POLS ON THE STREET: PPA Local Control a No-Go

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OPENING NIGHT of the new-enlarged Yards Brewery included a fundraiser for the reelection of Councilman Mark Squilla, C. The kickoff event was held in the new Yards banquet room at 5th & Spring Garden Streets. Trevor Pritchard, L, Yards co-owner, joined the group which included, from L, City Council President Darrell Clarke; Local 98 consultant Kenny Adams; and realtor and 25th Ward Committeeman Kris Walski. Photo by Joe Stivala

Everybody who is a Democrat, from Gov. Tom Wolf on down, is calling for the Philadelphia Parking Authority to revert to City government. But it won’t happen.

This odd State agency was set up in 2001 under the aegis of powerful Republican State Rep. John Perzel, who argued that it could generate more revenue for the School District under State control. That remains unclear. But his public argument was disingenuous.

The real reason for the PPA to come into being was to provide a bipartisan source of patronage jobs. Had public parking garages and street regulatory enforcement remained in the hands of the City, its patronage positions would all have fallen into the hands of Democrats, who, by 2001, were clearly dominant in Philadelphia politics and would remain so for the foreseeable future.

But the Commonwealth is inherently purple, with Republicans often in power in Harrisburg. So PPA, as a State agency, will always be able to include some Philadelphia Republicans in its governance and its hiring.

Like it or not, patronage is the lifeblood of politics. It is impossible to govern without the ability to reward and advance supporters. Its principle is opposed by civil service, which seeks to remove most government employees from direct political interference. Nobody wants their cop or their trash hauler to be chosen because they worked for a particular candidate. But all public agencies need some political appointments; otherwise, they could not respond to the will of the voters.

Patronage does not necessarily imply incompetence, any more than civil-service tests imply competence. As former Mayor John Street once said, “If my person can do as good a job as your person, I’d rather have my person do the job.” Well-run patronage agencies do, in fact, fire employees who were politically referred but who screw up on the job. Poorly run civil-service agencies do, in fact, retain employees that are widely regarded as incompetent.

BACKERS of State Sen. John Sabatina, Jr. packed the Blue Duck in Center City. L-R were Ward Leader John Sabatina, Sr., James Scott, Elliott Teitelbaum and State Sen. John Sabatina, Jr. Photos by Wendell Douglas

So the elimination of patronage is a dubious reform strategy. It sounds good, but does not necessarily improve things.

Is PPA in need of reform? This may be the case. But it must be reformed by political appointees.

So whose appointees?

As matters stand, they will be determined by its board of directors. This body currently consists of six members: Chairman Joseph T. Ashdale and Al Schmidt, Andrew K. Stutzman, Al Taubenberger, Russell Wagner and Dr. Karen W. Wrigley.

Board members, in turn, are appointed politically. Two are named by the president pro tempore of the state senate, two by the speaker of the state house and two by the governor. Their terms are long, leaving them immune to sudden changes after the results of each passing election. But they give each party a shot at PPA leaders, and thus the jobs they deliver.

The odds that Mike Turzai and Joe Scarnati, both Republican, will agree to relinquish this power are nil. So Wolf is free to claim that he wants the agency to be abolished … without any risk that he will actually lose his power over its board.

In the meantime, calls for reform ring up and down the Democratic lineup.

Wolf said, “In the nearly two decades of mandated state control, the PPA has become an over-bloated patronage pit that wastes taxpayers dollars and has failed to deliver better customer service or stronger organizational function for the people of Philadelphia.”

State Rep. Kevin Boyle (D-Northeast) responded to Auditor General Eugene DePasquale’s findings that the Philadelphia Parking Authority’s former executive director sexually harassed employees, manipulated leave records, ignored outdated employment policies, and caused the School District of Philadelphia to lose out on more than $77 million in revenue.

Boyle called for the state legislature to return control of the PPA to the City of Philadelphia. He is a sponsor of HB 874, which would sunset the Commonwealth’s control of the PPA on June 30, 2018.

“The PPA needs serious reform. It should not continue to operate under the leadership of Chairman Ashdale and it would behoove him to resign immediately. As a state legislator, I will continue to push for my legislation that would return the PPA back to the City of Philadelphia.”

HB 874 currently sits in the House Urban Affairs Committee.

City Council adopted a resolution introduced by Councilman David Oh (at Large) requesting the mayor, the General Assembly and the governor to act to restore control over the PPA and its revenues to the City. The resolution was adopted by a 15-1 vote.

UNITED Republican Club issued its annual awards in Kensington. Kate Tierney-Bailey, L, presented an award to School Reform Commission Farah Jiménez. Photo by Wendell Douglas

The incoming controller, Rebecca Rhynhart, has vowed to audit PPA within an inch of its life.

Questions of revenue, however, are not wholly germane to this parking agency. The Police Department writes tickets, for instance; but their main purpose is not to raise revenue for the city – rather, tickets are a tool to enforce good behavior. The same is true of parking tickets.

