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Philly Parking Authority battles Council on audit

The political flare-up Thursday during City Council's last session before the summer break was overshadowed by the attention poured on the new beverage tax.

The political flare-up Thursday during City Council's last session before the summer break was overshadowed by the attention poured on the new beverage tax.

Council members David Oh and Helen Gym wanted a final vote on their resolution, calling for City Controller Alan Butkovitz to audit the Philadelphia Parking Authority for the first time since 2009.

But Councilman Bill Greenlee motioned for his colleagues to stall that vote at least until they return in September. A majority agreed with him.

Below the surface of the debate about the audit, which, like the new tax, is tied to funding for education, there is a nasty political fight being waged between Oh and the PPA.

Oh, a Republican, and Gym, a Democrat, want to know what happened with PPA money that had been expected to fund the Philadelphia School District.

The agency has repeatedly asked Council to increase the fees and fines it levies, promising bigger returns for school funding.

PPA Executive Director Vince Fenerty has clearly decided the best defense to Oh's attention is a stack of performance reports and the audits his agency commissions each year.

Council members received the first installment of that during a hearing last month and a thick binder stuffed with it last Tuesday. Fenerty delivered some of the paperwork himself.

"I walked people through our finances," Fenerty said. "It's not because I fear an audit. It's because I want the members of Council to know we do a good job here."

Philadelphia is controlled by the Democratic Party, which staffs public agencies with some patronage hires. The Republican Party plays along and gets a nice slice of that pie.

The PPA, a state created entity, is the only public agency in the city where Republicans rule. There, the Democrats play along for their slice.

The establishment factions for both parties are known to have an understanding: Don't meddle in our patronage and we won't meddle in yours.

Oh was already unpopular with the local GOP establishment, including PPA Chairman Joe Ashdale, who backed another Republican in last year's Council elections.

The Philadelphia GOP didn't endorse any candidates in the Council primary election, leaving incumbents Oh and Denny O'Brien to fend for themselves. Oh won a second term while O'Brien lost.

Fenerty, a Republican ward leader, says Oh is still sore about it all.

"It's a shame Councilman Oh is misusing his office to carry out a personal vendetta," he said.

Oh says he is calling for an audit because he thinks the agency is "sloppy" with public money.

"People think the PPA is a very well-run organization," Oh said. "It's very aggressive. But it has so much money that it can afford to be poorly run."

Here, Oh hits a pair of sore spots. It's easy to hate PPA. Patronage jobs also inspire ire.

Oh says he suspects most Council members have people in patronage jobs at the PPA, which employs about 1,000 people. A new audit might shine some light on all that.

Councilman Al Taubenberger, a Republican and a PPA board member, acknowledges the agency's patronage but said it has nothing to hide.

"It is by history a political agency," Taubenberger said. "People put up recommendations. Not all of them are ever hired."

Oh and Gym plan to push the audit resolution again when Council returns to regular Thursday meetings on Sept. 8. That's 80 days from today.

It doesn't look like this political fight will be taking a break for summer.