Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Much more than 'puppy love'

Behavior of PPA director should put him out of a job.

Why does Vince Fenerty still have a job?

This week, an investigation found that the executive director of the Philadelphia Parking Authority had sexually harassed a female senior director at the authority. We aren't privy to the details of the investigation, but considering the language of a newly revised policy for the PPA, those details sound sordid.

The new policy reads in part: "Under no circumstances should you ever kiss, caress, hug, massage or otherwise engage in personal physical conduct with an Authority employee."

If you have to spell that out for the head of a large public agency, it's time for a new leader. According to an Inquirer column by Mike Newall breaking the news, Fenerty was also forced to cover the cost of the $30,000 investigation and was stripped of many of his responsibilities, including hiring, firing and promoting upper-level employees and traveling overnight on business without prior approval.

So why does he still have a job? Part of the answer may be that five men and one woman make up of the board of the Philadelphia Parking Authority: Joseph Ashdale, Al Schmidt, Andrew Stutzman, Al Taubenberger, Russell Wagner and Karen Wrigley. One of those board members, Taubenberger, a member of City Council, initially referred to the circumstances that led to the Fenerty investigation as just a case of "puppy love" - comments from which he later backed down.

In other words, "no big deal." Kind of like the rationale given for so many of our serial pornographers in state government when that particular scandal broke last year. While "porngate" ended the careers of two state Supreme Court justices and a handful of other officials for a raft of misogynistic, racist and vile emails moving to and from state servers, on the flip side were the many attempts to downplay the seriousness of their actions, suggesting that the pornographic images were harmless and that "boys will be boys."

Which isn't surprising since it is boys who dominate the legislative and judicial branches of state government. Never a good idea, but a particular danger when bad behavior that objectifies and belittles women gets normalized and a culture of tolerance becomes ingrained.

Fenerty's harassment would be bad at any time, but following a year of sordid pornography-related scandals, the PPA board's cluelessness is especially troubling.

Part of the problem is that the buck stops nowhere. Fenerty reports to the state-controlled board. The board is appointed by Republican leadership in Harrisburg. The governor can't remove the PPA head. All this means is that there is no single person on whose desk the buck truly stops. No single person can be called out for the decision to strip Fenerty of much of his authority to lead the agency while still paying him $223,000 to lead the agency.

The actions of the board may have neutered Fenerty. But neutering isn't enough. This puppy needs to get kicked out of the kennel.