Drawing a new line

    Should a sanitation worker be banned from posting a lawn sign for his Council member?

    Should a city tax collector be allowed to solicit contributions for the mayor’s campaign?

    You asked (or at least a lot of other people have over the years), and the Philadelphia Board of Ethics has answers, in the form of a new set of proposed regulations for political activity among city employees.

    They’re bound to tick people off – including City Council staff members who think the rules are too restrictive, and reformers who think they permit too much.

    In general, they curb political activity among regular civil servants, but preserve an old exception for the 200 or so employees of City Council, allowing them to continue working in political campaigns or serving as ward leaders or committeepeople – on their own time, of course.

    The rules do contain a restriction on Council employees though. They can’t be involved in fundraising or serve as treasurers for political committees or their Council members’ campaigns.

    That distinction was actually included in the city charter, but it has been little known or observed since then. The Ethics Board is now telling Council staff they expect them to live by that rule, and some are angry about it.

    For most city employees, the new rules embrace a common sense standard: you can express your opinion and join the political process as a citizen, but you can’t do it as a city official, using city resources or on city time.

    Ethics Board executive director Shane Creamer said actually defining what is and isn’t permissible took a lot of thought. The board has been working on the rules since August, and the proposed regs represent the 25th draft.

    “These aren’t easy decisions,” Creamer said. “In the past it didn’t matter because nobody was enforcing this stuff, but now that we have to enforce these rules, we have to make sure they’re clear and fairly interpreted.”

    Here are some examples of the proposed rules for city employees not employed by City Council.

    Things you can do:

    – wear a button (but not at work).

    – put up a lawn sign.

    – attend a rally or political fundraiser.

    – make a political contribution (except for police officers, specifically banned in the city charter).

    – be a Facebook friend or fan of a political candidate or party.

    Things you can’t do:

    – serve as a committeeperson or ward leader.

    – plan or sell tickets to a political fundraiser.

    – write a Facebook or blog post that links information created by a party or candidate.

    You can have your say on the proposed rules at a hearing at 1 p.m. on Feb. 23rd. It will be held at the Ethics Board offices in the second floor of the Packard Building, 1441 Sansom St. The proposed regs will be posted soon on the Ethics Board website.

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