Fenerty suspended at Parking Authority after 2nd sexual-harassment allegation

Vincent J. Fenerty Jr., ousted executive director of the Philadelphia Parking Authority, attends a public meeting at headquarters in Center City on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2016.

Vincent J. Fenerty Jr. left a Philadelphia Parking Authority meeting Tuesday morning grim-faced after enduring a series of searing comments about his sexual-harassment scandal, but still in charge as the agency's executive director.

That all changed three hours later, when PPA Board Chairman Joseph T. Ashdale announced that Fenerty had been "suspended immediately" and that he would recommend that Fenerty be fired from his $223,000-a-year post when the board meets again Thursday.

What changed in those three hours?

The Inquirer asked the PPA about a woman who reported in 2006 that she had been sexually harassed on the job by Fenerty. The former Parking Authority employee told columnist Mike Newall that she had been sexually harassed for three years in the early 2000s.

Ashdale, who started the day declaring that Fenerty would keep his job after one sexual-harassment case was made public last week, later said he had just learned of the claim from 2006.

"That complaint was not filed with our human resources department," Ashdale said in a statement emailed by the PPA's general counsel. "It should have been part of the information used in making the decision to permit Mr. Fenerty to remain in his position."

Fenerty, after his suspension was announced, said in a text message, "There are two sides to every story." He declined to elaborate.

Fenerty quickly lost support from PPA board members Tuesday afternoon.

City Commissioner Al Schmidt, who is also a PPA board member, responded to Fenerty's suspension this way:

"In light of these revelations, I will be voting to terminate Fenerty at the earliest opportunity."

City Councilman Al Taubenberger, also a PPA board member, said he, too, would vote to dismiss Fenerty. Taubenberger, in Germany on a city trade mission, said he would cast his vote Thursday via a telephone call.

"I am stunned and appalled by this new revelation of an additional sexual harassment incident involving Fenerty," Taubenberger said in an emailed statement. "Had I known about this earlier incident, I never would have voted to retain him. His actions are abhorrent and he needs to go."

Gov. Wolf and Mayor Kenney, who were both critical of the PPA last week when the first case of sexual harassment was made public, said it was time for Fenerty to be fired.

"PPA had no business keeping Mr. Fenerty as executive director after it was clear he had sexually harassed another employee at the agency," Wolf spokesman Jeff Sheridan said in an email. "His actions were unconscionable and he should be immediately dismissed."

Kenney said there was no acceptable explanation or excuse for Fenerty's behavior.

"I thought his position was untenable from the beginning," Kenney said. "And clearly, there is something else now. I support the board's decision."

City Councilman David Oh, who clashed with Fenerty this year about a resolution Oh sponsored calling for an agency audit, called the scandal a sign that the PPA is a "poorly run organization."

City Councilwoman Helen Gym, who cosponsored the resolution, called the previously secret sexual-harassment cases proof of a need for an agency audit.

"For years the PPA has covered up for a sexual predator, failed to protect its employees and refused to hold its leader accountable," Gym said in a statement.

Fenerty's fate shifted after the second woman provided documentation to the Inquirer showing that the Parking Authority offered her $150,000 to settle her complaint. She turned the money down.

The new allegation follows a report last week that Fenerty, who had been executive director since December 2005 and also serves as a Republican ward leader, had harassed another coworker.

In a July 2015 letter, the PPA board notified Fenerty that an independent investigation had determined that he had sexually harassed the woman who is a senior director at the authority.

According to the letter, she alleged that Fenerty had "engaged in a series of unwanted and repeatedly discouraged sexual advances," including "inappropriate touching and other untoward, unprofessional conduct" during work hours and work-related events.

The PPA board imposed sanctions against him in that case, reducing his authority and forbidding him to travel on overnight trips with colleagues without permission. It also forced him to pay $30,000 to cover the internal investigation into the matter. He was permitted to keep his job, however.

At a board meeting earlier Tuesday, Ashdale almost immediately opened the floor to public comment on what he called "this very important issue," with just one of the five other board members present.

Ashdale, who opened and closed the meeting reading from prepared statements, knocked Taubenberger for what he called "recent inappropriate, insensitive, and inaccurate comments" about the complaint against Fenerty.

Taubenberger said Thursday that the harassment was nothing more than a case of "high school puppy love." He later called his description "wrong and regrettable."

Ashdale, defending the decision to retain Fenerty during Tuesday's meeting, said the PPA board had "devoted an extraordinary level of attention to this matter, as was appropriate," and it was "confident we reached the right decision."

Ashdale also said the agency's lawyers had told him he could not answer questions from reporters and the public, due to confidentiality regulations on the case.

Fenerty, 60, sat silently during the public comments but left the meeting as Ashdale was preparing to make his closing statement.

The public comment was split between groups who have existing adversarial relations with the PPA and those offended by Fenerty's behavior.

Khalid Alvi of the Philadelphia Cab Association asked Ashdale if taxi drivers would be able to keep their jobs if they admitted to sexual harassment. Ashdale asked Alvi to repeat the question but did not answer it.

Jovida Hill, executive director of the Philadelphia Commission on Women, told Ashdale, "There is no workplace anywhere where sexual harassment should be acceptable." Hill called for Fenerty to step down.

Karen Bojar, speaking for the Philadelphia chapter of the National Organization for Women, said Fenerty's 32 years at the PPA did not exempt him from the consequences of sexually harassing an employee.

"Mr. Fenerty is an embarrassment to the city and should step down, effective immediately, from his position as executive director, or, more appropriately, should have been fired," Bojar said.

Before the day was out, the powers-that-be at the PPA agreed.

brennac@phillynews.com

215-854-5973@ByChrisBrennan

Staff writers Julia Terruso and Martha Woodall contributed to this article.