The board of the Delaware River Port Authority on Wednesday approved the appointment of a new chief lawyer for the agency.

The board also heard a plea from the DRPA police force for a new labor contract but took no action to resume stalled negotiations.

Danielle McNichol, former counsel to the chairman of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, was named general counsel, replacing Richard Brown, who has been at the DRPA for 22 years.

McNichol, 43, of Glen Mills, is well-connected in Pennsylvania Republican circles, as the wife of lobbyist John McNichol Jr. and daughter-in-law of longtime Delaware County GOP power broker John McNichol, who died in January.

With Republican Gov. Corbett now chairman of the DRPA board, the agency recently has replaced several executives with Democratic connections with those with Republican ties.

McNichol will be paid $170,000 a year, about $20,000 less than Brown. Brown, 68, will stay until early July to assist in the transition, chief executive John Matheussen said Wednesday.

An attorney for the union that represents DRPA police officers urged the board to resolve long-stalled negotiations. Police are working under terms of a contract that expired at the end of 2009.

Police attorney Charles Joyce, who last week filed a lawsuit against the DRPA to compel binding arbitration in the contract dispute, urged to board to intervene.

"It is not too late to act. You have the power to provide the DRPA police . . . with a decent, responsible contract without having to resort to the courts or a third-party arbitrator," Joyce told the board. "We don't want to go down this route if we don't have to."

Joyce singled out several labor leaders who represent New Jersey on the bistate DRPA board, asking "what would you do if your members were treated this way?"

The board took no action on the contract issue, and DRPA spokesman Tim Ireland said the agency would not comment on ongoing labor negotiations.

The lawsuit filed by police last week asked the U.S. District Court in Camden to order the DRPA to engage in binding arbitration for a new contract. Typically, that involves each side agreeing on a neutral arbitrator to resolve the dispute.

The police - members of FOP Penn-Jersey Lodge 30 - have a long history of rocky labor relations with the DRPA.

Entry-level officers now earn $49,015 a year, and rank-and-file officers make $64,417. A DRPA police sergeant makes $80,181 a year.

The police lawsuit said DRPA in May 2010 made an offer of no wage increases for 2010 or 2011, with a $500 bonus in 2011 and a 2 percent wage increase for 2012.

The union rejected that offer and proposed in June 2011 a four-year contract with 2 percent increases in each year, the suit said.

The DRPA's most recent offer, Feb. 6, was for no wage increases and elimination of some benefits, the suit said.

In other business, the board approved spending $3.2 million to upgrade the radio system for the PATCO commuter-rail line to meet new federal guidelines. The contract was awarded to Harris Corp., of Lynchburg, Va., who installed the existing radio system.

Contact Paul Nussbaum at 215-854-4587 or pnussbaum@phillynews.com