DRPA executive Joyce resigns

Posted: July 28, 2010

The head of public safety at the Delaware River Port Authority resigned Tuesday amid growing criticism that he gave his daughter a DRPA E-ZPass to commute to college in Philadelphia.

The resignation of Michael Joyce comes as the DRPA falls under increasing scrutiny from Pennsylvania and New Jersey politicians. They are calling for greater financial oversight and reform at the transportation agency, which manages four Delaware River bridges and the PATCO commuter line.

Joyce did not return a phone call for comment. His resignation was announced by a DRPA spokesman, who said the decision was Joyce's but had been accepted by the DRPA chief executive, John Matheussen.

The announcement did little to quell DRPA critics, who described the disclosure of Joyce's E-ZPass abuse as symptomatic of larger problems within the authority.

"The bigger question isn't Joyce but what's going on at the DRPA from an operational perspective," said New Jersey Assemblyman Domenick DiCicco Jr. (R., Gloucester). "There seems to a transparency problem over there."

News of Joyce's resignation followed Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner's call Tuesday for a structural reform of the DRPA, increasing financial oversight and doing away with the pay and perks structure at the 900-employee authority.

Among Wagner's specific points, which he laid out in a letter to DRPA chairman John Estey, were the end of free bridge and train passes, cuts to managers' pay, annual financial audits, no closed-door caucus meetings, and a lower threshold for no-bid contracts - $25,000 instead of $100,000.

"The last audit I have is from 2001," said Wagner, a Democrat who sits on the DRPA Board of Commissioners. "The audit process is vitally important for the world and the ratepayers to see if this agency is working in a responsible way. I can't sit here today and say that any such document exists to prove that, and that's a problem."

The list of changes cited by Wagner nearly mirrors those made by Gov. Christie last week and comes as a growing number of New Jersey and Pennsylvania officials are questioning the DRPA's fiscal responsibility.

Both Wagner and Pennsylvania Treasurer Rob McCord have demanded that the DRPA provide an exhaustive accounting of its operations, including everything from the number of people with free E-ZPasses to potential conflicts of interests.

The question hanging over the authority is as much when as what.

Over the last week, Estey and DRPA Vice Chairman Jeff Nash have spoken of some of the internal changes the authority will make, a list that includes the elimination of perks like free E-ZPasses and car allowances, as well as possible personnel changes and reductions in managers' pay.

"I expect that we will be in a position to announce a package of policy changes and other decisions later this week," Estey wrote in an e-mail Tuesday. "I think we have made great progress in professionalizing the DRPA in recent years, and the new changes we're contemplating are the next steps in that process."

The DRPA has drawn criticism for years for its economic-development projects, which included Lincoln Financial Field, the National Constitution Center and Camden's minor-league baseball stadium.

The latest round of controversy follows the disclosure last week of Joyce's E-ZPass abuse and statements from Philadelphia union leader and DRPA Commissioner John J. Dougherty, accusing the authority of cronyism and operating in secret without the oversight of the board of directors.

Christie's office has questioned whether Joyce's case was indicative of further abuses. And on Monday, DiCicco and fellow Republican Pennsylvania State Rep. Mike Vereb, who represents Montgomery County, asked the U.S. Attorney's Office to investigate possible criminal charges against Joyce.

"When we get done with this, I think there's going to be a lot more resignations at the DRPA," Dougherty said Tuesday.

Contact staff writer James Osborne at 856-779-3876 or jaosborne@phillynews.com.

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