DRPA proposal: Slash watchdog's clout, but give him a raise

The Delaware River Port Authority, deep in debt and preparing to raise commuter rail fares and tolls on the Ben Franklin Bridge and other area bridges, pays its employees more than other toll-collecting agencies in the region. (Michael Perez/Inquirer)

Several board members of the Delaware River Port Authority are pushing to reduce the powers of the agency's internal watchdog even as they aim to increase his pay.

The proposed changes would, among other things, prevent DRPA Inspector General Thomas Raftery 3d from immediately reporting suspected crimes to federal, state, or local law-enforcement officials. He would be required instead to report the allegations to top DRPA officials.

The rethinking of the power of the inspector general, a position created this year, has prompted fireworks among board members, with a scathing memo from one and the abrupt cancellation of a meeting scheduled to consider the matter.

A memo outlining the changes, initiated by DRPA Vice Chairman Jeffrey Nash and fellow New Jersey board member Denise Mason, was circulated privately last week among agency board members and top staff. The Inquirer obtained copies of it.

According to the lawyer who drafted it, the memo "reflects the changes requested by Commissioner Mason and Vice Chair Nash."

Mason, a bank officer who is vice chair of the audit committee, and Nash distanced themselves from the proposal Wednesday.

"It was proposed by Denise through counsel. . . . It's Denise's responsibility," said Nash, a Camden County freeholder. He said he would not support an increase in Raftery's salary, as proposed in the draft changes.

Reached at a Texas hospital where her mother is a patient, Mason said, "I've been away for a week. I don't know what's going on at the DRPA."

The proposal would require the inspector general to report virtually all matters to chief executive John Matheussen and other top agency officials. That would reverse a decision by the board in September that made the inspector general more independent of Matheussen.

Under the changes, Matheussen and the other officials also would gain authority to amend reports by the inspector general before their release.

Raftery said Wednesday that he was taken by surprise by the proposed changes and that he doubted any would be enacted.

He was particularly taken aback by the suggestion that he report only to DRPA officials - not to law-enforcement agencies - suspected crimes.

After making the DRPA officials aware of alleged crimes, the proposal would have Raftery wait for them to act before he could contact law-enforcement agencies.

"I was shocked that an attorney would suggest that an inspector general, or anybody, would not report illegal activity to law enforcement," said Raftery, a former career FBI agent. "That's completely unenforceable, and I found it offensive, especially given my background."


Lack of support

To take effect, the changes would have to be approved by a majority of both the New Jersey and Pennsylvania board members, and there has been no indication of support for them among Pennsylvania's eight board members.

Raftery's role and salary have been debated since he was hired in January to root out fraud, waste, and abuse at the DRPA.

The $130,000-a-year position was created as part of efforts in 2010 to make the DRPA more transparent and accountable.

The agency, which operates four toll bridges and the PATCO commuter rail line, has long been a haven of patronage and lucrative contracts.

As inspector general, Raftery issued his first report in June, chastising the DRPA for not putting into practice many of the changes adopted in 2010. Rules about ethics, political contributions, contracts, and purchasing had not been incorporated into the DRPA's bylaws and standard operating procedures, Raftery found.


Proposed raise

Raftery's salary became an issue shortly after that. Several New Jersey board members objected to a proposed $35,000 raise. The DRPA's nonunion employees have not had a pay increase in four years, so it was no time for an executive to get a 27 percent raise, they argued.

Those board members boycotted the August board meeting over the issue, preventing any votes from being taken at the session, including one on a new board chairman to replace Gov. Corbett.

The proposed changes would raise Raftery's pay to $165,000, but the independence and clout of his position would be significantly reduced.

The proposal, circulated to board members and top staff the evening before Thanksgiving, was to be considered at a meeting Monday of DRPA's audit committee. It was e-mailed by the attorney who drafted it, David A. Weinstein of Archer & Greiner, the Haddonfield firm that represents the New Jersey delegation of the bistate DRPA board.

Weinstein wrote that the e-mail was sent at the request of Mason and that the "revisions . . . address the concerns of Commissioners Mason and Nash. . . ." Contacted by The Inquirer, Weinstein declined to comment on the proposals.

The chairman of the audit committee, Robert Teplitz of the Pennsylvania Auditor General's Office, abruptly canceled the Monday committee meeting and told board members in an e-mail that a revision of the inspector general's role would "represent more of the same nonsense that we've been dealing with for months."

Teplitz called the proposed changes a "last-minute stunt" and wrote, "As long as I chair the Audit Committee, which will be at least through mid-January, I'm not going to allow this nonsense and the abuse of the IG to continue."

Teplitz will be leaving the board because a new Pennsylvania auditor general was elected this month and Teplitz was elected to the Pennsylvania Senate.

The changes would also reduce the power of the audit committee and increase its membership. The committee was created in August 2010 as part of the series of DRPA changes by Gov. Christie and then-Gov. Ed Rendell.

Nash and Teplitz have clashed repeatedly over economic-development spending as well as the audit committee's duties.

An audit committee meeting last month dissolved into rancorous exchanges, with Teplitz accusing Nash of blocking committee action and inspector-general issues, and Nash accusing Teplitz of not talking to Mason although she is vice chair of the committee.

Matheussen and Raftery also weighed in, with Matheussen contending that he was being cut out of information from the inspector general and Raftery complaining that he had become "a punching bag."


Contact Paul Nussbaum at 215-854-4587 or pnussbaum@phillynews.com.