Council President Clarke, Councilman Green & Councilwoman Tasco Seek to Clarify City Ethics Rules

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Philadelphia, Jan. 30, 2014 Council President Darrell L. Clarke on Thursday introduced an amendment to the Philadelphia City Code that for the first time in 50 years would clarify rules limiting gifts to City employees.

The proposed legislation, introduced on Council President Clarke’s behalf by Councilman At-Large Bill Green and co-sponsored by all members of Council, establishes hard limits on gifts from persons with a financial interest that can be substantially affected by the official act or omission of a City employee receiving the gifts. The first-ever clear guidelines replace the City’s current vague, open-to-interpretation ethics rules that prohibit transactions of “substantial economic value” but do not numerically define “substantial economic value.”

The City Code amendment would prohibit the receipt of cash by City employees and would forbid the receipt of gifts worth more than $99.00 in the aggregate per calendar year. Solicitation of any gift, cash or otherwise, is expressly prohibited. Unlike an earlier proposal from the Ethics Board, these new rules establish exceptions for City employees who are in life partnerships that are not recognized under Commonwealth law.

In addition, under current rules it is unclear whether a City employee’s attendance at a business owner’s wedding is permitted. Under the new rules, a City employee is free to attend and celebrate a major life event.

The proposed legislation was authored by the offices of Council President Clarke, Councilman At-Large Green and Councilwoman Marian Tasco (9th District).

“This amendment will establish one clear set of rules for all City employees and for those seeking to do business with the City of Philadelphia,” Council President Clarke said. “Where the current law leaves limits undefined, Council will now define them. I am grateful to the staffs of Councilman Green, Councilwoman Tasco and my own office for their dedicated efforts to balance the protection of taxpayers with the protection of honest City employees.”

The new rules further protect the privacy and individual freedoms of City employees by carving out exceptions including the following:

  • Attendance at a celebration of a major life event of another individual (e.g., weddings, baby showers)
  • Hospitality provided at a private home or residence when the donor or a family member of the donor is   present (e.g., holiday dinners)
  • Food, beverages or entertainment provided at a reception for which ticket purchases are not required
  • Rebates or discounts offered to members of the general public or a class of persons, including rebates or discounts offered to a class of officers or employees (e.g., a group cell phone service discount for City employees)
  • Food or beverages provided by a supervisor, subordinate or co-worker and consumed as part of an office or agency event (e.g., birthday cake for a colleague)
  • Payment or reimbursement of an officer’s or employee’s reasonable expenses for admission, travel, lodging or food and beverage related to attendance of a convention, conference, seminar or fact-finding trip that will benefit the City and is reasonably related to the officer’s or employee’s official duties or expertise (e.g., a land use conference in another city)

“The best thing we can do for City employees is to eliminate the ambiguity,” Councilman Green said. “Bright line rules — like the inability to accept cash at all — keep things simple and clear and increase the confidence taxpayers can have in their City employees.”

“The ordinance introduced today would make the rules perfectly clear while granting relief to a City employee who unknowingly or accidentally accepts a cup of coffee from a person doing business with the City,” Councilwoman Tasco added.

Click here to see the ordinance.

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