GIVE WATCHDOG MORE TEETH
INSPECTOR GENERAL OFFICE SHOULD HAVE MORE BITE
INSPECTOR GENERAL R. Seth Williams doesn't want much: just more independence from the mayor, a larger staff, a term limit for inspector generals and freedom from politics as usual.
That may be a lot to ask for, but these are the basic needs for an office that roots out corruption in city government. Compared to other big cities with inspector generals, Philadelphia is so far behind the times that basic needs, like adequate staffing, are treated like luxuries.
If Philadelphia wishes to be serious about ethics reform - and if we want fear of an inspector general's investigation to be a strong deterrent to municipal malfeasance - these needs should be met.
Especially since ethics reform is no longer just a pipe dream in this city. The Philadelphia Board of Ethics stepped up to the plate last week when it found mayoral candidate Chaka Fattah had violated campaign-finance rules and ordered him to return $56,000 in campaign funds.
In two years as the city's watchdog, Williams appears to be effective; his office nailed 31 city employees in violation of residency requirements in the last year.
He has a staff of 11. New York City's Department of Investigation, which also investigates corrupt Housing Authority and education employees, has more than 400. Chicago has about 60. Both New York's and Chicago's offices are independent and covered by city charter. Philadelphia's office, created by mayoral executive order in 1984, has no statutory authority.
New York's budget is about $22 million a year; Chicago's $5 million. Philadelphia's budget? Well its money comes through the mayor's office. Williams doesn't control the budget, and can request resources only through the mayor.
Williams says Mayor Street hasn't interfered with his department, and in fact, added five people to the inspector general's office in 2004.
But one of the strongest tools Philadelphia lacks is a fixed term for an inspector general, who could be nominated by the mayor, confirmed by City Council, and fired only for cause.
These steps and a few others could go a long way to bringing the city's inspector general's office into the 21st century and make it an office all city employees will respect.
And fear. *