Friday, July 13, 2007

Taking Ethics Seriously ...

Pittsburgh's ethics board met today, and took up the questions that have occupied the attention of the Burghospree and the media, the Mayor's participation in the Mario Lemieux charity tournament. The PG story (http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/07194/801476-100.stm) doesn't mention the hearing the Mayor missed, but that's as it should be. The voters can and should consider that action in the fall, and of course the voters could consider the ethical questions as well. But it is also responsibility and the charge of the ethics board to enforce the parts of the city code that apply to ethics and ethical behavior.

Now this Mayor has showed a disregard for strict adherence to ethical considerations in the past (http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/07080/771206-53.stm), so it is about time that Mr. Ravenstahl be forced to consider the consequences of his behavior. On the other hand, a city attorney raised a reasonable point in today's story:

"City attorney Kate DeSimone argued to the board that no action should be taken that would chill mayoral involvement in charity. "He is the public face of the city, and he does need to attend charitable events," she said."

Rabbi Danny Schiff suggested that these events should be limited to events the public can also easily attend. George Specter disagreed, although the Rich Lord didn't say how. But *I* want to say I can see the point of the Mayor of our distressed city having access to rich people willing to give money away. Now, we all know the Mayor was in hog heaven golfing with Sidney Crosby and Joe Thiesmann, as well as rich executive adults. But it is hard to say what the actual value of the event is. It would be interesting to know what any individual will write off to the IRS, the full value of the 9,000/27,000, or maybe only 8500 (what is the value of the meals and the rounds?). Of course, there is value in being able to write off income on tax returns (subject to income limitations that all those executives are subject to, what with the AMT and all), but the Mayor wouldn't have access to that part of the favor anyway. You could make the argument that the city itself has gotten a favor from UPMC, that might come back to haunt the city if it tries to ask UPMC for a higher "voluntary" contribution (in lieu of taxes). So while the Mayor's administration can make the argument that the Mayor needs to be in proximity to people who want to relieve themselves of money, he should stay away from be sponsored by people who don't pay taxes to the city. Of course, those were the very people who made the offer to the Mayor who has been identified as by the press as reluctant to refuse tickets to this type of event. The ethics board may have its work cut out for them.

3 comments:

Adam said...

I think the main part of the problem not mentioned here is that not only was Luke not one of the 'celebrities' that were there to draw in more money (therefore contributing nothing to the even including money) but he was paid for by UPMC AND golfed with two UPMC executives. Shortly after the event he said something along the lines of "I meet with all kinds of businesses and business people, I just happened to have these meetings with UPMC on a golf course"

Are you kidding??? He called this a 'meeting', which was paid for by the company he was meeting with. If that isn't an 'interested party' I have no idea what is.

EdHeath said...

Yeah, I certainly noticed that. I think the Mayor was trying to say that while everyone else there (who paid to be there) was enjoying the event, the Mayor (who didn't pay) was not enjoying himself, rather the Mayor was working. The fact he said that indicates he knows he did *something* wrong, I just don't know if he said it because of the hearing he skipped, because of the value of the favor he accepted or because of who he accepted the favor from.
To be fair, or at least to be clear, the IRS allows working people to be reimbursed for business activities. I once attended a conference held in Disneyworld, and my portion of the hotel, meals and airfare was reimbursed by my employer (my portion because I took my family). The Mayor appears to be trying to invoke that provision of the tax code to nullify the value of UPMC’s payment for his presence at the charity golf tournament. Of course, while my family enjoyed three days and nights of Disneyworld, I went to two and a half days of lectures and enjoyed a half day and three nights of Disneyworld. None of the presentations took place on rides.

Adam said...

Yes and it sounds like in Disney, your room et al was paid for by your EMPLOYER. You weren't sent as an elected official to decide public matters and had your room et al paid for by the people who were requesting something from you, and as you said, these people weren't making this plea while introducing you to Mickey Mouse. I don't think the analogy really fits.

If this isn't an ethics violation...an obviously "interested party" paying for a $9,000 event for our obviously star-struck mayor and then the mayor himself coming out and saying it was a business meeting...I honestly think we need to change our ethics code.

If UPMC paid for a $300 dinner for Luke and while at dinner were discussing issues that they were taking in front of the city for decisions, that would be an obvious violation. I don't see how this differs just because UPMC's money went to charity instead of to a private owner of a restaurant. The action and the intent is the same in both cases.

As for "Everyone else there was enjoying the event"...Luke obviously enjoyed himself. The only difference was he was the only one there being bribed.