Fixing Perpetually Corrupt Institutions—The Philadelphia Story

Often in the anticorruption world we grapple with the question of how to deal with perpetually corrupt institutions. One example is the Philadelphia City Commission and its elected commissioners. In recent years, Anthony Clark, the Chair of the City Commission got paid despite not showing up to work, while other commissioners have engaged in overt patronage politics, such as doling out jobs to family members and steering city contracts to businesses and institutions run by family members (leading to the federal indictment of the daughter of the long-serving former Chair on corruption charges). And although credible voter fraud charges in Philadelphia are uncommon, the Commission has not done a particularly good job of administering elections, its primary job. For example, in 2012 more than 27,000 registered voters were somehow left out of the official polling books, and had to cast provisional ballots.

Things with the elected Philadelphia City Commissioners have gotten so bad that some (including the Committee of Seventy, a good governance group in Philadelphia, and the city’s two largest newspapers, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News) have called for abolishing the elected positions altogether. The Committee of Seventy has called for replacing the elected City Commissioners with an appointed board of professions to administer Philadelphia’s elections, although its plan is short on details.

This proposal relates to a larger issue with which anticorruption reformers in many jurisdictions struggle: which positions should be elected, and which should be appointed? When is democratic accountability the solution, and when is it the problem? There is no one right answer, of course—it all depends on context. Yet in the specific context of the Philadelphia City Commission, the instinct to eliminate the democratic process is premature for two reasons. Continue reading

Guest Post: “Global Cities–Joining Forces Against Corruption” Conference Recap, Part 1

Jennifer Rodgers and Gabriel Kuris, the Executive Director and Deputy Director, respectively, of the Columbia University Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity (CAPI), have provided a two-part series of guest posts summarizing CAPI’s recent conference on “Global Cities–Joining Forces Against Corruption”, which we previously advertised on GAB. This is the first of the two posts.

CAPI’s “Global Cities” conference brought together delegations from 14 cities across six continents to discuss the corruption challenges in urban settings and new ideas for reform. Videos of each speech and panel, presentation slideshows, and other conference materials are now available online. The discussion will continue on an online forum launching soon on the CAPI website, and those interested in participating in these online exchanges should feel welcome to register now. CAPI plans to periodically reprise the conference, with a shifting roster of cities, to build a coalition of cities on the vanguard of fighting urban corruption.

The conference commenced with keynotes addresses by the mayors of two historic cities working to boost transparency and public trust: Miguel Ángel Mancera of Mexico City and Giorgos Kaminis of Athens. Both mayors emphasized the empowerment of everyday citizens through new oversight mechanisms, cooperation with civil society, and emerging technologies—like Athens’s online budget monitoring tool. Both cities are also working to streamline legal regulations and public procedures, whether through Athens’s one-stop shops for citizen services or Mexico City’s legal reforms in public procurement and property registration.

The first panel, “The Shifting Landscape of Urban Corruption: New Challenges, New Approaches” examined the corruption issues cities currently face worldwide. Leaders of Western Australia’s Corruption and Crime Commission discussed their development of a “Misconduct Intelligence Assessment” tool to track the dynamic corruption risks of the modern boomtown of Perth. Chicago’s Inspector General spoke about emerging challenges such as the increasing prominence of quasi-governmental entities, the changing role of money in politics, and the grey areas of “legalized corruption.” Leaders from the anticorruption agencies of Catalonia and Kenya discussed the intersection between corruption, civic ethics, and public procurement.

The second panel, “Comeback Cities: Restoring Integrity after a Corruption Scandal”, covered the efforts of Toronto, Philadelphia, and New Orleans to break out of ceaseless cycles of scandal and clean-up to build resilient structures of oversight and civic cultures of lawfulness. Toronto’s Accountability Framework pioneered a new integrity model in a city reeling from a procurement scandal. Philadelphia’s Inspector General helped the city recover from high-level corruption so rampant the FBI wire-tapped the mayor’s office. Federal oversight is helping New Orleans to finally overhaul its notoriously corrupt police department. At the end of the panel, Frank Anechiarico of Hamilton College brought in comparative experience from Amsterdam, Hong Kong, and New York City from the volume he co-edited about city-level anti-corruption structures, Local Integrity Systems.

The third panel, “Bridging Political Boundaries: Partnering with National and State Government”, provoked some of the conference’s most engaged discussions. An aide to the mayor of Lviv, Ukraine, discussed how local activists whose reforms were frustrated by corruption at the national level helped upend national politics. Delegates from Nairobi and Chicago discussed collaboration between federal, regional, and local levels of law enforcement. Finally, GAB Senior Contributor Rick Messick brought an international-level perspective, emphasizing the counter-intuitive benefits of competition, rather than cooperation, among overlapping levels of government.

In our next post, we will summaraize the conference’s other speeches and panels, on topics ranging from the fight against corruption in post-Maidan Ukraine to the risks posed by cybercrime rings when cities host major events.