Monday, September 24, 2007

Got web ink in the P-G Early Returns about ethics. Interesting headline: Can't Muzzle Mark

Today's Post Gazette has this news about ethics under the headline: Can't Muzzle Mark
Post-Gazette NOW - Local News - Early Returns of Sept. 24, 2007

Can't muzzle Mark

Pittsburgh controller candidate Mark Rauterkus has filed an ethics complaint -- against the city Ethics Hearing Board.

The Libertarian Party standard bearer's complaint targets the board's policy, which is written into the city's ethics code, of barring those who filed complaints with it from speaking about those complaints. It apparently exists to keep confidential information, or unfounded accusations, out of the media. The policy first manifested itself when the very first city ethics complaint of the modern era was filed and continues to be in place.

Mr. Rauterkus' complaint demands that the board "strike down the concept of imposing secrecy onto citizens who file complaints." Why? "Sins to the soul of the city should be heard with the Ethics Hearing Board so citizens are able to gain with an increase of empowerment, not a decrease of rights."

He also rails against provisions in the ethics code that could make the complainant liable if they make wrongful use of the ethics process.

Besides filing against the board, Mr. Rauterkus filed complaints against two other candidates for city office, neither of whom is yet a city employee. Of course, by disclosing his filings to Early Returns, he may have rendered them moot by running afoul of the confidentiality rule -- but maybe that was the point.
Let's go back in time with a short two article refresher course on the early returns of the Ethics Hearing Board. These other matters linked and quoted below from the recent past were not generated by me. I didn't play any role with what follows. These two set-up articles below, plus what I'm putting into play now rounds out the bulk of the body of knowledge except for the whole Luke Ravenstahl golf outing. Almost everyone has heard about Luke's golfing.

From the P-G on May 11, 2007: Whistleblower fired from campaign job Whistleblower fired from campaign job. See the link for the story.

From the P-G on May 14, 2007: Ethics effort still not in good form
There IS an election tomorrow It seems the city Ethics Hearing Board still isn't quite ready to take complaints. The five-member board finally mustered a quorum Friday, more than a year after the late Mayor Bob O'Connor pledged to revive it from a decade of dormancy.

That meeting led some less-jaundiced observers of city politics to hope that it would start scouring a political landscape that has, this spring, been littered with accusations and questionable campaign practices. Our write-up of the historic meeting is here.

But today Jason Phillips, the erstwhile campaign staffer for Superior Court Judge Debra Todd who was fired after blowing the whistle on Councilman Jeff Koch's aide, tried to lodge a complaint and met with mixed results. Assistant City Solicitor Kate De Simone, obviously caught a little off guard by the effort, was nice as can be, offering to make up an ethics complaint form, pronto, and e-mail it to Mr. Phillips. But her offer came with three warnings:

"One thing I would point out about filing a complaint with the Ethics Hearing Board is that it's a very lengthy process," she said, estimating it at "up to a year" if the allegation is complex.

She repeated that all complaints are filed "under penalty of perjury." Translation: if the complainant is found to have lied on their complaint, they can find themselves on the wrong end of a prosecution.

Under the ethics code, she said as a reporter sat a few feet away, the complainant is not allowed to make their filing of a complaint public. Mr. Phillips' concerns have already made newspapers and the TV news, but Ms. De Simone said that didn't necessarily bar him from pursuing a complaint -- as long as he doesn't specifically tell anybody that he has filed it.

After leaving the solicitor's office, Mr. Phillips wouldn't say whether he will file a complaint, but said he wasn't deterred by what Ms. De Simone said. "The length of the procedure seems untimely," he said. "I have no concern with perjury, because I don't plan to perjure myself."

But, he noted, "It definitely seemed the city is unprepared for something it has been working toward for a year."
The next Ethics Hearing Board meeting is in October and it is on my public Google calendar.

Other footnotes on the Ethics Hearing Board are welcomed.

What became of the promise from Luke to file a complaint back in May? Is it still in the hopper? Did Luke ever get it to the Ethics Hearing Board? Is it a 'done deal?'

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