New Commish, and other local matters

    It’s looking like Philly’s top cop Chuck Ramsey may be headed to Chicago.

    I’m pleased to see those anointed by the Daily News as possible successors is Thomas Nestel III, who now heads the Upper Moreland police force.

    Nestel had a distinguished career in the Philadelphia police department. I knew him both as a reporter and a citizen. He was a captain in the 14th district where I live, and he knew my house was burglarized because he read every single incident report in the district every week.

    He’s smart, he’s honest, and he believes aggressive but professional police work can make a difference. I’d love to see him riding in Car 1 if Ramsey bolts.

    Hearings begin today on nominating petition challenges for Philadelphia’s May 17 primary, and the marquee battles will be over the three elected officials who are getting (or in one case, already got), six-figure retirement payments and plan to get re-elected and return to work.

    Though a city solicitors’ opinion said it was okay for elected officials to use this maneuver, the matter has never been before a judge. If this becomes a protracted legal battle, it could do damage to both the image and finances of City Council members Frank Rizzo and Marian Tasco, and City Commissioner Marge Tartaglione.

    The buzz in city hall is that Tasco, who has long dismissed the retirement payments as a non-issue, is worried. See this item from Daily News’ Chris Brennan.

    There’s another interesting point related to my observation yesterday that the city’s campaign finance law will limit lawyers’ ability to volunteer their services to politicians defending these suits.

    On the other side, attorneys pursuing these cases because they feel passionately about the issue are free to volunteer as much time as they want, because their clients are citizens, not candidates bound by the city’s campaign finance law.

    UPDATE: Ethics board executive director Shane Creamer e-mailed to say I’m wrong about the law limiting attorneys’ ability to volunteer services for a candidate. He writes this correction:

    Just to clarify the rules about volunteer legal services for candidate committees, an individual lawyer may volunteer as much time as he or she wants to  provide free legal services to a City candidate. Such volunteer labor does not count towards the City’s contribution limits. However, if a lawyer enters into paid representation of a candidate and, after charging the candidate for services rendered, waives or forgives all or some the debt the candidate owes, that forgiveness of debt is an in-kind contribution that counts towards the contribution limits.

    And, there’s this follow to my Tuesday post on the obscure provision in Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett’s budget giving his economic development hauncho, a big campaign contributor and energy executive with a shaky environmental record, the ability to “expedite any permit or action pending in any agency where the creation of jobs may be impacted.”

    Our own Scott Detrow reports that this provision, first uncovered by the investigative group Pro Publica, came up at a House budget hearing Wednesday.

    Acting Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Krancer said the provision isn’t any dramatic expansion of authority, and that nobody will be interfering with environmental permits to speed up gas drilling.

    Krancer said the language is a policy statement urging state departments to work together.

    “If we want to or they want to communicate with me on a particular matter, that’s fine. My door’s always open,” he said. “It works the other way around, too. If I want to communicate with them, then I’m always empowered to pick up the phone and communicate with them. And that’s very important.”

    Which makes me want to ask: Did they need special language in the budget to allow cabinet secretaries to talk to each other? There’s more to this.

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