Insider: Like Wall Street Bankers, Philly Pols Get a Golden Parachute

McCalla: Wilson Goode was voted out of his gig on Council. But taxpayers will continue to pay his salary. Sadly, this is not unusual.

Councilman W. Wilson Goode Jr. Photo | City Council Flickr

Former Councilman W. Wilson Goode Jr. | Photo courtesy of City Council Flickr

(Editor’s note: This is an opinion column from a Citified insider.) 

How many Sherlock Holmes mysteries have we read where, at the end, our sophisticated sleuth declares that the murder weapon was hidden in plain sight? The lesson is: Never fail to connect the dots that are evident.

These little clumps of wisdom, and more, slowly swooped through my mind as I read that City Council President Darrell Clarke had hired W. Wilson Goode, Jr. as a senior policy advisor. You’ll recall that Goode had walked the dimly lit halls of City Council since 2000. But he lost his bid for yet another term last year, and faced the cold, cruel prospect of life outside the Council Bubble.

Goode was a respected, progressive legislator who passed more than 140 bills in his career, but the idea of him — or any politician — making a permanent living on the public payroll is upsetting. It suggests the self-dealing chicanery of former Council members Marian Tasco and the late Joan Krajewski, both of whom faked their own retirements in order to collect huge pension payouts.

Jane Roh, Clarke’s spokeswoman, assures us the job at Council wasn’t created specifically for Goode and that real work will be done. (Thanks for anticipating my my skepticism.)

OK, it’s time to connect some dots.

As Council President, John Street had a policy often referred to as “full employment” for former colleagues. When Republican Jack Kelly lost reelection in 1991, Street hired him as a lobbyist for Council. (Kelly was reelected years later as an at-large Councilman.) Defeated in that same ’91 election were Council members Franny Rafferty and Ann Land, both of whom found employment on the public payroll afterward.

Ironically, when Kelly was elected in 1987, he beat incumbent Pat Hughes. A few years after the defeat, Hughes took a patronage job at City Council. The Pols Protection Program has roots.

Knowing your Council President will provide you with easy work if “disaster strikes” mightily promotes loyalty and partly accounts for the extreme power that both Street and Clarke acquired.

One hand washing another draws very little attention, except for the predictable press release declaring “this isn’t what it looks like.”

Another casualty of this hiring is the destroyed illusion that our elected officials have skills that would allow employment elsewhere. Many don’t. Last year, Ed Neilson lost reelection to City Council. So, in a lathered panic, he resigned from Council to run for yet another public office. The notion of finding a real job, where productivity is measured, must have been unappealing.

It might be that Philadelphians will one day grow weary of pols who squeeze every drop they can from their public service. A sordid string of state reps took envelopes stuffed with cash. A former sheriff was indicted for taking bribes. Another politician (state Rep. Brian Sims) is running for two offices at once.

It might be that Philadelphians will one day grow weary of pols creating patronage jobs for their colleagues — particularly at the Goode Level of $135,000.

But as of today, Philadelphia voters have short memories and are seduced by political campaigns that spend hundreds of thousands to make them forget. Few doubts can survive an election-season onslaught of pledges to “fight for you.” We forget that Blondell Reynolds Brown has a long, unhappy relationship with the Ethics Board. We barely notice those who take outside jobs that boost their salaries. Most people pulled the lever for City Commissioner Anthony Clark, unmindful that he might not have done the same.

Years ago, we were introduced to the phrase “golden parachute” for corporate executives who lost their jobs in a corporate takeover. The parachute enabled execs to make a handsome living even though they were barely working. It seems Council has invented the “golden waiting room,” a place for those who’ve been booted by the voters, but still have a hankering for the public trough.

Jay McCalla has served as a city deputy managing director, a director for the Redevelopment Authority, and as the chief-of-staff to former Councilman Rick Mariano.