Why Should We Care About Council Side Gigs?

(Photo: Philadelphia City Council)

City Council side jobs are back in the news this week, with Jeremy Roebuck reporting from federal court on the arguments over whether Bobby Henon's salaried position with IBEW Local 98 amounts to a bribe by federal standards. 

"While prosecutors have portrayed Henon as a crooked politician who sold his Council seat in exchange for a $73,000-a-year union job, the attorneys maintained that state law allows for outside employment. Henon’s income from Dougherty’s union was no different than that of any of the eight other members of Council who hold other jobs, said his lawyer, Brian J. McMonagle.

“What has been alleged here is simply not a crime,” McMonagle argued during a hearing in Philadelphia. “If it is, then a lot of people — any official that is on a salary from an outside entity — better head for the hills." [...]

The indictment is filled with accusations that the labor leader leaned on Henon again and again to back policies or actions that benefited his union.

At Dougherty’s request, it says, Henon forwarded a 2015 complaint that led to the shutdown of a nonunion contractor installing MRI machines at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. That year, Henon also allegedly put Dougherty in the room when Comcast renegotiated its franchise agreement with the city — a deal that resulted in a lucrative contract for a union contractor favored by Local 98."

The thing about this is that regardless of whether or not it's ultimately deemed illegal, it's just so clear and undeniable why Local 98 pays Bobby Henon a full-time salary: he is the person entrusted to be Local 98's eyes and ears, and safeguard their interests across city government. That's it, that's the job. 

The second salary defenders say this isn't a bribe because Councilor Henon isn't being paid to do anything he otherwise wouldn't want to do. Henon has very pro-union politics on and off the clock, so the additional salary from Local 98 isn't really "buying" anything extra. They're just giving him more resources to do what he would already be inclined to do. And as Henon's lawyer argues, he's been reelected and remains popular in the 6th District even with this information about the second salary being widely-known at this point. 

The key question is: who does Henon serve when the interests of his two employers—Philadelphia residents and Local 98—come into conflict? It's great to believe that supporting a pro-union politics is broadly aligned with the public interest, but you'd have to be a pretty major league ideologue to say the interests of the Philadelphia building trades and the broader public are always aligned. Or to try and read some kind of public interest rationale into things like the MRI episode at CHOP, for instance. 

This is where a prohibition on side gigs for the highest-paid big city legislature in the U.S. could really help provide some clarity about whose interests elected officials are representing in Council, while avoiding the appearance of corruption and the corrosive cynicism that it promotes. Council makes several times more than the median Philadelphia resident, and they're able to afford pretty comfortable lives making $130,000 as individual earners. Regardless of whether or not this is found to be in violation of federal law, it pretty clearly allows for some clear conflicts of interest, and with everything that's happened, it hopefully won't take a guilty verdict to create some momentum for a change to the outside employment rules.

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  • Joe Simiriglio
    commented 2019-07-12 18:58:14 -0400
    Elected officials work 365/52/7. They accept the ‘good,bad & the ugly’ which accompanies the position they hold. Both parties elected officials in Philadelphia, most have side gigs or his Council for some their side gig.
    The salary earned is peanuts, Council members,the Mayor are all on the clock. After you write your article, you go home after your 8 hours are over & you enjoy your private time. Politics isn’t an easy job, I respect anyone who is elected. Unfortunately some are dishonest and take advantage of their position.
    As for Henon,he us doing his job, as councilman and union member.

    The other council members didn’t raise their voice in opposition.

    Philadelphia politics isn’t for amateurs, You need to grow a tuff skin to survive Philly political culture.
    Your organization is forward looking, but remember to win elections you have to learn the Philly game of politics.
    The Republican party shot itself in the foot when Boss Meehan made his deals for certain jobs with the Democratsin power, Neighborhoods changed as the middle class left for the burbs, better schools and better paying jobs. Boss Meehan held onto the courts and parking authority, Was offered lucrative contracts for his business and business associates He destroyed the party leading to Democrat party domination.
    Your organization has to win committee person seats and ward elections to peel away the power of the union and current strong elected officials. Good Luck!