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City Council will debate limits on outside employment in wake of Bobby Henon’s bribery conviction

Maria Quiñones-Sánchez said she will introduce legislation next year with rules aimed to prevent corruption.

Philadelphia City Councilman Bobby Henon leaves the federal courthouse on Market Street on Nov. 15 after his conviction on bribery charges.
Philadelphia City Councilman Bobby Henon leaves the federal courthouse on Market Street on Nov. 15 after his conviction on bribery charges.Read moreTHOMAS HENGGE / Staff Photograph

Philadelphia City Councilmember Maria Quiñones-Sánchez said she plans to introduce legislation next year limiting outside employment for Council members, a reform measure in response to Councilmember Bobby Henon’s conviction on federal corruption charges.

Quiñones-Sánchez said Monday that she is still working on the legislation, which would restrict but not entirely prohibit outside employment, require transparency, and include caps on outside salaries. She made the announcement as she gathered outside City Hall with State Rep. Jared Solomon, who is a Democrat from Northeast Philadelphia, and members of government watchdog groups to announce a petition for reform.

“I think folks know that after what we all witnessed and lived it’s about time that we make some bold decisions,” said Quiñones-Sánchez, a Democrat.

A federal jury convicted Henon and union leader John Dougherty this month of bribery charges, finding that Dougherty bought Henon’s loyalty with a $70,000 annual union salary from Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Prosecutors said Henon used the power of his office to influence legislation in City Hall that advanced Dougherty’s agenda. Henon is paid $136,000 yearly as a councilmember.

Both men face years in prison when they are sentenced in February and have maintained that they did not break the law.

» READ MORE: Inside the hushed debate over whether the ‘Johnny Doc’ case was a crackdown on corruption — or unions

Quiñones-Sánchez and Solomon, who have both clashed with the union in the past, could face an uphill battle to gain support for reform. Solomon said all Council members and members of Philadelphia’s delegation in Harrisburg were invited to Monday’s news conference, but he and Quiñones-Sánchez were the only ones who attended. They have also been among the only lawmakers to speak out publicly since the verdict.

The two lawmakers unveiled a “people over politics” petition along with the Committee of 70, Common Cause Pennsylvania, and the League of Women Voters. They are calling for a consideration of public financing of elections and an end to dark money in politics in addition to limits on outside employment.

» READ MORE: A juror in the Dougherty-Henon trial says it was a lesson in Philly government — ‘and it was appalling’

“As Democrats, the time has come,” Solomon said. “We can’t any longer be a party that calls out corruption and the plague of big money and politics in Washington and Harrisburg but looks the other way when it’s happening right here at home.”

Quiñones-Sánchez said she will talk with colleagues and research employment limitations for public officials in other states before introducing her bill. She said there would be exceptions for outside work, such as guidelines for elected officials who own their own businesses. Other exceptions, she said, could include letting Council members teach university classes or coach youth sports teams. The bill would require disclosure of outside work to voters, though state law already requires reporting of sources of outside income.

“The public deserves to know what that is, they deserve to know how much time you spend in that so when they’re voting for you they make a decision as to whether they’re electing a full-time legislator or a part-time public servant,” she said.

Elected officials and others in top roles in Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration already provide annual financial disclosure statements listing their sources of income and gifts they’ve received. Quiñones-Sánchez’s legislation would take it a step further by restricting outside income that members can have and how much they can make.

Henon, who has said he won’t resign from Council until his sentencing in February, listed his employment with Local 98 in his most recent financial disclosure. Four other Council members listed outside income in their 2020 filings: Councilmembers Derek Green and Brian O’Neill also hold jobs with law firms; Councilmember Allan Domb owns a real estate business as well as stake in real estate such as condos and restaurants; and Councilmember Curtis Jones Jr. serves on the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.

Two others — Councilmembers David Oh and Isaiah Thomas — reported ownership stakes in small businesses in their 2020 financial disclosures.

The petition launched Monday also calls for the consideration of public financing of elections. Under Dougherty, Local 98 was a powerful political force that helped many politicians, including Kenney, win election. Council has held hearings exploring public financing, and Quiñones-Sánchez said the roadblock was agreeing on how much money would go toward it.

While such a change would cost taxpayers money, she said it would be “an investment in democracy.”

Khalif Ali, executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania — a nonprofit that advocates for government accountability — said at Monday’s news conference that he’s concerned about diminishing confidence in democracy.

“We cannot our legislators to forget about the verdict and what happened in Philadelphia,” he said. “We needed to enact these laws yesterday.”