In a six-hour meeting that included a shouting match and a 90-minute closed-door session, the Delaware River Port Authority board voted to restore free bridge trips for its workers and to keep its beleaguered chief executive officer.
But Gov. Christie may veto the board's reinstatement of the free rides.
"I think I can guarantee you that the governor is going to be very unhappy about this. These actions are contrary to his vision for the DRPA's future," Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said.
Christie, who has demanded sweeping changes in DRPA governance and policies, has 10 business days after he receives the minutes of Wednesday's meeting to veto the board's decisions.
In the meantime, DRPA workers must pay the tolls, agency officials said.
For years, DRPA employees crossed the agency's four bridges for free as they commuted to and from work. They also received 100 trips a year for personal use.
The DRPA did away with the freebies at Christie's request after the revelation in July that the agency's public-safety director had borrowed another executive's E-ZPass to give his daughter free trips to school in Pennsylvania.
The public-safety director, Michael Joyce, resigned July 27, but it was disclosed Wednesday that he received his $180,081 salary until Aug. 18, when the board eliminated his position.
On Wednesday, the DRPA board also gave a show of confidence to chief executive officer John Matheussen and rejected, 12-2, a proposal to dismiss him.
Philadelphia labor leader John "Johnny Doc" Dougherty, who made the motion, and the representative for Pennsylvania Treasurer Rob McCord voted against Matheussen, prompting a brief shouting exchange between Dougherty and Matheussen.
"When you throw out pieces of information to imply I'm suspected of criminal activity, you step across the line," Matheussen told Dougherty, raising his voice as Dougherty interjected, "You're losing your cool, John. You're proving my point."
The exchange came after a 90-minute closed-door session to discuss Matheussen's fate. When the board returned to open session, several members, including Chairman John Estey and Vice Chairman Jeffrey Nash, spoke in support of Matheussen.
"The policies of this board have led to some of the things that John Matheussen is being blamed for today," Nash said. "John Matheussen has done an excellent job as chief executive officer of this authority."
Rob Teplitz, representing Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner, agreed to retain Matheussen but cautioned that "it would be unfortunate to read too much" into his vote. He said Wagner, an outspoken critic of many DRPA policies, was "willing to allow this to go a little bit longer."
The DRPA board approved one of Wagner's proposals, to create citizens' advisory committees for PATCO and the DRPA. The panels, to be appointed by board members, will not have voting power but can make suggestions on behalf of toll payers and train passengers.
Action on several of the most contentious items - including two changes demanded by Christie - was postponed:
A proposal to prohibit political contributions by companies that do business with the DRPA.
A "revolving door" measure to prevent DRPA employees from going to work for companies that do business with the agency for two years after they leave the DRPA.
The board also declined to vote on an item that would have allowed more union workers and contractors to be eligible for employment on major DRPA construction projects. That proposed amendment to a DRPA "project labor agreement" exposed hostility between the United Steelworkers union and unions for building trades such as ironworkers, laborers, and carpenters.
The steelworkers have threatened to sue the DRPA if the agreement isn't broadened to permit them to work on jobs now restricted to the building trades.
The free rides dominated much of the meeting, with DRPA employees crowding the room to voice their displeasure at earlier decisions to take away the long-standing benefit.
"No other employer charges its employees to go to work," said Rich Franzini, an official of Local 542 of the International Union of Operating Engineers, which represents toll collectors.
Jack Vinisi, a DRPA engineer from Flourtown, said "there has been a groundswell of discontent" among employees over the loss of free rides. He said the requirement to pay the tolls could make it harder for the DRPA to attract qualified engineers.
Two unions, representing 360 police, toll collectors, and operating engineers, had filed grievances to restore the 100 free bridge trips for each employee that are in their contracts with the agency.
A separate issue was free passage to and from work, which has long been a benefit for DRPA and PATCO workers.
Matheussen said he would rule in favor of the unions on their grievances regarding the 100 free trips, and the board voted to give the 100 free trips to workers whose contracts provide for them.
The board, with Nash dissenting, voted to restore the commuting privilege to all workers.
Nash argued that DRPA employees should not get a perk unavailable to the public. He said many benefits of government workers - such as free health insurance and tenure for teachers, and free rides for DRPA workers - "are being challenged because the guy in the street who is paying higher taxes or higher tolls won't stand for it."
Top DRPA staff members, including PATCO general manager Robert Box, complained to the board they had not had input into the decision to prohibit free rides.
The board agreed to hold twice-monthly meetings in October, November, and December, including one night meeting each in Philadelphia and South Jersey.
On Oct. 20, the board will meet at the Philadelphia Cruise Terminal, at 5100 S. Broad St., and on Nov. 17, it will meet at the Camden County Boat House, at 7050 N. Park Dr. in Pennsauken.