Benefit of the Doubt

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For a long time, few local government offices have generated more attention-grabbing news than the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office. From John Green’s $675,000 bribery scheme to the numerous sexual harassment lawsuits filed against Jewell Williams, there was no shortage of fodder coming out of the Land Title Building.
Thus, we were not surprised to read about the latest efforts to bring the office low in the Inquirer last week via the report of Brett Mandel being fired as the Sheriff Rochelle Bilal’s chief financial officer after five weeks on the job for what he said were his concerns over spending practices.
Like many who care about Philadelphia, we know Brett Mandel is a good-government advocate, a gadfly for municipal improvement who’s good with numbers. Here’s a good number: 56. That is how many days elapsed between Bilal being sworn in and the Inquirer story.
Bilal was elected on a reform platform. She defeated a two-time incumbent in the primary without the support of the city’s massive Democratic operation. She earned her job at the polls, and she earned the benefit of the doubt from an electorate that gave her a mandate for change.
As the new sheriff in town, Bilal has faced a host of challenges trying to effect that change, including assembling her transition and management team. As any survivor of such a changeover – or, really, anyone who has endured being part of a startup or leadership change – can attest to, there is going to be a lot of churn. People are going to leave. People are going to be asked to leave. And when that happens, there will always be more than one side to the story – something that the Inquirer article gave short shrift.
Sheriff Bilal will be under a microscope for most if not all of her tenure. But if we’re going to be so focused on her, let’s make sure we see the big picture as well.

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