If the office of Philadelphia City Commissioners was created to test Philadelphia’s tolerance for ineptitude and contempt, Anthony Clark was, until last week, the perfect chairman.
He ran an office that’s supposed to ensure fair elections — yet he himself rarely voted.
He was the poster child for “no show” jobs by rarely showing up at the office. In fact, he was absent on Wednesday of last week, when the two remaining commissioners voted to strip him of his leadership. His antics, and the travails of the office, have been documented and railed against for years, with calls to bring the office more in line with similar operations throughout the country – by installing a professional, nonelected, and nonpartisan board to run the city’s voting efforts.
And, with Philly’s high tolerance for ineptitude, nothing happened.
In 2016, he poked the city in the eye by signing up for the Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP), which will guarantee him a payout of $500K when he retires next year. On top of his $10,000-per-month pension.
And still, nothing happened.
This is an office that failed to process over 17,000 on-time, valid applications until a week before the 2017 general election; has been sued multiple times by the Department of Justice, and during the 2012 presidential election, screwed up so bad that more than 27,000 votes had to use provisional paper ballots.
These failures were documented in a 2016 report filed by the Committee of Seventy and Philadelphia 3.0 calling for the office to be dissolved. The same conclusion was reached by an earlier report in 2009.
So why doesn’t anything get done?
It’s hard to fully blame indifference among voters. After all, many voters in this town are too enervated by the revolving door of candidates-turned-clowns-turned-cons, and the stubborn resistance to change. A big part of the blame rests with the Democratic party machine, and with City Council, which must legislate a charter change in order to dissolve the Commissioners’ office. When we last checked, Council President Darrell Clarke professed to be a fan of keeping the Commissioners’ office an elected position.
We fail to see a single reason this makes sense. If the office were dissolved, the city would save about $1 million a year.
The Sheriff’s Office, another so-called row office, should also be a target for professionalizing. The office provides court security, including transporting prisoners, and sells foreclosed and delinquent properties. For years, some have argued that those responsibilities could be farmed out to more appropriate and professional agencies After years of mismanagement and fiscal shenanigans by John Green, current Sheriff Jewell Williams seemed to be trying to right the course. But last month, Williams was sued by a woman claiming he had sexually harassed her. Mayor Kenney called on him to resign.
Insisting that these row offices and posts remain elected may offer the pretense of making officials accountable to the people. But they’re not. In the case of Clark, if his were a “real” job, his performance would have guaranteed that he’d have been shown the door years ago.