PPA’s mission is to protect traffic and facilitate commerce by ensuring adequate parking facilities. Its garages are intended to be less costly than private competitors, placing downward pressure on rates.

While it is great that PPA can generate revenue for other public purposes, that is not its mission. Taxes are the correct tools for funding public purposes. The City has an array of taxes to address this goal.

If it wishes to raise more money by taxing parking, it can. But it is not the parking authority’s job – or authority – to do so.

Casey Refines His Gun Stand

At several receptions and town halls recently, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) was asked to explain how his traditional position on “gun control” had evolved.

At the Pennsylvania Society weekend, Casey talked about his visceral reaction to the Newtown killing of so many children, the Las Vegas massacre and shooting of hundreds of concert-goers, and the recent Texas church tragedy. He said that his wife and daughters had also urged him to vote “yes” on common-sense gun laws which were coming up in Congress.

Casey said, “Congress should take up and vote on legislation to ban military-style weapons, limit the size and capacity of magazines, which contribute to deadly mass shootings, and put in place universal background checks. If Congress continues to fail its most-basic obligation to keep America safe, then these mass shootings will continue to occur.”

Casey told supporters at receptions in his honor last month in both the suburbs and Philadelphia that he realizes his votes will leave him open to attack ads next year from the NRA, the Koch brothers and pro-gun PACs.

KATREL HOLMES installed a solar panel on a rowhouse in Fishtown as a rollout for the Philadelphia Energy Campaign. Philadelphia Energy Authority Chair Chris Lewis saluted the launch of home solar installation as Councilman Derek Green, L, and Council President Darrell Clarke listen. Photo by Wendell Douglas

Sugary Drinks Get State ‘Ade’

Harrisburg may ride to the aid of Philadelphia’s embattled bottlers and merchants who have been hurt by the imposition of the Sweetened Drinks Tax.

A bill introduced by State Rep. Mark Mustio (R-Allegheny) would preempt Philadelphia’s tax. It would bar any municipality from levying such a tax.

It is unlikely that Mustio, at the other end of the state, cares one way or another about the fate of either shopkeepers or children in Philadelphia. But the beverage industry has deep pockets.

While this bill may come up for a show vote, it will be vetoed by Gov. Wolf.

Kilkenny Claims Union Backing

While Republicans are still in a stew over whom to choose to retain the seat of retiring State Rep. John Taylor (R-Northeast), Democrats are leaping into the fray.

Sean Kilkenny has announced his candidacy for State Representative of the 177th Legislative District. Kilkenny says he is the best candidate to represent this working-class district going forward.

A lifelong resident of Northeast Philadelphia, Kilkenny attended elementary school at St. Matthew’s and graduated from Father Judge High School. Because he wanted to give back to a school and community that gave him so much, Sean is now a basketball coach at St. Matthew’s parish and a lifetime member of the Mayfair Civic Association.

Kilkenny became an apprentice with the Plasterers’ Union Local 8 in 2001. He was elected to the Plasterers’ Executive Board in 2004, serving for 11 years. He was appointed to International Field Representative in 2006. Through this position, he traveled the country fighting to protect families’ livable wages and promote safe working standards. Sean is currently a member of the Operative Plasterers’ & Cement Masons’ Local 592.

Kilkenny calls fight for a higher minimum wage, increased resources to address the deadly opiate epidemic, funding to hire more police officers, paycheck protection, and fairer unemployment compensation. He would fight against union-busting “right to work” efforts in Harrisburg.

Sean has endorsements from the Philadelphia Building Trades Council as well as Teamsters Local 115.

“I would thank to thank the building trades for their unanimous support,” said Kilkenny. “Being a member of the building trades for 16 years, I am humbled by the abundance of labor support that I have received in such a short time. There are a lot of highlighted issues right now but the fight for working families is not highlighted enough. I will be the voice for all working families and unions. Organized labor made me into the man that I am today, stronger labor is essential for the success of the working families in my district.”

PUSHING hard on her campaign for the 184th Legislative District in South Philly is journalist Elizabeth Fiedler, holding her son, who was busy raising money from supporters at Mustard Greens in Queen Village. Photo by Wendell Douglas

Fiedler Wins Khan’s Backing

Elizabeth Fiedler, who is running against State Rep. Bill Keller for his 184th District seat in South Philadelphia, has teamed up with Joe Khan, who ran for district attorney last spring.

Khan said, “She’ll be a strong voice for quality health care for all and great public schools in every neighborhood. She is the daughter of public school teachers who understands the importance of educating every child. And she’s a former journalist who has never been afraid to speak truth to power.”

“Elizabeth, a working parent with a young family, left a career that she loved in order to mount a grassroots challenge.” He endorsed me as a true champion for progressive values and working people – calling for bold and dynamic change – and said that he is excited for me to continue a recent string of victories by women who ran for elected office, including incoming City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart. “We have much more work to do to reduce the gender inequities in our government.”

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