Was E-Mailed Ethics Complaint An Ethics Violation?

The Internet is a fast and furious place where one button push can cause a whole mess of problems.  Who hasn't heard stories of regret about an e-mail that, upon reflection, should never have been sent?  Which brings us to the campaign of Michael Turner for District Attorney, which in a letter today asked the Philadelphia Board of Ethics to investigate Seth Williams, one of Turner's four opponents in the May Democratic primary election.

The investigation request is based in part on a story in today's Evening Bulletin about a campaign contribution Williams received while working as the city's Inspector General during Mayor Street's second term.  Williams' campaign has given the Daily News copies of a 2006 e-mail correspondence he had with Evan Meyer -- then a deputy city solicitor/now counsel for the Board of Ethics.  In the e-mails, Meyer tells Williams his "Committee to Elect Seth Williams" is allowed to collect campaign contributions to pay off its debt from his unsuccessful primary 2005 challenge against District Attorney Lynne Abraham.

Harry B. Cook, Turner's campaign coordinator, emailed the letter to reporters at the Daily News and Inquirer this afternoon and followed up eight minutes later with a terse recall, telling reporters: "Do not forward. Do not discuss." Cook later told PhillyClout Shane Creamer, executive director of the Board of Ethics, told him the e-mail might be an ethics code violation in and of itself.

Under confidentiality, the code says:  Except as otherwise provided in this Chapter, the records, reports, memoranda and files of the Board shall be confidential and shall not be subject to public inspection, except as otherwise provided by law. Also, no person shall disclose or acknowledge to any other person any information relating to a complaint, investigation, referral or pending adjudication, except as otherwise provided by law.

Cook says he doesn't think his e-mail violated the confidentiality provision of the Ethics code.  "The letter never says there is a violation," Cook explained. "The letter says there is possibly a violation that should be looked into."

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