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Is Mayor Kenney delaying a tool that would let taxpayers see how their money is spent? | Clout

A city official said the project could be launched within days, if only Mayor Kenney's administration would act.

Mayor Jim Kenney backed Rich Lazer in the Fifth Congressional District Democratic primary. Lazer finished third.
Mayor Jim Kenney backed Rich Lazer in the Fifth Congressional District Democratic primary. Lazer finished third. Read moreTIM TAI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Sometimes we get the feeling that Philadelphia's government isn't doing the best job balancing its checkbook.

Maybe it was in April when we learned that $33 million in taxpayer dollars went "missing."

Perhaps it was in August when we found out a municipal employee had tripled her salary with overtime.

Perchance it was just this week, when Mayor Kenney's administration and City Council could not agree on how much a plan to fund affordable housing would raise.

If only ordinary citizens could keep track of how our tax dollars are spent.

That was the idea back when Mayor Michael Nutter's then-chief data officer, Mark Headd, proposed regularly releasing financial data online via what's known as an API.

A city official familiar with that project said it could have been launched when Headd left his city job in April 2014.

Headd, a month after he called it quits, tweeted that "Real cities have APIs. Open cities expose their budgets and expenditure data through them. #opendata #transparency"

Headd also told the website Next City in January 2015 that he bid farewell to City Hall after it became clear Finance Department staffers were not on board.

So what's the status now, nearly five years later? The city official said the API could still be launched within days, if only Kenney's administration would act.

Not so, said Kenney spokesperson Mike Dunn, who described the project as being "in the final stretch" but still not ready for release until "early next year."

Dunn blamed delays on several factors. He said the city's Office of Open Data and Digital Transformation is a "relatively small team." And some of the data have "major privacy implications" that have to protected from public view.

Still, Philly is way behind the times on this. New York City launched the website more than eight years ago, publishing a wealth of real-time fiscal data. The Pew Trusts in 2015 detailed states that have launched similar "checkbook" efforts to disclose data.

"If we had done this back in 2014, we probably would have been a leader," the city official said.

So much for being the city of firsts.

GOP congressman took contribution from pol guilty of bribery

U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, a Bucks County Republican, talks a lot about fighting government corruption.

When he first ran for Congress in 2016, he said that he had "spent virtually my entire career arresting corrupt politicians" as an FBI agent. After taking office, Fitzpatrick introduced bills to create term limits for lawmakers and clean up the redistricting process.

Fitzpatrick's good-government bona fides are a boon in his moderate suburban district, where he is being challenged by Democrat Scott Wallace.

So Clout raised its eyebrows when it learned that the Fitzpatrick campaign in July 2017 took a $5,400 contribution from Elliott Broidy — the same Elliott Broidy who pleaded guilty in 2009 to handing out nearly $1 million in bribes to New York pension officials in a made-for-the-tabloids pay-to-play scandal.

After Clout asked about the money, Fitzpatrick's campaign said it would give the $5,400 to charity.

"As is the case with Democrat and Republican congressional candidates across the country, to include Scott Wallace, tens of thousands of dollars are received from thousands of contributors online, both directly and indirectly, that are not subject to some sort of instant background check," said Fitzpatrick spokesperson Genevieve Malandra.

When he contributed money to Fitzpatrick's campaign, Broidy was the deputy finance chairman for the Republican National Committee. Broidy resigned in April after  — wait for it — media reports revealed that he agreed to pay an ex-Playboy model $1.6 million in exchange for keeping quiet about their affair.

Top Kenney aide violated ban on political activity while on the city payroll

Democrat Rich Lazer, a top Kenney aide, got what some saw as a slap on the wrist by the Ethics Board this week.

The agency found that he violated the city's ban on political activity by municipal employees when he was toying with a run for Congress earlier this year.

The hard-hitting fine for that infraction? $300.

In February, Lazer told people over the phone that he was thinking about campaigning and asked if they'd support him. A finance director then followed up with them to ask for donations. At the time, Lazer hadn't yet resigned from his position as Kenney's deputy mayor of labor.

According to the Ethics Board's settlement agreement with Lazer, the former candidate's lawyer "advised him, incorrectly, that so long as he did not directly ask anyone for a campaign contribution, he would not violate the [City Charter's] political activity restrictions." Lazer came in third place in the primary for Pennsylvania's Fifth District.

In cases in which employees break the city's political activity rules, $300 is the maximum fine the Ethics Board can impose under the City Charter. That may have something to do with the fact that the penalty was set nearly 70 years ago, according to Shane Creamer, Ethics Board executive director.

In other words, voters would need to approve an amendment to the City Charter to jack up the fine. Given the electorate's current antiestablishment mood, we don't see that being a problem. But the change would also require City Council's approval … which, in our opinion, is a little less likely.