Philadelphia has a long and troubled history of elected officials being conflicted between their official duties and lucrative side interests. Sometimes, those conflicts are obvious and criminal.
For example, former District Attorney Seth Williams was sent to federal prison on a bribery charge. Before him, former U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah was packed off to prison for bribery. City Council members, state representatives and senators — the list of Philadelphia politicians who found disgrace through greed is extensive.
And then there’s former Sheriff John Green, who is currently standing trial in federal court, accused of trading big-payday contracts to a businessman in return for hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts and loans.
But sometimes those potential conflicts are legal and yet still raise eyebrows, if not questions. For example, Green’s successor, Sheriff Jewell Williams, made $34,000 last year as a political consultant for three judicial campaigns.
That’s perfectly legal. But since one of the sheriff’s jobs is to protect judges in courtrooms, this side job is troublesome — and not just for the implications of the sheriff’s interaction with judges who might have paid him to help them get elected. There’s also the ones Williams has to interact with who might have beaten his clients.
Politicians run for office promising honest and efficient public service. But when they take on a side job, they raise the question: Whom do they really serve — the taxpayers who fund their salaries or the clients who supplement it?
The sheriff’s consulting salary was less that a quarter of the $129,760 that he earns in his public post — but also fairly close to what the U.S. census reports as the median income for a household in the city, $39,770.
Williams isn’t alone is supplementing a healthy six-figure taxpayer-fed salary with additional income.
Statements filed last May of financial interests for 2016 show that City Councilman Bobby Henon continues to work for the union that launched his political career, Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. This is especially troubling since it is clear federal investigators are probing Henon and his union.
Councilmen Brian O’Neill and Derek Green both have side jobs at Center City law firms.
Councilman Allan Domb still owns his vast real estate firm with, at last count, ownership in 89 different properties. Councilman Al Taubenberger also has a side gig with a real estate company.
Again, they are all acting legally, but the potential for conflicts — or the appearances of conflicts — is still troubling.
As we’ve suggested before, voters should have a say in whether local elected officials can supplement their pay with side jobs. That might happen if a member of Council — where salaries range from $129,760 to $162,862 — would introduce language to bar full-time local elected officials from profiting from side jobs.
Such legislation would require public hearings, where elected officials wishing to continue the current practice could go on record to defend it. Anyone opposed to the practice could also sign up to make a public comment. We’re betting that the taxpayers opposed to side gigs would far outnumber the politicians cashing in.