Last week, yet another Philadelphia politician was sentenced to prison for bribery, fraud and corruption. Bobby Henon, the ex-councilmember of the 6th District that covers Port Richmond to Northeast Philadelphia is not the first elected Philadelphian to head to the Big House, and I doubt he will be the last.
Just like we shrug when we know our corner pretzel vendors don’t wash their hands all day while handing us a bag of twisted, salted bread, the citizens of Philadelphia shrug it off when someone we pay $140,000 a year to represent us does just the opposition and has to do hard time.
The ex-Councilman — now felon — has to report to jail by April 17 for his crimes but something more sinister than being a puppet for Johnny Doc and taking bribes came from his trial that too many people are ignoring and pretending like it’s not a problem.
In the era of “Me Too”, the Philadelphia Shrug simply ignored the fact that the married Henon was carrying on an affair with his chief of staff, Courtney Voss. A chief of staff position that taxpayers were funding to the tune of upward of $90,000.
So, in reality, we were paying for Henon to have a $90,000 side chick. Now if they were both consenting adults that’s ok but doesn’t Philadelphia City Council have a Human Resources Office? In what political world is an elected official allowed to carry on a sexual relationship with one of his staffers? (Insert Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinski footnotes here.)
Sure, Henon was having a good time having sex with a staffer — a younger woman whose paycheck and employment he controls — but what about poor Courtney Voss? Did she even have a choice, an option of saying no to having sex with her boss? If Courtney said no to Henon’s sexual advances, would he have fired her? Did he hold her employment over her head unless she messed around with him?
Their sexual affair was uncovered during the F.B.I. investigation when recordings caught Henon trying to get a bribe from Joe Ashdale of the Glazers Union. Henon was trying to get free windows installed for his girlfriend at her home. How Henon knew the exact measurements and layout of his chief of staff’s home and what direction the morning sun came shining in is left to your imagination.
Henon made $140,000 from City Council and another $70,000 from the IBEW Union for screwing in non-existent light bulbs. Voss made in the ballpark of $100k from City Council being Henon’s “right-hand gal”. Are you telling me neither of them could afford windows?
Aren’t there protocols in place in Philadelphia City Council to prevent sexual harassment and abuse? A sitting councilmember having sex with one of their staffers doesn’t raise any red flags or ring the damned Liberty Bell at all?
All it will take is one staffer to finally come forward and say they were forced into a sexual affair by a Councilmember and there was nobody or no protection for them to say, “No”.
Did anyone or any regulations protect Courtney Voss if she didn’t want to have sex with Bobby Henon? What if Voss didn’t want to be “the other woman”?
What if Voss didn’t want to sneak around at Center City hotels or in the office after hours with the boss? What if Voss had to answer the phone when Bobby’s wife called the office, knowing she was having sex with the woman’s husband?
I mean, you had to know your boss was married with two sons, right?
This poor girl had no choice. And she was dragged into the corruption trial and embarrassed by prosecutors who called her as a witness and had her crying on the stand as she tried to defend her boss/boyfriend while his wife sat in the front row of the trial.
Does Philadelphia City Council even have a procedure to register a sexual relationship if two consenting adults want to engage in a relationship?
If Voss and Henon wanted to mess around, that’s fine, that’s the plot of every pop song and Rom-Com, isn’t it? They’re both consenting adults. Just because Bobby was a creep cheating on his wife doesn’t make it illegal, just crappy. But having sex with your chief of staff, on the City’s payroll and she reports to you, her employment and paycheck are in your control just screams sexual harassment lawsuit.
But why doesn’t Philadelphia City Council hold themselves to the same standards that we hold corporate and non-profit organizations to?
That way no lines are crossed, no power moves are played, no sex is forced upon the staffer from their superior. That way, City Councilmembers can not be sexual predators to their staffers.
Could Courtney Voss say no to sex with Bobby Henon?
Courtney Voss is a silenced victim here and this woman really did not have a choice did she? Does any woman or man working for Philadelphia City Council have a safe space or even a level head in Human Resources in City Hall to protect them if their boss makes sexual advances toward them?
Right now, we have a State Representative, Mike Zabel from Delaware County, accused of three sexual harassment complaints.
However, these women’s safety and trauma wasn’t important enough to address until AFTER the Democrats had the sexual predator’s vote for Joanna McClinton to become House Speaker.
At least the Pennsylvania House of Representatives are trying to deal with it and have justice served once they got his vote. And he voted for McClinton to become the first female House Speaker in Pennsylvania. His vote counted, his victim’s stories did not. This week, because of pressure from Republicans and Democrats, Zabel will tender his resignation. And once again, the sexual predator proved to be a team player as he resigned his office at the correct date so McClinton can call a “special election” for the May primary.
But what about here in Philly?
We just shrug when a Councilmember is convicted and sentenced to jail for bribery and corruption and we ignore the female staffer that he was having sex with, whether she wanted to or not.
The sad part is, we would have never publicly uncovered the sexual relationship the ex-Councilman had with his staffer unless the FBI tapes weren’t played. If not for the tapes, Bobby would have gone on having a $100k taxpayer funded hump-buddy at his beck and call. And poor Courtney Voss had nowhere or nobody to turn to if she wanted to stop having sex with her boss, the Majority Leader in Philadelphia City Council.
However, the Henon-Voss affair was the worst kept secret in City Hall and all anyone could do was roll their eyes and gossip.
But nobody said a word.
Nobody made a call or inquired to the Council President’s Office or even the Inspector General’s Office or the toothless Board of Ethics that a female staffer might have been put in a horrible situation by her boss.
Voss got a few raises while she was working for Henon. You paid for them.
In fact, she was one of the top paid chiefs of staff on City Council. I wonder if she would have gotten the pay increases if she didn’t go along with his sexcapades. Again, she was put in a horrible — if not illegal — position by a guy who controlled her paycheck, employment and apparently home improvements.
Let’s not have another Courtney Voss incident in City Council. We owe it to Miss Voss and all the new staffers coming into the fortress at Broad and Market once all these new Councilmembers are elected and bring in their office workers. Pass legislation to protect City Council staff if their boss makes a pass or engages in a sexual affair with them. Right now, there is no way out except for the exit door.
Don’t let them get preyed upon like the girl in Henon’s office. What if it was your daughter? Your sister? Or even your wife? They don’t care what lines they cross or what lives they ruin. Especially if you’re paying for it.
Was it good for you as it was for Henon?
If you or you know someone that is being sexually harassed in the workplace, you have a right to file a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.
Patty-Pat Kozlowski lives and writes in the Riverwards. Email her at email@example.com.