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Editorial | For Phila. Sheriff, Democratic Primary

Past time for change

Longtime Philadelphia Sheriff John Green is a pleasant, agreeable man who always is willing to apologize for the mistakes he has made. The problem is that he's made so many while at the helm of an important public agency.

His Democratic opponent in the upcoming primary - attorney and real estate developer Michael Untermeyer - is no ideal. But Green's poor record of managing the Sheriff's Department makes it impossible to endorse him.

The Inquirer recommends MICHAEL UNTERMEYER as the Democratic candidate for sheriff.

The Philadelphia sheriff's office has a $12 million budget and staff of 263. It is responsible for transporting prisoners, courtroom security and executing warrants.

But the biggest slice of its work is managing what's known as "sheriff's sales" of properties being foreclosed because of back taxes or bad debts incurred by the owners. The office handles millions of dollars annually that these sales generate.

Good bookkeeping and managerial judgment are key. Yet city and state audits since the 1990s have consistently criticized the office's finances and recordkeeping.

Accounting practices have been so slipshod that the sheriff's office couldn't account for money determined to be missing in a 2003 city audit. Funds that were supposed to be disbursed were not. Millions of dollars in contracts are given out without competitive bidding.

Though Green says he has made many improvements, his record is a litany of unsound judgment and not embracing good practices until an audit points out a problem.

Untermeyer has worked in the city district attorney's office, the state attorney general's office, and as a hearing examiner for the state Liquor Control Board. He has fresh ideas about transparently and efficiently operating the sheriff's department.

His experience as a real estate developer gives him insights into sheriff's sales that could be helpful.

But being a passive investor in his development interests, as Untermeyer promises to be if elected, is not good enough - especially since so many of his campaign contributors are in the real estate business. To avoid any appearance of favoritism, he should divest himself fully of any partnerships which might want to buy property through sheriff's sales.

Green has had 19 years as the incumbent to overcome his weaknesses as a manager. Voters should not keep him in office because he's a nice guy or is familiar. It is time for someone new to be sheriff.

Democratic voters should choose Untermeyer on May 15.