SIX YEARS after Republicans took control of the Philadelphia Parking Authority in a political
the number of people on its payroll has doubled and top salaries have soared, making the patronage haven one of the best-paid addresses in municipal government.
In 2001, when House Republican leader John Perzel engineered the takeover, the Parking Authority had 512 full-time employees. Only two of them were making six-figure salaries.
Six years later, the full-time payroll has grown to 1,051 people, including 20 who are making more than $100,000 a year.
The authority's top job now belongs to Vincent J. Fenerty Jr., a longtime Republican ward leader who joined the authority as a booting supervisor in 1983, initially earning less than $28,000 a year.
Fenerty now makes $194,830 annually as the authority's executive director - more than any of the doctors, lawyers and other professionals on the city payroll, and $50,000 more than Mayor Street.
Meanwhile, the agency has delivered just a sliver of the money that Republican leaders promised to the Philadelphia School District when the GOP takeover sailed through the Legislature - just $4 million in six years.
The authority's growth is fueled in part by new and expanded duties.
On top of its old functions - writing parking tickets, collecting coins from parking meters, booting and towing scofflaws - the authority now runs the mammoth lots at Philadelphia International Airport, tows the cars of drivers who are caught without valid licenses or insurance, administers a new traffic-light camera program that catches drivers running red lights, and regulates the city's taxicabs.
One of the Parking Authority's board members is the Republican candidate for mayor, Al Taubenberger. He contends the agency is well-run.
In fact, Taubenberger said, the authority "may be a little less political than it used to be," because its employees are now a mix of Republicans and Democrats, more diverse than when its jobs were controlled by the mayor's office.
Payroll records show the agency now employs six party ward leaders - five Republicans and one Democrat. The payroll includes at least 131 Republican committee people and 58 Democratic committee people.
Taubenberger, president of the Northeast Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, was added to the Parking Authority's board of directors after Perzel pushed through legislation that put state officials in charge of authority appointments, rather than the mayor.
When Perzel made the move, Republicans controlled the governor's office, the state House and the Senate, so the authority was suddenly under GOP control, after 20 years as a haven for Democrats.
The city payroll is governed by the city charter, which bars most city employees from political activity. But the Parking Authority is not covered by the charter. The authority permits its employees to stay active in politics as committeemen or ward leaders.
One authority official, Northeast Philadelphia ward leader Scott Cummings, is currently a Republican candidate for Traffic Court. He wasn't required even to take a leave of absence from his $80,326-a-year job as the authority's investigations manager.
"All the [political] work's been done," Cummings said. "I'm putting in a full work week."
He noted that he had taken leaves last spring, before the primary election, and last year, when he ran in a special election for City Council.
A series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions protects most employees at government agencies from being laid off because of their political affiliations.
After Republicans took control of the Parking Authority in 2001, top Democrats were left in place while Republicans were promoted to lead the agency.
The top staff members in 2001 were two politically active Democrats - the Rev. William B. Moore, its executive director, and Sultan Ahmad, his top deputy. Moore was paid $131,325 a year, Ahmad $118,450.
Six years later, Moore and Ahmad are still on the payroll, at $161,376 and $171,059, respectively. But their roles in the agency have been sharply curtailed. The real power rests with Fenerty, 51, and his top deputy, Carl Ciglar, 57, a former city police officer who joined the authority in 2003.
In August, Ciglar was making $161,376 and he's subsequently received another raise. An authority spokeswoman said she'd need more time to say how much.
When Perzel convinced the legislature and then-Gov. Ridge to approve the Parking Authority takeover in 2001, the ostensible purpose was to provide more money for the Philadelphia School District. The legislation referred to the authority's paying $45 million in "retained earnings" to the schools.
But over the past six years, the authority has actually contributed only $4 million to the schools.
The bulk of the authority's profit comes from airport parking operations, and federal law requires that airport-related profits benefit the airport - in effect, helping to offset the airport's operating costs.
Under an agreement worked out in 2004 between the authority and the Street administration, the city is supposed to get the first $25 million of non-airport-related profits.
After that, any additional profits are earmarked for the school district. But that's happened only once in the past six years.
Year after year, its revenues reach new records - nearly $198 million in its latest fiscal year that ended March 31. But increased expenses eat up almost all the new revenues.
"They said they were going to run the Parking Authority more efficiently," Mayor Street's top political aide, George Burrell, said in 2003. "But I don't see how they're running it more efficiently . . . giving raises to its favorite employees" in the face of perennial budget problems for the city and schools. "If the mayor had done something like that, people would be screaming bloody murder."
Fenerty declined an interview request from the Daily News. He's refused to speak to this reporter since a 2004 report that Fenerty pressured dozens of low-ranking authority employees to contribute $275 a year to the city Republican Party.
At the time, Fenerty was treasurer of the Republican City Committee and deputy director of the Parking Authority. After an internal investigation run by Ciglar and another probe by private investigators whose findings were never made public, the authority's board - including Taubenberger - elevated Fenerty to executive director in January 2006.
Sources at the authority say the agency is more subtle than it used to be about collecting political contributions from its workers. Solicitations generally come from the employees' Republican ward leaders, not their supervisers at the authority, the sources said.
Wherever the pitches originate, they're still effective. At least 160 authority employees contributed last spring to Republican City Committee, according to its campaign finance reports. The GOP raised thousands of dollars more from businessmen with authority contracts. *