PPA faces Fenerty fallout, hikes lot rates in Center City, pursues lot below Ben Franklin Bridge

Before the pack of impatient reporters who attended Thursday morning’s meeting of the Philadelphia Parking Authority (PPA) Board could ask questions about former Executive Director Vince Fenerty’s resignation, after two counts of sexual harassment claims came to light, they first had to sit through a full, 23-item agenda meeting.

While it might have felt like stalling to some in the room, it was a fairly normal agenda, with two items of note: A proposal for 170 parking spots underneath the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, and a rate raise on eight parking garages and lots in Center City.

The PPA Board approved negotiations with the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) to reopen the space below the Ben Franklin Bridge to parking. The space was fenced off after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 out of an overabundance of caution. The DRPA Board approved approaching the PPA to operate a lot under the bridge back in May.

The DRPA and PPA will split the costs of paving a lot, installing new lights, and building traffic gates. The agencies will also split revenues, with the PPA operating the lot over a ten year term. The specifics for the deal still have to be negotiated.

The lot will be used for long-term parking only, meaning it will be restricted to Old City residents and businesses. Old City District’s Vision 2026 plan suggested finding new uses for the largely empty space, and included parking as a possibility.

The PPA Board also authorized rate increases for eight parking lots and garages in Center City: 2nd & Sansom, Independence Mall, 8th & Filbert, the Gallery, 10th & Ludlow, the Family Courthouse, 8th & Chestnut, and 19th & Callowhill. The rate jumps will go into effect November 1st. The rate increases vary, with some jumping a dollar or two for the first half-hour.

PPA staff also proposed rate increases for four neighborhood lots outside of Center City: 6th & Marshall, Germantown & Venango, Ruth & Clearfield, and Fox Chase. Board member Andrew Stutzman questioned that decision. While it made sense to raise rates at the Center City lots to reflect the higher rates charged by competing private garages and to encourage more turnover, Stutzman said he preferred to keep rates lower at the lots used by commuters and local residents. The Board scrubbed those lots from the resolution, keeping those rates unchanged.

In a statement read before the start of regular board business, PPA Chairman Joe Ashdale formally accepted Fenerty’s resignation and named Deputy Executive Directors Corrine O’Connor and Rick Dickson as interim co-executive directors. The PPA board plans to meet next week in executive session to begin the process of finding a replacement for Fenerty. According to Ashdale, the PPA will also use next week’s meeting to “review revised human resources policies for discrimination and harassment issues to further protect all Authority personnel.”

AFSCME Local 1637 President Frank Halbherr attended the meeting to express the union’s disapproval with Board’s handling of the harassment allegations against Fenerty. “We want to see a different culture,” Halbherr said.

After the meeting, Dickson said he “knew nothing” about sexual harassment allegations made by a female employee against Fenerty in 2006. The Philadelphia Inquirer has reported that the PPA offered that woman a $150,000 settlement, which she declined. “My goal right now is to… focus on the mission of this agency,” said Dickson.

PPA Spokesman Martin O’Rourke handled press inquiries following the meeting. O’Rourke declined to comment on the sexual harassment claims, citing privacy restrictions over personnel matters. O’Rourke also directed questions about revoking Fenerty’s pension to Philadelphia’s Board of Pensions, saying the PPA lacked authority over the matter. Fenerty is set to receive $154,620 a year.

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