As one plugged-in Philadelphia politico put it: It’s bad news when Fox29 investigative reporter Jeff Cole shows up on your doorstep.
For state Rep. J.P. Miranda, the bad news began when Cole recently arrived at the representative’s 197th District office to ask about a staffer believed to be getting paid by the state for work that he wasn’t performing.
As Cole approached Miranda, who was seated behind the wheel of a silver Chrysler sedan, the freshman representative stepped on the gas and fled from his would-be inquisitor on Allegheny Avenue, nearly striking another vehicle in his haste.
“Startling,” said Cole of the exit.
Cole’s story maintained that Timothy Duckett collected a $36,000 annual salary while apparently doing little work for the state, opting to spend business hours fixing cars at a Germantown auto-repair shop.
In the report, the reporter could not get a clear response about the discrepency from Duckett.
Miranda won the 197th district seat that was vacated by Jewell Williams, who was elected Sheriff of Philadelphia County. When he was sworn into office in January, he was said to be the legislature’s youngest member.
Prior to his election, Miranda served as a staffer for both City Council President Darrell Clarke, and state Sen. Shirley Kitchen, according to his official web page. He has also worked for Mayor Michael Nutter, directing the “Philly Counts” program during the most recent census.
“This is an opportunity,” Miranda told NewsWorks shortly after his inauguration. “It’s not about me. It’s about what I do over the next couple of years, and I feel up to the task.”
Legislative peers react
While NewsWorks‘ attempts to reach Miranda were unsuccessful this week, Kitchen suggested that her former employee present his side of the story to the public.
“He should give an explanation for what happened,” said Kitchen, who called Duckett’s alleged actions “totally unacceptable.”
Asked to reflect on her experience with Miranda, Kitchen referred to him as a “very bright young man who cares about people.”
Kitchen said that accountability is a critical component of being a legislator.
“When someone works for you,” she said, “it’s up to you to make sure that they’re working.”
State Rep. Dwight Evans, who represents neighboring West Oak Lane, also deemed Duckett’s behavior “unacceptable.”
“He should be held accountable,” said Evans.
Reached in Harrisburg on Wednesday, state Rep. Rosita Youngblood said she hadn’t seen the broadcast, and characterized her knowledge as “hearsay.”
Miranda and Youngblood are neighbors in the legislative chambers, but on Wednesday, there was no general assembly, and she didn’t go seeking out further details.
“He didn’t mention it to me,” she said, “and I didn’t mention it to him.”
When contacted by NewsWorks, State Rep. Pam DeLissio watched the video for the first time. She, too, deemed the story “startling.”
“If it’s true, it’s very disappointing,” said DeLissio. “Constituents – both in his and my districts – are owed an explanation for what happened, and possibly a refund as taxpayers. That’s taxpayer money.”
Will DA bring charges?
At present, it’s unclear what the legal ramifications might be, if any.
In a follow-up story, Fox29 reported that District Attorney Seth Williams has vowed to share the report with his newly formed political-corruption unit and will have further comment should charges arise. That story also stated that Miranda fired Duckett after the initial report aired.
The link has been forwarded to the state Attorney General’s office for review as well, Cole told NewsWorks on Thursday.
At the community level, some leaders are withholding judgment on the episode.
Asked for comment, East Falls Community Council President Barnaby Wittels described the relationship between his organization and Miranda being positive and “mutually beneficial.”
He didn’t foresee this incident having a noticeable effect on their interactions in the remaining time before redistricting removes East Falls from Miranda’s district and splits it between DeLissio and Youngblood.