DN Editorial: A CROOKED ROW

Former Philadelphia Sheriff John D. Green.

SHERIFF JEWELL Williams said he was surprised at the federal indictment of his predecessor, John Green, on charges of bribery and fraud.

If Williams is surprised, he is the only one in town.

People have been waiting for the other shoe to drop ever since City Controller Alan Butkowicz released an audit in 2010 outlining the multitude of problems in Green's office. Lost money. Cronyism. Staggering mismanagement.

Green, who had been sheriff since 1988, abruptly retired a few weeks before the Butkowitz audit was made public. In its indictment, the U.S. Attorney's Office confirmed most of the findings in the controller's report - and added new details.

The indictment alleges that as Sheriff Green virtually handed over operations of his $115 million office to firms owned by James R. Davis, who was indicted along with Green.

In exchange, the indictment alleges, Davis bought, renovated and sold Green an East Mount Airy home below market value. He also chipped in more than $320,000 in gifts and loans toward Green's retirement home in Kissimmee, Fla.

And that's just the highlight tapes. In his audit, the controller said that Davis and his firms pocketed $6.21 million in excess fees during the years he was involved with Green. Many of those fees belonged to people who were losing their homes.

During the Green-Davis era, the Sheriff's Office earned the reputation one of the the worst-run agencies in the city. Records were lost. Money disappeared. Funds were spent but never accounted for.

Green's fate will be decided by a federal jury. Meanwhile, this latest embarrassing case of official corruption begs the question: When is enough enough?

How long are we going to put up with the patronage and corruption endemic with the city's elected row offices? Most of these offices are headed by ward leaders and serve as unofficial adjuncts of the local Democratic organization, which gets these officials elected.

Good government is not one of the organization's strengths. Consider: Traffic Court, which it controlled until most of its judges were sent to jail for ticket fixing and the court was abolished by the state.

Does anyone miss the Clerk of Quarter Sessions Court? That row office was abolished in 2010 after findings of widespread mismanagement by Clerk Vivian Miller.

Only two people were hurt by that move: Miller, who lost her $117,000 annual salary, and her daughter, who served as her principal aid. The duties were taken over by the local courts.

In the same way, would anyone miss the Sheriff's Office, which has two main purposes: selling foreclosed properties and providing guards for courtrooms? Actually, there is a third purpose: providing patronage jobs. Those jobs obviously are important to Sheriff Jewell Williams. Last year, more than half the contributors to his re-election campaign were Sheriff's Office employees.

Philadelphia has made great strides from the days when corruption was widespread, even condoned, in city government. These row offices are the last vestiges of those bad old days.

It is time to move forward and get rid of these offices - before the next scandal. We hope Jim Kenney agrees.