The Philadelphia Parking Authority on Friday named a new executive director, a Bucks County Republican who pledged to use a pair of recently released, highly critical state audits on the agency as a blueprint for change.
"My role will be to question everything we do, why we do it, and are we obtaining the best result," State Rep. Scott Petri said after being appointed at the PPA's monthly board meeting.
Petri, 57, who represents Pennsylvania's 178th District, will step down from the legislature before beginning the PPA job on Jan. 2.
The executive director's position has been vacant since Vincent J. Fenerty Jr. resigned in September 2016 following two sexual harassment scandals. The audits released this month by state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale focused heavily on Fenerty.
DePasquale slammed the former executive director for misspending thousands of dollars on excessive raises for senior-level managers, credits for paid leave, and perks such as golf outings, local dances, and gift cards for employees. The PPA's board was called an "absentee landlord" that didn't properly police the agency's top executive.
That mismanagement, DePasquale said, cost the city and the Philadelphia School District thousands of dollars the PPA was required to pay to both entities under the requirements of its charter. The same week as the audit's release, three former PPA workers stated that they had been contacted by FBI agents and were asked about PPA operations, specifically the agency's red light camera program.
Petri will earn $210,000 as the PPA's executive director, about $13,000 less than Fenerty's salary at the time of his retirement. Clarena Tolson, who has served as interim executive director for more than a year, will stay on as a deputy executive director, earning $208,166, a drop in pay of about $25,000. Her duties will include overseeing training for PPA managers, Petri said.
The board hired another deputy executive director Friday: Vincent Thomas, who will come to the PPA from the Baltimore Parking Authority. The $164,887 position will manage parking garages and lots, and review new development options. Both deputy executive director jobs are new positions. The salaries added Friday will eventually be offset by expected retirements, said Richard Dickson, another PPA deputy executive director, who is among the executives who plans to retire in the next three years.
The additional positions were needed, said John Ashdale, the PPA's board chairman, for a new management team that would "lay a solid foundation for moving into the future."
Others, though, saw the six-figure jobs as more of the same from the agency.
"These are brand-new positions in an entity that is already top heavy," said Helen Gym, a City Council member who has criticized the PPA for failing to provide promised revenue for the School District. "I think it's emblematic of why the Parking Authority cannot be left to govern itself."
Last year Petri sponsored a bill that would allow PPA board members to live outside Philadelphia. The bill was vetoed by Gov. Wolf, but Petri argued at the time the legislation would opportunities for engagement with the PPA for suburban communities. Gym, though, sees Petri as trying to do a favor for board members and getting a job in return.
Petri was not trying to do a favor for the board, said Martin O'Rourke, the PPA spokesman, but was seeking to give the authority more of a regional scope.
"The concept was based on the regionalism," O'Rourke said, "and it was also for parity because every other parking authority in the commonwealth does not restrict board membership to that city."
Gym expected Petri would meet with City Council when he assumes the PPA's top job. She said she wanted to see him improve collection rates on unpaid violations and change hiring and contracting practices. She was unconvinced, though, that the PPA could make meaningful changes with its existing management structure and recommended an independent oversight board.
Petri was under consideration for the executive director position for about six months, he said. He read through the auditor general's reports and considered them "constructive and helpful."
The Parking Authority has already implemented 80 percent of the auditor general's recommendations, Petri said. Among those steps was an order passed Friday to post all contracts on the PPA's website.
He expects early actions he will take as director will include hiring an auditor, reviewing hiring policies that historically have leaned heavily on political patronage, and conducting a review of all salaries and compensation at the PPA.
Petri, of Upper Makefield, has served in the legislature for 14 years, and was chairman of the House Ethics and Urban Affairs Committee, and vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. Petri authored legislation to expand the list of crimes that would bar a convicted state employee from collecting a pension and helped rewrite Pennsylvania's ethics laws. This year he sponsored a bill that would loosen restrictions on ownership stakes in multiple casinos.