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Ed: Cut Parking Authority fat

He responds to our story, as does Pa. rep, who seeks board's ouster

Gov. Rendell says he was stunned to see details of the soaring payroll at the Philadelphia Parking Authority, and he recommended yesterday that the agency start tightening its belt.

"They've got to clean up their house fast, save money where they can and send money to the school district," Rendell told KYW Newsradio. "They should start reviewing those jobs, and those that aren't essential to productivity should be closed down."

A state House member, meanwhile, said he wants to oust the authority's board members.

The governor's comments followed a Daily News report that the Parking Authority payroll had doubled since Republicans took over six years ago, in a political coup engineered by House Republican leader John Perzel.

At least 20 Parking Authority employees are now drawing six-figure salaries, led by Vincent J. Fenerty Jr., a longtime Republican ward leader who makes $194,500 as the authority's executive director.

That's bigger than anyone on the city payroll. It's $50,000 more than Mayor Street makes and $30,000 higher than Rendell's salary.

No one at the Parking Authority returned calls from the Daily News.

State Rep. Michael McGeehan, a Northeast Democrat who has been a persistent critic of the Parking Authority, has unveiled a plan to oust the board members and prohibit political activity by authority employees - the same restrictions that apply to most employees covered by the city charter.

"The Philadelphia Parking Authority has become a bloated political-patronage machine where employees feel compelled to contribute time and money to candidates to keep their jobs," McGeehan said in a memo to other House members.

Meanwhile, the authority has become "a quasi-law-enforcement agency" by taking over police functions including towing, impoundment and the new red-light-camera program, McGeehan said.

"No agency anywhere in the state with such broad law-enforcement authority permits any form of partisan political activity, and rightly so," McGeehan said.

In another development, a group of public-school parents pressed their demand that the Parking Authority commit $20 million to the school district, beginning with a $4 million check at its next board meeting in November.

The group, Parents United for Public Education, posted the authority's recent audits on its Web site and questioned a $7.4 million transfer into "an unrestricted cash reserve fund."

The authority's governance changed in 2001, when Perzel pushed through legislation to remove the mayor's power to name its board members and to substitute appointees of the governor, the House speaker and the Senate president.

At the time, all were Republicans, and Perzel predicted that improved efficiency would permit the authority to send more money to the district.

But in six years, the authority has sent the schools only $4 million. Republicans blame a 2004 agreement that committed the authority to provide $25 million a year to the city budget before any additional profits could be sent to the district.

Calls by the Daily News to top officials at the Parking Authority, including Fenerty; board chairman Joseph T. Ashdale, a leader of the painters' union, and spokeswoman Linda Miller were not returned. *