The last-minute proposals by Chairman John Estey and Vice Chairman Jeff Nash came as the DRPA board prepared for its first meeting since a storm of criticism erupted last month over DRPA ethics, perks, and spending.
Under unaccustomed scrutiny from within and without, the board will vote Wednesday on changes designed to limit conflicts of interest, increase accountability, and confront its pay-to-play political culture.
The proposed changes, demanded by Gov. Christie and Gov. Rendell, do not go far enough for some critics on the board and for lawmakers calling for a shake-up in top leadership and a change in the agency's federal charter.
The bistate agency, which operates four Delaware River toll bridges and the PATCO commuter-rail line, has long been able to raise and spend money without accountability to voters, since most board members are appointed by the governors of the two states.
But the board is likely to get an earful Wednesday on issues including executive pay and perks, nearly a half-billion dollars spent on "economic development," closed-door meetings, and the increasing cost of bridge tolls.
It was rising tolls that Estey and Nash sought to address Tuesday.
The DRPA board is "aware that current economic conditions have resulted in hardships for our customers, and keeping discounts in place is one way to help ease the burden," Estey said in a statement.
The senior E-ZPass discounted toll was set to rise to $2 on Sept. 1, and the other discounts were to end then.
Since the board had voted last December to delay for 10 months a $1 increase in car tolls, to $5, that was to take effect Sept. 1, "it makes sense to keep the discounts in place that were to expire or change on that date," Nash said in a statement.
At Wednesday's board meeting, Pennsylvania Treasurer Robert McCord, a board member, plans to introduce measures to toughen the 18 proposals that Estey is to offer. McCord said he wanted to "reform a culture" of self-dealing and political influence.
McCord wrote in a letter to Estey last week that there was "a general sense that the Authority is a political patronage operation unconcerned with the rising toll charges levied on the public to pay for all this political largesse."
Just before Wednesday's 10 a.m. board meeting, two state legislators from New Jersey and Pennsylvania will meet with reporters in the shadow of the DRPA's headquarters on the Camden waterfront to unveil proposed legislation to change the agency's federal compact.
Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Vereb (R., Montgomery) and New Jersey Assemblyman Domenick DiCicco (R., Gloucester) want to eliminate the DRPA's authority to spend toll money on economic development. Any change in the federal compact requires approval by the legislatures and governors of both states, Congress, and the president.
The two lawmakers, along with John "Johnny Doc" Dougherty, a Philadelphia labor leader and DRPA board member, also have called for the dismissal of DRPA chief executive John Matheussen.
"Everything that went wrong went wrong on his watch," Dougherty said Tuesday. "Either he doesn't know what's going on, or he's lying. Either way, he's got to go."
Estey and Nash have expressed their support for Matheussen. Christie has not agreed to a new contract for Matheussen, as his staff continues to probe the DRPA.
The changes demanded by Christie and Rendell that will be proposed by Estey Wednesday include:
An end to car allowances and free E-ZPass accounts and free PATCO rides for DRPA executives and employees.
An end to hiring relatives of executives and employees.
An end to closed-door "caucus" meetings of DRPA board members.
Lowering the ceiling for no-bid contracts for construction, maintenance, and supplies to $36,000 from the current $100,000. The DRPA would still be permitted to award "professional services" contracts without sealed bids or just on the basis of cost.
The right of state auditors to audit the DRPA.
A ban on outside employment for DRPA managers.
Opening all board meetings to the public and requiring the board to follow the Pennsylvania Right to Know law and the New Jersey Open Public Records Act.
New ethics rules and a requirement that DRPA officials "avoid the appearance of impropriety."
Restricting vendors who hire former DRPA officials.
A ban on performing political work while on DRPA duty.
"Prohibiting undue influence" by board members, officers, and employees on DRPA decision making.
Requiring all DRPA vendors to disclose political contributions.
Requiring DRPA board members to file financial disclosure reports.
Creating a committee to review executive-level compensation.
The authority's economic-development spending has been especially controversial.
The DRPA has spent nearly $500 million in the last 12 years 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.
Contact staff writer Paul Nussbaum at 215-854-4587 or firstname.lastname@example.org.