A 'crisis' at the Sheriff's office

Back in March, the Nutter administration announced an advisory committee to recommend improvements to the Sheriff's office within six months. It took just about that long to get the committee appointed, Bob Warner reports. An editorial in today's Daily News takes the admin to task:

FOR A CITY with a history of screwed-up offices, the Sheriff's is in a special class of its own: 20 years of stunning fiscal and operational mismanagement, detailed by countless controller's reports uncovering lost or missing money and shoddy controls in the operations of Sheriff John Green.

Green stepped down at the end of 2010, and a federal grand jury is now investigating some of the fiscal irregularities. Most recently, the relationship between Green and Reach Communications, to whom he ceded a disturbing level of control over parts of the sheriff's operations, has come under the spotlight.

While this is an independent elected office, you'd think that the level of problems would concern City Hall. The Sheriff's Office not only transports prisoners, but also handles the sales of foreclosed and tax-delinquent properties - which impacts individual lives, and real estate.

Back in March, the Nutter administration did sign a memo of understanding with Acting Sheriff Barbara Deeley and Cmmon Pleas President Judge Pamela Dembe, and promised an advisory committee to issue recommendations for fixing the mess, including the whereabouts of $53 million, some of which should have gone to homeowners. As emergencies go, this is one that surely required an ambulance and flashing lights.

Instead, the city has acted as if it were out for a leisurely drive in the country: it took five months to appoint the advisory committee, which still hasn't issued a report. The memo of understanding expired in December. Newly elected Sheriff Jewell Williams, who began his job last week, is naturally not in a big rush to renew the memo. The city's actions thus far haven't exactly signalled urgency.

It's unclear how far Williams can go in moving forward with the much-needed technology system that the office will need. He may not need the advisory committee's approval, but most certainly will need the city's help in finding the money to finance it. Right now, it appears that there's a standoff between the sheriff and the administration.

Meanwhile, those unsuspecting citizens who go to www.phillysheriff.com will find an official looking website for the Sheriff's Office that lists property-sales dates and other information. Unfortunately, this is a site left over from Green's days, and actually belongs to Reach Communications, also under investigation. We asked the city why it still exists and why someone hasn't taken it down.

The city had no answer. The administration has plenty of priorities. And two decades of problems don't get fixed overnight. But the crisis in the Sheriff's Office is real, and the new sheriff can't fix it on his own. Williams insists that he's moving forward to clean up the office. We'll have to take his word.

We're counting on the fact that his word is better than the word of John Green, who promised that he was fixing the problems in his office back in 2003, and 2004, and 2008, and 2010.

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