Montgomery County Sheriff Sean Kilkenny said he spent his first week on the job getting the lay of the land.
“I am trying to learn what everybody in the sheriff’s office does and how I can make it better,” said Kilkenny during a phone call. Kilkenny is a lieutenant colonel and member of the Army Reserves who completed tours in Iraq and Kosovo, among others.
Along with his full-time elected position, Kilkenny says he’ll continue serving as solicitor for Norristown, East Norriton, Whitemarsh, Jenkintown, Lansdale and Morrisville. Members of his four person law firm will also represent municipalities in Delaware County.
A lawyer by training, Kilkenny made a name in local politics by serving as the solicitor for local municipalities, and on the borough council for Jenkintown. Solicitor is an appointed position and may go to an individual or a firm. The solicitor handles legal paperwork for the municipality and acts as legal counsel in the event the township, borough or city sues or is sued.
While it is common for a municipal lawyer or law firm to represent more than one town as solicitor, calls to the Pennsylvania Association of Township Supervisors, as well as other solicitors representing places in Montgomery County did not bring to light other examples of someone in a full-time elected office maintaining part-time solicitor positions.
Kilkenny said he sees no problems with holding the positions. “It will be no more difficult than going to Iraq in 2009,” he said.
Laws around dual-holding, or holding more than one public office at a time, vary by state. In Pennsylvania, it’s illegal for a legislator to hold an additional public office, elected or appointed. At the township level, a supervisor may not hold an appointed office in the same township but may hold an appointed office in other townships.
“He has a lot of work to do, but there’s no conflict of interest,” said veteran solicitor Joe McGrory, who represents Upper Merion, Limerick and West Conshohocken. “I’ve been doing it 32 years, I’ve never had to deal with the sheriff for anything.”
Conflicts of interest do arise between townships, or between county and local government. In that case, Kilkenny would be expected to recuse himself from acting as solicitor. As for juggling time commitments, solicitors appear at monthly meetings for their governing bodies and are expected to handle any legal paperwork for the governing bodies.
Kilkenny said he will be on the job as sheriff from 9-5, and members of his staff will handle any daytime responsibilities related to representing local governments. He plans to personally attend the six night-time meetings for the municipalities he represents each month.
“My law office is also literally across the street from the sheriff’s office so it makes it very easy,” said Kilkenny. “So on lunch breaks I can go right over.”
A few people raised red flags about the choice for townships to continue to engage Kilkenny as solicitor in light of his elected position, including Norristown blogger Elena Santangelo.
“I’d rather have a borough solicitor who doesn’t also answer to the county for his regular paycheck. I’d also like to have a sheriff who doesn’t have outside distractions,” she wrote.
As full-time sheriff, Kilkenny makes $79,160 and manages a staff of 124 people and a budget of nearly $9 million. As solicitor, he bills for hours of service which vary based on the amount of ongoing litigation a municipality is involved in.