A rash of city corruption cases in Pa., and a lesson to turn

     Former Harrisburg Mayor Stephen Reed in happier times at a 2008 political rally. (AP photo/Jason Minick)

    Former Harrisburg Mayor Stephen Reed in happier times at a 2008 political rally. (AP photo/Jason Minick)

    Strange days: Other Pennsylvania cities are making Philadelphia politics look clean.

    In Harrisburg, former 28-year Mayor Stephen Reed faces a long list of charges in a strange scandal allegedly borne of too much power, opportunities to manipulate the city’s finances, and an apparently obsessive fascination with historical artifacts.

    Meanwhile FBI agents have raided city hall offices in Allentown and Reading in what may be related investigations of public contracts.

    The sad thing about municipal corruption, especially in Pennsylvania, is that it saps energy and talent from places that don’t have tons of it to spare.

    I’m reminded of what happened when the FBI investigated the previous mayoral administration in Philadelphia. Among other things, they uncovered the appalling manipulation of a competition to develop Penn’s Landing to extract campaign contributions.

    That kind of things just discourages bright, honest, innovative people from doing business here.But out of the ashes of that sorry chapter in the city’s history came an ethical renaissance that has made a real difference in the conduct of public officials.

    The scandals we’ve had in Philadelphia lately have involved Traffic Court judges and state lawmakers – officials outside the direct jurisdiction of the city ethics board and beyond the reach of the city’s aggressive inspector general and chief integrity officier.

    City hall, and city contracts are much cleaner.

    Harrisburg, Allentown and Reading are struggling cities that don’t need their politicians imposing new burdens on efforts to create jobs, improve neighborhoods, and balance the city’s books.

    Ethical conduct among city officials by itself isn’t enough to make government effective. We still need vision, energy, and political skill. But without people you can trust in power, it’s hard to get anywhere.

    When the scandals in these cities run their course, I hope their leaders study what happened in Philadelphia after the feds raided City Hall, and learn something.

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