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AWOL from City Hall

Chairman Anthony Clark is the invisible man of the City Commissioners, City Hall insiders say.

City Commissioner Anthony Clark: A rare sighting at City Hall in March. (STEPHANIE AARONSON / Staff photographer)
City Commissioner Anthony Clark: A rare sighting at City Hall in March. (STEPHANIE AARONSON / Staff photographer)Read more

CITY COMMISSION Chairman Anthony Clark, who is up for re-election in November, is hardly ever in his City Hall office, despite new work rules designed to crack down on no-show employees in his department.

The Daily News tried to track him down over six business days over the past two weeks, visiting his City Hall office each day at different times, morning and afternoon. Clark wasn't there. He wasn't on vacation, either, according to office staffers, who gave similar responses:

He's not available. He's not in. He's not here right now.

Asked repeatedly if Clark would be in later, one staffer or another replied, "I can't say for certain," or "I don't know for sure."

Clark did not respond to seven requests from the Daily News to comment.

"I think it's really a sad state of affairs," David Thornburgh, head of the watchdog group Committee of Seventy, said in a recent interview. "As part of your responsibilities of being a commissioner, you have to make yourself accessible to people. That ought to be the culture of the office."

Clark, 55, has one of the most important jobs in city government. He heads the three-member board that oversees Philadelphia's elections. Clark earns just under $140,000 a year.

Clark's disappearing act has become an inside joke around City Hall over the years. City employees joke that encounters with Clark in the building are almost as rare as Loch Ness Monster sightings. Some, however, don't see the humor.

"He's the invisible man of the city commissioners - the $139,000 Invisible Man. He doesn't care to know anything," said one commissioners' office employee who declined to be named for fear of retribution. "He never comes in the f-----g office."

Zack Stalberg, president and CEO of the watchdog Committee of Seventy from 2005 to 2014, said Clark's shabby work ethic was on his radar screen years ago.

"It was commonly known in City Hall that Clark didn't show up at the office very often," Stalberg said Tuesday. "In the commissioner's case, you can make a slight argument that it's not all about being in your office in City Hall, but the commonly held belief was that Clark did not work hard at that job. It's kind of one of those open secrets in City Hall.

"He is the worst kind of public official . . . He's not doing his job and he's collecting a big salary . . . If [Clark] were a garbage man and didn't come to work, that would be less of a problem, but he is doing something really important," Stalberg said.

Voters first elected Clark, a Democrat who lives in Brewerytown, in 2007 and re-elected him in 2011 for a second four-year term. He handily won this year's May 19 Democratic primary election, despite an October report by the Philadelphia City Paper that he failed to vote for nearly three years.

Clark, endorsed by the Democratic City Committee, was a no-show in late April at the only public forum featuring the commissioner candidates, according to Thornburgh.

"I think that was the only opportunity in the entire primary when all the candidates, except Anthony Clark, showed up at the same time," Thornburgh said. "I believe [Clark] had a scheduling problem."

It didn't matter. Clark was far and away the top vote-getter in the commissioners' primary race, winning with more than 75,000 votes or 30.7 percent of the Democratic vote.

Clark's voting record created a stir because he's in charge of the office whose mission is to encourage and facilitate voting.

Republican City Commissioner Al Schmidt, who serves as vice chair under Clark, agrees that it's ironic.

"Certainly," Schmidt said Tuesday. "And really, Anthony [Clark] is the only one who can answer that question for you as to why that would have occurred."

Schmidt, speaking generally, said low voter turnout is "one of the more frustrating aspects of the job," something he's working to improve.

As far as whether Clark shows up regularly to work, Schmidt said he doesn't keep tabs on Clark or his other colleague, City Commissioner Stephanie Singer. Each has an office next to one another on the first floor of City Hall.

But the city commissioners' office keeps track of the hours that its nearly 100 staffers work - or don't.

Schmidt, first elected in 2011 on a platform of reform, said he created the new work rules and performance measures, in part, out of frustration.

