Scranton Council Plans Stronger Ethics Code
SCRANTON — City council introduced a stiffer city ethics code Monday with “teeth,” including limits on campaign finance contributions that elected officials could accept, and a reconstituted board to oversee the rules.
Returning to session after a monthlong break, council voted 4-0 — with Tim Perry, Kyle Donahue, Bill Gaughan and Wayne Evans all in favor, and President Pat Rogan absent — to amend the current ethics code dating to the mid-1970s. It has not been updated in many years.
Some of the proposed rules include:
Limiting campaign contributions to $2,700 per individual and $5,000 per political action committee received by any city official within a calendar year; currently there are no such limits.
Posting on the city website all city candidates’ campaign finance reports; currently such reports are filed with the county Board of Elections.
Requiring an ethics board to meet periodically; currently there is no ethics board, as it has been
dormant for some time after terms expired and were left vacant.
Appointing an ethics board as follows: the mayor and council each would get two appointments, and the controller would get one; previously, all five members were mayoral appointments.
Ethics revisions stem from a debate in the summer over the lease of a vacant building at Nay Aug Park to a city official for conversion into a coffee shop; and as a state corruption probe enveloped the Scranton School District in several raids and the arrest of the district’s former fleet manager.
Amid this backdrop, council agreed to review whether to update the city’s ethics code. Gaughan researched the matter and suggested using the city of Reading’s ethics code as a model, and folding in limits on campaign finance contributions.
In recent months, council solicitor Amil Minora crafted a new ethics code. In voting to introduce it, council wholeheartedly endorsed it.
Gaughan said the proposal sets the ethics bar “very high, where it should be.”
“Every single Scrantonian has a right to expect that all city officials are independent and fair toward all residents and do not favor a small group of individuals or themselves. A strong code of ethics creates a standard of professionalism in the city,” Gaughan said. “With several investigations taking place within our community that have caused a black eye for our area, I think it is important that the city set a standard that we will not allow any type of corruption.”
Perry said the ethics code update is “long overdue.”
Evans said council is “ushering in a new era of transparency and trust.” He stressed the campaign finance reform component as “groundbreaking” to “help level the playing field and attempt to minimize the impact of infusions of large amounts of money that may have influenced elections in the past.”
Resident Joan Hodowanitz gave “kudos” to council for the ethics revamp. She said it should send the proposed ethics code to the school board, and the city also should create a whistleblower hotline.
Typically, legislation comes from the administration. Reached by phone before the council meeting, Mayor Bill Courtright said he hadn’t seen council’s ethics revision, but administration solicitor Jessica Eskra is reviewing it and will advise him on it.
The ordinance will come up for a second vote on advancement at council’s meeting Monday, Jan. 14, at 6 p.m. at City Hall.
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