Who can blame South Jersey lawyer Michael Joyce for making sure his daughter didn't pay the bridge tolls while taking classes in Philadelphia?

As the Delaware River Port Authority's public safety director, Joyce knew better than most that the agency running the bridges was effectively setting fire to piles of money - for example, by paying him $189,000 a year. So of course he gave his child a DRPA E-ZPass transponder that would let her cross the Delaware for free. Letting his own flesh and blood support such extravagance would have made Joyce not just a bad public servant, but a bad father.

The bright side of Joyce's adventure in innovative transportation funding - besides his resignation last week - is that it helped force a host of Pennsylvania and New Jersey politicians, from the governors on down, to pretend they just realized the DRPA is a mess.

Sure, there were a few other glaring signs: the authority's ability to fund stadiums, museums, and other projects that have little to do with bridge-painting; a threatened 25 percent toll hike that was eventually postponed; and governance practices so opaque that even Philadelphia union boss John J. Dougherty realized something was amiss.

The rising calls for reform may be rooted, fittingly enough, in a patronage dispute between the DRPA's executive staff and Dougherty, a member of the agency's board. But the most potent symbol of this crisis is the E-ZPass transponder that Joyce unilaterally transferred from a fired secretary to his daughter.

Mind you, to oversee about 160 employees, Joyce was making almost as much as Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey gets to run a force of 6,600. The DRPA's own consultant figured Joyce deserved a pay cut of about $50,000.

He was so expensive that even his subordinates were costly by human standards: The DRPA chief of police, for example, makes $130,000 a year. And Joyce was moonlighting as a $67,000-a-year part-time solicitor for Pennsauken - presumably to make ends meet.

What could possibly motivate a man drawing more than a quarter of a million dollars in government compensation to take pains to spare one of his dependents from paying four bucks to cross a bridge? Only a deep-seated and probably pervasive belief that the DRPA exists primarily for the personal benefit of the political appointees who nominally manage it.

Not to worry: DRPA chairman John Estey says officials have been busy "professionalizing" the agency in recent years - a frightening prospect given the recent revelations. What was the agency doing before it was professionalized? And is professionalism really a concept that's being introduced to an agency that operates four bridges and a rail line?

Here's a guiding principle for all of the politicians now joining the professionalization process: The DRPA simply doesn't need and isn't suited to a bloated staff of failed politicians pursuing an expansive mission of pork and patronage propagation. Let's limit it to running a railroad and a few bridges. It's a humble task, but it's serious enough to occupy what should be a small government agency.