Inquirer Editorial: Election chicanery

Posted: December 09, 2010

The second-highest election official in Philadelphia is gone from that office, but Renee Tartaglione should not be forgotten.

Given her admitted blatant flouting of the city's ban on politicking by city employees, the former chief deputy city commissioner warrants a new status: poster child for wholesale reform of the City Commissioners' Office.

Tartaglione admitted to ordering 2,000 campaign ballots designed to mislead voters, collecting Election Day "street money" from the city's Democratic headquarters, and even standing in for her ward-leader husband while he was in jail.

For any city employee other than an elected official, such politicking would be cause for discipline - up to and including firing.

But to have someone as close to the inner circle of the election process as Tartaglione engaging in such partisan political activity calls into question whether the whole election apparatus is being run fairly and without bias.

Tartaglione quit her job on the eve of being called out by the city Board of Ethics for violating the electioneering ban. She agreed to pay a $2,700 fine and not seek a new city job or elected post for at least one year.

With the investigation of Tartaglione announced Monday, the ethics board continues to do stellar work in cleaning up the city's political culture. The ethics board apparently acted on a complaint filed by State Rep. Angel Cruz (D., Phila.), a political opponent of Tartaglione and her husband, Carlos Matos.

The matter should now go to the district attorney.

Rousting Tartaglione solved one problem, but does nothing to bring about the structural reform within the City Commissioners' Office that watchdog groups - including the Committee of Seventy and the city's fiscal oversight panel, PICA - have rightly demanded.

The elected row office with three commissioners - including Tartaglione's mother as chairwoman - is one of several offices, along with the Sheriff's Department, that should be taken out of partisan political control. Their operations should instead be directed by mayoral appointees overseeing civil-service workers.

Sure, that would mean bucking the daunting political clout at the City Commissioners' Office held by the city's entrenched Democratic leadership. But there's no better time for Mayor Nutter to seize the initiative and push for this reform.

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