Council committee OKs private gifts of up to $99 in value to city workers

Posted: February 26, 2014

An ordinance that would allow city employees to annually accept noncash gifts worth up to $99, even from people with official business before them, won approval Monday from a City Council committee, clearing the way for adoption as early as next week.

The measure, introduced less than a month ago by all 17 Council members, was endorsed by the Nutter administration on grounds that it would expressly prohibit cash gifts, bar city employees from soliciting gifts, and provide a value limit for noncash gifts.

The city code prohibits gifts of "substantial economic value," but leaves the term undefined.

The city Board of Ethics also endorsed the bill after months of trying to establish comprehensive gift regulations for the city.

The ethics board put those efforts - most recently including a $50 limit on noncash gifts - on hold when Council members surfaced at the end of January with their own bill, raising the proposed limit to gifts with a maximum value of $99.

"Absolute gift bans are both impractical and unreasonable and do not exist anywhere in the country," said J. Shane Creamer Jr., the board's executive director. "The challenge for policy makers is to set the lines in a way that addresses the common areas of concern, but does not extend its prohibition in a way that is impractical, unreasonable or unenforceable."

The civic group Committee of 70 opposed the pending bill, saying that the $99 figure was too high and other parts of the bill too vague to merit support.

"We believe there are too many ambiguities that will open the door to potential abuses," said the group's vice president and policy director, Ellen Mattleman Kaplan. "We don't want to move from one flawed gifts policy to another flawed gifts policy. . . . We think it needs more work."

Council's Committee on Law and Government, headed by Councilman-at-large William K. Greenlee, rejected her advice, putting the bill up for an immediate committee vote and setting up final Council action next week.

215-854-5885 @bobwarner1

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