Verna Tyner

Age: 51
Occupation: Former City Council Senior Staff
Residence: Tioga
Political Experience: City Council Senior Staff Member (16 years), Chief of Staff to Councilman At-Large Bill Greenlee and the late Councilman At-Large David Cohen
Bio: Tyner, a lifelong Philadelphia resident, works with many community groups and neighborhood associations, advocacy organizations, faith-based institutions, local small businesses and large corporations.  She says that the key to success is working together. Her passion is community development.  Tyner empowers others and employs creative ideas to build neighborhood capacity and solve everyday issues.
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What makes you a good fit for the 8th District Council job?

In many ways, the 8th District is a microcosm of the entire City – extremely diverse (stretching from Chestnut Hill and Mount Airy at its western-most point to Tioga, where I live, at its eastern-most), historic and full of hardworking people.  As the candidate with the experience working out in the neighborhoods, providing constituent services for residents across the whole city, and finding creative ways to solve tough development and zoning-related issues, I feel like I will be the effective, attentive, dedicated representative each neighborhood of the 8th District deserves.

My heart and my entire life are truly with the people of this district.  I have lived on the same Venango Street block in Tioga for 40 years.  I started serving my community as a junior block captain, then as a block captain, and eventually as a founder and treasurer for the Tioga United neighborhood organization.  I also served as chief of staff for both the late Councilman David Cohen and Councilman Bill Greenlee.  My experiences over the last 40 years – as a community leader in our neighborhoods and a public servant in City Hall – has given me a unique insight into how City government can work for the residents of this district.  In short, I’m the only candidate in this race with that mix of private and public experience, which is important because the 8h District is extremely diverse.

Chestnut Hill has seen numerous zoning disputes in which the neighborhood’s economic interests have run counter to near neighbor interests. How much input should a community have into zoning decisions vs. near neighbors?  What is the council person’s role in zoning disputes?

First of all, we have to reassess and update the Eighth District’s zoning map (I recently participated in a similar effort in Tioga) to ensure that neighbors and developers have a more defined idea of what can/should be built throughout our district.

This kind of economic development is my passion, and I firmly believe that all development should be community-approved and inspired.  As a neighborhood representative with decades of experience working with developers and residents, I understand the importance of ensuring that developers take seriously their obligation to actively consult with the community.  This is especially true if their projects are receiving taxpayer-funded subsidies.

That does not mean, however, that members of council should be irrational or obstinate in discussions with potential investors.  Rather, City Council members should act as mediators between developers/investors and the communities they’re seeking to enter.   Effective community representation requires us to negotiate with developers in good faith.  Neither developers nor residents can “go-it-alone.”

How can the city balance the needs to encourage small businesses and keep residents’ taxes low and services running?
We can start by making the city run as efficiently as possible, which I believe will require an immediate reassessment of all city agencies and departments.  We must eliminate as many outdated procedures and duplicated services as we can.  I know from running two City Council offices lauded for outstanding constituent service operations that a number of Philadelphia’s agencies and offices could work more efficiently.  I have suggested forming a coalition of residents, business partners, and city workers to determine a better way to deliver basic and essential civil services.
We must also commit to an honest discussion of how our city can bridge the disconnect between what the city promises its retired workers and what it can actually deliver.  This involves (a) confronting the reality that public sector workers may have to discuss changes to benefits contributions or pension adjustments as a cost-saving measure, and (b) recognizing that efforts like Governor Scott Walker’s attempt to eliminate most (but not quite all) union collective bargaining rights are not necessary measures.

I’m not saying that these cost-saving measures will completely alleviate our budget issues.  But there is definitely room to trim.
From there, the city *must* focus on earning more revenue not by raising taxes (even if those hikes are meant to be temporary), but by creating more jobs.  A big part of that will involve doing everything we can to get rid of Philadelphia’s reputation for being an unhealthy business environment.  This will also ensure that more businesses settle here, which will create more economic activity, jobs and revenue and allow the city to better compete in the regional economy.

The city’s public schools seem to be in a near constant state of crisis.  What steps do you think the city should take to improve city public schools?

The state still controls the School Reform Commission and many elements of the public school system, which places limits on what the city can do to affect change.  I do not think the city is ready to retake total control of the public schools again, but I would like to see the Mayor and City Council take on more responsibility moving forward.

There are, however, many ways that our communities can work to improve our schools.  First of all, we must conduct a comprehensive assessment of the educational assets – including schools and both private and public resources – available in our district.  We have wonderful private and parochial schools in the Eighth, but we also must focus on better marketing our public schools to families who may not be able to afford another choice.  Jenks Elementary is a perfect example of a public school we should be better promoting to potential students and their parents.

Once that effort is complete, I believe we should hold regular education forums to discuss ways to increase volunteerism in public schools – especially among seniors, who I think would make for wonderful mentors for students.  The forums would also serve as a unifying setting for schools of all classifications seeking to share the best ways to educate our students.
We as a community must also work harder to identify at-risk and struggling children at a young age.  We’ve got to work with local businesses, schools and nonprofits to provide our kids with better, safer childcare and after school programs.  For example, developing more after-school music programs would add another constructive free-time activity for students.

Polls have shown that voters are fed up with politics and distrustful of government. What would you do as a councilperson or are you doing as a candidate to address the corrosion of the public’s faith in government?

First of all, I have said publicly many times that I support term limits (two terms, eight years total) for members of Council.  I have promised to abide by those limits regardless of whether I’m legally bound to do so.  I think this will lessen our neighbors’ cynicism by encouraging more hardworking, well-intentioned, accountable people to become part of the political process.

I have also committed to maintaining a district office and promised to keep that office open late at least twice a month.  I have suggested establishing a partnership office with an area state representative or state senator – a one-stop shop where residents can learn about both city and state resources available to them.  I have similarly pledged to support holding some regular Council meetings at night, as well as rotating the locations of the meetings throughout the city so as many communities as possible have a better chance to witness City Council business firsthand.

Finally, I have promised to publish an annual 8th District in Numbers document – a comprehensive report on the funds district residents contribute to city coffers and how those public funds are spent within the district.

Finally, the DROP program has made a lot of headlines for what can best be described as abuse by city officials who retire for a day in order to collect large cash payments. What is your attitude about DROP? If you are elected will you support for City Council President anyone who has entered the DROP program?

I was the first 8th District candidate to pledge publicly that I would not to support a DROP-enrolled official for Council President.  I also challenged my fellow candidates to make the same pledge, and just one of my fellow candidates, Cindy Bass, refused to agree to that pledge.  I have also promised to only vote for a Council President that has said he or she would never enroll in DROP.
The DROP program was designed for hard-working public workers, police and firefighters and city efforts to anticipate their retirement – not for elected officials who intend to run for another term.  It was unethical for elected officials to take advantage of the program by “retiring” for a day between terms – moves that further strained the city financially and added to the cynicism with which too many city residents view their government.

DROP must be closely reevaluated by the incoming City Council, but I have not called for its immediate abolishment.  As I said, the program was designed for hard-working city workers anticipating their retirement.  It does have its merits.  The real problem was not the program itself or the idea behind it, but the interest rates it involved.  They were simply too high.  Moving forward, making DROP’s percentage of return indexed and/or variable would be a significant move towards righting the program.

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