SEPTA BOARD MEMBER IN POSSIBLE ETHICS FLAP
The Executive Director and four members of the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission are being targeted by legislatures in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania following reports that Executive Director Frank McCartney - a SEPTA Board member appointed by House Republicans - and four Commissioners recieved gifts from vendors in exchange for an EZPass related contract.
The DRJTBC operates several bridges along the Pennsylvania-New Jersey border, inluding the US 1 bridge between Morrisville and Trenton and the US 202 bridge between New Hope and Lambertville.
Five leaders of the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission last year dined in Florida and played golf at the Ritz Carlton's Tiburon course at the expense of contractors who went on to win millions of dollars in agency business.
The favors accepted by Executive Director Frank G. McCartney and four commissioners are the latest instance to be uncovered in a pattern of resort activities and commission parties paid for in 2002 by contractors that won E-ZPass contracts during an invitation-only bidding process that year.
The commission said that, although the cost of meals and golf were picked up by contractors, the agency paid for airfare, lodging and other expenses — for a total of about $5,000 for the trip. The commission said it does not know the value of the gifts.
The contractors who provided the favors during an April 2002 trip are TransCore of Hummelstown, Dauphin County, and Washington Group International, which has an office in Princeton, N.J.
They subsequently received more than $10 million in commission business.
''This incident is really appalling,'' said state Sen. Lisa Boscola, a Democrat who represents parts of Lehigh, Northampton and Monroe counties. ''We have a long way to go as we reform this agency.''
Boscola is among a group of legislators supporting measures in the Pennsylvania and New Jersey legislatures that would force the commission to open its records of travel expenses and other commission business to public inspection.
The commission's bidding process is already under review by the 10 commissioners who oversee the agency. They have promised to release the findings of that review at their meeting (September 29) in New Hope.
The review was announced after The Morning Call reported in June that E-ZPass contractors also paid for meals and golf at resorts in Hilton Head, S.C., last year. The commission has also acknowledged that the vendors paid for a December party at the Trenton Country Club.
E-ZPass was implemented on the agency's 20 bridges, spanning an area between Bucks County and the New York state line, in November — the same time that tolls were increased by up to 400 percent.
Both trips came to light slowly because information for both trips did not appear in travel records the commission voluntarily provided to reporters at the end of 2002. McCartney said through a staffer at the commission's public affairs consultant, The Bravo Group of Harrisburg, the omissions were ''oversights.''
In addition to McCartney, New Jersey Commissioners Harry Parkin and Gloria Decker and former Pennsylvania Commissioners Hal Saxton and Daniel Wassmer traveled to Florida on the trip that also included visits to two toll authorities that use E-ZPass-like electronic toll collection systems.
The toll authority released the Florida information in a letter to The Morning Call after the newspaper asked about the trip.
The New Jersey Executive Commission on Ethical Standards enforces the state's conflicts of interest law prohibiting gifts from vendors to New Jersey bridge commissioners. It is investigating the Hilton Head trip and the Trenton Country Club party.
The Pennsylvania commissioners who accepted the favors were replaced when Gov. Ed Rendell's five appointees arrived in February. Pennsylvania's commissioners are not regulated by the state's conflicts of interest rules, but the Rendell-appointed commissioners have said they will voluntarily comply with a ban on vendor gifts.
Saxton and Wassmer, the former Pennsylvania commissioners who participated in the trip, said they were not aware of payment arrangements for the golf and meals and that payment arrangements for the trip were arranged by McCartney.
Decker, the former mayor of Phillipsburg, said, ''All of my expenses, as far as I know, were paid for by the commission.''
Parkin, who leads the New Jersey delegation, did not return phone calls made to his office where he serves as chief of staff to Mercer County Executive Robert Prunetti.
Wassmer said the commission bypassed local E-ZPass systems to visit the Florida systems because New Jersey was having problems with its system at the time and because TransCore, the firm the commission wanted to use for its own project, had not done E-ZPass work in Pennsylvania.
TransCore and the Washington Group won their E-ZPass contracts at the commission through an invitation-only bidding process. Unlike the Pennsylvania and New Jersey departments of transportation, the commission does not typically open contract competitions to all qualified contractors.
The commission's letter said both contractors paid for meals and TransCore also paid for a ''golf outing.''
Saxton said the outing occurred at the Ritz Cartlon's Tiburon golf course in Naples, Fla. The 36-hole course was designed by PGA star Greg Norman. - Allentown Morning Call; 27 September 2003 (article is not available at Morning Call website)
Wow, a SEPTA Board member involved in a contract controversy. That couldn't possibly happen, could it? It's interesting how irrelevant the DRJTBC is in the Philadelphia area - at least when compared to the Delaware River Port Authority. Yet, it seems that some of the same patronage and cronyism takes place in Morrisville (headquarters of the DRJTBC) as it does in Camden. And, for that matter, at 1234 Market...