At the DRPA, the Inmates Are Running the Asylum

Reform? It can never happen as long as the powers-that-be stay in charge

It’s Business As Usual at the DRPA. And despite all the “reform” rhetoric flying around, don’t expect real changes anytime soon.

The reason is simple.

The people charged with implementing the reforms are the very same ones who have been, and still are, completely immersed in the conflicts, nepotism and cronyism that need reforming.

That’s like criminals running the prison, inmates taking charge of the asylum. [SIGNUP]

Given their legacy of abject failure, from accumulating massive debt to spewing outright lies, the DRPA’s Big Four executive braintrust simply has no credibility. (It was The Big Five, but Jon Corzine was given the boot last year.)

Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell has been virtually silent during the recent brouhaha, and, as the person in charge of the DRPA since 2002, that tells you all you need to know.

Rendell feigning indignation that corruption occurred on his watch as DRPA chairman is like throwing ballast off a sinking ship.  It just doesn’t cut it.

His awful reform spin aside, Rendell is gone in months. Two down.

That leaves CEO John Matheussen, Chairman John Estey, and Vice Chairman Jeff Nash, with their new-found piety and wounded vanity.  Despite PR tours and crisis management spin, their attempts at reforming the DRPA have fallen woefully short of the mark.

You simply cannot lead when your followers have lost faith in your abilities.

The only viable solution is to wipe the DRPA clean, and Flush The Johns  — and Jeff too.

Need more ammunition for why they need to go?  Consider these recent beauties:

Estey’s Insulting FOX 29 Interview

During a recent interview on FOX’s Good Day Philadelphia, Estey, a partner at Ballard Spahr, was asked about possible DRPA conflicts with his law firm.  His response: “The truth is, I don’t know where that came from….my firm doesn’t do any work for the DRPA.”

Oh really, John? How utterly disingenuous can he be?

Ballard Spahr billed over $80,000 in 2010 alone, and $186,000 in 2009!  When did the firm stop its DRPA business dealings?  Five minutes prior to the show?

And even if some of that billing was carried over from other years, that absolutely should have been disclosed by Estey. But it wasn’t.

What Estey also conveniently failed to mention was that Ballard performed almost $3 million in legal work for the authority since Ed Rendell appointed himself DRPA chairman in 2002.

Interesting, given that Rendell worked at Ballard for the three years prior to his election.

Oh, and just to be clear: Ballard, its attorneys, and a political action committee registered at the Ballard offices, (whose treasurer is Rendell confidante, political powerbroker and former Ballard chairman David Cohen) donated nearly $1.5 million to Rendell’s campaigns.

And Rendell’s Governor committee is registered at the Ballard Spahr offices!

For comparison, Ballard billed a total of only $480 in 2001 — the year beforeRendell was elected. Quite a jump by any standard.

And despite Rendell’s claims that he had no influence in how Ballard was selected, Ballard Chairman Arthur Makadon was quoted in a 2009 news article, stating that the choice is “effectively up to the Pennsylvania governor.”

Call me slow, but those two statements seem contradictory, and raise a whole lot of other questions that need to be scrutinized in great detail.

Are Rendell and Estey Really Clueless On Audits?

One of the reforms Estey has championed is allowing the Pennsylvania auditor general to conduct an audit of the DRPA.

In fact, the stated purpose of Estey’s upcoming resolution is to “…permit the Pennsylvania Auditor General’s Office…to audit the performance of the Authority.”

Sounds great as a 30-second sound bite.  But the reality is an entirely different animal.

As in….that audit CAN’T occur.  Not now, not ever.

The Pennsylvania auditor general (currently Jack Wagner, who has been one of the only consistent voices of reform) has an automatic seat on the DRPA board.  As such, it violates government auditing standards for Wagner to conduct a forensic audit on an agency on which he sits.

Estey and Rendell either don’t know this, making them incompetent, or they do, making them complicit in deliberately misleading the board, the public, and the media.

And it isn’t like the DRPA is being audited regularly, anyway.  The governing rules of the authority, known as the Compact, require a management audit every five years.

But this being the DRPA, where rules are for other people, they just released the audit THAT WAS DUE IN 2006!  Since the Authority footed the $500,000 bill, the audit’s independence was immediately nullified.  In fact, one board member called it a complete waste.

