Philadelphia News & Search
The Philadelphia Parking Authority deleted from its computer system hundreds of hours of comp time accumulated by two deputy executive directors as media scrutiny was intensifying on the controversial perk for senior PPA staffers.
Records obtained this week by the Inquirer and Daily News show that Richard Dickson and Dennis Weldon, who earn $208,166 and $196,384 a year, respectively, had accumulated nearly 500 hours of comp time collectively as of March 2016.
But that number was reduced and ultimately changed to zero in the PPA’s database following the September resignation of executive director Vincent Fenerty – and as the newspapers began re-examining how bosses are compensated at the city’s Republican-controlled parking agency.
As a result, Dickson and Weldon, who also serves as general counsel, were omitted from a list the PPA provided to the newspapers showing that more than a dozen senior staffers had banked large amounts of comp time while earning six-figure salaries to run agency departments or oversee its finances.
PPA spokesman Marty O’Rourke said on Wednesday that Dickson and Weldon “gave back their comp time” in October 2016.
“They’re not going to take it,” O’Rourke said. “They just decided to give it up.”
But records obtained from a PPA source show that Dickson, who had a balance of 337.13 hours in March 2016 – well in excess of the 240-hour cap – still had 199 hours on record in late November. Weldon’s balance was 162.37 in November, records showed.
Asked about the discrepancy, O’Rourke subsequently issued a statement Friday that Dickson and Weldon surrendered their comp time, not in October as first claimed, but in January 2017 – the same month the newspapers requested current and past comp-time balances.
That statement said executive director Clarena Tolson, who replaced Fenerty in October, established a new policy in January 2017 that “moving forward, prohibited the executive director and deputy executive directors from earning comp time under any circumstances. At that time, Rick Dickson and Dennis Weldon both voluntarily relinquished all of their previously accumulated comp time.”
O’Rourke said he could not provide the specific date in January when that happened.
The Inquirer and Daily News first requested comp time records for Dickson, Weldon and other senior staffers via email on Jan. 5, 2017 and filed a formal Right-to-Know request on January 13. The PPA initially responded that it “does not have records of comp time” and how it was used by Fenerty or “any other” senior staffers.
But the agency later reversed course and produced a list, dated Jan. 20, showing that most senior staffers did have a running balance of comp time – including one director with 437 hours – that could be converted to cash when they leave the agency.
Fenerty, for example, turned his 289 hours into $33,178 after he was forced out of the job in September amid sexual-harassment complaints.
In addition to Weldon and Dickson, the Jan. 20 list showed that the PPA’s third deputy executive director, Corinne O’Connor, also had no comp time. She, however, had previously accumulated small amounts — 15.63 hours as of March 2016 and 5.25 hours as of November 2016.
“I have to find out what happened,” O’Connor said this week, when reached by phone. Asked if she relinquished her remaining time, O’Connor said, “I don’t know if I did or I didn’t. I’m not answering your question, so let’s end it at that,” before hanging up.
In February, after the news story about comp time was published, Tolson held a directors meeting and disclosed that some employees, without providing names, “gave back” their comp time, according to sources familiar with the meeting.
Erik Arneson, executive director of the state’s Office of Open Records, said the state Right-to-Know Law doesn’t address situations of an agency destroying or modifying requested records. But, he said, the law allows courts to fine agencies who deny access to records in bad faith.
“In my view, nothing would fit that criteria better than destroying a record, and modifying a record – depending on the actual changes – could certainly fit it as well,” Arneson said. He was speaking generally and not referring to a specific case.
Tolson, Dickson and Weldon did not return requests for comment. Nor did any of the board members that oversee the PPA.
Philadelphia News & Search