Vignola Won't Ok Jannotti's Pay

Posted: January 16, 1986

City Controller Joseph Vignola will not pay the $30,865-a-year salary of Harry P. Jannotti, former city councilman convicted of taking an Abscam bribe,

because his hiring as head of a city veterans' services office violates the state Constitution and city code, Vignola said yesterday.

Council President Joseph E. Coleman, who named Jannotti to the post Tuesday, said last night he would seek "an interpretation of the statutes and of the Home Rule Charter" from the city Law Department. If Vignola's

interpretation is "shown to be true," Coleman said, he would not proceed with Jannotti's hiring.

Coleman's surprise appointment of Jannotti, who is not a veteran, to direct the little-known Veterans Advisory Commission drew sharp criticism from some Council members and leaders of veterans' groups. But Coleman insisted early yesterday that Jannotti was the only person he had considered for the post and was "eminently qualified."

"I'm not going to authorize the paycheck," Vignola said, citing legal opinions of former City Solicitor Alan J. Davis as well as sections of the Constitution and code. "I can't stop anybody from working anywhere, but I cannot authorize they be paid for whatever they're doing."

Section 20-611 of the City Code permanently disqualifies a person from holding elected or appointed city office or employment with the city, its agencies, authorities, boards or commissions if that person has been found to have accepted gifts or other favors.

Those favors may not have been "of substantial economic value that might reasonably be expected to influence one in his position in the discharge of his official duties," Vignola noted.

In addition, the state Constitution forbids someone who has been convicted of taking a bribe from holding "an office of public trust" in the commonwealth.

Jannotti was fined $2,000 and sentenced to six months in prison for accepting a bribe from an FBI agent posing as a representative of a fictitious Arab sheik.

City Solicitor Handsel Minyard refused to comment yesterday on whether Jannotti's hiring violated the Constitution or the city code, saying he had not yet studied the matter.

Vignola said he had asked Minyard to look into it, but "everybody is on notice now: I'm not paying."

"I'll just have to talk to Joe (Coleman) and see what he thinks, what he wants to do," Jannotti said by phone yesterday.

The naming of Jannotti touched off a flurry of statements by other Council members, both in favor and opposed.

"He (Jannotti) disgraced this legislative body and I can't see him being rewarded by it," said Councilman John F. White Jr., who applauded Vignola's decision to withhold Jannotti's salary. "It's a mistake, but it's not too late to be corrected."

Councilmen Leland Beloff and David Cohen, who rarely find themselves on the same side of a controversy, defended Coleman's action.

"After a person pays a penalty, the person should be given a chance for rehabilitation," said Cohen, who added that when Jannotti was Council majority leader he was "the most outspoken champion of the veterans' organizations and interests."

"It was a stupid mistake (by Coleman)," said one Council member who asked not to be identified.

Political sources contacted by the Daily News said they doubted any complicated political deals were involved in Coleman's offering the post to Jannotti. "I think it's just the old-boy network," said one source. "Harry needed something and Joe gave it to him."

District Attorney Ron Castille said: "It looks like they're trying to reward friends. It's the worst kind of cronyism, and I think they didn't really look into the issues and they didn't really put much thought behind this appointment."

Jannotti was among a number of public officials implicated in the widespread FBI sting operation in which the "representatives" of the phony sheik offered bribes to elected officials to smooth the way for a hotel development.

Jannotti served in Council from 1969 until he resigned Jan. 28, 1983, shortly before sentencing. He entered Allenwood federal prison camp last April 22 and was released Sept. 5.

Despite the Abscam conviction, Jannotti has remained politically active. By upholding the conviction, the U.S. Supreme Court forced him out of Council, but Jannotti held onto his post as Democratic leader of Kensington's 19th Ward, even during his stay in prison.

Though he originally backed Patricia Hughes in her election to his old Council seat, political sources say they had a falling-out before Hughes even took office, and ever since then he has talked of running against her even though the state Constitution may prevent that.

Jannotti acknowledged yesterday that he was considering such a race, but said he hasn't reached a final decision. "Who knows?" he said. "That's two years from now . . . If she's (Hughes) worried about it, maybe she has reason to be."

Jannotti was named to the veterans' post by Coleman Tuesday evening to replace 59-year-old Charles Duld of Northeast Philadelphia. Duld resigned for health reasons effective tomorrow.

Duld, a Navy veteran, has applied for a city service-connected disability pension that would allow him to collect 70 percent of his $30,865-a-year salary. That application is still in the early stages and must be reviewed by about eight doctors, according to Anthony Witlin, executive director of the city's pension board.

A former policeman, Duld received a disability pension in 1965, but returned to city employment in 1979, first with Traffic Court, then City Council.

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