Patronage hiring is a widespread practice throughout the world. While patronage has its apologists, its tendency to facilitate corruption makes it an undesirable phenomenon that should be rooted out. Patronage isn’t just a problem in poor countries—it’s also alive and well in rich countries like the United States. The recent scandal at the Philadelphia Parking Authority (PPA) is a case in point.
While the PPA may be famous across the country for its inspectors’ telegenic antics, in Philadelphia the PPA has long been known as a patronage mill dominated by Republicans. In December 2017, the Pennsylvania Auditor General released two separate reports blasting the PPA for closed hiring practices, inflated salaries, questionable spending and contracting, and pervasive sexual harassment. The reports place blame squarely on the former executive director, Vince Fenerty, Jr., who operated as an “unchecked tyrant.” Fenerty, who started out as a Republican ward leader, personally oversaw all hiring decisions at the PPA. Although the PPA has an HR department, no one ever checked up on applicants’ references or qualifications. In fact, Fenerty did not select applicants from the pool of those who submitted applications to the HR Department. As the Auditor General’s report put it, “the former Executive Director had other unknown means of obtaining applications.” He usually interviewed only one person per position.
The PPA’s utter ineffectiveness and shady practices meant that, between 2012 and 2017, $77.9 million was lost or uncollected. Revenue from the PPA goes to the chronically-underfunded School District of Philadelphia, meaning that Fenerty’s misbehavior also had a direct effect on Philadelphia schoolchildren, who missed out on the teachers, textbooks, and technology that $77.9 million could have funded.
How did things go so wrong for so long at the PPA, and what does this tell us about the problems with patronage hiring more generally? Continue reading