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Auditor general: PPA allowed ‘unchecked tyrant’ to sexually harass women

Massive PPA audit says parking ticket authority must be returned to local control.
Former PPA executive director Vince Fenerty at a 2010 meeting (Metro file photo)

It’s been more than a year since Philadelphia Parking Authority (PPA) executive director Vince Fenerty resigned in disgrace, after the board was revealed to have allowed him to keep his job despite two sexual harassment complaints.

Fenerty was also revealed in January 2017 to have walked away from the $223,000-a-year position he used to prey on women with a severance payout of $227,000 (including $120,000 in 1,000 unused vacation hours) and a $158,628 annual pension for the rest of his life.

But the severance so enraged state auditor general Eugene DePasquale (who at the time called it "egregious, excessive and inappropriate for any government entity) that he undertook a full audit of the entire PPA, the results of which were released Thursday.

DePasquale said he found years of unchecked sexual harassment by Fenerty, “questionable expenses” and inefficiencies that obstructed the Authority from returning the maximum possible revenue from parking tickets and fees to the public.

The report did credit the PPA for making some changes since booting Fenerty.

“Over the past 15 months the Philadelphia Parking Authority has adopted and implemented many measures to improve the governance and efficiency of the agency,” a PPA spokesman said, stating that they have met 94 of the auditor general’s 117 recommendations.

But city controller-elect Rebecca Rhynhart said the “the magnitude of mismanagement under the current board’s watch … is not acceptable for the residents of our city,” and called on the PPA’s entire board of directors to resign.

City Councilwoman Helen Gym said the report shows the PPA “cannot be trusted to hold themselves accountable” and must be returned to local control.

“The PPA has functioned as a toxic cesspool of abuse, political patronage, and failed promises,” Gym said. “They are bandits who robbed our School District of many millions of dollars.”

Indeed, DePasquale said that from 2012 to 2017, the PPA has failed to provide  $77.9 million in revenue to the School District of Philadelphia.

“That is a great deal of money for a struggling school district,” he said. “Money that the school could have used to hire about 1,322 teachers, provide tablet computers to 155,920 students, or buy 779,600 text books.”

Most of those funds, $76.8 million, are part of the $107.9 million in uncollected parking fines between 2012 and 2017. Since 1990, some $580 million has gone uncollected, the state found.

“Every effort should be made to collect unpaid ticket revenue to increase the amount that can be used to educate students in the district,” DePasquale said. 

A 2004 law directs the PPA to distribute all net funds from on-street parking fees to the School District, with a minimum of $25 million (raised to $35 million in 2012) for the city, and the rest to schools.

But from April 2012 to August 2017, DePasquale found $1.17 million in questionable and excessive expenses logged by the on-street parking team, which reduced their overall net and payment to schools: specifically, $35,000 in “questionable expenses” like gift cards, golf outings, catered meals, $814K in excessive salary increases and leave benefits, and $322K in incorrect payroll or tuition reimbursements.

Lastly, DePasquale accused the PPA of allowing Fenerty to sexually harass women, noting that he was not punished in 2006 after a first claim was made against him.

After admitting to a second claim in 2015, he was allowed to keep his job under a set of conditions, which included the highly specific condition: “Under no circumstances should you ever kiss, caress, hug, massage or otherwise engage in personal physical conduct with an Authority employee. You shall not comment on the personal appearance of an Authority employee. You may not engage in intimate personal conversations of a sexual nature with an Authority employee."

And he was allowed to resign in 2017, which left him eligible for a pay-out and pension.

“I would have fired him on the spot once the investigation confirmed the accusations and he admitted it,” DePasquale said.

The auditor general said he would refer his report to the IRS, the State Ethics Commission, and the Attorney General’s office, and called on the legislature to return the PPA to the control of the city of Philadelphia.

Read the full report at paauditor.gov