at any subsequent regular meeting decide that the rules of the party should be revised or amended, the County Committee shall direct the County Chairman to appoint a committee on the revision of rules for the purpose of revising or amending the rules and direct the committee to make a report in writing to the County Committee at a later meeting. The date shall be fixed by the Chairman of the meeting and notices shall be sent to all members of the County Committee advising them of the date of the meeting called to receive and act upon the report of the committee on the revision of the rules and stating that at this time the committee will make its report to the County Committee and that the County Committee will act on the report.

The rules may have been revised without any of the above procedures followed—-thus no discussion of the rationale for the rules, no opportunity for ward leaders and committeepeople to raise objections.

Joe Driscoll highlighted the key changes in the March 2014 document. One of these changes is a real victory for democratic forces. From Joe’s summary:

Rule VII, Article 1, Section E was amended to include a provision which provides that when a ward committee is considering the removal of a committee person, actions conducted by a ward committee member prior to their election shall not be the basis of a removal. (Thanks to Irv Ackelsberg and Tracey Gordon).
Another erodes the power of committeepeople
Change 2
Rule X, Article 1 was amended to change the method in which State Representatives are chosen for nomination in Special Elections. It transfers the power of choosing State Representative nominees from committee people to ward leaders. In the prior version State Representatives would be chosen by a special meeting of the ward (if the district is comprised of one ward) or a joint ward meeting (where the district is comprised of more than one ward). The newly amended version provides that the nominee shall be chosen by ward leader(s) in which the district is comprised (corresponding changes in Rule X, Article 3, Section C).
But none of these changes can take effect if proper procedures for changing the rules did not take place. Over the years the Brady machine has gotten used to doing whatever it wants to do with very little scrutiny. Well, more folks are taking a close look at the Party's modus operandi.

Also, some party operatives have claimed that the rules were changed again after the May 2014 primary. Citypaper’s Jim Saksa reported that several ward leaders ( including Alan Butkovitz and Gary Williams) who do not live in their wards claimed that the rules had been changed after the May 2014 primary to remove the residency requirement that ward leaders must live in their wards. According to the Citypaper article, these ward leaders are mistaken:
The rules on file at the Board of Elections are unambiguous: Ward leaders must be registered to vote in the wards they represent. And the rules can't just be changed offhand — Pennsylvania Election Code states that party rules are not "effective until a certified copy ... has been filed in the office of the county Board of Elections."
But if Butkovitz thinks that "the rules set forth by the Philadelphia Democratic City Committee" are different from those filed at the Board of Elections, he isn't alone.
Williams said that the rules had been modified to remove the residency requirement after the last primary...

So we checked with City Committee chairman Bob Brady. Brady's staffers and Deputy City Commissioner Fred Voigt confirmed the Board of Elections had the official rules — the ones with the residency requirement — and that no others exist.

Saksa updated his article on December 31, 2014:

The rules were time-stamped March 31, 2014, but they weren't on file in the city Board of Elections, as required. Instead, they were in Commissioner Chair Anthony Clark's office in City Hall…. Kevin Kelly at the Board of Elections said the new rules were delivered to that office on Oct. 22, 2014.
Why would Brady revise the rules and then bury them in Anthony Clark’s office?

And were these rules revised according to procedures stipulated in the bylaws? In the past party leaders got away with a cavalier attitude towards the rules. Committteepeople for the most part have not had access to the rules and did not know what rights they had. That may be changing as a younger generation of progressives are paying attention and asking questions.

No comments:

Post a Comment