Friday, March 18, 2011

The Philadelphia Ethics Board - conflict of interest?

Today, on his column, Dave Davies reported that over HALF of the candidates for elected municipal offices have failed to notify the Philadelphia Ethics Board (as legally required), failed to pay for legal services with campaign finance money, and are engaged in legal challenges against opponents' ballots.

47 Criminals running for city office - 3/17/11

While this is an extremely good article that will hopefully bring our candidates into compliance, I have to ask - is our Ethics Board doing their part? If you go to their website, you see three board members and two staffers highlighted; all of which are attorneys. These members include Charisse R. Lillie (of Ballard Spahr), Daniel McElhatton (of Christie, Pabarue, Mortensen & Young), and former city Solicitor Romulo L. Diaz, Jr. (under Mayor John Street)

The board is required to have five members, and in my opinion the members should come from different areas of expertise to provide fair and even decisions on ethics issues. Recently, former members Sister Mary Scullion and Pastor Damone Jones resigned. Following this resignation, I contacted Suzanne Biemiller at the Mayor's office to find out about how these board openings would be appointed, and to throw my hat in the ring (so I can do more than just rant). Ms. Biemiller politely informed me that Mayor Nutter nominates his picks to Ethics Board and City Council approves them.

I immediately knew that there was no way, at this point, a former cop and outspoken critic of the city's lack of government oversight would get his honor's nomination or the approval of the council.

What is concerning is the process in which these independent monitors are selected. One of the current members, Romulo Diaz, is the former (appointed by John Street) city solicitor. First, his presence alone is arguably a conflict of interest. Second, he is a holdover from the Street administration, which was wrought with ethics issues and federal corruption probes. Third, he was the City Solicitor that ruled in favor of our council members participating in DROP, then violating the irrevocable commitment to retire when their term was up.

What's even more concerning is that last week, Mayor Nutter nominated former Superior Court Judge Phyllis W. Beck and lawyer Michael H. Reed (of Pepper Hamilton) to the city's Board of Ethics.

If anyone is still reading at this point - allow me to summarize. Over 1/2 our candidates are not reporting their candidacy to the Ethics Board, who is two members short, is appointed by the very "machine" they would be sworn to reform, and is (and would continue to be) made up of a combination of lawyers from large firms known to make campaign donations and perform outside counsel for the city...with the exception of a former Superior Court Senior Judge who just happens to have been the judge that the current Ethics Board General Council, Evan Meyer clerked for (for over two years).

Is this really the independent body we want reforming the Ethics of Philadelphia Government?

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