Poised to quit Council to run for mayor, Gym moves to undo residency rule for city hires

The well-intentioned 2020 requirement was impeding hiring and hindering city services, Gym says
Philadelphia Councilmember Helen Gym. Photo credit NBC10

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio)Philadelphia City Councilmember Helen Gym delivered what sounded like a farewell speech on Thursday, though she stopped short of actually resigning. She is expected to resign from Council soon to run for mayor.

Gym spoke for 12 minutes, thanking virtually every member of Council staff right down to the sign-language interpreters.

“I want to say how much it’s meant to be a part of this particular body. Together we have seen seismic changes and challenges nationally and internationally met through this City Council even just in my six years and 11 months,” she said.

Afterward, Gym was coy. “It was a Thanksgiving speech,” she said. “It was expressing thanks.”

But Council President Darrell Clarke wasn’t buying it.

“Everybody knows there’s a likelihood that the councilwoman is going to resign to run for mayor. If that wasn’t an announcement, I don’t know what else is,” Clarke said.

Neither was her colleague Cindy Bass.

“Listen, I got about a dozen texts asking ‘What’s going on?’ And so, while it didn’t go all the way — we certainly will have to wait for it — look, we’re picking up what you’re putting down,” Bass said.

This is becoming almost routine. So far, four Council members and the city controller have resigned to join the city’s mayoral race. Philadelphia’s Home Rule Charter requires city officials to resign from their current posts before beginning to campaign for new elected offices.

The speech came immediately after Gym introduced a bill that seems headed for trouble if she is not around to shepherd it through.

The legislation would undo a rule that applicants for city jobs must live in Philadelphia for a full year before they can be hired. Gym’s proposal would restore the old requirement, giving new civil service employees six months to move into the city after being hired, meaning they can come from outside of the city.

It sets up a showdown between Gym and Clarke, who championed the strict residency requirement in 2020. The Council president could block the legislation by declining to refer it to committee, or he could delay it until after Gym’s presumed resignation.

The current residency requirement was passed as part of a package of reforms after the Black Lives Matter protests that followed the murder of George Floyd, and it was seen as a way of diversifying the city workforce, especially the Police Department.

Gym has said the reversal is necessary to widen the recruitment pool. In the last two years, municipal workers have left in droves as the COVID-19 pandemic forced major shifts in the labor market.

The city has about 4,000 vacancies, nearly 15% of the workforce, Gym said. And with hiring slowed down, the pre-hiring residency requirement was creating staff shortages all over city government and impeding basic city services and public safety, she said.

Clarke said there is no shortage of Philadelphia residents to fill those vacancies, citing city data that there are 20,000 resident applications.

“I don’t want those individuals competing with people that don’t live here to try to get gainful employment with a good city of Philadelphia job,” Clarke said.

He suggested politics may be driving the bill, especially given Gym’s speech.

Featured Image Photo Credit: NBC10