(The Center Square) — A Philadelphia City Councilman didn’t disclose earnings from a rental property he owned, months after a judge declared a mistrial in a federal bribery case against him. That failure to report the income, however, does not carry a legal penalty.
Nor is the lack of transparency unique to city council; other agencies of the city government have been found wanting in offering transparency to Philadelphia residents.
As reported by The Philadelphia Inquirer, Councilman Kenyatta Johnson did not mention his rental income on his financial disclosure forms, and his wife, Dawn Chavous, “operated three rental units without the required licenses until late May.”
Johnson bought the property in 2016 and reported income in 2018 on his financial disclosure forms, but failed to do so in the following years. A spokesman for Johnson told the Inquirer that it was an “oversight” and Johnson’s amended 2021 disclosure is on the City of Philadelphia’s website now.
In the disclosure, Johnson noted his $130,000 City Council salary as well as the $22,200 rental income. He also reported $20,000 in donations to his legal defense fund. The councilman was a defendant in a federal bribery trial that ended in a mistrial; a retrial will start in September. In 2020, Johnson received $69,660 for his legal defense fund.
READ MORE — Kevin Mooney: Pennsylvania senators must defy teachers’ unions to offer lifeline scholarships to students in failed districts
The slipshod financial reporting has been an issue for Johnson. In his federal trial, as the Inquirer noted, “a separate omission of income was a major factor.” The federal trial centered on whether Johnson had a quid pro quo deal with a nonprofit that paid $66,000 to Johnson’s wife through her consulting firm.
The federal indictment described how Johnson allegedly used spot zoning legislation to benefit the nonprofit and blocked a property reversion after the nonprofit failed to develop the property according to a city agreement.
Johnson isn’t the only city councilman who’s faced a federal corruption trial. Last November, City Councilman Bobby Henon was convicted of bribery and conspiracy for accepting a $70,000 salary from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers to “do the bidding of powerful labor leader Johnny ‘Doc’ Doughterty,” as WHYY reported. Henon then resigned in January after his conviction.
City Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez called for reforms after Henon was convicted; she was the only sitting councilmember to call for Henon’s resignation after his indictment.
Those reforms, however, have yet to materialize in legislation coming from city council. Johnson faces no legal penalty for failing to disclose his rental income. Nor is city council the only issue with financial reporting. The Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office, as The Center Square previously reported, was criticized in a city controller report for its lack of checks and balances. The office has spent millions of dollars annually without oversight due to no comprehensive accounting system to track the revenues received by the sheriff.
While amended financial disclosures and audit reports that raise red flags alert the public to problems, few changes have come from local or state government bodies to ensure local politicians and leaders are living up to transparency requirements.
Anthony Hennen is a reporter for The Center Square. Previously, he worked for Philadelphia Weekly and the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal. He is managing editor of Expatalachians, a journalism project focused on the Appalachian region.
This article was republished with permission from The Center Square.