Thanks to legislation passed by Councilman Michael Nutter, Philadelphians will have the opportunity tomorrow to pass a referendum creating Philadelphia's first independent ethics board. The ballot question - if approved - would establish an ethics board with the authority to investigate complaints, administer hearings, issue subpoenas/fines, and conduct ethics training for all City employees. The independent board would have jurisdiction over all officials and branches of City government, in contrast to the current board that only has authority over the executive branch. Board members would be unpaid and would serve five-year terms, with a two-term limit. Elected or appointed City officials, City employees and political party employees would be ineligible for service. If voters approve the referendum, the Mayor would still pick the board members - as with the current group - but appointees would require City Council's approval.
Why do we need a new ethics board?
Philadelphia's first ethics board was created in 1962, but lacked enforcement powers and met infrequently. In August 2004, as the federal corruption probe of City Hall's pay-to-play culture exploded, Mayor Street created a new ethics board and appointed its five members. However, because the board was created by executive order, its jurisdiction is limited to the executive branch. Also, the board's not so independent, given that its members are picked by the Mayor, without input from anybody else. This kind of self-policing, "fox watching the hen house" kind of arrangement just isn't effective.