The head of the Philadelphia Parking Authority sexually harassed a colleague for two years, but has retained his title and $223,000 salary, according to a story in The Philadelphia Inquirer.
The campaign of harassment came to light after a $30,000 independent investigation, paid for with taxpayer money. The PPA’s six-member board found the allegations serious enough to strip PPA executive director Vince Fenerty of many responsibilities. He no longer has sole authority to hire, fire, or transfer employees, according to the article. Still, the board retained Fenerty.
The board required Fenerty to receive counseling, according to the Inquirer. It also created a three-member human relations committee to oversee personnel matters.
Felicia Harris, chair of the newly formed Philadelphia Commission for Women, said the PPA board should have axed Fenerty rather than simply curb his power.
“When you let something like that go without the proper consequences you send a message,” said Harris. “And the message that you send is that it’s OK.”
Other elected officials reprimanded Fenerty, but stopped short of demanding his resignation.
“The behavior is unacceptable and repugnant and would not be acceptable in this administration from any employee,” said Mayor Jim Kenney.
He added that the news was difficult for him to swallow because Fenerty is a longtime acquaintance who has “been helpful in many, many ways.” Fenerty has been head of the PPA for more than a decade and also served as a Republican ward leader.
Even if Kenney wanted to drop Fenerty, it wouldn’t be within his purview. Though it regulates parking and taxi service in Philadelphia, the PPA is actually a state agency. Board members are appointed by the governor and serve 10-year terms.
Gov. Tom Wolf reiterated a need for “honorable” people in public office, but did call Fenerty to step down.
“I haven’t studied exactly what to do about it, but I’m troubled whenever I see people in positions of public authority and public responsibility do the wrong thing,” said Wolf, who visited Philadelphia Thursday to talk about the need for more education funding.
None of the current PPA board members are Wolf appointees, and the next spot won’t open until 2020 — well after Wolf’s first term expires.
At least one public official, however, did stand by the decision to keep Fenerty aboard.
Republican Councilman Al Taubenberger, who also serves on the PPA board, said Fenerty showed contrition.
“Fenerty admitted to the acts and agreed to submit to counseling and to repay the PPA for the cost of the investigation,” Taubenberger said in a statement. “It was the board’s determination that Fenerty’s egregious lack in judgment did not erase all the good he had done for the authority, and we voted to keep him in place.”
Earlier in the day, Taubenberger downplayed the seriousness of Fenerty’s conduct by calling it a “high school puppy love situation” in comments to the Inquirer. He later backtracked.
“I now realize, in retrospect, that my prior use of the term ‘high school stuff’ in describing Fenerty’s admitted sexual harassment was wrong and regrettable,” Taubenberger said. “In no way did I mean to infer that any instance of sexual harassment isn’t serious and reprehensible. There is no situation in which sexual harassment in the work place is acceptable.”