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Philly Budget Backlash

The Philadelphia Tribune, News Analysis, Eric Mayes Posted: Jan 13, 2009

Though Mayor Michael Nutters budget cuts have provoked a public outcry particularly plans to close 11 branch libraries and eliminate seven fire companies its difficult for others to theorize what he might have been done differently.

I believe Mayor Nutter is doing an excellent job under circumstances over which he has no control, said former Mayor W. Wilson Goode Sr. I believe his cuts are practical and right.

Several people interviewed by the Tribune either agreed with Goodes assessment of the situation or declined to second guess the mayor.

Nutters immediate predecessor, John F. Street, was among those who declined to answer questions.

Those who did fault the mayor didnt quarrel with his list of budget cuts but rather his delivery of them.

President of the Pennsylvania NAACP and well-known local activist J. Whyatt Mondesire also declined to make direct suggestions on possible budget cuts.

Im not going to cherry pick what he should cut, he joked. Thats above my pay grade.

But, he did say that Nutter took the wrong approach to putting his plan into action.

I think he has tried to come up with a decent financial plan, Mondesire said. But, its not being accepted by the community at large because of the delivery the plan of convincing has been an abject failure.

Nutters spending cuts included a plan to close 11 branch libraries and eliminate seven fire companies.

Those cuts generated considerable controversy and even landed the city in court twice. That might have been avoided, according to Mondesire, if Nutter had sought outside advice before he drew up his plan.

That contribution has never been sought by the administration, he said. If there had been a conversation with the activists, I think the court case could have been avoided.

The mayor did meet with community activists several weeks ago, Mondesire said, but by then it was too late.

If Nutter had gone to the community first, he might have had more success.

I urged him to include us in the conversations, Mondesire said. He didnt do that.

Painful cuts are probably inevitable, he added, but by asking for solutions rather than acting unilaterally, Nutter might have been able to come up with some different options and gather community support.

I dont want to see the libraries close and I dont think we were given the opportunity to come with other solutions, Mondesire said. I do know we can find solutions to these problems.

He might also have avoided the public outcry he now faces.

Its a lot better when its talked about, Mondesire said. Its much easier to get people to accept half a loaf when youve talked about the need.

The head of the African-American Chamber of Commerce was reluctant to comment on the budget situation or alternative choices she might have made, because of the complexity of the citys finances and the fact that she was not privy to all the numbers or the process behind the administrations decisions.

Executive Director Kim Johnson said she realized cuts needed to be made painful cuts, but she declined to second guess the mayor or be, as she put it, a Monday morning quarterback.

My thing is, that it would be easy from where I sit to look at it from a different perspective, she said. And there may be other things that could be done but I dont know what steps he has taken to make those decisions.

Officials at the Philadelphia School District were equally reluctant to comment. A spokesman said neither SRC Chairwoman Sandra Dungee Glenn nor Superintendent Arlene Ackerman would comment.

Radio talk show host Bill Anderson at WURD said the cuts had upset a lot of people, but the reaction seemed to stem from the way the mayor announced them rather than the cuts themselves.

He probably knows better about budget cuts that most of us, he said. I think the mayors handling of the cuts was a lot worse than the cuts. Most people are relatively reasonable about the fact that were in a budget crisis, but I think most people resent the fact that they were not included in decision-making process. So it kind of created a community-against-administration mindset.

Among the alternatives Anderson heard bantered about on the airwaves were reducing the number of deputy mayors on the citys employee list and cutting the number of vehicles in the citys fleet.

By closing pools and libraries, Anderson said, people felt Nutter had contradicted campaign talk about reducing violence and focusing on education.

People were upset about the closing of the pools and libraries. People think the closing of the pools could lead to additional violence. People have said that closing libraries is contradictory to your stance on education, Anderson said. They just feel like if they had been included there would have been a better solution.

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