Report stirs rifts on DRPA board

DRPA's John Matheussen
DRPA's John Matheussen
Posted: August 20, 2013

A recent report by the inspector general of the Delaware River Port Authority critical of pay raises and promotions at the agency has stirred divisions within DRPA's bistate board.

Several board members have come to the defense of chief executive John Matheussen, saying he was unfairly criticized by inspector general Thomas W. Raftery for authorizing raises and promotions without approval from top board officials.

Separately, some board members have accused board chairman David Simon, a staunch supporter of Raftery and internal reforms, of a conflict of interest because his wife's law firm works for DRPA.

Raftery has been a source of contention almost since he was hired in 2012 as DRPA's first inspector general, charged with rooting out fraud, waste, and abuse. The position was created as part of reforms instituted in 2010 to try to make DRPA more transparent and accountable.

Raftery, a former FBI agent, has clashed with Matheussen over his insistence on reporting to the board, not the chief executive, about his investigations. And he has angered some board members with what they describe as selective targeting of subjects for his investigations.

Last year, a proposed $35,000 raise for Raftery prompted a board meeting boycott by five New Jersey board members, blocking the raise and delaying Gov. Corbett's departure as board chairman. The New Jersey board members said they objected to a raise for Raftery while many rank-and-file DRPA workers had gone without pay raises since 2008.

The most recent flap involves an audit by Raftery that said Matheussen gave large raises last year to two electrical foremen for PATCO, which DRPA operates. That prompted "me-too" raises to the same salary of $79,500 for 26 other DRPA and PATCO foremen.

The audit said Matheussen did not get advance approval from the board chairman or vice chairman for the raises. A 2003 DRPA provision requires such approval for all raises greater than 8 percent, Raftery said.

But Matheussen disputed that, saying he had informed top board officials of his plans to give raises to the foremen, and he cited memos in which he explained the raises were necessary because of "salary compression" that had narrowed the pay gap between the foremen and their workers.

Several board members supported Matheussen's account, including DRPA vice chairman Jeff Nash and fellow New Jersey board members Richard Sweeney and Al Frattali.

"The records reflect there had been an open discussion on the raises . . . and the board was aware of the compression issues," Nash said. "I was familiar with the problem and what John had intended. John acted properly."

Frattali said, "I don't know if lie is the right word, but what he [Raftery] said is just not accurate. The raises were addressed with the board. . . . I don't know where he comes off that they were not properly vetted. It seems to me like he's got a vendetta."

William Sasso, a Pennsylvania board member, criticized Raftery last month in a committee meeting, saying he had "drawn factually inaccurate conclusions" and accused him of manipulating facts to suit his conclusions.

Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, a DRPA board member who oversees Raftery's work as chair of the board's audit committee, said Raftery's recent report demonstrated why the inspector general was important but also showed that he needs specific guidance on doing his job.

"The report clearly shows the need for reform efforts to continue, but, having said that, we need to make sure we follow government auditing standards," DePasquale said. "We need to allow everyone to have their voice heard."

The board's audit committee has been drafting operating procedures for the inspector general for more than a year, and DePasquale said he expected a vote on those procedures soon, perhaps as early as next month.

DePasquale, whose office audits many public agencies in Pennsylvania, said audits were not criminal investigations and should be conducted differently.

"This is not the FBI sending in SWAT teams to seize computers. The goal is not to get headlines, but to improve the entity."

He said that "if it turns into 'he said, she said,' then egos and personalities can get involved. We need to get past that . . . we need to have aggressive internal audits, but it's not about playing the game of 'gotcha,' it's about improving the organization."

Some board critics of Raftery have also criticized Simon, the DRPA board chairman, who is married to Deborah Simon, a lawyer with Elliott Greenleaf, a Pennsylvania firm. Elliott Greenleaf was one of nine law firms added to DRPA's list of approved firms in February as the agency expanded its roster of outside lawyers.

Simon abstained from the vote to approve the law firms but did not mention that his wife was a shareholder in the firm.

Frattali and Sweeney said Simon had a conflict of interest because his wife's firm stood to make money on DRPA work.

"I do think it's a conflict," said Sweeney, a labor leader who is the brother of state Senate President Stephen Sweeney. "We should have been told. I think that's part of the inspector general's job. We should have been informed by him."

Frattali, like Sweeney an official with the ironworkers' union, said, "It's definitely a conflict . . . we passed a resolution in 2010 about nepotism and undue influence." He said he would have objected in February if he had known of the relationship, and said Simon "should step down as chairman."

Simon, who is the executive vice president and chief legal officer for Jefferson Health System Inc., said Sunday that the relationship did not present a conflict because he would have no role in assigning Elliott Greenleaf to any legal work and that his wife "has not worked on and will not work on any DRPA matters."

He said the inspector general and DRPA's outside counsel had reviewed the relationship, "and both confirmed that no conflict existed."

"I believe one of my strengths is that I have no affiliation with a law firm . . . and all of its many client, referral, and other relationships," Simon said, "and that allows me the independence to address tough issues impartially, objectively, and on the merits, as I have done and will continue to do."


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

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