Dougherty furious at, underwhelmed by, DRPA

Posted: July 21, 2010

John Dougherty, a local union leader who serves as a commissioner for the Delaware River Port Authority, will have to wait for answers to questions he has posed to that bistate agency.

Dougherty must be used to that by now. The business manager for Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers has been on a tear for more than a week, firing off angry letters to DRPA officials complaining that his questions have been "repeatedly stonewalled."

A response from DRPA's executive director, John Matheussen, made things only worse yesterday. In a three-page letter to Dougherty, Matheussen said he had been unaware of some questions, offered to respond to others and suggested others could not be answered because of anticipated litigation.

Dougherty proclaimed himself "underwhelmed" by the letter.

"His letter contained nothing but disingenuous half-answers," Dougherty said. "I think the dismissive response that he gave me is unacceptable."

Gov. Rendell, through a spokesman, quoted William Shakespeare's Macbeth, calling Dougherty's complaints "sound and fury, signifying nothing." Rendell, who reappointed Dougherty to the DRPA board last June, also expressed faith in DRPA Chairman John Estey, his former chief of staff, to work out the issues.

Dougherty vowed Friday to introduce several resolutions at the DRPA meeting this morning to make the agency, which manages four bridges over the Delaware River and the PATCO rail line, more transparent to the public.

Today's meeting was postponed yesterday because Estey is out of town on business.

Among Dougherty's concerns:

_ John Lawless, DRPA's corporate secretary and a former Pennsylvania legislator, was escorted from the building but is still collecting his salary. Dougherty, in letters to DRPA officials, said he has heard "strong allegations" that a DRPA E-ZPass unit for Lawless was given to a family member of a high-ranking agency employee.

Matheussen said the information could be discussed only in a closed session of the board since Lawless is expected to sue.

_ The DRPA rolled a $9,000 car allowance into the salary of general counsel Richard Brown, which will increase his pension pay-out. Dougherty, who planned to demand Brown's resignation today, called that an "unconscionable" abuse at a time when pay raises were not allowed.

Matheussen said the tactic had been vetted by state pension systems in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

He also expressed "great respect for Dick Brown, both as an individual and as an attorney."

_ Dougherty, who is seeking a job in the DRPA Public Safety Department for the brother of one of his union business agents, said he has repeatedly asked for policies on how employees are hired.

Matheussen, who said he didn't know about that request, agreed to provide the information along with several management reports that Dougherty was seeking.

Dougherty's agitation comes at an interesting political time for the DRPA. Rendell is near the end of his second term while N.J. Gov. Chris Christie is in the first year of his first term.

Governors wield considerable power at the agency, and a changing of the guard there is possible.

Matheussen's contract with the DRPA just expired, though he is still on the job, as Christie's office launches a review of the agency.

Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said the review, prompted by a critical report last month on NJN, a public- television station in New Jersey, will address concerns about DRPA management and finances.

"Once we get answers to our concerns, we'll make a decision on whether Mr. Matheussen continues in his role," Drewniak said.

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