City commissioner to pay $500 fine

Oxana Turetsky was among nearly two dozen who spoke at a hearing arranged by Commissioner Stephanie Singer to talk about activity they saw at polls during the May 20 primary.
Oxana Turetsky was among nearly two dozen who spoke at a hearing arranged by Commissioner Stephanie Singer to talk about activity they saw at polls during the May 20 primary. (DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 07, 2014

A Philadelphia city commissioner who ran on a pledge to clean up the elections office has agreed to pay a $500 fine for what the city Board of Ethics says was an improper use of a city employee's time.

The Ethics Board determined that by asking the employee "to perform work that affected her financial interest," City Commissioner Stephanie Singer violated the City Charter.

In a settlement announced Thursday, the board said Singer had asked a commissioners' office employee to make a spreadsheet of voting results - which Singer later posted on her personal and campaign websites.

The case stemmed from an August complaint against Singer, one of the three commissioners who oversee city elections.

The Ethics Board found that Singer asked the employee to pull election results and organize the data into a spreadsheet. Singer then posted the information on Campaign Scientific L.L.C., a website she created, and Philadems.org, a site that offers visitors a link through which they can donate to Singer's campaign fund.

On Thursday, Singer defended her practice of requesting data from the commissioners office and posting it on her website.

"For many years, I had been getting information from the commissioners office, before I was commissioner, and putting it on my website for the public to see," she said, explaining that announced results usually do not include all write-in candidates and she wanted the public to see those.

She plans to keep posting voting data on her website. But as part of her agreement with the Ethics Board, she took down the campaign contribution link and made other changes, she said Thursday.

Singer had faced a $1,300 penalty, but the board said that because she cooperated with its efforts, the fine was reduced.

The settlement comes amid an ongoing ethics investigation into whether a Singer aide engaged in prohibited political activity. The Ethics Board last week seized the office computer of Tracey Gordon, who had been Singer's deputy and was placed on an unpaid leave.

Singer said Thursday that she was being singled out because of her efforts to educate voters. "Because I'm trying to push it into the light, people are targeting me," Singer said.

Singer, a Democrat, has been at odds with the other commissioners, Democrat Anthony Clark and Republican Al Schmidt. But the last few weeks have been increasingly tense.

Prior to the announcement of the fine, Singer held a hearing Thursday to air complaints about activity at the polls in the May 20 primary. The other two commissioners said that they were not invited and that Singer's event was independent of the hearings the commissioners hold after each election.

"We follow the process every election," Schmidt said. "This election will be no different."

The nearly two dozen people who spoke at the hearing told of seeing some voters vote more than once or erase write-in names; of intimidation by poll workers; and of seeing candidates and others hand out literature within 10 feet of polls or inside them - all unlawful activities.

"It is a shame that in Philadelphia, where government started, that we still have this problem," said Victoria Johnson, who ran unsuccessfully on May 20 for Democratic party committeeperson.

Several people who spoke were from the Southwest's 36th Ward, where there was a bitter feud between candidates affiliated with developer Ori Feibush and those of current ward leader and former City Council President Anna C. Verna.

There were some familiar faces, such as Karen Brown, a former mayoral candidate who made headlines this year when she tried to mount a challenge to Electricians union leader John J. Dougherty Jr. for Democratic leader of the First Ward in South Philadelphia.

On Thursday, Brown complained that people had tried to intimidate her slate of young committee candidates.

"If they ever vote," she said of the candidates, "they will never run again."

A group of the complainants walked to the District Attorney's Office after the hearing but did not get to speak with District Attorney Seth Williams or any of his assistant district attorneys.

Tasha Jamerson, a spokeswoman for Williams, later said that there are protocols and procedures for filing complaints and that demanding an investigation in the office lobby is not among them.


cvargas@phillynews.com

215-854-5520 @InqCVargas

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