May 18-24, 2006
Slant : Loose CanonSheriff Green's Disingenuous Genuflection
You'd think that Green would prefer to kick my ass. Recently I questioned his spending millions of dollars not required by law to advertise foreclosure sales in media not authorized by the state ["Sheriff Green's Foreclosure Machine," Loose Canon, April 13, 2006].
After my column appeared, the sheriff disclosed that the minimum advertising required by the state should cost about $700. But with the additional advertising, that can swell to more than $1,000which must be paid before a homeowner can halt a foreclosure.
The sheriff claims that more advertising attracts more buyers, and ultimately fetches higher prices when properties are sold. But homeless advocates counter that the additional cost is just another burden for destitute homeowners trying to save their homes. They say that the extra advertising benefits only the unauthorized media.
Green has repeatedly declined to disclose which media outlets receive the additional advertising dollars. But at today's press conference, I see several media outletsincluding the Public Record and Power 99that I believe are recipients of the sheriff's gratuitous largesse.
The sheriff, head down, is in full genuflection. But no one utters a word. Who knows? Maybe Green is demonstrating the deference he expects from certain journalists: to repeat what he wants reported, and ignore what's not in the script.
Half a minute later, Green stands up silently, and the press conference begins. On his agenda today is a new reportpaid for by the sheriffwhich claims that fewer people lost their homes in 2005 than in 2004. It's an occasion for celebration.
Only if you look more closely, the news is less joyous.
Philadelphia is still 30 percent higher than the national average, according to the same report. And among the nation's five largest metropolitan areas, only Dallas-Fort Worth has a higher foreclosure rate than Philly. Finally, for reasons undisclosed, earlier this year, Philadelphia experienced a sharp increase in foreclosure rateswhich means that more people will be losing their houses soon.
Ironically, there is good news for homeowners facing foreclosure. Good news that the sheriff fails to mentionuntil I ask. A task force of homeless advocates, along with lawyers representing lenders, worked with the courts to reduce the size of individual ads by some 35 percent.
By court order, these savings could kick in this week. Which means that the sheriff's upfront advertising fee could drop to around $650or even lower, if the sheriff purchased only the ads actually required by the state. For struggling homeowners, this would mean paying just $450.
But when I ask if Green will pass along any of these savings by reducing his upfront fees, he says no. Does that mean that the task forcewhich included the sheriffhas labored for more than a year for nothing? With that, the sheriff ends the press conference, and invites me to a private conference room.
I meet Green's legal counsel, and Jim Davis. Davis currently places about $6 million yearly in foreclosure advertising, collecting some $900,000 a year for the service. Davis is a close confidante of Green. Davis' former partner, now deceased, was a treasurer for the sheriff's election campaign.
So why no cost reduction? Certain lenders' attorneys, responds Green, are jacking up their own rates, and some are also in arrears to the sheriff's office. The sheriff says he would want the city solicitor to look into these reputed shenanigans before he'd back off on his own fees.
I admit I still can't understand the rationale, yet I agree that someone should look into this. Perhaps an agency with more authority than the state and city auditors, both of whom have tried and failed to make sense of the sheriff's office. Reportedly, it was in such disarray that fiscal data could "not be meaningfully analyzed," and millions of dollars were "susceptible" to theft.
So while Sheriff Green performs his disingenuous genuflections, thousands of struggling homeowners are brought to their knees.