"In 2012, we had one person who was AWOL 85 times, on 85 days. They simply did not show up, didn't call in, and there were no consequences," Schmidt said. "It was a department with no work rules, no staff regulations at all."

In 2013, Clark and Schmidt voted in favor of the rules. It takes two of the three commissioners to vote "yes" to enact policy changes.

Under the new rules, staffers can be suspended without pay or fired for repeated unexcused absences and excessive lateness.

"Now it's not a matter of going 85 days with no correction action," Schmidt said.

The rules, however, don't apply to the commissioners themselves.

"I don't know that you have that at any level of elected office in government, from the president of the United States to city commissioner," Schmidt said, referring to the idea of logging the work hours of elected officials.

In Clark's defense, because he's running for re-election, some of his duties are curtailed. Under state law, commissioners running for re-election step aside for a three-judge panel to rule on any decisions regarding the election process. But that doesn't mean that the commissioners, who continue to get paid a full salary, are given a pass to slack off. They still have duties beyond those ceded to the judges and oversee nearly 100 staffers and a $10.6 million annual budget.

Singer, who was elected in 2011 and has clashed with both Clark and Schmidt, said she only sees Clark on meeting days. (The Board of Elections met 30 times in 2014 and has met 18 times so far in 2015, according to Schmidt.)

"I have almost never had a conversation with him or seen him, other than on days when there are meetings of the Board of Elections," Singer said.

Singer got knocked off the May Democratic primary through petition challenges. Lisa Deeley won the primary election for her spot on the November ballot.

Singer is blunt in her criticism of Clark.

"It is appalling to have a commissioner who doesn't show up for work and who doesn't vote and whose office engineered a raise for his own brother," Singer said Wednesday.

Last month, Clark agreed to pay $4,000 in fines for ethics violations in connection with efforts to secure a pay raise for his brother, Alexander Clark. Clark's brother, who earns roughly $30,000 a year, was hired by the commissioners' office in August 2008 as a "trades helper" after Clark was elected. In last month's settlement agreement with the Board of Ethics, Clark, who denied involvement in his brother's employment matters, agreed to take part in ethics training.

This prompted Thornburgh to bristle, noting that an elected official who is entrusted to run fair and honest elections should be a stalwart of ethics.

"In a city where you have 28 percent voter turnout, you would want someone in that office who leads by example, whether that's in voting behavior or resisting the temptation of office," Thornburgh said. "There's just a profound irony that he himself, as part of the settlement agreement, is undergoing ethics training. He ought to be conducting ethics training."

Clark is all but assured a win in the November election. U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, the city's Democratic chairman, said the committee will continue to support Clark for office.

"He's a Democrat," Brady said Wednesday. "We supported him in the last election - that's why he won the primary - and we'll support him in the general."

When asked about Clark's work habits, Brady said, "Every time I call him for information, he always provides it right away. Whenever I need information about voting status, voting information, he's 100 percent responsive to me."

Singer said she's appalled by "the amount of support that he gets from leaders of the Democratic Party."

Stalberg said as long as Brady supports Clark, the Democratic political leadership will say nothing about Clark's job performance.

"The political system has no desire to crack down on Clark or change the system because they like it that way. Tony [Clark] takes instructions and he does the minimum on this job, but the party still gets to control the office and the election process and the party likes it that way," Stalberg said. "As long as Brady wants him there, then other politicians are not going to stand up and start pointing a finger at Tony Clark for not doing his job."

Clark's daily whereabouts are not the only mystery. On city and state documents, Clark lists himself as "100 percent owner/president" of a company called C and E Consulting, which does "business consulting." Clark has never obtained a city-issued commercial activity license, as required, for the business.

"Anyone doing business in the city needs a commercial activity licenses from L&I. Nothing came up under that name at all," said Beth Grossman, chief of staff at the city's Department of Licenses and Inspections.

Clark disclosed a financial interest in the company on his most recent filing with the city Board of Ethics, but failed to do so on his latest state form, as mandated by the Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission.

Puzzling. If only the Daily News could find Clark to ask . . .

- Staff writer Mensah M. Dean

contributed to this report.