Our Top 10 Ethics Reforms

In preparation for the 2007 Mayoral and Council elections, The Committee of Seventy developed its Top 10 list for ethics reforms that Philadelphia needs. As a result our efforts, some of these suggestions have become law. Sadly, however, many of these items remain unresolved by our elected leaders.

1. BAN NEPOTISM THROUGHOUT CITY GOVERNMENT

No elected or appointed City employee should make, or recommend that anyone else in the government make, any personnel decisions relating to City employment that involve a member of his or her family.

2. MAKE GIFT RESTRICTIONS PERMANENT

Enact a permanent restriction on accepting, giving or offering gifts, services, gratuities or favors of any significant value – applicable to all City employees and to outside individuals and firms that interact with City employees – that contains unambiguous rules on what can and cannot be accepted, given or offered, reasonable minimum thresholds, clear reporting requirements and strong penalties.

3. ENACT LOBBYIST REFORM

Lobbyists, and individuals acting as lobbyists, who represent clients who are engaged in business with or before the City, City-related departments, agencies and commissions and quasi-agencies and authorities, should register with the Board of Ethics, identify their clients and make their lobbying-related expenses public.

4. REVIEW CAMPAIGN FINANCE

This year’s first test of the City’s campaign finance ordinance exposed loopholes and missing pieces, such as unregulated racial and religious attacks by stealth groups. The Mayor should adhere early on to his promise of convening an independent panel to recommend reforms consistent with best practices in the country and what makes sense for Philadelphia.

5. OPEN CITY RECORDS

City documents should be available online so they can be easily accessed, readable and searchable. Absent clear evidence produced by the government that disclosure would violate legitimate privacy rights, all documents should be presumed to be a matter of public record.

6. REGULATE RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN THE CITY AND NON-PROFITS

A list of all non-profit organizations that receive City funds should be made easily available to the public, along with the names of their key officers and directors, the amount of funds received, the process by which those funds are awarded and how the funds will be spent.

In addition, all elected City officials who directly or indirectly control a non-profit tax-exempt organization should be required to disclose to the Board of Ethics the name of the organization, its purpose and all its funding sources.

7. CONTROL OUTSIDE EMPLOYMENT

No salaried City employee should be permitted to hold a paid position with an outside firm that does, or is actively seeking, City business, with reasonable exceptions such as teaching at educational institutions or as otherwise approved in advance by the Board of Ethics.

8. MORE FREQUENT CAMPAIGN FINANCE DISCLOSURE

Because state law requires elected officials to provide infrequent reports of their contributions and spending, the Mayor and Council members should voluntarily make this information more regularly available to the public both during election and non-election years.

9. PROHIBIT CAMPAIGN ACTIVITY BY COUNCIL STAFF

City Council employees should be treated like other City officials and employees under the City Charter and prohibited from campaigning for candidates in elections and working for a political party.

10. CREATE GROUND RULES FOR EXERCISING COUNCILMANIC PREROGATIVES

City Council should place reasonable limits on the unwritten practice known as “councilmanic prerogative” that permits a District Council member to have unbridled authority over projects in his or her district. While this power can be used positively, it can also lead to ethical abuses.

Reforming city government is a complicated and dynamic process. The Committee of Seventy urges the next Mayor, members of City Council and the public to help us continuously expand this set of ideas.

This list was issued October 31, 2007.

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