Friday, September 22, 2017

The Next Mayor: At Issue -- Political Corruption

Philadelphia may no longer be as 'corrupt and contented' as it once was. But ethics reforms made in recent years have yet to be cemented into the foundations of our city government.

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Political Corruption

It's 2015:
What do you care about?

The race for who becomes mayor is always about the issues.

The Next Mayor will be providing background and updates on news and information on the biggest issues facing the city.

We want to hear from you about what you think is critical for the next mayor to handle.

The Big Picture

We’ve begun to chip away at the pay to play culture that has dominated Philadelphia’s politics since, well, the beginning of time.

The latest significant effort to install ethics reforms began over a decade ago, spurred by the discovery of an FBI bug in then-Mayor John Street’s office, and indictments of two of his close aides.

Former Councilman Michael Nutter pushed for reform to a largely resistant City Council; eventually, ethics and campaign finance laws were tightened. But there are many items that still need attention. For a good primer, check out the 2015 Integrity Agenda Committee of Seventy delivered to candidates for mayor.

Big Battles

Catch the bad guys. Recent reforms have beefed up city government’s ability to police itself, with the Board of Ethics, Inspector General’s Office and Chief Integrity Officer playing important roles. Will the next mayor strengthen these watchdogs?

Get honest people into office. Investigating and prosecuting misconduct is costly; far better to ensure the individuals we elect know they must follow the rules. Policy expertise is important for elected officials, but so is character. Voters should keep this in mind.

Keep the cookie jar closed. Rules regarding city contracts and campaign contributions have eliminated some opportunities where political influence can be misused. But Councilmanic prerogative, the unwritten tradition of Councilmembers wielding final say over what can be built and where, flies in the face of sound zoning policy and weakens the effectiveness of the city’s new Land Bank.

Let the sun shine in. The gradual release of more government data is a promising development, but there’s been resistance in some departments to release their records. Open data advocates have kept up the pressure, but should the city release every data set it has? The next mayor – and the people he or she appoints – will have to figure this out.

Still, the most troubling opacity might be the looming influence of “dark money” on city elections. Philly’s contribution limits are strict by most standards, but the 2010 Citizens United decision allows unlimited money to be spent by groups unaffiliated with candidates. Some of these groups don’t have to say where they get their money, and even for those that do, shell games can obscure the trail.

What's at stake

Citizens’ trust in their government is a prerequisite to the social contract. Without it, we can forget about trying to tackle other major issues facing the city. Fraud and corruption are also a costly drain on resources, and we have none to waste.

The reforms achieved in the wake of past scandals have been effective, but many address only the executive and administrative branches of city government; others have yet to be made permanent. Philadelphia might not be “corrupt and contented” as it once was, but the job’s not done.

Here is an Inquirer editorial on ethics from a series last month about issues important in the mayor's race.

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#NextMayorPHL

It's 2015:
What do you care about?

The race for who becomes mayor is always about the issues.

The Next Mayor will be providing background and updates on news and information on the biggest issues facing the city.

We want to hear from you about what you think is critical for the next mayor to handle.

The Issues

Below are the top issues based on a survey conducted in 2014 by the Philadelphia Daily News and Temple University.

Email us your thoughts >>

Crime
76%
Education
76%
Poverty
72%
Jobs
68%
Political Corruption
57%
Housing
52%
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