ABOUT THE OFFICE – City Council
Philadelphia’s City Council, the legislative branch of the municipal
government, enacts the city’s laws and resolutions, holds hearings, and approves its operating budget and members of city boards and commissions. The Home Rule Charter provides that City Council shall consist of 17 council members — with 10 being DISTRICT COUNCIL members (elected by geographic district) and 7 being AT-LARGE COUNCIL members (elected from the City at-large). Each Council Member is elected for a term of four years with no limitations as to the number of terms that may be served.
The functions of City Council influence a wide range of public affairs in Philadelphia and directly impact the quality of life for its citizenry.
DISTRICT vs AT LARGE COUNCIL MEMBERS
DISTRICT COUNCIL MEMBERS are elected to represent the needs and interests of the constituents within the boundaries of their Council District. This can mean concentrating more of time and focus on people and issues in their specific part of the city — especially issues related to land use and zoning. Although not written in the Home Rule Charter, any ordinance, or other recorded rulebook, Philadelphia City Council observes a practice called “COUNCILMANIC PREROGATIVE,” whereby very strong deference (almost total) is given to the decision or viewpoint of the District Council Member whose District is impacted by a particular land use, land regulation, or project development. In practice, this means a District Council Member often has the decisive say over projects and other land use matters happening in the District. Proponents of Councilmanic Prerogative say it ensures that community voices in the specific District are heard and given deference, to level the playing field for residents and community groups in the face of well resourced developers or other advocates. Critics of Councilmanic Prerogative say it creates a patchwork of disconnected zoning and land use policies, and concentrates too much authority in the hands of one Council Member, creating problematic incentives that can result in scandal and corruption.
Philadelphia City Council districts are redrawn every 10 years after the federal Census. The Philadelphia City Council districts currently in effect were drawn following the 2010 Census and will be used through 2023. A new Council map approved in February 2022 will be used for the 2023, 2027 and 2031 municipal elections when all 17 Council seats – 10 district and 7 at-large – will be on the ballot.
AT-LARGE COUNCIL MEMBERS are elected by citywide popular vote, in which voters from the majority party (Democratic) may only select 5 candidates on the ballot, in order to preserve bipartisan representation and guarantee the election of 2 non-majority party candidates (e.g., any minority-party or independents). In theory, AT-LARGE COUNCIL MEMBERS are not tethered to a geographic district and constituency, and may pursue policies and priorities that cross district boundary concerns and appeal to needs or people in a variety of locations across the City. AT-LARGE members tend to defer to DISTRICT members in matters of bread and butter constituent services, in part because District Council members receive more resources for constituent services (staffing, budget, and the like), given their District Council role.
Council President and other Council Leadership posts
At the start of each new 4-year Council term (EX: in January 2024), the Council President is elected from and by all the Council members (both At-Large and District). The Council President serves as the regular chairperson of Council meetings and sets agendas. In consultation with the majority of Council members, the President appoints members to the various standing committees of the Council. The President is also responsible for selecting and overseeing most Council employees. Other Council leadership posts (Majority Leader, etc.) are elected in January as well, and typically stay in place throughout the 4 year term.
Under the rules of Council, regular public sessions are held weekly, usually on Thursday morning at 10:00 AM in Room 400, City Hall. Every proposed ordinance is in the form of a bill introduced by a Council Member. Before a bill can be enacted by Council, it must be
referred by the President of Council to an appropriate standing committee of Council, considered at a public hearing and public meeting, reported out by the committee, printed as reported by the committee, distributed by the members, and made available to the public. Passage of a bill requires the favorable vote of a majority of all members of Council. A bill becomes law upon the approval of the Mayor. If the Mayor vetoes a bill, Council may override the veto by a two-thirds vote.
Council normally breaks for the summer months of July and August.