DRPA board, in rare night meeting, puts off controversial items

Posted: October 21, 2010

The Delaware River Port Authority proved little competition for the Philadelphia Phillies Wednesday night.

The DRPA's board, holding an unprecedented night session to allow working people to attend, drew almost no one to the cavernous Philadelphia Cruise Terminal in the Navy Yard.

Before the meeting adjourned, just in time for the first pitch of the Phillies' playoff game, the board avoided votes on the most controversial items on its agenda: renewing the contract of embattled chief executive John Matheussen and slashing the salaries of Matheussen and other top managers.

The two measures, sponsored by Pennsylvania board member John "Johnny Doc" Dougherty, the Philadelphia labor leader, were sent to the board's newly established compensation committee for review.

Dougherty has been seeking the removal of Matheussen, whose three-year contract expired in July.

Gov. Christie, who demanded a series of governance and ethics changes at the DRPA, has said he will not permit Matheussen to be rehired for a third term until Christie is satisfied with DRPA reforms.

In the meantime, Matheussen remains in his $219,474-a-year job, based on an authorization letter signed in July by Board Chairman John Estey and Vice Chairman Jeffrey L. Nash.

Dougherty's motion to renew Matheussen's contract was seen as an effort to force the board's - and Christie's - hand on the chief executive. He also urged cutting Matheussen's salary to $175,000, the same as Christie's, and reducing department heads' salaries to $125,000 from the current $180,000.

"If we believe we are moving in the right direction, let's put it in place that John is our agent of change," Dougherty said.

But the board demurred.

"Did somebody say the governor wanted to extend his [Matheussen's] contract?" asked board member Robert Bogle. Nash shook his head no, and, at Bogle's suggestion, the proposals were dispatched to the compensation committee.

The board also approved a weakened version of a proposal to limit political contributions by companies that do business with the agency. The board, which initially had considered a ban on contributions by DRPA vendors, on Wednesday approved a measure that simply requires vendors to list their contributions and comply with campaign-finance laws in New Jersey or Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania board member Robin Wiessmann called the measure "woefully inadequate" and said it would be "virtually meaningless" in Pennsylvania, where campaign-finance law is lax.

Nash said the new requirement was an important improvement, because it requires New Jersey companies to comply with the state's "pay-to-play" laws, which had not been the case because the DRPA is a bistate agency.

The board did not address another simmering issue - an investigation into the unwritten practice of requiring New Jersey and Pennsylvania insurance brokers to divide their commissions with each other regardless of work performed.

Christie has asked his appointed state comptroller, A. Matthew Boxer, to investigate the so-called true-up arrangement. Estey said Wednesday that he would convene a nonpublic executive session next month to brief the DRPA board members on the investigation.

A prominent Philadelphia insurance broker, the Graham Co., says it has been required as a condition of doing business with the DRPA to share its commissions with Willis of New Jersey Inc. in Morristown, N.J.

Every year, Graham says, it has been asked to "true-up" the difference between its commissions and those of Willis by sending a check to Willis.

This year, Graham contested the arrangement and has refused to pay $44,703 to Willis. Graham says it has paid Willis $514,530 since 2004.

The board's next meeting is slated for 9 a.m. Nov. 3 at its Camden headquarters.

Contact staff writer Paul Nussbaum at 215-854-4587 or pnussbaum@phillynews.com.

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