Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Ripples in the world of city ethics

  • The Inquirer takes a closer look at Philadelphia City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, who stands nearly alone in her opposition to ethics reform in city government, including the recent bill regulating no-bid city contracts. She actually invokes McCarthy when talking about this. amazing.
    In an interview last week, Blackwell insisted her goal was not to protect dirty dealing. Rather, she believes, real crimes - like those that earned former City Treasurer Corey Kemp a 10-year federal sentence this year for selling his office - are already illegal.

    Despite their good intentions, she said, new laws would only gum things up, hampering politicians' ability to help constituents, particularly poor people and minority businesses.
    It's notable that she has also opposed anti-nepotism regulations (successfully). Apparently anything that prevents rewarding good pals, supporters, and relatives is oppressive in her unusual (cough) view. In my view, neither charity nor good constituent service should be impeded by sunshine.

  • Seth Williams, former city prosecutor, becomes new top integrity enforcer.
    Williams, 38, said he was not taking the job to further his political career and would handle it in an impartial manner. "Eliminating fraud and municipal corruption is nonpartisan," Williams said.
    The previous Inspector General left under a cloud when his city residency was questioned (see here); Mayor Street said of that, "When you're the inspector general, you can't live by the letter of the law. You have to abide by the spirit." Onward and upward!

  • The Committee of Seventy, Philadelphia's nonpartisan election/government oversight group, has named a star-studded new board, which they hope will increase their resources and signal business support of ethical overhaul of the city's political culture.

  • Meanwhile the Daily News notes a curious exception to the coverage of the new ethics bill authorized by the ballot measure last week: the new requirements don't apply to lawyers and others who work for the city on bond deals. They note that Ron White would have been included in such exemptions.
    "That's ludicrous, given that the impetus for much of this came from scandals that emerged from bond lawyers getting no-bid contracts," said Brett Mandell, executive director of Philadelphia Forward, one the groups that supported the contracting reforms.
    I'm not sure how authoritative the Street administration's interpretation of the new rules really is, but I suspect further tinkering may be required before the full intent of the law is realized.


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