Government Watchdog Groups, Elected Officials Call for Reform in Philly

The League of Women Voters and the Committee of Seventy called on reforms to be adopted by Philadelphia City Council to help prevent future convictions like those of Councilman Bobby Henon and labor leader John "Johnny Doc" Dougherty in federal court two weeks ago.

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Good government watchdog groups and some elected leaders in Philadelphia called on local elected officials to take up reform efforts that could help prevent future public corruption in the city following high-profile convictions in a federal trial earlier this month.

Officials with the League of Women Voters and the Committee of Seventy were joined by City Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez and Pennsylvania Rep. Jared Solomon to announce a petition seeking voter support for reforms.

Those include a full or partial ban on outside work by elected City Council members and public financing of local campaigns that would take away some of the influence by third-party political action committees.

"Anybody who serves on City Council who says they have the time to do something else is not serving constituents," Quinones Sanchez said Monday at the gathering outside City Hall. "This is a full time job."

The rally came two weeks after the convictions of City Councilman Bobby Henon and powerful union leader John "Johnny Doc" Dougherty at a federal public corruption trial. Henon, a former union electrician in a local run by Dougherty, was found by a jury to have illegally misused his position in City Hall to do Dougherty's bidding. Henon had continued for years to earn $70,000 a year from the union while on City Council.

Quinones Sanchez, who has served on City Council since 20XX and is considered a possible mayoral candidate in 2023, said she is working on a proposal to ban some, but not all, outside work for Council members.

"I think, in fairness, we want to have a diversity of thought coming in. So you have people who run for office who come from the business community (and) they have their business," she said. "You want to define this in a way that’s it’s transparent. It's not as easy as 'all or nothing.'"

Public financing of local elections would be a harder sell in Philadelphia, which for years has been the poorest big city in America by median household income.

Mayor Jim Kenney, a former City Councilman himself who held a second job, told NBC10 later Monday that he could support reforms like those put forward at the rally, but would have to see exactly how the legislation is written.

Michelle Wright of the League of Women Voters said she hopes there is enough momentum for the reforms.

"We need to abandon the Philly shrug notion that this is just how it is, it’s always been that way, and it’s always going to be that way," Wright said.

The Committee of Seventy has previously offered up reforms that could help keep Philadelphia government officials from being overly or improperly influenced by outside agents.

"We have this reputation for being corrupt and contented," Seventy policy director Pat Christmas said earlier this month . "And this was a question after the (former Mayor John) Street administration's scandal back in 2003. At that time, council reacted. In fact, some reforms were championed by then Council members Michael Nutter and Jim Kenney, who went on to be the next mayors. There are clearly reforms that can get done here and so, are we going to take another step forward?"

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