EDITORIAL: Public trust and accountability
York City Mayor KIm Bracey tells staff and supporters that she concedes the mayoral election to challenger Mike Helfrich.
York City Mayor Kim Bracey accepted the resignation of a police officer nearly three years ago, calling the resolution “in the best interest of everyone.”
Officer Terry Seitz had been under fire for months after posting an online comment about a brawl between York High and Harrisburg high school basketball players.
“Animals don’t play well with others,” he wrote in an apparent response to the fight.
Seitz was placed on administrative leave shortly after the January 2015 incident while city officials investigated.
In accepting his resignation less than three months later, Bracey noted he was, by all accounts, a good officer, and there was no indication he made a habit of posting such comments on social media.
But even assuming the comments were an aberration, those who work in government must be accountable, she said.
"We as public servants have to be above reproach and none of our behaviors questionable," Bracey said.
She was spot on then, when a city employee’s behavior was in question, and her words are just as true today when the mayor’s own actions are under scrutiny.
“Question” is the key word, and there were some very reasonable ones after Bracey’s son — also a city employee — was arrested Sept. 30 for allegedly assaulting her at her campaign headquarters.
The incident shined a spotlight on 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.
Here’s the thing: There is no state law prohibiting an immediate family member of a public official from working in that official’s municipality.
But there is a state law — the Ethics Act — that prohibits officials from making decisions that benefit the private interests of relatives.
And there are accepted procedures to avoid conflicts.
The Ethics Commission, in addition to investigating alleged violations of the act and issuing decisions in those cases, advises officials about how to avoid running afoul of the act.
Although Caruso said there’s no record of Bracey asking his office for guidance, he said she should have sent all city employees a memo after taking office in January 2010, informing them of her relationship with Anderson.
The communication should have noted she wouldn’t have anything to do with his discipline, compensation or potential promotions.
So just how was this situation actually handled?
In the days and weeks after her son allegedly assaulted her, Bracey and city administrators repeatedly refused to answer questions about whether she played any role in his city employment before she recused herself from any such decision on Oct. 12, nearly two weeks after Anderson was arrested.
As a result, The York Dispatch filed a Right-to-Know Law request for York City records of Anderson’s initial hire, promotion and raises. When the city finally turned over that paperwork, the documents after his initial hiring were unsigned, making it unclear who approved the changes.
That led to more questions.
At the time, city business administrator Michael Doweary, who was hired in 2014, could not explain the missing signatures, although he confirmed they are required.
“We weren’t able to find signatures,” he said. “Back then, I don’t know what they were doing. We weren’t able to find anything.”
So, the Dispatch filed another Right-to-Know request for records of any email approvals for Anderson’s personnel changes, which the city provided Friday, Nov. 3.
Those records show Bracey did approve her son’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.
Still more questions had to be asked.
Reached for comment Monday, Nov. 6, Bracey confirmed the information but said she believed there was nothing improper about her actions.
"I followed the process that was in place for this employee (Anderson) that I do for any other employee," said Bracey, who lost her re-election bid this month.
She added officials now "will put measures in place to prevent" future potential conflicts of interest.
OK, fair enough.
So why not say that weeks ago, when the question was first asked? Why wait to answer until there was no other option under the state’s Right-to-Know Law?
Why drag it out?
Elected officials and government employees are indeed accountable to the people who elected them, pay them and put their trust in them.
No public servant — not a city mayor, a borough councilman or a school board member — is above reproach.
The people have every right to not just ask questions but demand timely answers.