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Resign to run

Another blow to fair hiring makes city corruption easier

Image | Colin Knowles via Flickr.

Philadelphia passed a reform-minded, good-government charter in 1951 and has been repealing it piece by piece ever since. Last week, we lost another part — an important one — when voters approved a change that effectively guts the merit selection process meant to keep politics out of the city’s hiring decisions. 

That’s bad, and it’s made worse by the fact that the city’s former guardians of integrity in government (the Committee of Seventy and the mainstream press) encouraged the amendment, choosing corruption in the name of “equity.” 

That’s done, and another bulwark against kleptocracy has crumbled. But there is still some good to be found in the city charter, including one section that the Commonwealth and other local governments should emulate: the resign-to-run clause. The wording is simple: §10-107(5) of the City Charter declares: “No officer or employee of the City, except elected officers running for re-election, shall be a candidate for nomination or election to any public office unless he shall have first resigned from his then office or employment.”

Put more simply: if you work for the city, you have to actually work for the city. If you want to run for another office, you must quit first. 

The reasons for this are obvious. Firstly, officials who are out campaigning for another job are clearly not giving the city their entire effort — that is, they’re not doing an honest day’s work. When the charter was written, that was something we expected of city employees. The law is meant to keep it that way.

But there are other reasons, as well. Officials running for other jobs might be tempted to use the powers of their current office to help them, even co-opting civil service staff to perform political tasks. They might use their positions to, shall we say, “encourage” campaign contributions. Again, this used to be something we thought shouldn’t happen, though the average Philadelphian could be forgiven for laughing at the idea that City Council members might keep their political ambitions separate from their current jobs.

So how did this anti-corruption measure survive when so many others have fallen? It almost didn’t! City Council passed an amendment to remove this protection in 2014, overriding Mayor Michael Nutter’s veto to do so. The people narrowly rejected it at the election of May of that year, voting it down by 54.31% to 45.69%. It was not the first time the Council tried this — a similar effort failed in 2007 by a similar margin. They will probably try it again before too long.

But we should not be content to keep what little remains to us in the law of anti-corruption: we should demand that the state constitution contain a similar provision. 

Consider the current Attorney General of Pennsylvania, Josh Shapiro, who recently announced that he would be spending the next year running for governor instead of doing his job. Other than an article by frequent PW-contributor Ben Mannes in City and State, no one has even raised an eyebrow at the obvious conflict of interest this creates. In 2010, the Inquirer objected when Attorney General Tom Corbett did the exact same thing, but he was a Republican and Shapiro is a Democrat, so different rules apply. But it is part of a pattern for Shapiro. He was serving as Montgomery County Commissioner when he ran for Attorney General, and he was serving in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives when he ran for County Commissioner. And it’s not just the Democrats: current Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Gale, a Republican, has seemingly run for every office in the state while purporting to be still doing his actual job in Norristown.

Neither of these men is giving his constituents honest services. Philadelphians have demanded, through our city charter, that our city officials actually do the job they are elected to do or else hit the bricks. All Pennsylvanians deserve the same from our state officials. We deserve state officials who don’t always have their eye on the next job, or at least have the decency to do the one they are elected to for a while first. The City is pretty busy repealing anti-corruption measures; the state should pick up the slack and keep career politicians honest.

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  • Kyle Sammin is the senior editor of the Philadelphia Weekly. He is also a senior contributor to The Federalist and the co-host of the Conservative Minds podcast. Follow him on Twitter @kylesammin.

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