DRPA needs change in culture, interim chief executive says

John Hanson has been chief financial officer since 2004.
John Hanson has been chief financial officer since 2004.
Posted: January 17, 2014

John Hanson, the chief financial officer of the Delaware River Port Authority, was named Wednesday as interim chief executive of the DRPA to replace John Matheussen, who has been appointed a state Superior Court judge by Gov. Christie.

Hanson also appears to have the inside track to get the job permanently, although DRPA board members said they would conduct a nationwide search.

Hanson, 53, a certified public accountant from Cherry Hill, is a former DRPA board member and a former chairman of the Camden County Republican Party. He has been the DRPA's chief financial officer since 2004.

Hanson said Wednesday that he'd like the top job at the DRPA, which operates four toll bridges and the PATCO commuter rail line linking Philadelphia and South Jersey.

Hanson said the next CEO must recognize that "changes need to be made in the culture" of the agency, which has long been a political patronage haven and which has been treated by the politically powerful "like a personal ATM," as New Jersey State Comptroller Matthew Boxer said in a 2012 report.

The two top spots at the DRPA historically have been split between New Jersey and Pennsylvania, with a New Jersey resident serving as chief executive and a Pennsylvanian as chairman of the board. Gov. Corbett was chairman from March 2011 to October 2012.

Hanson was praised Wednesday by board members for holding down operating costs and winning improved bond ratings for the DRPA.

Jeffrey L. Nash, vice chairman of the DRPA and a Democratic Camden County freeholder, said Hanson should get "very serious consideration for a permanent appointment."

The search for a permanent replacement will take at least 30 days, said DRPA Board Chairman David Simon. Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, a member of the DRPA board, urged the board to conduct a wide search for a replacement for Matheussen.

Hanson will continue to collect his current $180,000 annual salary while serving as interim CEO. Matheussen was paid $219,474 a year.

Jim White, director of finance for the DRPA, will become the interim chief financial officer.

Matheussen, CEO since 2003, will step down on Friday.

In parting remarks Wednesday, he praised DRPA employees and urged the board to give raises to workers, many of whom have not had increases in five years. And he urged the board to upgrade the agency's computer software systems for managing its business functions.

"It has been an absolute honor and privilege to serve the people of this region," said Matheussen, who presided during a tumultuous decade capped by an ongoing federal criminal investigation into the DRPA's $500 million in economic-development spending.

That spending, over 15 years, saw tollpayers' money used for such non-transportation projects as stadiums, museums, a concert hall, and an aquarium.

Matheussen thanked the current board members for ending economic-development spending and he praised several other accomplishments on his watch, including the $140 million redecking of the Walt Whitman Bridge and the ongoing $190 million rehabilitation of the PATCO commuter rail car fleet.

Matheussen is the authority's eleventh and second-longest serving chief administrator. Only Joseph K. Costello, who led the organization from its inception in 1921 until 1959, held the job longer.

Matheussen said he expects to be sworn in as a Superior Court judge late this month, and is likely to serve in the region that serves Gloucester, Cumberland, and Salem Counties.

DRPA board member Joann Bell told Matheussen, "If you can do the DRPA, you have a great judicial temperament."


pnussbaum@phillynews.com

215-854-4587

@nussbaumpaul

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