The ethical treatment of animal lovers

Could Philadelphia possibly have reached ethics overload? City Council is right now engaged in a group grapple with the Nutter administration and various ethical entities (Board of Ethics, Inspector General, Committee of Seventy), over whether city government has become an unconstitutionally hostile workplace for public service. At least on the question of political activity for lower level employees, not to mention volunteers on advisory boards, it would seem the constraints could stand some loosening.

Last month, for instance, Deputy Mayor Donald F. Schwarz felt compelled to request an opinion of the Board of Ethics about whether unpaid members of a new Animal Advisory Committee could participate in any political activity and still serve. That would include wearing a campaign button for your favorite candidate.

The answer is yes. As unpaid members of a purely advisory board, Animal Advisory Committee members are not subject to political restraints, according to a six-page opinion from the Ethics Board. But committee members would have to complete financial disclosure forms -- which are public documents outlining personal finances -- and attend annual ethics training. Is that too much to ask from a bunch of dog lovers and cat fanciers?

It should all come to a head by June. That's the deadline set by Council leaders to pass legislation asking voters to change the city's Home Rule Charter in a November referendum. That legislation would allow Council to change the rules on political activity by city employees (and volunteers) by legislation rather than changes to the Charter, which require voter approval.  Stay tuned.

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