The Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) has come under fire from all sides over the past year with charges of corruption, waste, and patronage. Now it is facing calls to ditch its chief executive, John Estey, who was appointed in 2009 and was before that chief of staff for Gov. Ed Rendell (D-PA). He’s also a friend of Dan Onorato, the Democrats’ gubernatorial nominee.
Responsible for four toll bridges on the Delware River — hence its name — along with a rail line between Philadelphia and South Jersey, the Port Authority’s revenue is about $300 million. But far from being a transparent, metrics-driven public agency, the authority might as well be considered a cog in the 19th-century party machine.
Onorato has issued a non-answer to Philadelphia’s Fox 29 when asked about reform of the DRPA.
Among the proposed changes for the Port Authority, spelled out by Estey himself:
– An end to hiring relatives of executives and employees.
– The right of state auditors to audit the DRPA.
– A ban on performing political work while on DRPA duty.
– Require all DRPA vendors to disclose political contributions.
– Opening all board meetings to the public and requiring the board to follow the Pennsylvania “Right to Know” law.
These are not particularly bold reform plans. They’re common sense ones.
Estey is to be commended for identifying these goals, along with many others, for a Port Authority in need of reform. Estey is also to be faulted for not moving quickly to make these reforms a reality.
Onorato’s waffling that it’s “not about any individuals” misses the mark. The question, of course, is whether the individual who heads the authority is an outside leader with business expertise or a political appointee connected to partisan agendas. Estey is distinctly the latter.
Onorato’s failure to identify an outsider represents another missed opportunity to outmaneuver his Republican opponent Tom Corbett, who seized the chance at a clear and direct message, saying through a spokesman: “Estey will be replaced by a competent manager who will not politicize the DRPA.”