Politics

Lawsuit Pits Gov. Wolf Against The Integrity Of An Independent Commission

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Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf is now facing a lawsuit for allegedly dismissing the chairman of an independent commission over a political disagreement.

Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission is an independent agency designed to help struggling school districts. It has the authority to recommend and implement policies independent of the governor. Former Commission Chairman Bill Green filed a lawsuit April 19 against the governor alleging he was dismissed from his position for purely political reasons.

“What I see happening here is clearly Gov. Wolf giving into pressures exerted by the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers,” Lead Attorney David Osborne told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “To remove a member of the school reform commission from office he’s got to do if for some sort of misconduct on the part of the office holder.”

Osborne adds the governor also failed to provide advance notice and a hearing. Wolf and the state teachers unions have both been adamantly opposed to charter schools but Green believed they can help students escape impoverished communities. The Fairness Center, a nonprofit public interest law firm, is helping to represent Green in his case.

“Gov. Wolf gave no reason to Bill Green when he removed him,” Osborne said. “Its all about charter schools right now. Gov. Wolf and the unions are both firmly aligned against charter schools, which are a ticket for many people in the community to get out of poverty.”

The lawsuit was filed in the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania which has special jurisdiction to handle lawsuits against the state. Osborne also filed an application for summary relief which is intended to speed up the process. The state has 14 days to respond and so long as there is no dispute on the facts the case will go forward quickly.

“We filed in that court and we are also able to file something to get this case moving very quickly as long as there is no dispute over the facts.” Osborne continued. “What I said about him being removed, there is no question that is what happened. The only thing the governor’s office can say is that the law supports what they did. Unfortunately they are wrong.”

Osborne said there are letters from the governor and public statements made by his office that confirm the lawsuit. His office claims the dismissal was justified but has yet to show Green engaged in any form of misconduct. Wolf has issued similar decisions against other independent commissions only to end of losing or settling out of court.

“Shortly after coming into office he removed someone from a public records position, a quasi-judicial agency position here in Pennsylvania, basically in order to shield his office from unwanted public records request,” Osborne noted. “That case went all the way to the Supreme Court here in Pennsylvania relatively quickly.”

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court decided that the governor had no right to remove the official. The Public Employee Retirement Commission has also faced the wrath of Wolf over a political disagreement. The agency was tasked with examining pension policies but Wolf was opposed to its findings. He tried to shutdown the agency down but eventually had to settle outside of court.

“This is about protecting the integrity of an independent office, so its not just about Bill Green,” Osborne concluded. “The school reform commission has to be an institution that can impose radical reform in Pennsylvania and Philadelphia even when the governor and teachers unions disagree.”

Gov. Wolf has been accused on multiple occasions of unfairly benefiting unions at the expense of state residents. He signed an executive order last year that critics claimed made it easier for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) to unionize homecare workers. SEIU contributed nearly $1 million to his campaign, the Commonwealth Foundation found.

Gov. Wolf was also accused of locking Republican lawmakers out when negotiating a multibillion dollar labor deal with state unions just last year. The Commonwealth Foundation found that six of public-sector unions he was negotiating with donated $2.6 million to his campaign.

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and Wolf did not respond to a request for comment by TheDCNF.

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