Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Ethics reform remains a major theme

I hope Dan and Luke were listening.
Ethics reform remains a major theme | Philadelphia Daily News | 01/08/2008 Ethics reform remains a major theme
I would LOVE to be a part of a team / process / discussion about a reform of Pittsburgh's Ethics. We'd start with the Ethics Hearing Board. After all the present members resign. We'd get people who want to move a bit faster than the average glacier. Next, we'd make suggestions to the law -- so as to eliminate the confidentiality clause. Then we'd hold televised meetings once a week. It would be nothing to spend no money -- but use public evaluation as a tool. No punishments would come from the Ethics Hearing Board itself. But, that board could better make the case for civil and criminal trails yet to unfold.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Philadelphia Daily News

daviesd@phillynews.com 215-854-2595
"THERE IS NOTHING that government does that cannot be done ethically and transparently. Nothing," Mayor Nutter said in his inauguration speech yesterday. "This will be a government that serves all of us, not a select few."

The line drew applause, but there's reason to believe Philadelphia's reputation as corrupt and contented is already changing.

Prompted in part by the federal corruption probe that bagged a former city treasurer and two of the former mayor's top fundraisers, the city has enacted reforms that have made it a national leader in the area of public integrity.

"There's been a national trend towards campaign-finance and governmental-ethics reform for the last two years," said Craig Holman of the Washington-based group Public Citizen, "but Philadelphia is way ahead of everybody."

The extent to which old habits of favoritism and influence-peddling are broken is a story still unfolding, but it's clear the rules are changing. Consider the reforms enacted and under way:

* Campaign-finance limits, imposed by City Council in 2003 and modified in 2005, changed the face of last year's mayoral race and have been upheld by the state Supreme Court.

A front-runner for mayor can no longer count on huge piles of special-interest cash, and candidates need a broad fundraising base to win.

* The city now has an independent ethics board with a growing staff and the fourth-largest budget in the nation among municipal ethics panels.

And it has teeth. It's already forced candidates to return tens of thousands in improper campaign contributions and has several active investigations under way.

* A new ethics code sets clearer standards of conduct for city employees and gives the ethics board more authority to investigate misconduct and impose penalties.

* Contracting laws sponsored by Nutter and enacted in 2005 impose new disclosure requirements and contribution limits on anyone seeking no-bid city contracts or financial assistance.

Contribution limits that could disqualify a company from city work apply not only to the owner, but to immediate family members, contributions solicited by the owner, and total contributions at any fundraiser hosted by the owner or the firm.

The laws also require disclosure of lobbyists for no-bid contracts and bring more competition and transparency to their awarding.

* As mayor, Nutter has appointed former federal prosecutor Joan Markman as the city's first-ever chief integrity officer. Her job is to make sure administration officials are doing the right thing all the time, not just when someone complains or when the ethics board investigates.

Nutter appointed another former prosecutor, Amy Kurland, as the city's new inspector general.

The new mayor said he was moved in part by the fact that the city has seen more headlines about corruption over the last four years than reform.

"Our reputation has been so damaged that I felt I really had to show the city and outsiders, including the rating agencies, that things will be different," Nutter said in an interview last week.

How much has already changed, now that businesses and politicians have lived with campaign limits, new contract rules, and an active ethics board for more than a year?

"From an altitude of 100,000 feet, it feels like it's different," said Bill Hankowsky, formerly the city's chief development official and now chief executive officer of Liberty Property Trust. "In the mayoral campaign, people were very conscious of the limits, wondering whether they should have a fundraiser, and thinking about contributions in a very different way," Hankowsky said.

"But does it feel like getting a zoning variance is now going to be purely merit-based? I don't think we have a track record on that yet," Hankowsky said. "It will be interesting to see how city bond counsels and insurance brokers get picked."

Chamber of Commerce president Mark Schweiker said that business leaders are delighted with the moves toward transparency.

Staff writer Bob Warner contributed to this report.