EDITORIAL: A minefield of potential conflicts
York City Mayor Kim Bracey called a press conference on Thursday, Sept. 21, to address violent crime in the city. Jason Addy
Anyone with an ounce of compassion can sympathize with Kim Bracey.
No one deserves what allegedly happened to the York City mayor last month at her campaign headquarters in York City, where police say she was beaten by her adult son until a bystander stopped the attack.
Bracey issued a statement after the Sept. 30 incident was made public nearly a week later, noting her son Brandon Anderson Sr. is battling opioid addiction and requesting “privacy as my family deals with this issue.”
We completely understand why she would make that request.
However, as much as Bracey might wish otherwise, this incident goes beyond a private family matter.
She is not just the alleged victim, she is also the mayor of York City, one of the highest-profile public offices in York County.
Anderson is not just the suspect, he’s also a city government employee, earning around $50,000 a year as a shift supervisor in the wastewater treatment plant.
Therefore, Bracey is not just the suspect’s mother — she’s also his employer.
The various connections in this particular case create a minefield of potential conflicts of interest.
For instance …
Did the York City Police Department handle this case the same way it would have handled it if the victim weren’t the mayor and the suspect weren’t the mayor’s son and a city employee?
Was any attempt made to shield her from the public scrutiny that would result from the incident?
Was the mayor involved in any discussion with the police department regarding how to handle the incident, including whether charges would be filed and what those charges would be?
What is the status of her son’s employment with the city?
Who will decide if Anderson is disciplined or fired because of this incident?
Is the mayor removed completely from this decision?
For that matter, has the mayor been separated from any decisions regarding her son at all times during his employment, as the State Ethics Commission recommends in such cases?
Unfortunately, we don’t know the answers to these questions because no one in the city administration will address them.
The York Dispatch has attempted to get answers from Bracey, Police Chief Wes Kahley, business administrator Michael Doweary and city solicitors Don Hoyt and Jason Sabol. None of them responded to inquiries.
We’ve also reached out to York City Council members, most of whom said all they knew of the incident was what they read in The York Dispatch’s Oct. 6 article. Questions about the handling of the case and Anderson’s employment were referred back to Bracey’s administration.
Doweary did confirm Anderson was a city employee but refused to answer any other questions. He later issued a short statement to that effect, citing a “longstanding city policy” that no city employees can speak about personnel issues.
However, Melissa Melewsky, a Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association attorney specializing in Sunshine Laws, said the policy itself could be construed as an unconstitutional gag order on city employees.
Although “it’s becoming more common” for public officials to cite “personnel matters” to deny information, she said the state’s Right-to-Know law doesn’t prohibit public agencies from being more forthcoming.
“Can they tell you more? Yes. Are they legally required to? No,” Melewsky said.
We believe all public officials should be as open and transparent as possible — but especially in this case.
Bracey could be in a legal “gray area” because of the number of potential conflicts she faces as the mayor, the victim of the crime and the mother of the accused, according to Robert Caruso, executive director of the State Ethics Commission.
“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?” he asked, adding the commission has a process to help officials avoid conflicts of interest in unique circumstances.
Did Bracey or anyone from her administration request such help?
No one who would know is saying.