City solicitor: Controller employees can't avoid ethics rules

Posted: March 29, 2012

A WORKAROUND that has allowed some employees of the City Controller's Office to avoid city ethics rules is officially a thing of the past.

For decades, a few workers in the Controller's Office have not been subject to a city ban on political activity because they were on the school district payroll. But the Board of Ethics' executive director, Shane Creamer, on Thursday released an opinion from City Solicitor Shelley Smith that said those workers should be subject to the same rules as other city employees.

Creamer said the board would reach out to the Controller's Office to do training and would seek to enforce the rules, but would not impose any retroactive sanctions.

Five controller's employees are paid through the school district - a practice that began because part of the controller's job is auditing the schools. Their combined salaries are $265,059. At least two of those staffers hold political positions. Joseph Purul and Dwayne Stewart are Democratic committeemen, according to the most recent data from the city commissioners.

City Controller Alan Butkovitz said he expects his staff to follow the rules in the future. He added that he would be happy to have those staffers put on the city budget, which would make the issue moot, if he could get the funding.

"My position is whatever the mayor and the city, however they want to fund these positions, that's OK with me," Butkovitz said.

Finance Director Rob Dubow said there had been no discussions thus far about moving those workers to the city payroll.

The solicitor's opinion on the Controller's Office workers was requested by the Board of Ethics after a complaint was filed in March 2011 by Adam Lang, a former Republican committeeman.

Lang said Thursday that he was gratified by the outcome. "The idea of not enforcing it retroactively, I'm perfectly fine with that," he said. "The reason for the complaint wasn't to punish the workers, the reason was to force the city to finally make an official decision on what these rules are."

Contact Catherine Lucey at 215-854-4172 or luceyc@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @phillyclout. Read her blog, "PhillyClout" at phillyclout.com.

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