Editorial: Reform lite / Council balks at tougher rules on spending

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When it comes to reforming City Council spending, most of our elected officials would rather pretend that no matter how bad it looks, the perception of a problem is always worse than the reality.

Alas, being accountable to taxpayers -- those pesky agitators who insist on knowing exactly what's happening with their money -- doesn't fit the 19th-century model of government these characters live by.

Case in point: On Wednesday, Councilmen Bill Peduto and Doug Shields introduced amendments to the modest reforms Council President Luke Ravenstahl pushed forward to tighten the rules for discretionary spending.

The Peduto/Shields amendment aimed to limit discretionary budget spending to council offices only, a move that would have eliminated the notorious WAMs (walking around money) that greases so many wheels in local politics.

Because transparency is a virtue that works best when all politicians are forced to live in glass houses, Mr. Peduto and Mr. Shields sought to post the annual spending of every elected official, from Mayor O'Connor on down on the city's Web site.

In a properly functioning democracy, this would have been the easiest initiative in the history of council to pass. Because of recent questions about spending in Councilwoman Twanda Carlisle's office, one would think a general posture of embarrassment would compel something resembling an honest reckoning with the public mood.

Instead of the substantive reforms sought by Mr. Peduto and Mr. Shields, Mr. Ravenstahl's original proposal passed, leaving loopholes that make a mockery of the reformist rhetoric echoing in the Council Chamber these days.

Though far from perfect, it is a step in the direction of fiscal responsibility. At least Mr. Ravenstahl's bill bars the shifting of money from every council member's $77,000 annual office salary fund to their $8,000 general account without a full council vote.

Still, while the patience of the electorate is often overestimated, you'll never go broke underestimating the gall of local officials. Apparently last month's elections and the outrage it signaled across the commonwealth about bad stewardship has been forgotten on Grant Street.


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