Sixty years ago, Philadelphia voters hungry for reform approved a new City Charter. Its language on city workers' accepting cash gratuities or other thank-you gifts was rather clear.

"No officer or employee of the city and no officer or employee whose salary . . . is paid out of the city treasury shall solicit or accept any compensation or gratuity in the form of money or otherwise for any act or omission in the course of his public work," the charter says.

In case anyone missed the message, the drafters added this note: "Public officers and employees are compensated with public funds to perform the task for which they were elected, appointed, or employed. Their holding office or employment presupposes their faithful discharge of all their duties without more."

Nonetheless, the message was missed - by a long parade of the mighty and the meek, from judges and tax collectors to trash-truck drivers pounding their horns for tips as they cruised neighborhoods at Christmastime, and building inspectors accepting cash as they completed routine inspections.

The latest example, disclosed Wednesday by the city inspector general: A top official in the Division of Technology, Joseph James Sr., was fired from his $124,800-a-year job for allegedly accepting dozens of meals from Verizon and other city contractors, violating executive orders from Mayor Nutter and his predecessor, John F. Street - not to mention the charter.

Perhaps more seriously, and subject to criminal investigation, James and a colleague in the Public Property Department, Francis Punzo, secretly created a Verizon rewards account (based on the city's $12-million-or-so business with the firm), allowing them to obtain $48,000 worth of gifts, Inspector General Amy Kurland alleged.

James and Punzo, the latter having quit the city in 2009 to rejoin Verizon, where he'd worked before, were respected within the bureaucracy. "I thought they worked very hard and knew what they were talking about," said City Councilman Frank Rizzo, who has paid close attention to the radio system used by the Police and Fire Departments. "Knowing both these men, you couldn't buy them for a dinner, or four or five or six."

Yet they join the list of city workers who have lost their jobs, damaged their reputations, thrown away their pensions, or gone to jail - many over sums so small as to not even cover their lawyer bills.

Take Don McDonough: In the early 1980s, this city Hospital Authority aide (and ex-Inquirer reporter) was caught fudging expense accounts, falsely claiming he had taken various people to lunch.

One of his "guests" was Zack Stalberg, then a Philadelphia Daily News editor, who now heads the watchdog group Committee of Seventy. The tab for a meal he never ate: less than $20. "Not only did he make it up," Stalberg quipped, "he should have taken me to a better place."

Later that decade, 13 Philadelphia judges were suspended or removed for accepting envelopes stuffed with cash - as little as $300 - from leaders of the Roofers Union.

"I took envelopes, and it was a mistake," Common Pleas Court Judge Michael Wallace told a federal grand jury. "It's not a thing that a judge should do, because we're supposed to be saints. Unfortunately, we're not. We're just as human as everybody else."

W. Wilson Goode is a churchgoing man with a reputation for probity. But when he was mayor, a federal investigation of a clothing workers' union leader led to disclosures that he'd been given clothing by local manufacturers.

"Every time I received clothing, I received a bill and I paid that bill," Goode told reporters in 1985. Two months later, his office surrendered documents showing he'd received 19 suits over two years and paid nothing until he learned of the federal probe.

Goode eventually paid for the suits - discounted to an average of $116 each - and a state ethics board ruled he had broken no laws. But it was a bad bargain for city taxpayers, who had to cover the mayor's $60,000 legal bills.

Kurland, the inspector general, knows this territory well. She is a former federal prosecutor whose investigations cut a broad swath through city agencies, taking down all but one of the plumbing inspectors, five taxicab inspectors, a team of commercial and industrial fire inspectors, and a half-dozen Revenue Department supervisors and examiners who'd been bribed to reduce tax bills.

Plumbing inspectors had come to expect "tips" of $5 to $20 for hassle-free inspections. "They had been doing it for generations," Kurland said. "It was just a way of doing business in the city. . . . These things were departmentwide, and they were tolerated because everyone in the department was doing it."

Kurland, appointed early in the Nutter administration, said last week that she believed the city's culture was at least beginning to change.

"We're not getting complaints anymore about city employees demanding money," she said in an interview. "If that was happening, I think I'd know about it. . . . I think the mayor sent an extremely strong message, first by running and winning on an integrity platform and then by bringing in former prosecutors to show we're just not going to tolerate this kind of conduct any longer."

A strong message - just like the words in the charter.