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Bracey confirms she approved son's promotion, raises; new policy in works
York City Mayor KIm Bracey tells staff and supporters that she concedes the mayoral election to challenger Mike Helfrich.
Outgoing York City Mayor Kim Bracey now acknowledges she approved a promotion and several raises for her son, a city employee, but she said she was just following procedure and did nothing wrong.
Still, she said, the city now "will put measures in place to prevent" future potential conflicts of interest.
Brandon Anderson Sr.’s Sept. 30 arrest in an alleged attack on his mother at her campaign headquarters highlighted the mayor’s potential conflicts because of their relationship.
“At what point does she put her family-member hat on and at what point does she have to have her hat on as a public official,” Robert Caruso, executive director of the State Ethics Commission, said at the time.
State Ethics Act: Though there is no state law prohibiting an immediate family member of a public official from working in that official’s municipality, the state Ethics Act prohibits officials from making decisions that benefit the private interests of relatives, he said.
"If (a public official) signs off on something that results in one of their immediate family members getting a promotion or pay increase, the commission has consistently ruled" that action is a violation of the Ethics Act's conflict of interest subsection, Caruso said.
The commission is an independent state agency that enforces the state Ethics Act, which applies to public officials and public employees. Among the commission’s responsibilities is investigating alleged violations of the act and issuing decisions in those cases.
It also provides advice to officials about how to avoid running afoul of the act.
City employee: Anderson was hired in March 2007 as a collection operator at York City’s wastewater treatment plant, with a starting wage of $16.89 per hour, according to employment records.
Then-York City Mayor John Brenner signed off on Anderson’s hire in April 2007, while Bracey was serving in his administration as director of community and economic development.
Anderson was promoted to his current position in January 2011, with his wage rising to $20.92 per hour. After working 180 days as a shift supervisor, Anderson’s wage was increased in October 2011 to $21.98 per hour.
Caruso told The York Dispatch that Bracey should have sent all city staff a memo after taking office in January 2010, informing employees of her relationship with Anderson and making it clear that she would not take part in actions regarding his discipline, compensation or potential promotions.
Right to Know: Bracey had repeatedly refused to answer The York Dispatch's questions about whether she played any role in her son's employment with the city before her official Oct. 12 recusal, which came nearly two weeks after Anderson was arrested in the alleged assault at her campaign headquarters.
The York Dispatch filed a Right-to-Know Law request for York City records of Anderson’s initial hire, promotion and raises. The city turned over that paperwork, but the documents after his initial hiring were unsigned, making it unclear who approved the changes.
At the time, city business administrator Michael Doweary could not explain the missing signatures, although he confirmed they are required.
City officials now approve promotions and raises electronically via email, he said, but he could not say what process the city used in 2011, as he wasn’t an employee at the time.
“We weren’t able to find signatures,” Doweary said. “Back then, I don’t know what they were doing. We weren’t able to find anything.”
The Dispatch then filed a Right-to-Know request for records of any email approvals for Anderson’s personnel changes, which the city provided on Friday, Nov. 3.
Those records show Bracey approved Anderson's January 2011 promotion and the raise that came with it, as well as Anderson's raises in May 2011 and August 2014, each with a simple "Ok." response.
Those actions were also approved by several other city officials, including Thomas Ray, deputy business administrator for human resources; Jim Gross, then-director of the public works department; and former business administrator Michael O'Rourke, who previously told The York Dispatch he did not sign off on Anderson's 2011 promotion.
Policy changes: Asked for comment, Bracey confirmed this week that she approved the changes but said she believed there was nothing improper about her actions.
"We have a process in the city of York, a very clear procedural process of how raises, promotions and demotions are handled," she said.
Those changes always came with recommendations to approve from directors and officials in her administration, Bracey said, so she didn't consider that her approval of a promotion and raises for her son could be seen as inappropriate.
"I followed the process that was in place for this employee (Anderson) that I do for any other employee," Bracey reiterated, adding officials now "will put measures in place to prevent" future potential conflicts of interest.
Doweary said he could not confirm whether the city ever had a written policy to avoid potential conflicts of interest between a city official and a city employee who is a member of that official's immediate family.
"I don't know that we have a direct policy to that effect. I would have to double-check that," he said.
That the mayor was among several administrators who approved Anderson’s personnel changes makes no difference in the commission's eyes, according to Caruso, the state Ethics Commission director, who said there should have been an alternate process for dealing with the mayor’s son.
Bracey said none of her administrators ever warned her that such actions might violate the state Ethics Act.
“I would have definitely not done it. If there were rules that were broken — that’s not what I do,” she said. “My record is pretty darn clear about that. I followed the process in place and if there’s things for us to revise, we will do that.”
Bracey lost her bid for a third term as York City's mayor in Tuesday's election, conceding to city council President Michael Helfrich.
Anderson, 31, of the 900 block of East Market Street, remains free on $7,500 bail, awaiting trial on charges of simple assault and harassment for allegedly attacking his mother.
He did not appear at his preliminary hearing last week because he is currently in treatment, according to defense attorney Chris Ferro.