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Citing outcry over Anthony Clark, city election commissioner wants tough new rules

One of the three city commissioners who run Philadelphia elections is proposing new rules that would make her and her two colleagues publicly account for their working hours - and lose pay if they don't.

City Commissioners Lisa Deeley, Anthony Clark, and Al Schmidt (right). Deeley said her plan would provide some accountability to the public.
City Commissioners Lisa Deeley, Anthony Clark, and Al Schmidt (right). Deeley said her plan would provide some accountability to the public.Read moreCLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer

One of the three city commissioners who run Philadelphia elections is proposing new rules that would make her and her two colleagues publicly account for their working hours - and lose pay if they don't.

Lisa Deeley said she was reacting in part to the outcry over the reported work habits of the other Democratic commissioner, Anthony Clark, the board's $138,612-a-year chairman.

"Since I've been here, Chairman Clark has been to work every day. However, it has been well documented . . . in the past, he has not been here," Deeley told The Inquirer. "I think that is what the public is looking for. They're looking for some accountability, and this hopefully is a step toward that."

In a letter to Mayor Kenney that was made available to The Inquirer, Deeley outlined more than a dozen measures she hopes the board will adopt in the long run. She plans to introduce some of them when the board meets Wednesday.

One proposal would establish "attendance and work day accountability rules" requiring each commissioner to keep a daily log of time spent in the office. "Failure to maintain a daily log will result in withholding of pay," she wrote - though an election-law expert later questioned whether that proposal could pass legal muster.

Deeley, the rookie on the three-member board, said she drafted that and other proposals in response to recent reports of Clark's attendance issues. She disagreed with her other colleague, Commissioner Al Schmidt, who had said Monday that "on the ground" he sensed no outrage over Clark's chairmanship and controversial work history.

"I disagree," said Deeley, 49, who, like Schmidt, is paid $129,373. "I think the public should care and absolutely does care."

Democratic leaders had backed Deeley to become the board's chairman. But on Jan. 6, Schmidt, the board's sole Republican, renominated Clark to that post despite news reports that he had not voted in many elections, rarely showed up at his City Hall office, and was fined by ethics officials for trying to get his brother, who works for the commissioners, a raise. Then, within hours of being reelected chairman, Clark signed up for a $495,000 pension payout via the Deferred Retirement Option Plan, better known as DROP.

All of that set off a firestorm of criticism: Kenney called Clark's work habits "insulting" to dedicated city employees; the city's Democratic Party chairman, U.S. Rep. Robert Brady, labeled him a "disgrace"; and the Committee of Seventy civic group proposed replacing the elected commissioners with appointed professionals.

Clark has blamed his missed votes on illness, and said he works from afar - even during a personal trip to Egypt - staying in touch with the office by phone. Schmidt has said keeping him as chairman helps ensure continuity at the agency in a busy presidential election year.

Kenney's spokeswoman, Lauren Hitt, said Tuesday that the mayor, who has no official say over the independently elected commissioners, was still reviewing Deeley's letter.

Among Deeley's proposals:

Post a public-event calendar for each commissioner online.

Increase election board employees' pay to bring the office into compliance with the city's $12-an-hour minimum-wage ordinance.

Livestream commissioners' meetings on the office website. Those meetings are weekly when an election is approaching.

Allow electronic filing of campaign-finance reports by candidates and political committees.

Establish a policy of having each commissioner's official email address checked regularly by the commissioner or a staff member.

That last item, too, arises from Clark's actions. He has said he does not use his city email, despite its being listed online as a point of contact for the public. "The public should then be assured that [the commissioners] did get that communication," Deeley said.

Clark, who was in his office Tuesday, declined to comment on the proposals. Schmidt said he received them Tuesday afternoon and had looked at them briefly. "There are none of them that I would immediately accept or reject. I would want to just know a little bit more," the Republican said.

He noted that voters are the ones who ultimately hold elected officials accountable, and said he'd like to get a lawyer's view of the dock-their-pay idea.

Asked about that proposal, election-law expert Gregory Harvey said, "I'm skeptical that any restriction can be placed on the entitlement of an elected official" to the salary set by law for that post.

Deeley said she got the idea of enacting work rules for the commissioners from an Inquirer story quoting her former boss, City Controller Alan Butkovitz, as saying that if the board enacted such rules, they would provide accountability and enable his office to audit the commissioners' attendance. Currently the Controller's Office can only audit attendance of civil-service staff.

"If we are going to ask our civil-service staff to be bound by time and attendance requirements, well, maybe we should set an example," Deeley said.

She said some of her other proposals were "wish list," but stressed that she wants to improve and modernize the agency. Deeley told of visiting counterparts in Chicago and New York City last fall to learn how they had modernized elections via electronic poll books, multiple-language voting, and other steps. "I want to do whatever we can to get more people to participate," she said.

Those goals sound much like Schmidt's, who has pushed to modernize the $9.6 million election agency and make its 98 employees more accountable. But Schmidt has said he doubted he could have continued his reform agenda if Deeley were chairwoman. He described it as choosing the "known" - Clark as chairman - over the "unknown," Deeley.

That caused Deeley to say this of Schmidt:

"When he says he didn't vote for the 'unknown,' the counterargument to that was, he voted for what he knew. He knew that Clark had attendance issues, he knew that he had ethical issues, and he knew he didn't vote.

"So even if he didn't know anything else about me, here is what he knows: I voted in every election since I turned 18, I've never had any ethical violations. . . . And I come to work every day. So, that's what he knew."

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