DRPA: E-Z credit

A no-limit credit card in the name of the toll payers: That used to be only a metaphor for the Delaware River Port Authority’s approach to public finance. Now it turns out to be a matter of fact.

The DRPA’s top managers racked up $38,000 in corporate credit-card charges in a little more than a year, The Inquirer reported last week, including stays at the Waldorf-Astoria and lunches at the Palm.

Were these guys running a bank or just a few bridges?

The stays at the Waldorf, which with parking cost commuters more than $600 a night, allowed two agency executives to attend the annual gathering of the Pennsylvania Society, a political elbow-rubbing extravaganza. Thousands of dollars more in charges for conferences in Miami and Seattle were aimed at drumming up cruise-ship business, the agency maintains — the only trouble being its noticeable lack of cruise-ship business. One DRPA ironist even spent more than $3,000 on a course in “lean government.”

Among the plastic-happy employees was a close associate of DRPA board member and Philadelphia union boss John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty, who has positioned himself as an unlikely (and perhaps unbelievable) reformer of the agency. Another is chief executive John Matheussen, who charged more than $4,000 for travel and continuing legal education — presumably not including any ethics courses.

Last time Gov. Christie visited the DRPA’s Camden headquarters, he was uncharacteristically delicate in his handling of Matheussen. While some expected the governor to show the chief executive the door, he instead gave him an E-ZPass by asking the agency toughen its reforms.

Last week, the DRPA board showed just how seriously it took Christie’s halfhearted crackdown by rejecting several of those measures. Among them was a policy preventing agency employees from quickly taking positions with companies the DRPA has done business with.

This sort of “revolving door” prohibition has become a widely accepted principle of good government. But DRPA board chairman John Estey, no slave to ethical fashion, called it a “terrible” idea, saying it would provoke a “mass exodus” from the agency. That was particularly humorous coming days after the revelations about DRPA managers’ lavish use of corporate cards. One wonders where they would go for more generous employment terms.

The week’s events served to show that both Christie and Gov. Rendell have to get serious about reforming the DRPA, starting with changes at the top.

During a bout of national politicking and self-celebration last week, Christie complained to a bunch of Iowans about the “garbage” he has to deal with in New Jersey. Welcome home, governor, but you seem to have missed a pile.