Can you call a Philly politician at the office?

    For years, if you were a political reporter in Philadelphia, there was one document you always had a well-worn copy of in your desk.

    It was the annual Election Calendar produced by the watchdog group Committee of Seventy. It had dates for the election season and the names and office numbers of elected officials from the region.

    But what really made it valuable was that it listed every ward leader in the Philadelphia Republican and Democratic parties, and for most of them, included their office and home phone numbers.

    When you’re trying to track down some great piece of political gossip, you want to be able to reach your ward leaders.

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    The Committee of Seventy now calls the document its Citizens Guide, but it still has the ward leaders listed along with elected officials and other useful information.

    But earlier this week, Joe DeFelice, the Philadelphia director of the Republican State Committee raised an interesting question in a Facebook post: “Why is the Committee of Seventy listing government office phone numbers for ward leaders, such as Anna Verna 215-686-3412, or Michael Nutter, Office 215-686-2181?”

    A reporter responded: “So you can call them?”

    DeFelice replied, “It’s the government office, so there shouldn’t be any ward business.”

    John Featherman, the libertarian who ran for the Republican mayoral nomination weighed in: “If Seventy was doing their job properly, they would (a) refuse to accept that information and (b) publicly chastise those that are encouraging political business violating the terms and conditions of the city charter.”

    It’s a really interesting question. I know that as a reporter, I want to reach people wherever they are, and if I need to talk to a political figure who happens to work in the government, I sure don’t want to wait until he or she is home to have that conversation.

    On the other hand, these guys are right that we don’t want taxpayers to pay politicians to be on the phone all day conducting political business.

    We should note that charter restrictions on political activity are different for elected officials.

    When the Ethics Board sanctioned two employees of Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller’s office last week for using city time and equipment to put out an election flier for the Councilwoman, they were punished and she wasn’t. The board’s director explained that that’s because her political activity wasn’t restricted in the same way.

    And while many ward leaders are elected officials, others hold appointed posts, and are subject to the charter restrictions on political activity.

    I called the Committee of Seventy about DeFelice’s criticism, and Vice President and Policy Director Ellen Mattleman Kaplan gave me this statement:

    “Seventy gets the contact information for ward leaders from the Democratic and Republican city committees. Before we publish the Citizen’s Guide, we call to check the numbers and to ask where ward leaders want to be contacted. Sometimes we hear back from them and often we don’t. When we don’t, we use the information on the city committees’ lists. (Sometimes the lists are updated during the year. But since the Citizen’s Guide only comes out once a year, we have to go with the numbers we are given before we go to press.)

    Many ward leaders, both elected and non-elected, prefer to list their office numbers rather than their home phone or cell phone numbers. Our job is to give city residents information on who their ward leader is and how to contact him/her. It is up to the ward leader to comply with any applicable city political activity rules.”

    Thanks for to NewsWorks producer Shannon McDonald for picking up on DeFelice’s post.

    What do you think?

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