Council mulls gift ban

Posted: January 31, 2014

CITY COUNCIL has proposed setting hard limits on what municipal employees can accept as a gift - a subject of much debate over the last several weeks both in Council chambers and behind closed doors.

A bill introduced yesterday by Councilman Bill Green, and co-sponsored by all members on behalf of Council President Darrell Clarke, would set a clear financial limit for city workers - gifts worth $99 in total value for a given year - and a strict ban on cash.

"We've had problems with employees taking larger amounts," Councilwoman Marian Tasco told the Daily News.

The amendment to the city code would update an old ethics law that's been on the books for more than 50 years and is ambiguous about guidelines. Language in the new bill defines a "gift" as a "payment, subscription, advance, forbearance, rendering or deposit of money, services or anything of value, unless consideration of equal or greater value is received."

"One hundred dollars is pretty much the standard for city employees across the country, so looking at other cities and jurisdictions, our staff came to the conclusion that [$99] would be it," said Tasco.

The Ethics Board in December reached a consensus that the cap on nonmonetary gifts ought to be no more than $50.

Joan Markman, the city's chief integrity officer, called Council's proposal, "a step in the right direction," but doesn't agree with the $99 limit.

"Any gift should be banned, period," she said.

"There's no reason to accept any gift of any value by virtue of your city position. I do like that this proposed ordinance restricts solicitation. I'd be in favor of something more akin to the mayor's executive order on gifts. There are certain limited exceptions, but the prohibition is broader than the prohibition in this proposed ordinance."

Mayor Nutter's gift ban sends a clear message to his staff about accepting anything from people with financial interests whose business can be affected by official action.

According to the mayor's executive order, no member of his staff is to accept any gift, including "any conveyance of anything of value . . . to eliminate even the appearance of impropriety."

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