To use a phrase made famous by former DRPA board member Vince Fumo, now vacationing in federal prison, it’s Other People’s Money.

Typical DRPA.

The only way to ensure an audit is conducted independently is to utilize an auditor as far removed from the New Jersey and Pennsylvania political scene as possible.

The United States Government Accounting Office or Inspector General’s Office are the most viable options — but neither are being recommended by the DRPA.

DRPA Salary Increases: Yes Or No?  Ask Dick Brown

According to the DRPA, there have been no recent salary increases for employees.  Yet Richard Brown, longtime general counsel, had his $9,000 car allowance shifted to his salary.

Despite car allowances being eliminated last month as a “reform” measure, Brown’s $9,000 car allowance-turned-salary increase will not be retracted.  In other words, he received a pay raise. His salary stands at $189,081.

Car allowances are taxed as income, but that money does not count toward one’s pension. Could it be that the DRPA made this arrangement for Brown, who is at or near retirement age, so that his pension could be padded — a hefty increase that toll payers will be paying for the rest of Brown’s life?

Legal or not, such a move is a slap in the face to those who will be paying $5 to cross the bridges next year — bridges that remain overdue for capital improvement projects due to a lack of money.

Board Has Been Kept In The Dark

On numerous occasions, including some in the DRPA’s recent “Age of Reform,” the Port Authority’s Board Of Commissioners have been kept in the dark regarding resolutions, conflicts, personnel matters and the overall direction of the DRPA.

Consider just a few:

-The Board wasn’t informed of Vice Chairman Nash’s conflict when the DRPA shelled out three $50,000 marketing contracts to his (now) ex-wife’s company, Live Nation.

-The Board wasn’t informed when Corporate Secretary John Lawless — a self-described whistleblower — was escorted from the building by Matheussen for non-disciplinary reasons in April, despite the fact that Lawless doesn’t work for the CEO, but for the Board itself.

-The Board hasn’t been consulted on the reform resolutions being offered at the August Board meeting.

- Several Board members were unaware that DRPA executives had Authority-issued credit cards, and still have no idea how much was spent, and on what.

This veil of secrecy has become so commonplace that several board members are openly calling for a change in DRPA leadership.

If the Authority’s board doesn’t even know what the leadership is doing, how can the public ever feel confident that they are getting straight answers, let alone the truth?

So much for openness, transparency and accountability.

* * *

The attitudes of Matheussen, Estey and Nash have consistently exuded nothing but contempt for toll payers, the media, law-and-order politicians and the truth.  No amount of reform will change that fact, so the only answer is their removal.

Likewise, the leadership of Gov. Chris Christie will be forever damaged if he reappoints or endorses any of the current DRPA leadership.

After decades of abuse and scandal, Business As Usual at the DRPA must come to an end.

Governor Christie, the people are waiting.

Chris Freind is an independent columnist and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com. Readers of his column, “Freindly Fire,” hail from six continents, thirty countries and all fifty states. His work has been referenced in numerous publications including The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, foreign newspapers, and in Dick Morris’ recent bestseller “Catastrophe.”Freind also serves as a weekly guest commentator on the Philadelphia-area talk radio show, Political Talk (WCHE 1520), and makes numerous other television and radio appearances.  He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

  • Paul Revere

    When will it ever end? FIRE ESTEY AND NASH. And kick out that bum Matheussen!

  • Sam Feed

    Business as Usual….What a tangled webb we weave, when we practice to deceive…

  • JD

    Great job continuing to keep the facts out in front for all to read. Hopefully, this and other media attention will exude enough influence for change.

  • BOB

    GREAT ARTICAL

    WE NEED MORE LIKE YOURS THAT TELLS THE TRUTH

  • Sterling Archer

    If Rendell were a Republican Governor this would be the top news story for months. Since he is a Democrat the story conveniently gets ignored. The law never applies when Democrats are involved.

    I get tired of hearing how Republicans and Democrats are no different from one another. They differ from one another in at least one way: Republicans are held accountable for every misstep while Democrats virtually get away with murder. This story proves it.

    Good job Chris and watch your back….the most dangerous place in the world is between a Democrat and political power. You are shining the light on Ed Rendell and the rest of his scumbag cronies. These people prefer to work in the dark and to remain unaccountable. These people are capable of anything so watch yourself.