With a high-profile crackdown on two city workers over free meals and scoring TVs and other goodies through dealings with Verizon and other city contractors, Mayor Nutter reminded Philadelphia voters that he meant what he said with his 2007 campaign pledge to "throw the bums out."

By firing a top technology officer, and demoting and suspending another aide, Nutter offered a case study last week on the risks of an often too-cozy relationship between City Hall and powerful corporate interests.

An investigation led by city Inspector General Amy Kurland also exposed a quirk in city and state ethics rules that permit government officials with previous corporate ties to handle the public's dealings with their old firms - a setup that invites temptation.

Fired aide Joseph James Sr., along with former city employee Francis G. Punzo, had both once worked for Verizon or its corporate forerunner, Bell Atlantic. Yet, wearing their city hats, they dealt with Verizon on a contract to provide municipal government phone and data services worth some $12 million annually.

Nothing in city ethics rules prevented James from handling the Verizon account, but there should be more vigilance in such situations. Kurland found that the pair - along with technology-division official Concetta D. Lilly-Pearson - were dined by Verizon and also benefited from rewards credits generated by Verizon's city business. Kurland contended James also dined at the expense of other technology firms, including giants Comcast and Motorola.

In addition to James' dismissal and the demotion and suspension of Lilly-Pearson, Kurland recommended that federal prosecutors and the city Board of Ethics review the case. That, as well as the sanctions, should send a strong message that city officials should comply with high ethical standards. It's a hopeful sign, too, that it was a tip from a city worker that triggered Kurland's probe.

Even so, the investigation once again lifted a rock on the city's seemingly reform-resistant political culture of insider dealing and entitlement. In its most malignant form, it's a culture that reveals City Hall and other political circles as prep schools for convicts. The most recent class serving time for corruption includes a former city treasurer, city councilman, and City Council aide.

The trial last year of the once-mighty State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo also produced troubling testimony about a legal and corporate culture in which local power brokers advised a business executive who had been approached for an alleged $50 million shakedown to "work it out with the senator" - rather than tell him to march straight over to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

What Kurland exposed in the technology-division probe is small stuff in comparison with the city's big-league corruption cases. Merchandise was bought allegedly with rewards credits, not taxpayer dollars.

Yet, citizens deserve the assurance that all officials overseeing city contracts are influenced by no factors other than getting the most bang for the buck on behalf of the taxpayer.