(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.

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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.

4 thoughts on “Philadelphia councilman’s lack of transparency not unique”

  1. Republicans asking for “transparency” these days is such a joke. Come on. If he were a wealthy billionaire elite they’d be cheering him on for not handing over tax documents and instead standing up to a “political witch hunt”. He’d be using fake lawyers (who tell him staging violent a coup is legal) to sue anyone who investigates him.

    The problem isn’t some low level city politician, it’s radical right wingers like Million MAGA March speaker Vincent James who believe (this is an actual quote):

    “Christian nationalism is on the rise and people are thirsty for it, hungry for this!” he claimed. “And we are the Christian Taliban and we will not stop until The Handmaid’s Tale is a reality, and even worse than that to be honest.”

    1. It is a truly bizarre criticism of an article to complain that it is not about a completely different subject.

  2. Will Bunch strikes again with an irrelevant comment because he uses his platform to misdirect from local corruption and mis-use of city office positions.

    Shouldn’t corruption be rooted out at all level like you are alluding to at the federal level? Shouldn’t we scrutinize the murky financial actions of a politician who is indicted for corruption? Shouldn’t politicians at all level be held accountable and offer transparency? Why does ones political affiliation matter when then actions are questionable?

    In Will Bunch’s mind Republican are all evil and democrats are all our savors regardless of the individuals actions. Aren’t the Inquirer journalist so impartial.

  3. Will always sounds like a leftist college sophomore writing from his dormitory or parents’ basement. And thanks to Will Bunch and his other colleagues cut from the same cloth, readership at the Philadelphia Inquirer, once a respectable paper, has plummeted to around 250,000 in a region of over 5 million people.

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