opinion

PPA audit shows the cost of predators in power | Mike Newall

Mike Newall, STAFF COLUMNIST

Updated: Thursday, December 7, 2017, 5:04 PM

Vincent J. Fenerty, Jr., executive director of the Philadelphia Parking Authority, attends a public meeting at the PPA headquarters in Center City September 27, 2016 where members of the public and transit unions called for Fenerty’s removal for an admitted sexual harassment scandal.

I’ve kept in touch with the woman who reported that Vince Fenerty sexually harassed her in 2006.

She told me her story last year — how Fenerty bothered her at parties, snapped her bra, pulled her shirt down to look at her breasts. How she turned down a $150,000 settlement just to go back to work at a job she found meaning in. How she was fired anyway — out of revenge, she suspected.

When she calls me now, from time to time, we talk about all the things she’s lost. About her car that was reposessed, the house she had to sell, the bills she struggles to pay — including those of her ailing mother — the depression she battles.

This is the price of sexual harassment — paid by Fenerty’s victims in the boys’ club that doubled as a state agency he ran with impunity. And to that price — already unfathomably high — we can now add a cool $78 million, which could have benefited school kids.

It’s almost comically villainous. According to two damning reports released Thursday by the state auditor, Eugene DePasquale, the Philadelphia Parking Authority shortchanged the city for five years on revenue that was supposed to go to the city’s cash-strapped school district.

There was the $1.17 million wasted on questionable-at-best expenses — bonuses to senior staff, golf outings, excessive retirement payouts and bogus raises. In short, the kind of rank cronyism that is the hallmark of Fenerty’s reign of terror. (I’m not overselling — DePasquale called the guy a “tyrant” at his news conference )

And then there’s the agency’s utter failure to perform its most basic function. In five years, it passed up more than $100 million in uncollected parking fines. More than $76 million of that should have gone to the school district.

DePasquale was courteous enough to break down what that could have paid for: 1,300 teachers, 155,000 tablet computers, 779,000 textbooks.

It’s just another insult from a state that spent 16 years telling us we didn’t have the wherewithal to run our school district while one of the major revenue sources was run by an alleged groper who wasted our children’s funds on a never-ending bachelor party. And all under the watchful eye of a board whose actions would only make sense if it came out that it had somehow spent the last decade auditioning for a role in the Trump administration.

They have the resumes: blindingly incompetent and answering to a sexual predator.

Fenerty answered to no one. That’s clear from my colleagues’ reporting and DePasquale’s report. The PPA had no sexual harassment training between 2006, when Fenerty’s first victim reported him, and 2016, when the scandals broke. DePasquale said he didn’t think this was a coincidence.

Of course it’s not. Why would Fenerty train people to report actions he was getting away with? Why end the party?

This is the cost of official predation. And it’s a cost we, as a society, are finally confronting. It’s a reckoning that reaches from Hollywood to the media and into the halls of political power — with at least one glaring exception at the top. It’s good we have this report — to show the depths of the venality and cronyism, and what happens when we allow them to fester.

But the full sadness of this report is one we’ve seen echoed in so many of the stories of women who have had the courage to come forward this year: all that was lost.

All of Philly’s schoolkids who won’t see that new teacher, that fast computer, that up-to-date textbook, who won’t get that leg up.

All the women who suffered silently or were forced to work in a toxic office where at least three others reported to be sexually harassed by coworkers during Fenerty’s reign. And all that Fenerty’s victims have lost — the house, the job, the sense of security and self worth.

“I lost so much,” the first woman told me Thursday when I called her. Yes, she did.

Now it’s time for the PPA board, chaired by Joseph T. Ashdale, to lose something. It’s long overdue.

Get your resumes together, guys. You’re gonna need ’em.

Mike Newall, STAFF COLUMNIST

Read full story: PPA audit shows the cost of predators in power | Mike Newall

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