No Parking Scandal

(October 2016)

Of all the things wrong with the business as usual at the Philadelphia Parking Authority, it finally took revelations of sexual harassment by the chief executive and look-the-other-way lack-of-leadership by the authority's board to bring change at the top.  But, neither the boss' boorish behavior, nor the board's baffling blind spots, scratches the surface of the true scandal of the PPA.  

The real problem is that Philadelphia's parking-regulatory bureaucracy is used as a patronage haven and a center of white-collar cronyism -- not as an agency to direct sound transportation policy or as a generator of a predictable and significant revenue stream for the city and its schools.  The actual scandal is that Philadelphia politicians of both political parties have looked the other way as the parking authority has been abused by Philadelphia's political class.  

This is not news and it is not new.  

No Stopping Any Time

The Philadelphia Parking Authority has long been an entity that placed politics first, a favored place for Philadelphia politicians to find jobs and contacts for friends and relatives.  It was a wasteful political patronage haven when Democrats ran the agency and even though the more-recent Republican take-over was ostensibly about running the agency better to throw off more money for the city and its schools, the Parking Authority has remained a spendthrift patronage haven, bloated with the inflated salaries of countless unneeded upper-level managers and expensive contracts with connected vendors.  

The public -- whether asking for understandable and rational parking signage, reasonable enforcement of parking laws, safe and clean taxi cabs, access to ride-sharing vehicles, or ticketing of cars illegally parked in the South Broad Street median -- remains an afterthought. 

Philadelphia's most reformy mayors, progressive legislators, and aggressive watchdogs have looked the other way at the agency's excesses.  Many have even taken advantage of the agency's generosity, placing their own friends or family members in sinecure positions.  Then, they are reelected.  Clearly, no politician gets the boot for looking the other way when it comes to the workings of the Philadelphia Parking Authority.

In the 1987 film, "The Untouchables," crusading G-man Elliot Ness is stunned to find that the target of his Prohibition-Era liquor raid is a prominent post office located across the street from a police station.  Ness' street-savvy comrade responds to the confusion by stating, "Mr. Ness, everybody knows where the booze is. The problem isn't finding it, the problem is who wants to cross Capone."

Just as with the search for bootleg liquor in the film version of the City of Broad Shoulders, the search for bootlick cronyism in the City of Brotherly Love is not about knowing where it is; it is about having the courage to cross the political status quo.

Violators Will Be Towed

Politics -- as the system we employ to determine how to utilize our scarce resources -- has a place in Philadelphia.  But, the business of politics must be about more than jobs for hacks and sweetheart contracts for cronies.  If we cannot elect better politicians, at least we can remove their opportunities to abuse our money and our trust.  

Some may be content that the Parking Authority has changed leadership.  But, the real scandal goes far beyond the groping hands of the head of one agency.  The real problem is that, despite many lurches toward municipal modernity in Philadelphia, government of the pols, for the pols, by the pols, shall not perish from this city.

This parking theater has expired.  It is time to repurpose the functions of the city’s Parking Authority to make it work better for Philadelphia and Philadelphians.  We need a professional organization, not a patronage organization; focused on transportation policy instead of transactional politics.  It's time to end this parking scandal.