More work to be done
Philadelphia’s self-styled reform mayor shouldn’t need another report that calls for further tightening of the city’s ethics and campaign-finance laws.
Philadelphia's self-styled reform mayor shouldn't need another report that calls for further tightening of the city's ethics and campaign-finance laws.
Or maybe he does.
Mayor Nutter seemed in no rush to push for any of the 36 reforms recommended in a task force report issued last week.
Instead, the mayor offered a tepid response, saying the group conducted a "thoughtful and comprehensive evaluation of all things ethical and campaign-finance related." Yawn.
If anything, Nutter needs to step up efforts to clean up an entrenched City Hall that would prefer to conduct business as usual. Some of Nutter's initial reforms are having an impact.
City Council members are clearly tired of reform efforts and would rather go back to running their district fiefdoms. Consider the backlash against the Board of Ethics' stellar job of policing campaign-finance rule breaking.
Some of the sniping aimed at the mayor comes from insiders used to getting things done because of whom they know. That ad hoc way of doing business helped gave life to the city's "pay-to-play" culture.
That's all the more reason that Nutter must push hard to enact the findings in the report. Some of the key recommendations include clamping down on lobbying, nepotism, and elected officials' moonlighting at companies that do business with the city.
The task force, chaired by former federal prosecutor Michael A. Schwartz, performed a valuable service with its 14-month examination into a host of meaty issues that need fixing.
The panel confronted delicate topics that have evolved into accepted practices at City Hall. Implementing reforms that end those practices could go a long way toward changing the culture at City Hall.
If Nutter — who was elected on a reform agenda — doesn't push for the change, no one else will.
Council President Anna C. Verna, who formed the task force with the mayor, wasn't even alerted to the news conference where the report was released. Mark her as MIA — Missing In Action.
It's one thing to take the time to craft a comprehensive agenda for ethics and campaign reform, but Philadelphians will have good reason to demand the mayor walk the talk before too much longer.
The need to plug campaign-finance loopholes, enact tougher ethical standards for city officials and staff, and curb the city's pay-to-play political culture are not new challenges.
In fact, a review of many of the same issues was performed by the watchdog group Committee of Seventy in 2007. Then-candidate Nutter endorsed its agenda and was elected by voters tired of City Hall corruption.
Change is hard and takes time. That's why reforms are needed, including a ban on nepotism in hiring across city government and requiring that lobbyists register and disclose client spending.
Another would be to tighten the city's otherwise progressive campaign finance law so that it doesn't give an unfair edge to incumbents in fund-raising. That's easily done by applying contribution limits to each four-year election cycle, rather than annually.
Even more basic, the mayor and Council have to support reform measures already in place. For instance, Nutter needs to move quickly to fill ethics board vacancies if the board is to continue its important work.
With Richard Negrin leaving a second seat open due to his move to oversee the city's tax assessment agency, an absence by only one of the three remaining ethics board members would prevent the board from taking any official action.
That's bad news for good government.
There's a fairly long shelf life on citizens' goodwill for their reform mayor. But at some point — without a continued push on key reforms — City Hall will return to its old ways.