Perhaps the only people who don’t love to hate the Philadelphia Parking Authority are the folks fortunate enough to be related to its longtime board chairman, Joseph T. Ashdale.
At least 10 members of the extended Ashdale clan have been hired during the tenure of chairman Ashdale, who through a spokesperson claims to have had nothing to do with any of their being there. As The Inquirer’s Andrew Seidman reported Sunday, old-school nepotism is a specialty at this state-run municipal operation, which has a $253 million budget, about 1,000 employees, and a quintessentially Philly sort of anti-renown due to its featured role in the Parking Wars reality show.
A Northeast Philly Republican who has perched in the part-time, $75,000-a-year post for 18 years, Ashdade was in charge in 2006 when the first sexual harassment claim against then-executive director Vincent J. Fenerty Jr., was made -- and again in 2016, when another complaint emerged, leading to Fenerty walking away with a record-setting $158,628 pension, other goodies worth $227,238, and taxpayer-subsidized heath-care coverage.
So while we agree that “Joe’s gotta go,” as Inquirer columnist Mike Newall wrote Tuesday, we also must note that the outrages the PPA regularly produces have not arisen in a vacuum. Ashdale has not been been charged with a crime but he nevertheless is caught up in a corruption scandal involving many of his friends, among the indicted city Councilman Bobby Henon. The Inquirer reported in February that Henon helped quash a proposed audit of the authority ; in exchange, a “parking authority official” provided window replacements in the home of one of Henon’s friends.
Meanwhile, in addition to regularly generating scandals, the PPA also functions as a bipartisan patronage mill where politicos can place family, friends, and supporters. The cash generated from Philadelphians and visitors who park on the street or in city owned garages, or who are ticketed, towed, or booted for various infractions, are supposed to help support the schools but instead underwrite the lush salaries and posh perks, which helps explains its outsized influence in the city.
That clout also accounts for how infrequently the authority has been audited, a public oversight process that ought to occur regularly, but historically hasn’t. After City Council failed to agree in 2016 to request such a review by then-City Controller Alan Butkovitz, the Pennsylvania Auditor General stepped in and performed the work.
Unsurprisingly, the findings were not flattering; the PPA at that time had failed to collect $580 million in fines, shortchanging the school district by millions. The authority claims it has corrected many of the flaws found by the state, but a separate performance audit expected to be finished this fall by City Controller Rebecca Rynhart may better assess the progress, and shed more light on how money is spent.