Mayor Nutter faces ethics violation accusations
Nutter allegedly violated city rules by using taxpayer money to send two staffers to the Democratic National Convention
September 18, 2012, 11:07 pm·
Thando Ally | DP
After returning from the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., Mayor Nutter finds himself facing more political heat.
Three Philadelphia Republicans filed an ethics violation complaint last Wednesday alleging that the mayor — a 1979 Wharton graduate — violated city rules by using taxpayer money to send two staffers to assist him during the convention on Sept. 4 to 6.
Nutter spokesperson Mark McDonald said in an email that the city paid a total of $7,363.60 for the traveling costs of his staff and security but that these were legitimate expenses.
“As required under the City Charter, no city staffer engaged in any political activity in Charlotte. They were there to help the Mayor carry out his mayoral duties — official mayoral duties that don’t end just because he was at a convention.”
City GOP general counsel Matthew Wolfe, a Republican City ward leader who filed the complaint, said the mayor violated ethics rules on the one hand by “using city money to support a political agenda,” and on the other by bringing city employees to a political event.
Wolfe also pointed out that one of the aides in question, Tumar Alexander, had already been suspended in 2003 for participating in former mayor John Street’s re-election campaign while working as an assistant to Philip Goldsmith, who was city managing director at the time.
Though city employees are not allowed to participate in political events, the rules may leave room for interpretation. Shane Creamer, the executive director of the Philadelphia Board of Ethics, explained that “city employees are permitted to attend political rallies or events solely as a spectator.”
But there is a long history of elected officials bringing staffers along to political events. It is “legal and ethical if the administrative aides are there to help elected officials keep up with their official duties,” political science professor Rogers Smith said in an email. This has been standard practice “among both Republican and Democratic elected officials throughout U.S. history,” he added.
Former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, a 1965 College graduate who also attended the convention, argued that the DNC is an opportunity for a mayor to tend to city business as well. He recalled the 1992 DNC in New York City that he attended as mayor. The convention allowed him to meet with several labor leaders at a time of strong labor activism in Philadelphia.
He vouched for Nutter’s probity. “You can say a lot about Mayor Nutter good and bad but, look, he’s been one of the most ethical mayors we’ve ever had in the city, myself including. And I thought I set some pretty high standards.” Rendell is currently a professor at the Fels Institute of Government.
Rick Hellberg, chair of the Philadelphia Republican City Committee and one of the complainants, is not convinced the staffers could have entirely avoided engaging in political activity.
“I’m sure there was plenty of other politicking when they went down there,” he said. “The DNC is probably the most political thing any Democrat in the city can go to.”
Hellberg also argues the Mayor could have done without the two staffers to stay on top of city business. “In this day and age you can stay in touch with your office through cell phone, through the internet,” he said.
He believes this is part of a larger trend. “What you’ll find is, whenever you have one party rule anywhere, whether Democrat or Republican… they sometimes take a much more lenient look at the way the law is written.”