Thursday, December 25, 2014

Corbett appoints himself chairman of the DRPA. Is that a problem?

News broke late yesterday that Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett has appointed himself to the board of the troubled Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA). Corbett appears to be consolidating power, naming himself chairman and filling many of the open slots with his supporters. Is this a problem?

Corbett appoints himself chairman of the DRPA. Is that a problem?

Gov. Corbett has named himself the head of the Delaware River Port Authority board. (File Photo / AP)
Gov. Corbett has named himself the head of the Delaware River Port Authority board. (File Photo / AP)

News broke late yesterday that Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett has appointed himself to the board of the troubled Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA). Corbett appears to be consolidating power, naming himself chairman and filling many of the open slots with his supporters. Is this a problem?

Well, "appointing himself" is exactly how John Street got to be board chairman of the Philadelphia Housing Authority, where he was supposed to be supervising disgraced former chief Carl Greene. Recently, federal officials asked Street and the rest of the board to resign. We certainly don't want a repeat of that situation at the DRPA.

But there are key differences between these two scenarios. John Street appointed himself to chair the board at the end of his term in office, meaning he faced no electoral risk from problems at PHA. Corbett, is at the start of his first term, and must run for re-election in four years.

Also, Street took over PHA at a time when many believed that things were going well at the housing authority. Corbett takes control of the DRPA amid a string of embarrassing headlines for the agency, including revelations of outrageous perks for top employees and shady financial arrangements. It's already been established that the DRPA has serious problems -- and, consequently, the whole agency is under a hot spotlight.

Considering the circumstances, we'd argue that Corbett's decision to appoint himself chairman could be a sign that change is coming to the DRPA. Instead of pushing the agency into the background, Corbett has ensured that it will stay at the front of the discussion. We can't imagine Corbett plans to use that profile to continue business as usual.

We could be wrong, of course. It's worth noting that Corbett filled several slots on the DRPA board with political supporters. Given the history of cronyism at the agency, this might not have been the best approach. Still, give Corbett a chance. He inherited the mess at the DRPA, and he deserves a shot at trying a fresh approach before people rush to judgment about his self-appointment.

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Every year, city government spends slightly more than $4 billion. Where does all that money come from? More importantly, where does it go? Are we getting the most bang for our tax buck? “It's Our Money” is a joint project between Philadelphia Daily News and WHYY, funded by the William Penn Foundation, designed to answer these questions.

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