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Phila. City Council Set For Summer Recess With PGW Deal On Hold

By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Today brings Philadelphia City Council's final meeting of its spring session, with votes expected on marijuana decriminalization and the city budget.

But much to the mayor's chagrin, his controversial plan to sell the Philadelphia Gas Works will not be introduced.

Council president Darrell Clarke is adamant that he will not introduce the mayor's plan to privatize the city-owned natural gas utility until Council's own consultants have completed their analysis (see related story).

"We don't anticipate doing that.  This being the most significant municipal transaction probably in the history of the City of Philadelphia, it's more important for us to get an accurate assessment of the proposal to make an intelligent and informed decision," Clarke said.

But with Council adjourning today until the fall, that means Council won't be holding a public hearing on the PGW sale until long after July 15th, the date on which the prospective buyer, UIL Holdings of Connecticut, could opt out of the deal.

Michael West, a spokesman for UIL, says even with the likelihood that Council will not have acted by then, no decision has been made by the firm whether to hang in.

"Our objective is to wait and see what happens, and then we'll certainly have to make some decisions and determinations.  We're taking this a day at a time.  Certainly there are parameters and milestones included in the deal for a reason," he said.

Other councilmembers support Clarke's decision to hold off today on introduction, including the ranking Republican, Brian O'Neill, who represents the 10th District.

"We're just at the beginning of a very preliminary report, because they still have a lot of analysis to do.  I don't want to see the bill introduced until we see the analysis," O'Neill said.

First District councilman Mark Squilla agrees:

"I don't how we could introduce it without all the information necessary to do that.  Now that we have the consultants, we're going to wait for all the information to come back from them before we decide how to move forward."

And Clarke says he has no concern about UIL's July 15th opt-out date.

"This timeline requested by the (Nutter) administration is their timeline.  It is not City Council's timeline," Clarke said.

West, the UIL spokesman, says company officials have been and will continue to meet directly with City Council members.   Part of the goal, he says, is to counter what he calls "misinformation" being put out by opponents of the deal, including the gas workers' union.

"We've just continued to push through that noise in hopes that prudent decisions will be made based on the facts," West says.

And he says that whether or not the PGW sale goes eventually through, it's a historic moment for the city:

"One way or another, there certainly will be discussion about this deal for years to come."

UIL is offering to purchase PGW lock, stock, and barrel for nearly $2 billion (see previous story).   Mayor Nutter says about one-quarter of the proceeds would be used to shore up the struggling city workers' pension fund.

The sale is also subject to approval by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.   A rally by opponents is scheduled at City Hall this morning.


On the school funding front, City Council today is expected to give final approval to a measure that allows the city to borrow $27 million, which will then be gifted to the school district.  Council members are not expected to heed the request of schools superintendent William Hite to increase the borrowing amount (see related story).

And, as we reported yesterday, a bill that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana will be up for a final vote (see related story), and is expected to pass (related story).  Mayor Nutter opposes the measure but would have until the fall to decide whether to veto it.

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