I ALMOST thought I was watching a City Hall version of "Charlie's Angels" last week.
Incoming mayor Mike Nutter announced he's hiring three women corruption-fighters, all with years as tough-as-nails federal prosecutors, to be the front line of integrity in his administration.
I like it.
If there had been a chief integrity officer in the current administration, she might have sat the director of the airport down and asked a couple of questions.
Like: Is it true Milton Street, the mayor's brother, has an airport security badge? What exactly is he doing around here?
That might have led to the discovery that a company with a multimillion-dollar airport contract was paying Milton $30,000 a month, an arrangement that was kept quiet for three years while the city was renewing the company's contract.
But as long as we're setting the reform agenda, I'd like to suggest a couple of legislative changes, one of which removes a big political edge for Nutter and other city officials.
The city's campaign-finance law, which applied a much-needed brake on a runaway pay-to-play culture this year, needs tweaking.
The law limits donations to candidates for city office, but the limits are applied annually. Which means that Nutter (or any city elected official) can get his donors to give the maximum in 2008, and again in 2009, and again in 2010.
By the time he runs for re-election in 2011, he's stacked up a pile of money his rivals can't see over.
If we allow incumbents to raise the maximum every year, it practically forces potential challengers to start raising money years in advance, giving us a perpetual campaign. Not good.
A smarter way is to impose a maximum contribution limit per election, as the federal law does. That would also correct another problem.
Under Philadelphia's current law, a candidate who raises to the max for a tough primary battle could be in trouble if he or she faces a general-election rival who had no primary opponent.
The candidate with primary competition wouldn't be able to replenish campaign dollars until the following year, when it's too late. Setting contribution limits on a per-election basis would fix the problem.
Councilman Wilson Goode Jr., who sponsored the city campaign-finance law in 2003, agrees it's a change worth considering. Nutter said he expects to review plenty of ideas for improvements.
My other suggestion involves Nutter's 2005 pay-to-play legislation. Council passed laws limiting contributions and requiring more transparency - including the disclosure of lobbyists - among firms seeking no-bid city contracts.
But Council failed to impose the same rules for competitively bid contracts, as Nutter had proposed. Since they go to the lowest-responsible bidder, Council reasoned, there's no need to bother.
But check the record. Plenty of companies that bid for competitive contracts make campaign contributions, because they know there's discretion within the process.
Want an example? Take the airport-maintenance contract held by the company with Milton Street on the payroll. The company won the contract in its first year with a competitive bid. After that, it was renewed annually at the city's option. And the company found it worthwhile to pay the mayor's brother 30-grand a month. Sound square to you?
If the law had applied to all contracts back then, the company would probably have had to at least disclose the payments to Milton. Nutter said last week he'd try again to extend the requirements to competitive contracts.
This stuff is complicated, and Council should enact changes with care.
But if they work with a mayor who wants to do the right thing, good things can happen. *