City ethics panel will miss its chairman

While Mayor Nutter hints that he may have bigger things in store for Richard Glazer, his recent decision to pull the plug on Glazer’s impressive six-year stewardship of the city Board of Ethics is a puzzle from almost any good-government vantage point.

Under Glazer’s volunteer chairmanship, the independent agency — granted tough enforcement powers by Philadelphia voters in 2006 to do battle with the city’s pay-to-play political culture — has grown into a major force for City Hall reform.

Richard Glazer

Glazer, 69, a lawyer who also runs the Pennsylvania Innocence Project at Temple University, presided over the levying of penalties on more than 40 city officials, candidates, and other political players for crossing the line on campaign spending and other ethics rules.

Only last week, a city judge — Thomas M. Nocella — was brought up on disciplinary charges by the state Judicial Conduct Board after being tripped up, in large part, by the Ethics Board.

At a minimum, the mayor’s decision to let Glazer’s tenure lapse could leave the agency with less clout for a time. Worse, it might be misinterpreted in some quarters as a sign that the Ethics Board should ease up on movers and shakers over campaign contribution limits and disclosure rules. That would risk a return to policies shaped to suit deep-pocketed political donors.

Certainly, Nutter’s selection of lawyer Brian J. McCormick Jr., 43, to replace Glazer is encouraging, since McCormick served on the mayor’s ethics task force.

Yet Glazer was willing to stay on the board, and there is another vacancy that McCormick could have filled. That would have strengthened the Ethics Board, in addition to Nutter’s welcome reappointment of former Superior Court Judge Phyllis W. Beck.

For his part, the mayor says through a spokesman that he has “nothing but praise” for Glazer’s tenure. “Nothing is forever,” added mayoral aide Mark McDonald. “Other people want to serve. Other people have talents that can enrich the board. It’s really that simple.”

Under the direction of J. Shane Creamer Jr., the Ethics Board isn’t likely to turn into a wallflower. There’s a school of thought, too, that “it’s going to be very difficult to erode the clout of that agency after the work that Glazer has done.” Those are the words of Zack Stalberg, head of the Committee of Seventy government watchdog group.

Despite that, there’s no reason the mayor couldn’t continue to take full advantage of Glazer’s considerable expertise and credibility — by naming him to the Ethics Board vacancy.