Philadelphia Parking Authority

Another Free Pass on the Parking Authority

It’s hard to imagine the City of Philadelphia in more dire financial straits than now. On the line are thousands of jobs, potential increases in taxes for residents, closure and reduction of city services . . . we know the picture.

And then there’s one agency that’s just rolling in money – the Philadelphia Parking Authority, which has seen revenues double over the past few years and anticipates even more of a windfall with the obnoxious new parking meter rates throughout the city. Now this $200 million agency – which calls itself the most efficient Parking Authority in the nation – is supposed to turn over all its profits to both the City and the School District, but the funny thing is that they have a hard time finding profits because . . um well . . . BECAUSE.

So in the fall of 2007 some parents took up this issue and the media did what it does best – a kick ass expose on the waste and excess spending and hoarding of cash of this agency – and politicians did their thing which was to bluster and call for an audit, so 18 months later the City Controller's office finally releases this document at the end of July. And here’s how it opens:

The procedures performed were agreed to by CCO [Philadelphia City Controller’s Office]. The sufficiency of these procedures is the sole responsibility of CCO, and therefore, we make no representation regarding the sufficiency of the procedures for the purpose for which this report has been requested or for any other purpose. . . Our procedures did not constitute an audit, review, or compilation of the information provided and, accordingly, we do not express an opinion or provide any other form of assurance on the completeness or accuracy of the information.

So to be clear the public, in some fashion, paid for this audit right? And while there are some interesting things in there, as laid out in this Inky article and this completely unanalytical Daily News article (didja guys read the document or did you just reprint the Controller’s press release?), the real news is how little the Controller’s office found.

For example, it gave the Parking Authority a free pass on salaries. The accountants initially looked at information from the International Parking Institute, but claimed that because of the PPA’s vast responsibilities there was no comparable organization for them to review. So guess where they decided to make their salary comparison? The School District of Philadelphia!

The accountants chose the top three executive positions at the School District, which for the record is a $3 billion agency with 260+ schools, 60+ charters, 10,000+ teachers alone, which serves meals, buses kids all over the city, runs afterschool and summer programs, provides social/behavioral and mental health services, tests and educates and has responsibility for over 200,000 children (including the charters) in the city. Incidentally, the top three positions at the School District - which includes the CEO and the Chief Counsel - have been flagged in the past as being overpaid as well, despite the scope of their responsibilities.

Meanwhile, at the PPA, the Executive Director makes more than the Governor and the PPA Board Chair earns $75,000 a year for a couple of hours a month. Both the Inky and Daily News investigations in 2007 flagged the fact that more than 20 managers at the PPA earned over $100,000 a year with an overload of executives at the top. The accountants themselves note that they saw no staffing plans for the PPA and didn’t do a desk or performance audit.

Nevertheless, here's their conclusion:

Given the magnitude and responsibility of PPA’s executives and the size of operations, in our judgment PPA’s salaries are within a competitive range.

And, again, the public paid for this in some way right?

What the report didn’t even look at was something that Parents United for Public Education has consistently raised as a serious concern: the amount of money the PPA hoards in unrestricted cash reserves and cash reserves designated for future expenses.

In 2007 when we did our analysis, we found between $40-50 million was hoarded in some sort of “reserve” account, more than a quarter of the agency’ operating revenue. By comparison, the Government Finance Officers Association recommends that government agencies keep the fund balances between 5-15% of operating revenue.

Parents United also found discrepancies around workers compensation, with the agency claiming $11 million in reserve for self insurance for workers comp even though they had a certificate showing that they were already covered through their own insurance for workers comp. When political pressure helped bring a settlement to the campaign in December 2007, the PPA dipped into its self insurance reserves to meet the funding request from the City.

But hey, when your document doesn't even count as a "review" and some media focus on the fact that the PPA can't account for free parking badges for airport employees, who cares about $40-50 mil?

Some media have characterized the report as "blasting" the Parking Authority. But to be clear, the report has made its requisite political rounds for more than three weeks and was distributed, not "leaked," to the media. Meanwhile, the Authority reacts in mock defense and has said it will get back to the Controller in six months or so when it will write a full response to the Controller's findings (maybe a few airport badges can be returned?). But it's hard to look at that back and forth and, at this point, take it as much more than perfunctory media campiness.

At the end of the day, the Parking Authority - despite all the exposure, despite its known wealth in times of fiscal crisis - is getting yet another free pass to continue along its merry way. In 2007, Parents United accepted the political compromise given to us by a then-incoming Mayor because we believed City leadership wouldn’t let this agency continue to get away with it.

18 months later, looks like things are about the same as they ever were.

Helen, Parents United get the School District More Money

This happened today:

In a surprise move apparently orchestrated by mayor elect Michael Nutter and State Rep. Dwight Evans, the Philadelphia Parking Authority said it would transfer an additional $6.77 million to the city's general fund and school district over the next two fiscal years.

The funds - which come principally from the agency's reserves and non-parking enforcement divisions - will allow the Parking Authority to meet its budgeted payments to the city and, for the first time 2004, have a little cash left over for the School District of Philadelphia: $1.25 million this year, and $1.75 million next year.

Nutter announced the plan - which was detailed in a letter from Parking Authority Exectuive director addressed to Nutter - at an authority board meeting this morning. Parents of public school students were in attendance, and they had planned to sharply criticize the agency failure to fund the schools.

"You should be commended for your effort," Nutter told the parents, but he reminded them the authority was "not created solely to solve all the financial problems of the school district."

He said his administration and the state-run parking authority would work closely together.

Make zero mistake as to why the school district will be getting a little bit more money over the next couple years: Because of the leadership of Parents United for Public Education, and our own Helen Gym (Mansei).

Obviously, it is not going to cut a hole in the billion dollars or two we need to really get schools going, but, this is a small victory won totally on the backs of caring, dedicated parents. Is it enough? I don't think so, considering that the whole rationale for taking the authority over was to give far more money to the schools. But, it is a start, and I will defer to Helen as to what the next steps are with the PPA and their school funding.

In the end, the bloated PPA needs to be returned to the City, and needs the patronage wheel ended.

In the meantime, great job, Helen.

Go, Inqy, Go! - Political contributions and the Parking Authority

I love the way THE INQUIRER is pounding the quote-unquote "Philadelphia" Parking Authority. City GOP benefits from Parking Authority. It needs it. The story starts off promisingly:

Though the Philadelphia Parking Authority has fallen short in its promised funding for city schools, it certainly has been a boon for the Philadelphia Republican Party.

Authority employees and consultants have contributed at least $214,000 to the Republican City Committee since 2001, according to an Inquirer analysis of campaign finance data.

The contributions this year have reached at least $33,210, or more than 14 percent of the party's total.

I wonder if that's the single biggest cadre of funders? Of course, "cadre of funders" gets hard to define for a newspaper article, but still I wonder.

My humble suggestion to Philadelphia reporters pursuing these questions: the story I'd like to see is some attempt to sort out how much money could, potentially, be going to schools and how, exactly, the law designates that they are supposed to determine that figure.

This schools issue is a big part of why I want to lambast the PPA so badly. If it were just an issue of over-spending and patronage, I would care but I wouldn't care as much. The simple fact is that the PPA is making our city harder to live in by tightening up parking rules, but they aren't delivering on the promised benefit of that: getting some more money into education.

Pound them, Inqy! Pound them!!!

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