The president of the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP called Sunday for The Inquirer to publicly apologize for a recent article and editorial questioning the spending practices of the city Sheriff’s Office and Sheriff Rochelle Bilal.

At a news conference at NAACP headquarters in Nicetown — attended only by NAACP President Rodney Muhammad, The Inquirer, and a cameraman with 6ABC — Muhammad said the NAACP stands firmly behind the Sheriff’s Office and Bilal.

Bilal is secretary of the NAACP and Muhammad said he is now a chaplain with the Sheriff’s Office.

“We feel that the Philadelphia Inquirer owes the Sheriff’s Office and the public an apology, coupled with the responsibility to go back and do some real objective investigative reporting on this issue,“ he said.

At issue is a March 6 Inquirer editorial that called for the city to abolish the Sheriff’s Office. The editorial followed a March 3 report in The Inquirer in which Bilal’s former finance chief, Brett Mandel, said he was fired and taken out of the office by an armed escort when he raised questions about spending practices regarding fees collected by the office.

“First, as a spiritual man, I’m always reminded of the Scripture that it cautions us that when an unrighteous person brings you news, to look carefully into it,” said Muhammad.

What The Inquirer article didn’t specify, Muhammad said, “was the specific reason” Bilal terminated Mandel. He did not specify what that reason was.

“While we fully respect the NAACP leadership’s right to its opinion, we stand by our reporting and, separately, stand by the editorial board’s right to its opinion," said Stan Wischnowski, Inquirer executive editor and senior vice president. "These two parts of The Inquirer operate completely independent of each other and, likewise, our newsroom has no involvement whatsoever in decisions made about the publication of sheriff’s sales notices.

“We strongly believe in the public’s right to know how the money of this $27 million agency is spent, and our right to shed light on how the agency is representing city taxpayers. We look forward to a full and open dialogue with the new sheriff as well as all the key stakeholders impacted by the agency’s decisions and leadership.”

Sheriff Rochelle Bilal takes the oath of office at the Met Philadelphia on Jan. 6.
MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
Sheriff Rochelle Bilal takes the oath of office at the Met Philadelphia on Jan. 6.

Bilal declined to be interviewed for the initial article, but a spokesperson noted that she’s held the office for only two months and deserves “a reasonable amount of time to sort things out.”

Muhammad said the NAACP believes The Inquirer has an agenda against Bilal and the Sheriff’s Office because the office places sheriff’s sale ads with multiple publications in the city, and not just The Inquirer.

“We feel the agenda for The Inquirer putting this out is that they want sheriff’s sales ads exclusively in The Inquirer and did not seem to want any other publications to share in it,” he said, noting that the practice was started not by Bilal, but by her predecessor.

Muhammad said the editorial calling for the elimination of the Sheriff’s Office meant that The Inquirer was “putting the weight of their name and their years of committed service to the Philadelphia community” behind allegations that Bilal “is double-crossing the public.”

“They’ve taken a position that has drawn the outrage now of the NAACP,” he said.

Asking the very people who voted Bilal in as sheriff to turn around and abolish the office is “outrageous” and “unconscionable,” Muhammad said.

The Inquirer editorial calling for the office to be shuttered was presumptuous, Muhammad said, given that Bilal has been in office less than 100 days and hasn’t announced her budget yet. He said she is still trying to build morale at the “totally demoralized” office, which has received “a tremendous amount of bad press over the years."

To further discussions, Muhammad said he’d like The Inquirer editorial board to meet with Bilal to “get her side of things and what she’s really dealing with.”