Out lesbian named Philadelphia’s new Chief Integrity Officer

Sarah Stevenson

Last week Mayor Jim Kenney appointed out lesbian Sarah Stevenson as Philadelphia’s Chief Integrity Officer (CIO.) She will succeed the current CIO, Ellen Mattleman Kaplan, who is retiring this year.  

The Office of the CIO is responsible for facilitating integrity, transparency and accountability throughout the executive branch of the government. The CIO informs City workers and the public of the city’s code of ethics, creates policies to ensure that the city functions in an ethically-sound way and makes sure the public can access City resources.  

“I’m pleased to have Sarah Stevenson on board as our new Chief Integrity Officer to help ensure our government is as ethical and transparent as possible,” Mayor Kenney said in a press release. 

Stevenson formerly worked as deputy commissioner of policy and strategy for the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD.) She brings to this new position experience working with a diverse group of City employees.

“One of my goals is to make sure that we, the administration are communicating all the way down to folks that perhaps don’t have City email access,” Stevenson said. She wants to ensure “that our message is getting out and we’re explaining things in a clear way so that any employee can understand what the rules are and how to comply with them.” 

The Office of the CIO began in 2007 with former mayor Michael Nutter, who hired Joan Markman as his first CIO. She previously worked as an assistant U.S. attorney specializing in municipal-corruption cases. In tandem with then-Inspector General Amy Kurland, Markman had a reputation for averting ethically-murky behavior. 

Stevenson believes that the Office of the CIO remains just as important today. 

“I think that when the trust between the government and the people of Philadelphia is strong, then we’re all better off,” she said. “As an equity issue, government services are for everybody, and I really applaud this administration for putting that goal out there and making that a first- and second-term priority. The work that this administration has been doing around service accessibility is really great, and I’m thrilled to be a part of that going forward.”

Stevenson firmly believes that educating Philadelphia’s most public-facing populations about the city’s rules of ethics is a key part of the function of the CIO. 

“I like the way that the current chief integrity officer explains the role of the office — it’s really about the front end, it’s really about educating the workforce, the public and the vendor community about the rules and making sure that folks are following them and not violating them,” she said. “To me, the education part of it is so important and helping people understand why these rules are important is something that I’m really interested in [continuing] in my tenure there.”

Throughout her career at the PWD, Stevenson has assumed many roles. She started as an attorney for the department in 2009 and was later appointed as PWD’s director of enforcement in 2014, where she helped institute programs that played parts in achieving the department’s compliance with the Clean Water Act. She more recently served as director of government affairs and policy and as deputy commissioner of policy and strategy for the PWD. She also worked as the PWD’s integrity officer for four years, where she acted as a liaison to the Office of the CIO. 

Stevenson was born in Philadelphia, grew up in Montgomery County and attended college at the University of Pennsylvania. She has been on the board of the LGBTQ soccer organization the Philadelphia Falcons and has served as part of Penn’s LGBTQ alumni steering committee. She has also testified in front of City Council about incorporating gender-neutral language into city code. 

She is married to Libby Peters, who was part of the inaugural Mayor’s Commission on LGBT Affairs, and now works as director of policy and strategic initiatives at the Philadelphia Department of Commerce.

“It really is about government services for all, making the government work for everybody,” Stevenson said. “If I were to put an overarching theme on what my goals are, it’s really advancing that goal of the administration.”