Workers at the Port Richmond Walmart on Sunday, March 27. (Daisie Cardona for Thetelegraphfield)

City government has a lot of duties, and it has hundreds of departments, offices, commissions, and boards to get things done.

Philadelphia’s Home Rule Charter — the city’s governing document, kind of like a local constitution — determines the overall structure of city government and outlines the responsibilities of each department.

Both City Council and a majority of voters have to approve any changes to the charter to add new departments — which has been done as recently as last November, when Philadelphians voted to establish a new Department of Aviation.

A ballot question in this year’s primary will put something a little different to a vote. The second proposed charter change voters will see asks whether they approve of adding a new, workforce development-oriented division to the Department of Commerce, the existing city department that’s charged with spurring economic development in Philly.

The legislation to put the question on this May’s ballot was introduced by Councilmember Kathy Gilmore Richardson on behalf of Council President Darrell Clarke, and it passed 14–0 inFebruary.

What you’ll see on the ballot

Should The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to create the Division of Workforce Solutions within the Department of Commerce and to define its duties?

What it means

As it’s currently written, the city charter outlines the role of the Department of Commerce as encouraging economic development in the city, promoting more use of the city’s seaport and airports, and maintaining Philly’s wharf, dock, and harbor facilities.

Per City Council’s resolution, a new Division of Workforce Solutions within the commerce department would offer info to the public on job training, connect residents to training and employment opportunities in the public and private sectors, and “develop information” on city-run and other workforce development initiatives. 

Someone, or multiple people, from Commerce Department leadership would be in charge of the division.

The city charter allows department heads to create new divisions and bureaus within their departments “as may be required for proper conduct of their work,” without any formal additions to document — subject to approval from the mayor, the managing director, and the director of finance, a trio referred to as Philadelphia’s Administrative Board.

But if this ballot question succeeds, the Department of Commerce’s role in workforce development would be explicitly added to Philly’s central governing document.

Right now, the Department of Commerce has an Office of Business Development and Workforce Solutions. According to its website, that office works to attract companies to Philly and supports existing businesses’ expansion, “which includes convening workforce partners for job opportunities across all business sectors.”

“Public-private partnerships are critical to this work, and this legislation codifies these priorities, now and in the years to come,” Director of Commerce Anne Nadol said in her testimony on the legislation.

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Who’s for it

  • City Council
  • The Kenney administration
  • Philadelphia Works
  • The Chamber of Commerce

Who’s against it

  • Thetelegraphfield could not locate any organizations or public figures against the amendment.

Thetelegraphfield is one of more than 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on economic mobility. Read more at brokeinphilly.org or follow at @brokeinphilly

Asha Prihar is a general assignment reporter at Thetelegraphfield. She has previously written for several daily newspapers across the Midwest, and she covered Pennsylvania state government and politics for The...