Bill Green, a member of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission, has officially confirmed weeks of speculation that he would run for Congress.
On Saturday, he filed federal paperwork to challenge U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle in the 2018 Democratic primary. Green said he plans to stay on the SRC during the campaign.
But there’s a potential problem with that: SRC members are barred from running for Congress under the state law that created the governing body for Philadelphia schools more than 16 years ago, according to three election lawyers who examined the issue at the request of the Inquirer and Daily News.
Green vehemently disagrees, though, arguing that he can campaign for the House and sit on the SRC at the same time — and the School District’s Office of the General Counsel agrees with him.
The law in question states that “no commission member may, while in the service of the School Reform Commission, seek or hold a position as any other public official within this commonwealth.”
The dispute over whether this means Green needs to resign to run boils down to what “public official” means in that sentence.
Green and Miles Shore, the School District’s deputy legal counsel, said that the state’s Ethics Act would determine what a “public official” is in this case — and that law doesn’t mention members of Congress.
“The definition of ‘public official’ in the Ethics Act does not include any federal positions,” said Shore, adding that the Ethics Act is the “most pertinent legal authority” on the issue.
But attorneys Lawrence Otter, Sam Stretton, and Adam Bonin said that’s wrong.
“A congressman is definitely a public official,” said Otter. “Who are you kidding? Come on.”
Stretton said Green might get kicked off the ballot if he doesn’t step down.
“I think Mr. Green is taking a real risk,” said Stretton. “The whole purpose of the law is to not have someone involved in politics while on the SRC. The reason they have that is so that they make decisions for children, not for support for office.”
Otter, Stretton, and Bonin said they are not currently working for anyone running in Pennsylvania’s Second Congressional District, and have never been employed by Boyle or Green.
The state-created board voted last November to dissolve itself and return the schools to local control, declaring that the Philadelphia district was no longer “distressed.” The SRC will cease to exist June 30. The primary is May 15. One might ask why Green doesn’t just resign, to avoid any complications.
“I stay to make a difference. That’s why I resigned my paid Council position to go there,” said Green, son of former Mayor William J. Green III. Being on the board is a volunteer job.
Since Green is the first SRC member to seek political office, there is no case law on the question. Shore declined to share a legal opinion that he emailed to Green because, he said, it was “a draft and not put in final form.”
A spokesman for Gov. Wolf said state attorneys are examining the SRC law and Green’s claim. Green and Wolf have a contentious history. Green resigned from City Council in 2014 to accept appointment by Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, as SRC chairman.
Wolf, who defeated Corbett in his bid for a second term, demoted Green to commissioner 2015. Green unsuccessfully sued the governor.
The Boyle campaign wasted no time taking a shot at Green over the legal question.
“Bill Green obviously thinks he’s above having to follow the law,” said campaign spokesman Ken Snyder. “If he can’t follow one simple law, how could he be trusted to write new ones?”
Green, however, said he was merely listening to the attorneys at the School District.
“I intend to serve out my term, as I committed to do when I first joined,” he said. “I would not have undertaken this without getting legal advice. I am following the district’s advice.”
His father and grandfather, after whom he was named, were both elected to the House. Bill Green III was elected mayor in 1979 after 13 years in Congress. He served one term.