Ethics Panel Clears Ex-Mayor Street for Voting to Give Son’s Firm a Contract

While a housing commissioner, John Street voted to approve contracts with a law firm where his son worked. This was legal.

Former Philadelphia Mayor John Street did not violate the state’s Ethics Act when he voted to give his son a contract with the Philadelphia Housing Authority in 2011, the Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission has ruled.

The facts are not in dispute: Street served as mayor from 2002 to 2008 and a PHA commissioner from 2003 to 2011. State ethics rules do prohibit government workers from voting to benefit family members (or companies that employ family members) financially. Street knew the rules. But Street still voted to approve PHA contracts for WolfBlock, a Philadelphia law firm that employed his son Sharif.

Street even voted on WolfBlock contracts after being directly told not to! Please read this excerpt from the ethics board’s ruling, from testimony made by ex-PHA lawyer Leigh Ann Poltrock:

At this meeting, Poltrock leaned over to [Carl] Greene and stated that WolfBlock was in “this one,” meaning the Resolution, and “He can’t vote on this,” where upon Greene nodded his head and leaned over to John Street and said, “You can’t vote on this one. WolfBlock is in here.”

When Greene made the above statement to him, John Street was doing something with his Blackberry but nodded his head.

John Street called for the vote on this Resolution and also voted in favor of this Resolution.

You know that punchline was coming, right? Many of the contracts mentioned in the ethics board’s report passed 5-0. Street didn’t even need to vote. He was on a Blackberry even though he’d waited in line for an iPhone next to a dumpster. But John Street DGAF.

The board, though, while noting that it “does not condone the conduct at issue in this case” ruled Street didn’t violate the law because the votes all came as part of a class of contracts for five law firms. The opinion also noted that WolfBlock has done legal work for the PHA since the 1990s.

Two ethics board members dissented. “The ban on use of public office for a private pecuniary gain for the public official himself or immediate family is at the heart of the Ethics Act,” John J. Bolger, the chair, wrote. “To allow a class/subclass to be created that does not currently exist creates the opportunity to circumvent this essential provision.” Roger Nick also dissented with the same language.

Street was ordered to submit financial disclosure forms for 2006 and 2010, which he apparently didn’t do before.

PA Ethics Ruling – John Street