Proposed bill would get rid of requirement that PPA board members live in Philly

A Pennsylvania House bill would loosen the requirement that members of the Philadelphia Parking Authority board, a group mired in the fallout of a sexual harassment scandal involving the agency's executive director, live within the city.

The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Scott Petri, eliminates the residency requirement and instead requires only that a majority of the six-member board live in the city. All board members, the new legislation states, must either live in Philadelphia or do business in the city.

The bill was introduced in April and has passed the House. It could be voted on in the Senate as soon as this week, officials said. 

The PPA has faced intense scrutiny recently after it surfaced that the agency's executive director, Vince Fenerty, had been accused of sexual harassment by two women more than a decade apart. Fenerty, facing public pressure, resigned last month. Some have since suggested the board members should resign as well.

The state Auditor General announced earlier this month that it is conducting an audit of the PPA, focused on the authority's employment policies and procedures, including how it handles sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace.

The PPA's spokesman, Martin O'Rourke, declined to comment on the bill.

Petri, a Bucks County Republican, introduced the legislation, he said, to give people who do business in the city but don't live there a voice.

"Ever since the Parking Authority was established I thought the suburbs should have the opportunity to have representation," he said. 

He cited limousine company owners as a group that do business in the city but may not reside in it.

Members of the board serve 10-year terms, meaning there is only rarely the opportunity for turnover. Four of the six current members have been on the board for at least 15 years, and several are politically connected.

The members are all appointed by the governor, but four of the positions can only be filled from choices given by the leadership of the state House and Senate. The arrangement, put in place when Harrisburg Republicans orchestrated a takeover of the agency in 2001, effectively ensures that as long as Republicans dominate the legislative branch, as they do now, they will also dominate the Parking Authority's board.

The recent scandal at the agency makes this an inopportune time to make changes, said Ben Waxman, press secretary for Senator Vincent Hughes, Senator Hughes spokesperson, chairman of the appropriations committee.

"There is a general feeling that this is an agency that ought to be governed by Philadelphians," he said. "Given all the problems that have happened in the past few weeks it seems like a little rushed to start changing the governance." 

The bill was introduced before the PPA's recent woes, Petri said.

"If there’s a problem maybe new representation or the possibility for new representation makes sense," he said.