Like so many twenty-first century skirmishes, the war began not with a bang, but a tweet:
— Tony Bruno (@TonyBrunoShow) April 6, 2018
Tony Bruno, the erstwhile Fanatic and WIP host who retired from the terrestrial airwaves in 2015, lobbed a virtual grenade at one of the largest armies in the city: the Philadelphia Parking Authority, otherwise known as the PPA.
Bruno is no stranger to verbal combat. He might be best known to Crossing Broad readers as a prominent veteran of the Radio Wars that our intrepid leader, Kyle Scott, has documented for posterity. Thanks to Kyle, our grandchildren will write essays comparing Hannibal’s invasion of Italy to Josh Innes’ brief assault on the Philadelphia market; Dwayne from Swedesboro will take his rightful place in history alongside Uncle Remus and Al Jolson’s blackface characters; and historians will debate whether the Camp David Accords had the same impact as the Baldy Summit of 2017.
Although Bruno has retreated from the radio scene, he has created a podcast and maintains an active social media presence. It also appears that he has decided to spend his golden years living in his native South Philadelphia, which is the setting for the Bruno-PPA conflict of 2018.
Bruno’s troubles with the PPA began last week. It appears that Mr. Monday Night was assessed four tickets in quick succession, which made his car liable to be booted. Bruno contends that three of the tickets were issued in error by an aggressive parking enforcement officer who ignored the 24-hour permit sticker on his vehicle windshield.
Rejected #PPA Proof my car was legally parked on my street with a 24 sticker and given 2 different tickets by an overzealous meter maid on 2 different nights @PhilaParking #NoJusticeNoBoot pic.twitter.com/ufJzxRBwZ2
— Tony Bruno (@TonyBrunoShow) April 6, 2018
Despite receiving assurances that he would be able to dispute the charges before his vehicle was impounded, Bruno found that his car was towed. And so he decided to record his Sunday afternoon trip to the PPA’s impound lot to recover his vehicle:
The first four minutes of the video serve as an introduction, but the action doesn’t really pick up until the 14:30 mark, when Tony is informed by the PPA cashier that he will need to pay $927 in order to release his car. After some back-and-forth, it sounds like the parking czars demanded payment for historical tickets that appeared when Bruno’s name was entered into the PPA database. At the 17 minute mark, Bruno loses it:
“I want my car released today or someone’s gonna have hell to pay in this city…This bullshit’s gonna end in this city. I want my goddamn car! I have four tickets, and three of them were given illegally on my street…I’m making a documentary about what a corrupt extortion operation this is. This is an extortion operation. Extortion!
Tony’s outburst might seem unhinged, but any viewers of the old Parking Wars show would recognize it as a not unusual interaction with an agency that has a less than stellar reputation. While that garbage television series was geared toward portraying PPA subjects in the best light and using the camera to coax the worst theatrical instincts out of selectively chosen ticketed citizens, I would still find myself sympathizing with the citizens who just had their lives significantly disrupted. And I find myself siding with Tony Bruno now.
Though it seems contradictory, the PPA operates in a way that is simultaneously ruthlessly efficient and woefully incompetent. The agency dispatches meter readers throughout the city and, despite denials, expects each employee to reach a quota. I’ve spoken with a former parking enforcement officer who was sent to a less desirable (read: more dangerous) beat when he failed to detect an acceptable number of violations.
The job of the meter reader is to find violations. If you don’t find any, the logic goes, you aren’t looking hard enough.
Behavioral and work ethic standards decrease as one moves up the PPA’s employment ladder. The organization has served as a patronage den for the city’s Republican Party, which wrested control of the PPA from local Democrats in 2001 due to some clever maneuvering in Harrisburg. The organization has handed out sinecures to ward leaders and other politically connected Philadelphians. Six-figure salaries are common in upper management, and unusually generous comp time rules were in place for salaried senior staff through 2016. Even managers who are terminated for poor job performance seem to find their way back to the trough. Chris Vogler, who was dismissed from his position as manager of the red-light program, reappeared as a consultant for Xerox, which was bidding for a red light camera contract .
Until 2016, Republican ward leader and power broker Vince Fenerty ran the PPA; Fenerty resigned his position as executive director in 2016 when claims of sexual harassment and a legal settlement came to light. When he clocked out, Fenerty cashed in: in addition to the highest pension in the municipal government, Fenerty claimed over $200,000 in unused vacation time and was granted fifteen years of free health coverage.
After a blistering report from the state’s auditor general, the PPA responded by retreating to comfortable territory: the organization created an extra layer of bureaucratic bloat and hired a new executive director who had zero experience running an agency like the PPA. Moreover, the PPA redoubled its efforts to recoup the money for unpaid tickets dating as far back as 20 years.
These actions may have eased the pressure coming from Harrisburg and City Hall to reform the agency, but they have only exacerbated already frayed tensions between the PPA and the citizens it purports to serve.
Of course, Tony faced backlash on Twitter for not paying the tickets. And there’s some logic to this point. However, I would bet most of his critics do not live in town. Once they leave the city limits, they don’t have to worry about a PPA van cruising through their residential neighborhood at night and booting or towing their cars.
And what if you believe you were unfairly ticketed? Apparently, the booting and towing process is not slowed if tickets are in dispute.
At the end of his video, Bruno directs his anger at Mayor Jim Kenney:
“And I’m promising you this, Jim Kenney. I’m promising you this right now. Every single day of this week, I will be out on the streets not just exposing the PPA…I will expose how you have swindled, lied, and destroyed this great city; how you have sanitized Center City by spending millions of dollars in Dilworth Plaza and fancying up the LOVE statue. And having second-rate, not even real City Council people staging protests to take down a Frank Rizzo statue. That’s all you care about! You don’t care about the people! You care about your bullshit social justice agenda.”
Here’s where I part company with Bruno. Mayor Kenney has little, bordering on zero, control of the PPA. Aside from making use of the bully pulpit, there is not much Kenney can do to impact the PPA’s operations. Since he’s not doling out the patronage jobs, the mayor cannot control the people who run the organization. If Bruno wants to vent, he should direct his outrage at the Harrisburg legislators who control the PPA.
That said, I think it’s completely fair to demand results from the mayor for a school system that continually demands money while delivering a questionable return on investment. Philadelphia has now opened a casino, increased the surcharge on cigarettes, taxed sugary beverages, proposed a property tax hike, and has subjected this city to an overzealous Parking Authority that ravenously seeks revenue to prop up a failing school system and a top-heavy management structure.
Millions of dollars have poured into the School District’s coffers, and the city is in the process of regaining control of its school system from the state. What are we getting for this money? Why are there still classrooms that do not have enough textbooks? Why do teachers still need to dip into their own funds to buy supplies for their students? How many students are reading at grade level? How many are graduating from high school either armed with a skill set that will allow them to enter the workforce or the grades and the knowledge to succeed in college?
There’s nothing wrong with asking these questions, especially when the city is burdening its citizens with the responsibility to fund the pursuit of answers.