DRPA safety head suspended for improper E-ZPass use, but more questions loom for agency

An ongoing squabble between leaders at the Delaware River Port Authority resulted this week in the suspension of the bistate agency's chief public-safety officer for unauthorized use of E-ZPass.

Mike Joyce has been suspended for three days and had to pay the agency $600 for using in his family car the E-ZPass transponder assigned to another agency official.

DRPA Executive Director John Matheussen took the action after John Dougherty, a local union leader and DRPA board member, repeatedly raised questions about that and other issues.

Matheussen said Joyce confirmed that he had been using the E-ZPass transponder assigned to John Lawless, a former Pennsylvania legislator who served as the DRPA corporate secretary.

Lawless, who is still on the DRPA payroll, was escorted from the building in April for reasons that remain unclear. Matheussen, in a letter to Dougherty on Tuesday, said he could discuss Lawless only in a closed session of the DRPA board because of an anticipated lawsuit.

Matheussen yesterday said Lawless had not been using his transponder and offered it to Joyce in October 2008.

"There could be some room for interpretation, but in my opinion, at the end of the day, it did not sustain good judgment between the two of them," said Matheussen.

DRPA employees below the rank of executive director are allowed 100 free E-ZPass trips per year across one of the four bridges the agency maintains over the Delaware River. The agency also runs the PATCO rail line and the RiverLink ferry.

Matheussen said the $600 payment, which Joyce made to the DRPA last week, represented a year-and-a-half of free trips.

Joyce is paid $180,081 per year along with a $9,000 car allowance. His three-day suspension amounts to about $2,000 in lost pay, Matheussen said.

Joyce did not respond yesterday to a request for comment.

Dougherty has been on a tear for more than a week, firing off angry letters complaining about a lack of answers to questions he has posed on issues like DRPA hiring practices and executive pay.

Dougherty, through a spokesman, declined to comment about Joyce yesterday.

Dougherty has been attempting to land a high-level position in the DRPA's Department of Public Safety for the brother of a business agent from his union, Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

Dougherty had planned to make his complaints public in a DRPA meeting scheduled for yesterday. That meeting was canceled because the agency chairman, John Estey, is out of town.