When Sheriff John Green announced last week that he would step down before the end of his term in January 2012, it caused nary a stir in Philadelphia's political community.
That's because within minutes of Green's news, made during a luncheon at the Democratic Party's Walnut Street headquarters, party officials and ward leaders had already rallied around Green's successor: North Philadelphia State Rep. Jewell Williams.
"It's a consensus that everyone has agreed to in the party. It's kind of a done deal," said City Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell, also leader of West Philadelphia's 46th Ward.
At the luncheon, Green himself endorsed Williams, who would have to run in a primary next May, and then the general election in November 2011. The 16th Ward leader, Williams worked for Green as chief of criminal operations for five years in the 1990s.
In addition, Green said that after he steps down - he gave no exact date - his office would be run by his chief deputy, Barbara Deeley, in an acting capacity. Gov. Rendell must appoint Deeley to fill that job on a permanent basis, or until the election of a new sheriff.
Rendell spokesman Gary Tuma Thursday said the governor had not decided on the appointment of Deeley.
Zack Stalberg, president of the good-government nonprofit Committee of Seventy, criticized the would-be anointment of both Williams and Deeley. "It smacks of a deal to me," he said. "What they should really be talking about is using this opportunity to get rid of the office and all the patronage that exists there."
Green, who is 63 and has held the sheriff's job since 1988, did not return a call Thursday.
A city employee since 1969, he currently earns $117,991. He is also enrolled in the city's Deferred Retirement Option Program, or DROP, which means he would collect a lump-sum payment of $331,744 if he left office now. Green will also get a yearly pension of $101,568.
But when Green joined the DROP program in May 2007, he was committing to retire by May 21, 2011, in any case. Although other elected officials have collected their DROP payments and returned to office after being reelected, it's unclear whether Green could legally have continued to serve through the end of his term in January 2012.
If Deeley fills his position, her pension would not be affected. She joined the city's DROP program in February 2008, according to Pension Board records. That means her pension was frozen then at $41,369 annually, and she cannot increase it with a change in position or salary. Deeley would also receive a DROP lump-sum payment of about $180,000 at that time, based on her pension. Deeley now earns $94,360 and Green could not be reached to say what her new salary would be.
Supervisor of Elections Bill Rubin said Thursday he was researching whether a special election would be required to fill the unexpired term or whether Green's position would simply be filled by the governor's appointment with confirmation by the state Senate.
Among those incensed at the party's early endorsement of Williams is Rodney Little, who is president of the Fraternal Order of Housing Police. He also intends to run for sheriff. "I'm appalled to know the Democratic Party is endorsing Jewell when we have other qualified candidates they've yet to interview," said Little, who ran unsuccessfully for City Council in 2007. "Philadelphia needs a wholesale change, and we are going to give it to them."
The Sheriff's Office is responsible for the transport and escort of prisoners to and from courtrooms, conducting real and personal property sales, and serving and executing writs and warrants.
Last year, the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority, which oversees Philadelphia's finances, and the Committee of Seventy separately called for eliminating the office, partly because of high costs and poor financial oversight.
In his more than 20 years as sheriff, Green has been the source of much controversy. In February, projections that Green's office would spend $2.2 million more than the $12.3 million budgeted for salaries, mostly on overtime, aggravated the city's already yawning budget deficit. City and state audits since the 1990s have consistently criticized the office's finances and recordkeeping.
At the same time, Green has won praise for imposing a moratorium on home foreclosures and helping to create a program to help residents keep their houses.
"I'm going to spend the next six or seven months reviewing whatever information I can about the sheriff's office," Williams said. "What I would like to do is see how you could reform it, preserve it, make it work more efficient, and make it as family-friendly as it can be."