Saturday, January 11, 2014

Will Transparency Take a Hit in Scranton?

Scranton's financial problems are arguably the most pressing issue facing the city.  The seriousness of the issue demands that the solutions to its financial crisis be negotiated in the full view of the public, and under the conventional ethics that bind all public officials.

Incoming Democratic Scranton Mayor Bill Courtright, with the assistance and financial backing of the Scranton Chamber of Commerce, is considering hiring a financial consultant from New Jersey to help navigate the troubled waters before Scranton.  Under the deal, the consultant would be hired by and paid by the Chamber to perform these otherwise official duties.

The contractual duties of this consultant will be to assist in budgets, provide support and guidance to the administration, develop and model new sources of revenue, meet with other officials at the City's direction, work with the city's departments and the administration toward various analyses.

PEL, the City of Scranton's Act 47 Recovery Coordinator, likes the plan and the partnership with the Scranton Chamber of Commerce.

But what of transparency?

The Pennsylvania Public Official and Employee Ethics Act covers public officials, public employees, candidates, and nominees for confirmation.  Reviewing the definitions of each, it would appear as though this consultant that will be performing unquestionably official actions for the City of Scranton may not be covered by the act.

With respect to the open records law, the actions of a private contractor performing work for a private organization would also likely not be covered - even though these actions would be for the city.

If an employee of the City of Scranton performed these same duties, they would be covered under the ethics act and be bound by the same transparency requirements as any other governmental agency.

While it is laudable that the Scranton Chamber of Commerce would act as a participant in Scranton's recovery, it should not be done with opacity.  If accountability and transparency is to be preserved, the consultant should be hired directly by the city.

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