Former Philadelphia CIO cleared in ethics review

Move from city to wireless network contractor OK, city says

The Philadelphia municipal government’s ethics advisory board has ruled that Dianah Neff, the city’s former CIO, didn’t violate any rules in taking a new job at a consulting firm that previously did IT work for the city under two separate contracts (see Computerworld, August 28). But the board did scold Neff for not notifying city officials of her plans earlier than she did.

In a 15-page review of the events surrounding Neff’s departure from her CIO job last month, the three-member Philadelphia Board of Ethics said she had no conflicts of interest when she accepted a position as a senior partner at Civitium.

However, the ethics board added that although Neff’s actions weren’t inappropriate, she should have at least discussed the proposed job change ahead of time with the city’s legal department or the ethics board itself.

“The pursuit of an employment opportunity with a former city vendor by a city official who had very recent responsibility for awarding and monitoring multiple contracts with that vendor creates a situation of apparent impropriety,” the ethics board wrote in its report.

“It creates the appearance that the city official may have exercised [his or her] official authority in a way that may have created or enhanced a personal financial opportunity.”

Such appearances could have been avoided if Neff had sought confidential guidance from either the Law Department or the Board of Ethics as soon as she began job negotiations with Civitium, the report says. The ethics board wrote that conduct such as that engaged in by Neff “tends to weaken public confidence in government”, even if it doesn’t explicitly violate any ethics laws.

In a written response that was included as part of the report Neff says that the ethics board’s conclusions were unfair because there were no written rules specifically requiring her to seek a review of a potential new job opportunity such as the one offered by Civitium.

Neff announced in August that she would resign as CIO and go to work for Civitium, which does consulting work on deployments of municipal wireless networks. The company had done business with Philadelphia’s IT department under two separate contracts, helping to create plans for a city-wide wireless network.

After Neff’s plans became public, Philadelphia Mayor John Street asked the ethics board to review her job switch. No wrongdoing was implied by the review, according to the mayor’s office, and Neff said at the time that she was comfortable with the review process. She added that that the combined value of the contracts awarded to Civitium was about US$300,000 (NZ$456,000) and that the company completed its work for the city in August 2005.

Civitium approached Neff about taking a job with the company in May and made a formal offer to her in July, according to the ethics board’s report. The consulting firm issued a press release about her hiring on August 15 and her last day with the city was September 8.