Delaware River Port Authority keeps losing inspectors general

Dave Gentile, seen here in his Gloucester Township, N.J. home computer room, was the inspector general at the DRPA, and left about a year ago complaining he couldn't do his job because of interference from the DRPA's board.

In October 2015, Dave Gentile, a former FBI agent serving as the Delaware River Port Authority’s inspector general, wanted to look at what could be done to improve hiring.

The DRPA was often slow to fill vacancies, he said, but his proposed audit triggered a series of increasingly combative emails between Gentile and a member of the DRPA board of commissioners, Carl Singley, who questioned whether Gentile had the proper credentials to be inspector general. Gentile fired back that Singley was questioning his “integrity and honor.”

Meanwhile, the audit of hiring practices never happened.

The DRPA, a bistate authority responsible for PATCO and the Ben Franklin, Walt Whitman, Betsy Ross, and Commodore Barry Bridges, created the position of inspector general in 2011 to provide an objective internal eye to conduct audits, improve efficiency, and seek out fraud and abuse. That position reports directly to the DRPA board.

Two men have held the job, Gentile and another former FBI agent, Thomas Raftery, and both resigned with the same complaint: The DRPA board made it impossible to accomplish anything.

The inspector general job has been open since Gentile resigned at the end of February 2016.

A central problem for the DRPA’s inspectors general appears to be independence, something that experts say is essential to the position's effectiveness. Gentile, during his eight months on the job, says he thought that he didn’t have any.

“Everything I tried to address was being obstructed,” he said.

John Hanson, the authority’s chief executive, has said the two inspectors general had issues respecting the limits of the job. An inspector general at the DRPA is responsible for reviewing actions at the organization, not the 15-member board of commissioners.

“They really did not want to recognize the authority of the board as their supervisors,” Hanson said. “They really wanted to be independent entities independent of the board.”

The DRPA board, largely appointed by the governors of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, includes some of the region’s most politically influential people. They include Ryan Boyer and John Dougherty, both labor leaders; Jeff Nash, a Camden County freeholder; and Richard Sweeney, brother of the New Jersey Senate president. Another member, Eugene DePasquale, is Pennsylvania’s auditor general and head of the DRPA’s audit committee. He declined to be interviewed for this story.

Singley’s questions about Gentile’s powers and qualifications began after an audit was proposed that would have looked closely at the DRPA’s human resources department, which falls under the responsibilities of Toni Brown, chief administrative officer. Her parents have been friends with Singley and his wife for about 30 years, Singley said. That played no role in his questions, he said, and he had never met Brown before he joined the DRPA board in 2015.

“The thing that created some concern for me was the idea that a guy who was an employee, and a probationary employee, would somehow believe, without any prima facie reason, he would have the power to investigate what he felt he wanted to investigate,” Singley said.

Nevertheless, Singley’s personal ties illustrate how the line between the board and DRPA’s operations could be blurred. Gentile himself wasn’t immune to the web of connections that bind DRPA board members and staff. He freely states he has had a long relationship with the board’s chairman, Boyer.

Boyer did not return a call for comment.

Hanson criticized Gentile specifically for establishing terms to his audits that would have shifted him from a reviewer of policy to a person making it, which is beyond what experts said an inspector general should do. In his review of hiring practices, Gentile said he wanted to do an ongoing, open-ended audit.

“He seemed to want to cross the line from independent watchdog to policy maker with executive function,” Hanson said.

Gentile said there were repeated battles with officials trying to derail his work.

“The level of cooperation I received was marginal, at best,” he said.

Ultimately, he dropped the issue of the hiring audit, he said.

He says either the board or Hanson prevented him from doing an authority-wide risk assessment or looking at the money spent on contractors such as law firms and engineering firms. He also said Hanson asked him to soften an audit he conducted that critiqued the authority for failing to collect data before canceling an insurance policy for construction and maintenance projects.

Raftery, the former inspector general, said the board requested he go to them with knowledge of criminal activity before contacting law enforcement. He refused. They asked for the ability to edit his reports and fought over the standard operating procedures for his office, a battle Gentile said he inherited and never won.

DRPA officials tell a different story. Hanson said he never asked Gentile to tone down his work.

“I was always clear to him, 'I’m not giving you direction,' " Hanson said. "And he was very clear to say to me, 'I don’t work for you,' and he was right about that.”

Hanson also noted that Gentile faced no more board scrutiny than any other high-ranking DRPA official. For the board to actually block him would take more than an irate member, he said. Any action to block Gentile would have required agreement from a majority of board members from both states, he said.

When former inspector general Raftery left in September 2015, and again when Gentile left, both men were described as aggressive bullies who didn’t know how to work within the organization’s structure. Today, even Gentile’s advocates say he can be a strong personality.

The inspector general position was created because there were questions about how the DRPA used the hundreds of millions of dollars in its budget, much of it collected through bridge tolls and PATCO fares. As recently as September, a federal judge overruled a DRPA contract award. U.S. District Judge Noel L. Hillman in Camden described DRPA’s contractor selection this way: “The only thing clear about DRPA’s process is that it is deeply and dramatically flawed, Kafkaesque, and in need of substantial reform.”

More than a year after Gentile left, the DRPA is still working on plans to replace him, Hanson said. There’s a new job description for the inspector general job, he said, awaiting approval from the audit committee board. It will likely be posted in the next two weeks, he said.

He noted that the office of the inspector general still has an active manager, two auditors, and an administrative person, and they have conducted audits since Gentile left.

Raftery said he was confident that the need for the job still existed.

“There’s a lot of money spent there, a lot of money,” he said. “I’m not saying anything is intentionally bad, but there’s always ways to improve efficiency.”