Still scrambling after widespread criticism of perks and patronage, the Delaware River Port Authority has postponed an imminent boost in bridge tolls for commuters and senior citizens, and approved a grab bag of proposals to reform the way it does business.
In a six-hour meeting yesterday at its Camden headquarters, the DRPA's 16-member board passed half a dozen reforms and agreed to consider more at future meetings.
Among yesterday's actions:
* Contractors seeking business with the DRPA will have to file reports disclosing any political contributions to candidates, parties or political-action committees, in Pennsylvania or New Jersey, going back four years.
* The bistate commission agreed to follow the public-record laws of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and to get advice from its lawyer in any situations in which the laws seem to conflict.
The agency, funded mostly by bridge tolls, will generally stop making cash donations to nonprofit charities. In-kind donations, like the use of the bridges or PATCO stations for fundraising events, will need formal board approval.
* Pennsylvania Auditor Gen. Jack Wagner was appointed to chair a new DRPA audit committee, to arrange promptly for forensic and performance audits of the agency.
In other business, the agency postponed a 25-cent increase in bridge tolls for senior citizens, and agreed to continue a $6-a-month discount for commuters using E-ZPass. Their fares had been scheduled to change Sept. 1, but the changes were postponed until next July.
The DRPA's chief executive, John Matheussen, said the agency's budget could absorb the delay, and board members decided the public could use a break.
"There's 10 percent unemployment, people are traveling less, going out less," Matheussen told reporters. "I think they could use a break, and I think the board acted in an appropriate fashion to do that today."
The authority also voted to eliminate two executive positions - the $123,000-a-year job of board secretary, held by former Pennsylvania state Rep. John Lawless, who was removed from the job in April for unexplained reasons, and a $140,000-a-year job as assistant to the board chairman, held by Mary Rita D'Allessandro, who was an aide to former mayor John Street.
The rush to reform the agency began earlier this month, spurred by months of embarrassing media reports and internal criticism led by two board members, electricians union leader John J. Dougherty and Pennsylvania State Treasurer Rob McCord.
Both said yesterday that more reforms were needed.
Dougherty complained that board members had not been notified that New Jersey's attorney general was looking into misuse of a DRPA E-ZPass. And he said he'd been misled by DRPA staff members about the agency's insurance-purchasing practices.
McCord proposed rules that would prohibit DRPA commissioners, executives and their family members from holding jobs or financial interests with DRPA contractors or vendors.