Thursday, July 28, 2005

Nutter's shadowy past?

The Daily News has a story today in which they cast aspersions on City Councilman Michael Nutter's new mantle as ethics crusader, pointing out a recent incident in which he tried to help his local Ward leader get some no-bid contracty goodness.
Nutter said he had given Campbell no special treatment and merely inquired about the contract as he would for any constituent. He said he did not know what the contract was for or that it had been a no-bid contract.

The contract, signed in spring 2003, was an $80,000 deal for Campbell to provide consulting services to improve the efficiency of the sheriff's office.

The contract was with the Visionary Group, a Campbell-run consulting firm whose clients are typically political candidates seeking Campbell's support in local and judicial elections.
This probably gets the reporters salivating, coming as it does on the heels of the recent kerfluffle over Nutter's inaction on some Campbell-related trolley obstructionism (see background here). But the actual details here give a window into How Business Is Done in Philadelphia:
Green would not say whether he had been pressured about the contract, but sources in his office say that Green initially agreed to the contract as a political favor, hoping the funding would never be approved.

When funding was approved in a transfer from the city's general fund, a completed contract signed by Campbell landed on the sheriff's desk. The sheriff signed it, but then ordered Tyrone Bynum, his finance director, not to formally execute it.
. . .
A source close to Green said the sheriff had been concerned that the contract "wasn't going to fly" under public scrutiny because the Visionary Group "can't do anything."
Zack Stalberg, the new director of Philadelphia's political watchdog group, the Committee of Seventy, is a bit dubious about Nutter's claims that he was merely looking after a constituent's interests.
"There's a very fine line between an inquiry and what is perceived as a call in support of a potential contractor," Stalberg said. "The 10 district Council people have extraordinary power, whether they're in the administration's favor or not. People pay attention to their phone calls because at the end of the day, anything that happens in their district, really needs their support."
Anyway, the article does point out that Nutter generally holds himself to high ethical and transparency standards, and that his recent ethics bills (still awaiting voter approval in the fall; see summary here) would make contracts like Campbell's illegal. And yet...
But in early 2003 when Campbell's contract was in the works, the probe-triggered ethics bills were at least a year away. It was also an election year, a time when ward leaders hold enormous sway.

"Carol Campbell is a loose cannon," Stalberg said. "She's a ranking official in the Democratic Party in Philadelphia and she uses that involvement and influence as head of the African American Ward Leaders to benefit herself."
Probably the whole thing will blow away (in voters' minds) as Just More City Shenanigans, but I'm sure Nutter would prefer that the story hadn't come to light . . .


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