Parking Authority brass padded salaries with comp time

Three months after Vincent Fenerty Jr. lost his $223,000-a-year job as executive director of the Philadelphia Parking Authority, he pocketed a $227,000 check for nearly 2,000 hours of vacation time, paid leave, and comp time. But he's not the only one.

Three months after Vincent Fenerty Jr. lost his $223,000-a-year job as executive director of the Philadelphia Parking Authority, he pocketed a $227,000 check for nearly 2,000 hours of vacation time, paid leave, and comp time. 

But Fenerty, forced out of the agency in September amid sexual-harassment complaints, isn’t the only PPA boss who stashed away comp time.

Records show that more than a dozen senior PPA staffers at the longtime patronage haven accumulated significant amounts of comp time – in some cases hundreds of hours – while earning six-figure salaries to run agency departments or oversee its finances.

Last month, the PPA responded to a Right-to-Know request filed by the Inquirer and Daily News by claiming the agency “does not have records of comp time” and how it was used by Fenerty or “any other” senior staffers.

When pressed, PPA officials reversed course and produced a list showing that, in fact, most senior staffers have a running balance of comp time, some of it going back years. That time can be converted to cash, at current salary, when leaving the agency, as Fenerty did with his 289 hours.

Comp time is a rare perk for salaried staffers at the top of an organization’s pay scale, experts say.

“I don’t really understand it,” Deborah Weinstein, a Philadelphia attorney who specializes in employment law, said of the PPA’s practice of allowing bosses to bank comp time.

“It’s unusual for management, and it’s unusual that this would be allowed,” Weinstein said. “Certainly, the trend has been for many years to not allow time to accumulate that the employer will need to pay out later. And it is for that reason that most companies do not allow people to accumulate it.”

Comp time is typically given to lesser-compensated hourly employees in lieu of overtime, while senior staff with management-level responsibilities typically receive a flat salary and are expected to perform their duties no matter how long it takes, said Eric Meyer, a partner in the labor and employment practice group at Dilworth Paxson.

“Usually, you’re salary and not eligible for overtime,” Meyer said. “That salary covers you whether you work one hour or every hour of that week.”

The PPA’s employee manual states that senior staffers “typically will not be compensated for additional hours worked,” except for “extraordinary circumstances.” In those cases, the extra pay must be approved by the executive director or deputy executive director.

But William Raymond, the PPA’s human resources senior director, wrote in a November 2016 memo that the policy had been waived in “many circumstances which are not emergencies.” The memo said senior staff “will no longer be eligible to earn compensatory time under normal circumstances” and reiterated that no employee can carry a balance of more than 240 hours of comp time.

James Hoch, the PPA’s director of support services, who earns $123,406 a year, has a balance of 437 hours, records show. PPA spokesman Martin O’Rourke said Fenerty had waived the 240-hour cap for Hoch. 

The comp-time accumulations cut across a wide range of top jobs, including: director of on-street parking Edward Thornton (238.8 hours; $146,977 salary); director of operations Rocco Morrotto (137 hours; $123,406 salary); controller James High (76.1 hours; $130,811 salary); and assistant controller Jonathan McGuire (113.7 hours;  $123,406 salary). Raymond, who wrote the November memo reining in comp time and makes $155,794, has 120.8 hours. 

None of the employees responded to requests for comment seeking details about how they earned the comp time. 

Stacy Hawkins, an employment attorney and professor at Rutgers Law School, said many employers now place limits on the amount of time that can be accrued and have a “use-it-or-lose-it policy” for how long comp time can be carried over.

“A lot of employers have cleaned these things up,” Hawkins said.

Clarena Tolson, a Democrat who in October replaced Fenerty as executive director at the Republican-controlled agency, has changed the comp-time policy to severely limit its application to upper management.

Tolson said in a statement her “strict” new policy prohibits the executive director and deputy executive directors from earning comp time “under any circumstances.” It also "prohibits senior managers from earning comp time, except in emergency situations declared by the mayor or the executive director and with the approval of the board chairman.” 

O’Rourke, the PPA spokesman, said many of the current senior staffers earned their comp time while working lower-paying jobs within the PPA, but then rolled over the time for years. Hoch, for instance, earned comp time as a security supervisor and when he was director of enforcement and responsible for snow emergency situations, according to O’Rourke.

But that practice is also fiscally problematic, experts say, because employees are paid for the comp time at their current pay rate when they leave the agency, not at what they were earning when they logged the comp time years earlier.

“That’s a mounting liability on their books,” said Liz Graham of Monogram Advisors, a human-resources consulting firm in Bucks County.

None of the PPA board members responded to requests for comment about the agency's comp-time practices.

The board's chairman is Joseph T. Ashdale, business manager of District Council 21 of the Painters and Allied Trades. The other members are: City Commissioner Al Schmidt, City Councilman Al Taubenberger, attorney Andrew K. Stutzman, optometrist Karen Wrigley, and Russell Wagner, senior vice president of finance at Holy Redeemer Health System.

“We are aware of the issue and the concern,” state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said of comp-time abuses at PPA. 

His office is auditing the PPA to determine, among other things, whether the Parking Authority is transferring its fair share of revenue to the Philadelphia School District. As for employee compensation, he said the audit will examine that as well.

Staff writers Julia Terruso and Claudia Vargas contributed to this report.