Philadelphia City Council voted today to appoint a city employee who is currently under federal investigation to the board that will oversee the city’s land bank.
Legislators voted unanimously in a Thursday session to appoint Courtney Voss to the board. Voss serves as chief of staff to Councilman Bobby Henon, who is also under investigation by federal authorities.
The land bank is a nonprofit entity created by the city to handle the responsible dispensation of a catalogue of roughly 10,000 city-owned properties. The organization has been hampered by union issues, conflicts with councilmembers and other bureaucratic delays.
Henon said he had “no concerns” about the impact of the federal investigation on Voss’ work for the board, but offered no further comment.
But Barry Kauffman, from the ethics advocacy group Common Cause, wasn’t so sure.
“In a city of 1.5 million residents, there has to be scores of talented people that council could reach out to or recruit to fill this very important position,” he said. “They’re appointing a person whose commitment to the service of the public above their personal gain might be in question. When council is appointing people, they have to take that in mind. Otherwise, the public gets cynical and loses confidence in government.”
David Thornburgh, head of the government watchdog Committee of Seventy, pointed out that it was unclear if the nature of the federal probe had any connection with city land sales, but recommended the board adopt “a clear conflict of interest policy” to stave off future issues.
The city recently allowed Voss to select a criminal defense attorney to serve as counsel in connection with the probe, an indication that city officials had been notified that Voss was a subject of the investigation.
Fellow council staffers Jennifer Kates and Paulette Adams, as well as land bank chair Michael Koonce and Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha VP Angel Rodriguez were also appointed to the board.