Former PPA director handed out big raises to authority execs

Just months before he was accused a second time of sexually harassing a subordinate, former Parking Authority Executive Director Vincent J. Fenerty gave  substantial raises, and in some cases promotions, to five top-earning employees at the authority, including a woman he was later accused of harassing.

Ultimately all would play some role in Fenerty's harassment case, which initially ended with Fenerty still in his job, but stripped of  his ability to hire, fire, and promote people. His accuser asked that he not be dismissed.

The raises, all effective on the same date, amounted to about $20,000 to $30,000 a person over 18 months. First came a 6 percent increase in April 2015, which put the employees in line for a second, automatic 6 percent boost in April 2016, plus two cost-of-living adjustments of 2.5 and 3 percent. Fenerty's own salary increased about $17,000. The authority said Fenerty's increases were due to three cost-of-living adjustments.

Reached by telephone last week, Fenerty refused to offer a rationale for the raises.

“I can’t comment on anything that happened at the authority when I was there because I’m retired,” Fenerty said. “The authority has to handle what happened and answer for what happened there.”

PPA spokesman Marty O’Rourke said that the raises were not standard, but that he did not know why they were given. “They were the decision of the executive director,” O’Rourke said.

The five employees who received raises declined to speak to a reporter. O’Rourke issued statements on their behalf that said the raises came with added responsibilities.

It remained unclear in some cases what those added responsibilities entailed. The authority’s general counsel, Dennis Weldon, received raises totaling $30,000 and an additional title,  first deputy director. He said his new title came with “greater legal oversight and responsibility,” but he offered no explanation of why it exceeded what already fell to him as the authority’s ranking legal officer.

Fenerty, a 33-year veteran of the authority, resigned in September after two sexual harassment cases, one in 2006 and the other in 2015, became public.

His troubles were precipitated in June 2015 when Sue Cornell, senior director of administration, reported enduring two years of harassment, inappropriate touching, and unwanted advances by Fenerty.

The PPA board initially decided to let Fenerty keep his job but under increased scrutiny. That was until a second woman told the Inquirer that she had also been harassed in the early 2000s and was offered a $150,000 settlement, which she declined. Confronted with two now public scandals, Fenerty resigned in September 2016.

The promotions and raises, which did not need to be approved by the board at the time, show the near free rein Fenerty had at the 1,100-employee agency.

“At the time, the executive director was empowered to make those decisions,” said board member Al Taubenberger, a PPA board member and City Councilman. “Those powers have been taken away from that executive director and all upcoming, further, future directors.”

The five employees who received raises are all veteran, top-earning members of the agency.

Rick Dickson and Corinne O'Connor, both deputy directors in 2015, were promoted to first deputy directors and correspondingly moved into higher pay categories.  O’Rourke said Dickson replaced former first deputy Carl Ciglar, who retired in 2013 while making $166,218. O’Connor did not replace anyone. Dickson now makes  $208,153 and O’Connor $196,380.  

Dickson, a 32-year-employee, said in a statement that his promotion came with additional responsibilities for the engineering and design department, a four-member unit, “at a time when we were embarking on our largest capital improvement program.”

O’Connor said she was promoted “as a result of my leadership and commitment to the PPA mission.” She said her additional duties included directing a red light camera transition project and also oversight of the taxi and limo division. A source within the PPA said O’Connor had already been in charge of both since the former first deputy retired in 2013.

As the two highest-ranking officials after Fenerty, Dickson and O’Connor attended board meetings and advised the board. Both were at the July 22, 2015, meeting when the board initially agreed to let Fenerty keep his job under stricter surveillance.

At that meeting the board created a human resources committee to review all hirings, terminations, and promotions. O’Rourke said that decision had nothing to do with the April 2015 raises.

“This limitation was put in place in order to increase the board's level of human resource related oversight of authority staff, which was deemed necessary following the June 2015 complaint," he said.

It is unclear whether Dickson and O’Connor were privy to the facts of the 2006 case, but records from that time show at least a peripheral involvement.

Dickson was copied on the paperwork when the first victim took a medical leave the month that she and her lawyer were in settlement negotiations with the authority. O'Connor's name also is on paperwork from the first victim's file: an appeal in which she claimed a poor performance review was based on "personal issues" rather than her job performance. Neither document mention the sexual harassment claims.

As general counsel, Weldon was responsible for bringing the 2006 and 2015 harassment complaints to the board’s attention, though the board initially said it was unaware of any other incidents of harassment involving Fenerty. The board, through O'Rourke, later reversed itself, saying Weldon did tell members in 2006 about the complaint but by 2016 those still on the board had forgotten. Two board members from 2006, including Taubenberger, maintain they were never told of the complaint in 2006.

William Raymond, the PPA's senior human resources director,  was moved up a pay scale without a title change. He said the promotion coincided with his appointment as chair on the authority’s Labor Management Committee.

As HR director, Raymond had direct involvement with handling Cornell’s complaint. Her four-page letter detailing Fenerty’s behavior is addressed to him. He was also copied on paperwork related to the 2006 accusations.

Cornell received salary increases of $23,000, including cost-of-living adjustments, but her title remained senior director of administration. She said last week in a statement that she was given additional duties around April 2015, including “creation of public service announcements for the red light camera program and a social media campaign.” She also led the initiative to begin the process of implementing a pay-by-cell meter parking program, her statement said.

Cornell wrote about expanded duties in her June 2015 letter complaining of Fenerty’s harassment. She said Fenerty would invite her to meetings and overnight trips that fell outside the scope of her job. So wide-ranging did her duties become that she asked Fenerty for an official job description to get better clarity on her position, the letter said.

“I have asked him many times for a job description because I felt like he had me all over the place,” Cornell wrote in June 2015. “I explained to him that it was difficult for me to be a part of everything that goes on at the authority and be effective.”

Fenerty’s salary also increased about $17,000 between April 2015 and his resignation in September. This is after the board had said he would be ineligible for salary increases following its findings in the Cornell case. The authority said Fenerty’s increases were not raises but three cost-of-living adjustments, one in 2015, one in 2016, and one that he deferred from 2007, retroactively applied last year. 

At the time of Fenerty’s resignation in September, he was making $223,000, about $6,000 more than Mayor Kenney. Now in retirement, he stands to collect an estimated $154,620-a-year pension as well as a one-time payout of $200,000 in unused vacation time, sick time, and comp time.