Here’s What Kenney’s Ethics Team Thinks About the Johnny Doc Raids

Ellen Kaplan and Stephanie Tinton don't want you to write off city government just yet.

Ellen Kaplan (left), Philadelphia's chief integrity officer, and Stephanie Tipton (right), deputy chief integrity officer.

Ellen Kaplan (left), Philadelphia’s chief integrity officer, and Stephanie Tipton (right), deputy chief integrity officer.

It was a week ago today — do you remember where you were? — when federal authorities made quite a show out of raiding numerous properties connected to John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty, the leader of IBEW Local 98 and wielder of enormous political clout.

Seemed like everywhere you turned, tight-lipped agents were collecting evidence and ominously hauling away boxes of records. They’re at Doc’s house in South Philly! Now they’re at the union’s headquarters! Oh my God — they’re at Councilman Bobby Henon’s office in City Hall, too! 

We still don’t have a clear sense of what it all means. (Dougherty hasn’t been hit with any charges.) Plenty of people are nervous, of course; Dougherty’s and Local 98’s influence is, er, far-reaching, to put it mildly. But an Inquirer story put one famous Philadelphian in particular on notice: Mayor Jim Kenney. The paper reported that the feds are “focused on the union’s finances and its involvement in the political campaigns of Mayor Kenney and state Supreme Court Justice Kevin Dougherty.”

Not a dream scenario for Kenney, who quickly claimed that neither he nor his office have been contacted by federal investigators, or for the city itself, which has worked hard over the last decade to be known for more than just cheesesteaks and corruption. A new scandal — or, in this case, even the prospect of one — casts a cloud over everything.

It’s enough of a concern to make no less a voice of reason than WHYY’s Dave Davies look at the Dougherty raids, the unfolding trial of state Attorney General Kathleen Kane, the Rob McCord fiasco, and U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah’s recent racketeering conviction, and wonder if the local political environment is actually more corrupt than ever before.

Ellen Kaplan and Stephanie Tipton beg to differ. Kaplan, the city’s chief integrity officer, and Tipton, and the deputy chief integrity officer, argue that city government is more ethical than it’s been in God knows how long. It’s a tough sell, sure, but they have their reasons.

Start with Tipton, who began working for the city in 2006 under then-Mayor John Street on the Education Advisory Task Force, and went on to work in the Managing Director’s Office before serving as the deputy finance director and then acting chief integrity officer under Mayor Michael Nutter, who successfully ran as the antithesis to the pay-to-play scandal that overshadowed Street’s tenure:

“I think the culture in city government has really changed. I think there’s a much stronger awareness of the rules and the role our office plays. And unfortunately, because we’re all sort of in this big blob of government, anyone who’s associated with government that’s convicted or charged taints all of us.

“Even though we know what we’ve accomplished, and what we’ve been able to do, there’s going to be just constant scrutiny, or this thinking that, ‘Oh, all government is corrupt,’ or ‘All government is somehow doing something nefarious,’ even though I think that’s not the case, especially at this point where we are now. We’ve come a long way, and I’ve seen that.”

She points to the establishment of the Board of Ethics, stringent campaign finance restrictions, an anti-pay-to-pay law, and Nutter’s decision to create the position of chief integrity officer. It adds up to a considerable amount of progress, but there was legitimate concern that some of it would wash away after Nutter left office in January. Kenney’s appointment of Kaplan — the no-nonsense former policy director for the government watchdog Committee of Seventy — as chief integrity officer was viewed as positive sign.

Kaplan said she wasn’t worried the city would backslide “because the first conversation that I had with Jim Kenney when he asked if I would consider this role was, ‘There’s not going to be any backsliding.'” She made it clear to Kenney that she wanted to push for additional reforms in city government, and wouldn’t take the job if he planned on meddling.

Kaplan said she didn’t have any conversations with Kenney about his ties to Dougherty, which was the elephant in the room during Kenney’s successful sprint through the Democratic mayoral primary last spring, or the support he received from union-backed super PACs.

“Not really, for this reason: We’re not involved in the campaigns,” she said. “As far as we know, nobody in government has been asked for anything, or questioned in relationship to [the federal raids]. Our job is to make sure people behave ethically, that operations happen openly, transparently and with integrity. And so the outside chatter, it hasn’t really impacted anything that we’re doing.”

Philadelphia, Kaplan noted, has “about as strong rules as any other city I’ve seen on campaign finance,” and candidates and super PACs are prohibited from coordinating their efforts. “Could we do more? Yeah. But overruling Citizens United would be helpful,” she said. (There have been other calls for city leaders to take additional steps to ensure super PACs can’t take advantage of pay-to-play loopholes.)

Much of Tipton’s and Kaplan’s energy is focused on guiding city and administration employees on how to interact ethically with vendors and opportunity-seekers. They had to vet hundreds of invitations to parties and gatherings that poured into City Hall during the Democratic National Convention, and are now focused on making sure the incoming soda tax revenue is doled out transparently and properly. Kaplan would also like to see the office tackle a citywide whistle-blower policy.

But until the Dougherty matter gets fully sorted out, they know people will whisper and draw their own conclusions. “I understand it on one level, but I do think the public and sometimes the media just paint everybody with a broad brush,” Kaplan said. “There’s nothing that happened last week that indicates that it’s touching the mayor, or the people that work in this building, or anything we’ve done in the last seven months, or even [Kenney’s] campaign.”

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