PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Staff shortages were the chief concern as City Council started hearings on the mayor’s budget Tuesday. The first two days of testimony are in person, in council chambers, for the first time in four years.
“Let the fun begin,” said Council President Darrell Clarke, as budget hearings began. He said it felt good to be back in person.
“Our ability to get questions answered, probably a little better in person. People can’t use a cheat sheet because they’re sitting right in front of us,” he said.
Council member Cindy Bass said communication was much improved.
“So much communication happens through body language. Whether you’re in sync with the person that you’re talking to or you have a difference of opinion, body language goes a long way in being able to decipher where you stand with a department head and what they’re thinking,” she said.
Managing Director Tumar Alexander, who was on the other side of the table, answering questions, said he also preferred being face to face.
“Being able to actually shake hands with the Council members, talk to folks in person, talking to you in person — it all feels good,” Alexander said.
Finance Director Rob Dubow said he didn’t have a preference: “I think we had a really good interaction this morning. I think we’ve had good interactions virtually too, though, so I think either format works.”
Despite the broad approval, most of the hearings will be virtual. Only the first two hearings (Tuesday and Wednesday) and one public hearing toward the end of the process are scheduled to be in person. They go back to being virtual next week.
Other than the in-person setting, the hearing unfolded much as usual. Council members asked administration officials a wide range of questions, but many of them, this time, revolved around staffing shortages in city departments and the city’s plan for hiring — especially in public safety departments.
Officials said they expect recommendations from a joint council-and-administration retention-and-recruitment committee by next week.