Since state Republicans took over the Philadelphia Parking Authority in 2001, the agency has hired more than 100 Republican ward leaders and committee people and awarded lucrative contracts to friends of the party, a review of the authority's payroll records and vendors shows.
Patronage flourished under the leadership of Vince J. Fenerty Jr., a Republican who resigned last month after two sexual-harassment scandals. Yet, observers say the PPA has made little use of the patronage system to strengthen the local Republican Party.
"The Republican Party is a speck of itself," said three-time Republican candidate for mayor Sam Katz. "There's just nothing for them to show for it except getting friends and family jobs."
In 2001, House Republicans led by then-Rep. John Perzel orchestrated a takeover of the PPA, expanding the board with gubernatorial appointees to ensure the agency would be under state control. Perzel argued the move would provide new funding to the city's School District, but Democrats saw it as a pure power grab.
Since the takeover, the number of full-time employees at the PPA has gone from 512 to 992. But the Republicans' clout has weakened. The number of registered Republicans in the city has dropped from 19 percent to 11 percent. Similarly, in 2001, there were four local Republicans elected to the state legislature. Now there are two.
Joe DeFelice, who became Republican City Committee chairman in February, said he was working to improve those numbers - sans patronage.
"I don't think building the party through patronage is the way to go," DeFelice said. "We want to build it through ideas and good candidates."
Political insiders say it was Fenerty who had the connections and who kept the revolving door of patronage hires going. With him gone, some - such as Register of Wills Ron Donatucci, who runs one of the last vestiges of Democratic patronage mills - wonder whether that will continue.
"I think it will be more balanced now," Donatucci said.
Clarena Tolson, a Democrat and longtime city official who most recently served as the city's deputy managing director for infrastructure and transportation, was appointed Thursday to be the PPA's interim executive director.
Republican ward leaders and committee people make up 108 of the agency's 1,100 current employees, the majority of them hired after the 2001 state takeover. Many of the Republicans at the PPA hail from the city's Northeast, particularly the 18th and 31st Wards, where Fenerty is the leader. Their jobs range from clerks making $35,000 to directors making six-figure salaries.
There are some high-ranking Democrats in the agency, such as the first deputy executive director, Richard Dickson, and director of on-street parking Edward Thornton, who earn six figures and were holdovers from the pre-2001 Democrat-run era, said the local Democratic Party boss, U.S. Rep. Bob Brady. There are also a few dozen other Democrats who have been hired since the Republican takeover but usually for the lower-paying positions, Brady said. In total, there are 58 elected Democrats (ward leaders and committee people) at the PPA, according to a review of payroll records.
The agency's payroll is also dotted with family and friends of the authority's board members and politicians, Republicans and Democrats alike. They range from secretaries to managers.
Here are some examples that have been confirmed through payroll records and sources familiar with the hires:
PPA board chairman Joseph T. Ashdale's brother, daughter, and a niece all work at the authority. His brother is the manager of maintenance, while his daughter is a part-time secretary. Ashdale's niece is an adjudication manager. The PPA paid $31,500 of her law school tuition, PPA spokesman Marty O'Rourke confirmed.
The son of Fenerty's girlfriend is an analyst at the agency. Thomas Nestel, chief of SEPTA's police force (and Fenerty's next-door neighbor), has a son who is a taxi-limousine inspector and a daughter who is an administrative assistant at the agency.
State Rep. Dwight Evans' brother is an auto mechanic at the agency. Three of Sheriff Jewell Williams' children are on the payroll - one son is a coin collector, while the other is a booter, and his daughter is a processing specialist.
Patronage is also evident in the agency's contracts. Out of the $30 million awarded in contracts worth more than $100,000 last year, at least nine contracts worth $1.7 million went to politically connected firms and people.
As required by law, O'Rourke said, contracts are put out to bid and the "lowest qualified bidder" is selected. The PPA board has final say on any contract over $26,800.
Some examples of the PPA's contracts include $385,468 that was paid last year to the Archer & Greiner law firm, where State Rep. John Taylor, a Northeast Philadelphia Republican, is of counsel.
Emerald Business Supply, a family-run business in Northeast Philadelphia, was paid $327,400 for office products and furniture. Four of the O'Connells who run the business have contributed thousands of dollars to the Republican City Committee for several years.
Carlos Raul Rodriguez, an architect, was paid $156,093. Rodriguez is a frequent campaign contributor to Taylor and Fenerty's 31st Republican Ward. Campaign-finance records show he gave $200 last year to the Republican City Committee.
"Vince Fenerty was sitting on the biggest pile of goodies in the city, giving out jobs and contracts," said a former longtime PPA employee who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Former and current employees said hiring at the agency is based on whom an applicant knows and which elected official will "sponsor" the applicant."They take applications, but they don't hire anyone unless they have a connection," the former longtime employee at the PPA said. That employee said she was a committee person and had a political sponsor when she first went to work at the authority.
O'Rourke, the PPA spokesman, did not respond to questions regarding patronage at the agency. Fenerty also did not respond to requests for comment for this article. He has previously defended the use of patronage.
In a federal court deposition last month compiled as part of a lawsuit, he described the hiring practices:
"People who come to us, OK, are already vetted and screened by an elected official or someone who knows them; OK? They tend to send better people."
Fenerty said in the deposition the authority has stringent drug and alcohol tests, exams to evaluate a person's qualifications, and background checks.
"I do believe a system of hiring where an elected official could put their good name down for someone, that they know, that they have talked to, to be a good starter. A good starter is someone [who] knows someone," he said.
However, Fenerty said that if an employee does not do the job properly, that employee will have to answer to Fenerty and not "some politician."
"You have to come work for me. I am a difficult person to work for," he said.
There was a time when patronage dominated hiring practices in most city departments in Philadelphia. It was - and in some cases still is - viewed as a way to hold people accountable.
"You always know who you owe your job to and don't want to let that person down," said David Thornburgh, CEO of the Committee of Seventy, the city's government watchdog group.
Donatucci has defended the use of patronage for the very reason Thornburgh cited. When asked about the Parking Authority's practices, he said the authority took care of "both sides," referring to Democrats and Republicans.
Brady, however, complained that since the Republicans have been in charge, Democrats only get such jobs as parking enforcement officers, cashiers, and maintenance personnel. Those positions usually pay $40,000 or less compared with middle-management jobs that pay in the 60s and 70s.
"We'll get a call, send some people over, but it's the lowest of the low-level jobs," Brady said.
Last week's hiring of Tolson as the head of the PPA came as a surprise to Brady but one that he is embracing.
"She is absolutely a quality, quality lady," Brady said, noting that the two worked together under Mayor W. Wilson Goode.
A city employee since 1982, Tolson came up through the ranks of the Streets Department, serving as commissioner for the Street and Nutter administrations. Tolson served as the revenue commissioner for the last few years of the Nutter administration.
Brady wouldn't speculate whether a Democrat at the top means more or better jobs for his party at the PPA.
Mayor Kenney, who is a Democrat and referred Tolson for the PPA job, said he would prefer that the agency run without politics involved.
"I recognize the Republican heaviness of the organization, but I think we should get away from that partisan stuff and just run it like the agency should be run," Kenney said. "She's not a neophyte when it comes to politics, so I'm sure she'll steer that agency in the right direction."