According to current and former DRPA employees, Havers borrowed $500 in 2008 from a safe at the Barry bridge to pay for food for an employee cookout at a DRPA "safety open house." He wrote an IOU for the money and taped it to the door of the safe.
After a DRPA police officer took a photo of the IOU and sent it to his boss, DRPA executives were alerted and began an investigation. They recovered the cash and suspended Havers for 30 days.
Havers told investigators that he had planned to return the money to the safe after being reimbursed for the food by the DRPA.
DRPA officials declined to comment on the episode, describing it as a "personnel matter." Havers did not respond to telephone and e-mail requests for comment.
The DRPA is a $300-million-a-year bistate agency that operates four Delaware River toll bridges and the PATCO commuter rail line between Philadelphia and South Jersey. Most of its revenue comes from commuters' bridge tolls; last year, the DRPA collected $242.6 million in tolls.
Tolls are scheduled to rise to $5 from $4 on July 1, 2011.
The Havers episode brings to light a practice that happens every year at the DRPA: the "safety open house" cookouts.
The DRPA spends thousands of dollars annually for five employee cookouts to celebrate safety efforts at each of the authority's four bridges and at PATCO.
This year, the agency spent $17,327.11 on the events, spokesman Ed Kasuba said.
The "safety open houses" require DRPA employees at each facility to prepare enough food - including, at times, hamburgers, sausage, shrimp, crabs, and mussels - to feed their fellow workers, on day and night shifts.
"The workers [at the facility] have to make the food, and afterward, they have to clean up," said one former employee. "Nobody is doing anything all day but working on the open house."
Kasuba said the cookouts were designed to improve safety awareness among employees and give them a chance to meet with human resources representatives.
He said it "is not true" that workers devoted their entire working day to the open houses.
"In an effort to acknowledge the safety records of staff and to promote safety into the future, we hold a safety open house each year at each of our five facilities," Kasuba said in a statement. "During the safety open houses, several of our benefit carriers provide useful wellness and cancer awareness information, and provide blood pressure screening and dermascan screenings for skin cancer to employees.
"Also, a number of companies that provide safety products or services attend to showcase new products and/or give demonstrations of safety equipment. At the most recent safety open houses, a T-shirt displaying DRPA's safety slogan, 'Lead the Way, Practice Safety Today,' was distributed to employees," the statement said.
"The safety open house is a way to promote workplace safety and congratulate staff on a job well done in keeping themselves, our customers, contractors, and visitors safe," the statement said.
The revelations about the cookouts and the Havers reassignment are the latest disclosures about the politically connected DRPA in recent weeks.
The agency has said it will institute a number of changes demanded by Govs. Christie and Rendell to make the DRPA more open and less subject to political manipulation.
On Wednesday, Pennsylvania State Rep. Mike Vereb (R., Montgomery) called for the dismissal of DRPA Chief Executive John Matheussen.
Vereb and New Jersey State Assemblyman Domenick DiCicco Jr. (R., Gloucester) also are preparing legislation in each state to change the agency's federal charter and repeal its ability to spend money on "economic development" in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Such a change in the governing compact would require approval by both states' legislatures and governors, as well as Congress and the president.
The DRPA has spent nearly $400 million in the last decade on such projects as Lincoln Financial Field, the Kimmel Center, the National Constitution Center, the Camden Riversharks' baseball stadium, a soccer stadium complex on the Chester waterfront, the National Museum of American Jewish History, the President's House memorial near Independence Hall, and moving the Barnes Foundation collection from Lower Merion to Philadelphia.
"This agency has gone unchecked for far too long, and as a result, the people at the top have abused the power that comes with their positions for their own personal benefit," Vereb said Wednesday. "This exploitation of tax dollars and the public's trust is unconscionable. The era of unaccountability is over."
Vereb criticized Matheussen for not pushing for a new code of ethics for the DRPA after an expanded ethics code was drafted in 2003 by an internal auditor but was never brought to the DRPA board.
Matheussen "continually turned a blind eye to what was going on right in front of him," Vereb said in a statement. "In fact, he paved the way for even more bad behavior by neglecting to tell the DRPA board that a new, stronger code of ethics even existed. . . . In order to move forward and change the way the agency operates, Matheussen needs to go."
Contact staff writer Paul Nussbaum at 215-854-4587 or email@example.com