Yet another elected official has been indicted for corruption in Philadelphia.
Less than a week after former State Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell pleaded guilty to state corruption charges, on Wednesday, Kenyatta Johnson joined his colleague Bobby Henon as the second sitting member of Council to be indicted.
That means 12% of Council is under federal indictment.
According to federal prosecutors, Johnson was a part of a corrupt scheme to benefit himself, his wife Dawn Chavous, and two former Universal Companies executives, Abdur Rahim Islam and Shahied Dawan. Specifically, the indictment alleges that Johnson used the tradition of councilmember prerogative to benefit Islam and Dawan and their real estate holdings in his district through zoning and other support. In exchange for these considerations, prosecutors allege, Dawan and Islam paid Chavous more than $66,000 in a bogus contract with her consulting company for which she did very little work.
The indictment wasn’t a complete surprise. In October, The Inquirer reported that Johnson was under investigation by the FBI. Voters in Johnson’s district gave him the benefit of the doubt. So did this editorial board when it endorsed him, with reservations, for reelection. (Calling him “a serial abuser of Councilmanic prerogative,” we said he represented the good and bad of Council.)
Like Henon, who was indicted a year ago almost to the day, Johnson maintains his innocence and vows to fight the charges in court. That is his right — but he shouldn’t do that from his seat at City Council. We called for Henon’s resignation following his indictment; we do the same for Johnson. Meanwhile, Council should censure Johnson and Council President Darrell L. Clarke should strip Johnson of all committee responsibilities — including the two committees he chairs.
We called for these actions to be taken against Henon when he was indicted. A year later, Henon now has more clout; Clarke appointed him to chair two Council committees.
Clarke and the rest of Council seem unconcerned about the damage that these indictments inflict on the whole of Council — to say nothing of city government. The mayor’s placid response to Wednesday’s news, in which he hopes Johnson “considers the impact these proceedings have on his ability to serve the residents in his district,” is also troubling.
City Council could take active measures to reform itself as a body to ensure that members cannot use their seat to do anything but honestly serve their constituents. These reforms include a ban on outside employment — which would have closed the avenue for Henon’s alleged corruption — and ending councilmember prerogative — which would have closed the avenue for the corruption Johnson is charged with.
In addition, Council should make the inspector general’s office permanent — currently, it’s authorized by executive order — and clearly give the office jurisdiction over Council. Council’s own so-called Ethics Committee should also be revamped — and maybe even meet more than once in a while.
We called for these changes a year ago when one Council member was indicted. One indicted official apparently isn’t enough. What will it take for Council to take this seriously? Two? Seventeen?