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October 23, 2021

What Philly's ballot question about marijuana decriminalization really means

On Nov. 2, voters also will be asked about the management of the city-owned vehicle fleet, civil service hiring procedures, and funding for affordable housing

2021 Election Ballot Questions
Philly ballot questions Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice

Philadelphia voters will have four ballot questions to vote on during the general election on November 2.

Philadelphia voters will have four ballot questions to answer during the general election on Nov. 2. One asks whether the city should urge Harrisburg to decriminalize and legalize marijuana. Another proposes a way to streamline civil service hiring decisions. The third would create the Department of Fleet Management to oversee the city's vehicles, and the fourth would require Philadelphia to allocate a percent of it annual budget to the Philadelphia Housing Trust Fund.

Below are more details about each question:

Question 1: Should Philly urge Harrisburg to legalize adult-use recreational marijuana?

Shall the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to call upon the Pennsylvania General Assembly and Governor to pass legislation that would decriminalize, regulate, and tax the use, and sale to adults aged 21 years or older, of cannabis for non-medical purposes?

Though Pennsylvania lawmakers passed legislation to legalize the use and sale of marijuana for medical purposes in 2016, the use of marijuana recreationally remains illegal. To date, 18 states have decriminalized and legalized the sale and use of recreational marijuana, including New Jersey.

Marijuana was decriminalized in Philadelphia in October 2014, shortly after former Mayor Michael Nutter signed a bill authored by then Councilperson Jim Kenney, but it's still not legal in Philadelphia. A person just won't face criminal charges – only fines – if found to be carrying less than 30 grams pot.

Pennsylvania politicians have tried to legalize marijuana in the state before. Two bills were introduced in 2019, but neither was successful. Then in February a bipartisan proposal to legalize weed was introduced, and it still awaits a vote in Harrisburg.

Gov. Tom Wolf is in favor of legalization, saying the revenue generated will help Pennsylvania recover economically from the COVID-19 pandemic. Also, in 2019, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, an advocate for marijuana legalization, visited all 67 counties in the state and held town hall meetings to discuss adult-use legalization.  When he was done, he reported that as many as 70% of the people attending these sessions were in favor of the recreational legalization of pot.

Voting "yes" on this ballot measure supports adding a statement to the city's charter urging the Pennsylvania General Assembly and Wolf to pass legislation decriminalizing the use and sale of recreational marijuana to adults aged 21 years or older throughout the state – and that's it. This measure on it's own will not change any of the state's marijuana laws, but it will let Harrisburg know how most voting Philadelphians feel about the recreational legalization of pot statewide.

Voting "no" on this ballot measure opposes adding a statement to the city's charger urging Pennsylvania lawmakers to pass legislation to decriminalize the use and sale of recreational marijuana to adults in Pennsylvania.

Question 2: Should Philly's Office of Fleet Management be elevated to department status?

Shall the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to establish and define the function of a Department of Fleet Services, headed by a Commissioner, to manage all city-owned motor vehicles and city programs concerning alternative vehicle fuel initiatives?

When former Mayor Ed Rendell was in office, he signed an executive order creating the Office of Fleet Management which consolidated the purchasing and maintenance of city-owned vehicles, responsibilities that previously had been split among the Department of Public Property, the Procurement Department and a board made of up the mayor, finance director and managing director. 

That order took effect in 1993. Among the 6,000 vehicles the current office is in charge of ambulances, garbage trucks, police cruisers, snow plows and more. This ballot question asks voters if Philadelphia should make the Office of Fleet Management a permanent part of city government by changing the city charter and defining it as a department.

The proposed Department of Fleet Management would manage the acquisition, repair, maintenance and disposal of the city-owned vehicles and related equipment. It also would be in charge of assigning vehicles to other city departments and would manage the city-owned fueling sites, as well as the programs for vehicles that run on alternative fuels.

Voting "yes" on this ballot measure supports the creation of a separate Department of Fleet Services, to replace the current Office of Fleet Management.

Voting "no" on this ballot measure would opposes establishing a new Department of Fleet Services and keeps the Office of Fleet Management in tact.

Question 3: Should the city have more flexibility when hiring candidates from the civil service list?

Shall The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to revise provisions related to the civil service system, to allow the Personnel Director to determine the number of people on an eligible list from which a hiring or promotion decision may be made, and to determine the number of times a person may be passed over and remain eligible on such a list, all based on the position and the needs of the civil service program?

To apply for most city jobs, a candidate is required to take the civil service test for the particular job she or he is seeking. Job applicants are ranked on the scores that receive and currently only the two, top-scoring applicants can be interviewed for the open positions, commonly referred to as the "rule of two."

Of those two people, the one who doesn't get the jobs, remains at the top of the civil service exam list for future consideration for the same type of job, but her or she cannot interview with the same department more than twice.

A 2017 survey of 35 cities similar to Philadelphia found that no other municipality followed the rule of two, and a city official testified to city council earlier this year that this practice impedes the city's hiring process, BillyPenn reported.

If this ballot question is approved it changes the hiring process in two ways. First, instead of only being able to choose from the top two applicants on a civil service test list, the city's personnel director can expand how many applicants a department head may interview. Second, the personnel director would have more discretion about how many times a person could interview for a job at specific department, based on the type of job and other factors.

Voting "yes" on this ballot measure would enable the city's personnel director to decide how many qualified applicants for civil service positions can be chosen following the assessment, and determine how many times an applicant may remain eligible for consideration for the program.

Voting "no" on this ballot measure would opposes giving the personnel director that authority and discretion.

Question 4: Should Philly be required to budget annual contributions to the affordable housing fund?

Shall The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to provide for a mandatory annual appropriation for the Housing Trust Fund?

Philadelphia's Housing Trust Fund was established in 2005 to support the continued implementation and maintenance of affordable housing throughout the city. This question asked voters to determine whether the city's charter should allocate 0.5% of the annual city budget's General Fund appropriations and require they be used for affordable housing purposes.

The money would be used to build affordable housing, to make it easier for disabled people to live in affordable housing and to reduce homelessness.

If this rule had been in place this year, City Council would have been required to allot about $25 million for the Housing Trust Fund. The sum of money established, if this question is approved, would remain is separate from other existing obligations the city has to contribute funding to housing programs.

This is the only ballot question the Inquirer's editorial board endorsed voting no on this election, arguing it would be wrong to mandate this financial obligation on future City Councils and mayors. 

Voting "yes" on this ballot measure amends the city charter to allot funding equal to 0.5% of the city's budget for the Housing Trust Fund.

Voting "no" on this ballot measure opposes that funding requirement

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. on Nov. 2. Registered voters can find where they their ballots using this polling-place locator tool. The deadline to request a mail-in ballot for the general election is Tuesday, Oct. 26.