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Ethics board fines its chief $500

In an unusual action, the Philadelphia Board of Ethics has fined its own executive director $500 for violating a city rule on confidentiality.

In an unusual action, the Philadelphia Board of Ethics has fined its own executive director $500 for violating a city rule on confidentiality.

The violation, disclosed in a news release at 5 p.m. Friday, occurred in the days leading up to the May 19 primary election for district attorney.

The fine represented "nothing more than the fact that we are trying to be even-handed even with our own, and that if there are mistakes, we will deal with them," Ethics Board Chairman Richard Glazer said today. Since 2006, the board has issued thousands of dollars in fines to nearly a dozen people and political committees.

According to a settlement agreement released by the board, executive director J. Shane Creamer, Jr. was driving to work May 7 when a reporter called to confirm that the board was fining candidate Seth Williams $16,000 for reporting errors in a campaign finance report.

Creamer told the reporter that was not the case. The reporter then asked if the board was doing "anything" with Williams, who went on to win the five-way race to become the Democratic nominee.

On the record, Creamer said he had no comment.

Off the record, Creamer "confidentially" told the reporter that the ethics board was negotiating a resolution with Williams for far less than $16,000, and that a possible agreement would be announced the next week. [In fact, the board on May 12 announced the campaign agreed to pay $3,750 for the campaign-finance reporting errors.]

According to the settlement, Creamer shared the off the record information out of concern the reporter might interpret his "no comment" as confirmation of an investigation, and publish a story before the ethics board reached a resolution with Williams.

After hanging up, though, Creamer "determined he may have breached his confidentiality obligation." The Philadelphia Code states "no person shall disclose or acknowledge to any other person any information relating to a complaint, investigation, referral or pending adjudication, except as otherwise provided by law."

Arriving at his office at 10:37 a.m., Creamer e-mailed the campaign attorneys disclosing the conversation and his concern about the false rumor of a $16,000 fine.

Later that day, Creamer informed Glazer about his disclosure to the reporter. The board began an investigation, using outside counsel, Cheryl Krause of the Dechert law firm, that did the work at no cost, Glazer said.

"I made a mistake in judgment," Creamer said yesterday. "I was afraid if the rumor was pursued by reporters, that may have upset our negotiations, which were very sensitive given the time frame."

Creamer paid the fine yesterday.

A spokesman for the Williams campaign, Dan Fee, declined to comment.

Glazer said the board is now considering transferring responsibilities for press relations from Creamer to another staff member, because of Creamer's involvement in enforcement activities. Creamer has worked for the board since its inception in 2006.

Asked about the timing of the news release, in the late afternoon of a three-day holiday weekend, Glazer said: "It was done when it was done. We didn't hold it back."