Inquirer Editorial: Nutter's new reforms

Posted: January 27, 2011

With Mayor Nutter about to face city voters again, he's making a smart political move - as well as one that's in the interests of good government - by expanding the rules for most city workers on accepting gifts, safeguards on sexual harassment limits on outside employment, and by imposing a needed ban on nepotism.

Nutter's 2007 election campaign on a reform platform included a memorable "throw out the bums" TV ad showing the top of City Hall being ripped off. So the ethics rules the mayor issued as executive orders Tuesday were a welcome reminder of why Philadelphians rallied behind him.

The mayor, of course, would argue that he's kept his reform fervor well-stoked all along.

To his credit, Nutter put two former federal prosecutors on the case to promote and police ethical behavior among the city's workforce. That's resulted in the firing of 105 employees for various missteps. At the city's newly empowered ethics board, the mayor has made several stellar appointments. And he backed efforts last year to reform the troubled court clerk's office.

The mayor's executive orders, though, are a reminder that hundreds of city officials aren't covered by them. Yet, these rules must apply across the board if the city ever hopes to clean up its pay-to-play political culture.

Nutter's edict covers the nearly 23,300 employees who work under the executive branch. That represents nearly nine out of every 10 city employees, but it doesn't apply to City Council, the City Controller's Office, or the city row offices comprising hundreds of employees.

For the rules to apply citywide, Council would have to get into the act. Despite passing the first-ever campaign-finance rules and requiring lobbyists to register, Council members so far have resisted calls to halt nepotism, restrict outside jobs, or ban gifts. Council even considered loosening the ban on municipal workers doing political work, which risked politicizing city services.

Not surprisingly, it was a Council member who coined the phase "ethics-ed out" to explain the lack of enthusiasm for tougher rules.

In that sense, the mayor's unilateral action is an acknowledgment that he hasn't yet garnered political support for broader reform. If that's due to a go-along attitude on the part of a candidate with an eye on reelection, maybe Nutter will be more aggressive if he's elected to a second term.

That being said, it's really on Council to embrace further reform. So voters should demand nothing less from candidates seeking their support for Council posts in this year's elections.

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