By Denise Clay
Philadelphia County Sheriff Jewell Williams is busy.
But it’s a good busy. It’s a busy that includes helping people find a home through the Sheriff’s Sale process. It’s a busy that includes helping people hold on to their homes.
And it’s also a busy that includes helping people connect with the kind of funding that can help you get your life back in order.
In 2011, Williams, a longtime state legislator, was elected to the Sheriff’s office, replacing John Green, the longtime sheriff, who resigned amidst a fraud probe conducted by City Controller Alan Butkovitz. Butkovitz turned his findings over to the Justice Department for review.
Meanwhile, there were calls from so-called “good government” groups to abolish the office entirely.
Sheriff Williams carved out a few minutes to talk with the SUN recently about his first year in office, what it’s been like to be sheriff, and what’s next for him and the office.
SUN: Hello Sheriff Williams. Thank you for the time.
You’ve been sheriff for a year now. How has the experience been?
JW: it’s been a very interesting first year journey of trying to make sure that we keep a campaign promise of maintaining transparency and openness. There was a culture based on the way that the other office did business where there was no culture of openness for 24 years.
We set a goal to make sure that if the public is owed money, it’s given back and we’ve given back $2 million so far. We’ve given the state over $20 million thanks to our auctions of unclaimed property, with the city’s share being $9 million. There’s been no disruption of Sheriff’s Sales, no escapes on the criminal side, and so far no one’s been hurt. So it’s been a good year.
SUN: When you were running for the office of Sheriff, you did so amid calls from good government groups for the office itself to be abolished as a cost-cutting measure. Are you still hearing that suggestion and what are you doing to show how necessary the Sheriff’s Office still is?
JW: We haven’t heard much about that. One of the reasons for this is that it could not happen. Under the state constitution, you have to have a sheriff in every county whether it’s elected or not.
Plus, we’re doing our job, so it’s not an issue that the public has remained concerned about. We’re looking for people who are owed money from the city so we’re starting a search unit. We don’t want to hold monies that are owed to people. We host seminars on a regular basis that are training sessions to teach people how to buy properties at Sheriff’s Sales and how NOT to lose your property. Those sessions are bi-weekly and bilingual, so we’re always at capacity when we do them. We also work with the Veterans Association to help homeless veterans.
SUN: What has been the most interesting or best part of your first year in office and what is the one thing that you want to change?
JW: The most interesting thing is that I’ve been able to give people their money back. Some of those people had been waiting for three or four years for their money. Some had become homeless and others were living with family members. They were able to restart their lives. I enjoy working and I believe in public service. In a way, it’s like when I was a legislator. The most important thing that I could do for you was give you information.
As for the worst thing, I haven’t seen it yet. I’ve had some criticisms, but I don’t feel negative about the job itself.
SUN: What’s next for the Sheriff’s Office in 2013?
JW: Well, we’re going to get the search unit started. And we’re working with the [Nutter] Administration to try and get more people. We need more people to work in the courts. We’re down 40 deputies and need to replenish our man and woman power.
SUN: Thanks for the time Sheriff Williams.
JW: Thank you!