For most city employees, receiving gifts from people or organizations who do business with the city is strictly against the rules. A 2011 executive order by Mayor Michael Nutter, citing the need to “eliminate even the appearance of impropriety,” prohibits taking gifts from virtually anyone with a stake in city government’s decisions.

But that rule doesn’t apply to members of City Council, and it hasn’t stopped them, or their staff, from taking gifts. AxisPhilly found that two Nutter appointees accepted gifts as well — improperly, in one case. (The mayor’s ban largely appears to be working; these were the only instances AxisPhilly found of administration officials accepting such gifts.)

AxisPhilly’s review of the latest round of lobbying expense reports shows that at least 22 companies and organizations spent $26,125 on gifts for city officials — among them sports tickets, event sponsorships and, in one case, tickets to an expensive dinner and reception for two high-ranking Nutter appointees.

In a report filed this August, PECO listed among its gifts two sets of tickets to the International Equality Dinner, a high-profile LGBT event, for Director of Public Safety Michael Resnick.

Accepting that gift, mayor spokesman Mark McDonald told AxisPhilly on Tuesday, was a “mistake. ”

The tickets were “not a gift that should have been received,” McDonald said, noting that accepting any such gift should have been cleared first with the city’s Chief Integrity Officer, Joan Markman. Resnick, McDonald says, will be paying back the value of the tickets ($206 per pair) to PECO.

Director of LGBT Affairs Gloria Cesarez also accepted a ticket to the event. While she didn’t clear this decision with the city’s Chief Integrity Officer, and should have, McDonald said, it was not inappropriate because she was acting as a representative of the city.

But the bulk of the gifts reported were for members of Philadelphia’s City Council. Elected officials and their staff, a group which includes the nearly 200 city employees housed within Council, are not bound by the mayor’s rule.

Of the 22 companies and organizations that reported gifts, only one — PECO — reached a $2,500 per quarter spending threshold that requires it to itemize all of its expenses.

This threshold is a potential loophole in the law: lobbying entities are required to detail their spending only if it amounts to more than $2,500 or more per quarter; at that point they must itemize everything worth more than $200. This means that a lobbyist could give $2,499 worth of gifts to a single individual every quarter without reporting it.

According to the reports filed by PECO, the company spent $14,178 during the first three quarters of this year on gifts to at least 14 city officials, 10 of them members of Philadelphia’s City Council. Most were tickets to events, including the auto and flower shows, as well as seats at various dinner receptions and sporting events. PECO spokeswoman Cathy Engel Menendez says the purpose of these gifts is “relationship-building” with public officials. The invitation to Resnick, Menendez said, was “an innocent invitation that was issued; now we became aware that it shouldn’t have been accepted.”

Such gifts, Menendez says, are not tied to any particular lobbying effort. But the company did lobby City Council during this time, mostly against proposals requiring paid sick leave for any employee working in the city and a hike in the Use & Occupancy Tax paid by businesses. The sick leave bill did pass Council by a 9-8 vote last June, but was vetoed by Mayor Nutter.  The hike in the U&O tax passed as part of last year’s budget.

Some rules do govern gifts to Council members and their staff. According to Shane Creamer, executive director of the city’s Board of Ethics, they cannot accept gifts of “substantial” economic value. But the meaning of “substantial” is not defined, leaving it up to interpretation. According to Creamer, that means that “a trip to the Superbowl in a jet would be a gift of substantial value,” and “a cup of coffee or a sandwich” would not.

The figures reviewed by AxisPhilly would seem to fall somewhere between a sandwich and a Superbowl; AxisPhilly shared these findings with the city’s Board of Ethics, but Creamer said he was unable to comment on specific cases. We emailed each member of Council who received a gift; the responses we received are included below:

Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds-Brown – $5,486

  • Four tickets to the Philadelphia Auto Show, $36
  • Six tickets to the Philadelphia Flower Show, $150
  • Two tickets to the Philadelphia Flower Show Preview party, $300
  • Contribution to the Urban Affairs Coalition, (For the Councilwoman’s Celebration of Moxie Women), $5000

Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr – $2,315

  • PECOPAC Luncheon Event (Panelist at Event), $20
  • Contribution to Councilman’s Block Captain Bootcamp Carnival on 7/7/12, $2000
  • Four tickets to the Mann Music Center for Michelle Wilson, staff, $295

Councilwoman Marian Tasco – $861

  • Four tickets to the Philadelphia Auto Show, $36
  • Ten tickets to the Mann Music Center, $525
  • Six tickets to the Philadelphia Auto Show, $150
  • Guest at Philadelphia Business Journal 40 under 40 Awards Dinner, $150

Tasco said her staff usually offers the tickets she accepts to constituents.
“It doesn’t influence me at all,” she said. “I make my decision based on the merit of the bill before us … not because [PECO] has given me a ticket to an auto show.”

Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez – $812

  • Four Phillies tickets (June 27), $312
  • Six Philadelphia Flower Show tickets, $150
  • Congreso Gala guest ticket, $50
  • Four Phillies tickets (Sept 26), $300

Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez said she gave one set of Phillies tickets to a constituent who will soon deploy overseas and used the others herself. In an email, Sanchez wrote that “I am glad that we now have a public disclosure process for these gifts.”

Councilman Kenyatta Johnson – $690

  • Room rental and food and beverage costs at PECO’s Christian Street Services Building, $219
  • Two tickets and food and beverages in Corporate Suite for Sixers/Celtics game, $471

Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell – $675

  • Ten tickets to the Mann Music Center, $525.00
  • Six tickets to the Philadelphia Flower Show, $150.00

Blackwell said her staff gives the tickets to constituents, sometimes calling PECO to ask for them. “People just call and say, ‘Are there any around?’ and you just call,” said Blackwell. “For me, it’s just a public service.”

Councilman Bill Green – $440

  • Two tickets to Concillio 50th Anniversary Gala, $440.00

Councilman Wilson Goode, Jr. – $380

  • Two tickets in a corporate suite for the sixers/raptors game, including food and beverages – $380

Goode said that while he accepted the tickets, he was a co-sponsor of the paid sick leave bill, he’s tried to re-introduce the measure in another bill, and he will be co-sponsoring another attempt to pass the measure this January.

Councilman William Greenlee – $511

  • Four tickets to the Philadelphia Auto Show,  $36
  • Six tickets to the Philadelphia Flower Show, $150
  • Two tickets to the Philadelphia Flower Show Preview party, $300
  • Guest at Coaches vs. Cancer Breakfast for the American Cancer Society, $25

Councilman James Kenney – $255

  • Lunch Meeting with PECO Representatives, $20
  • Ten tickets to the Mummers’ Fancy Brigade Show, $210
  • Guest at the Coaches vs. Cancer Breakfast for the American Cancer Society, $25

Michael Resnick, Director of Public Safety, Gloria Cesarez, Director of LGBT Affaris

  • Two sets of two tickets each to the International Equality Dinner, $206