A license for corruption
With criminal trials pending due to an alleged bid-rigging scheme, the Turnpike Commission's current leadership contends that the scandal-plagued agency has entered a new era of public accountability and transparency.
Former state Sen. Robert Mellow of Lackawanna County, and former turnpike executives George Hatalowich, chief operating officer; for Joseph Brimmeier, CEO; Mitchell Rubin, board chairman; and Dennis Miller and Jeffrey Suzenski, who both worked for turnpike contractors, are charged in the alleged scheme.
Since the case broke last year, new turnpike CEO Mark Compton and others in the administration have said often that there is a new culture at the commission to promote public trust through accountability and transparency.
Yet the agency, in another case, has turned down the Associated Press' request for basic financial data about turnpike operations.
Commonwealth Court Rochelle Friedman recently dismissed a case that had been brought against the commission by Ralph Billets, a former financial analyst who claimed to have been fired because he was a whistleblower. The judge found that the turnpike was justified in the dismissal for the financial reasons it had claimed.
An element of turnpike operations raised by Mr. Billets needs further examination. He contended that large EZ-Pass customers - trucking companies and brokers for them - who received a 20 percent toll discount due to their size began acting as a supplier of EZ-Pass transponders to smaller organizations that otherwise would not have qualified for the discount.
If so, that would result in millions of dollars of lost toll revenue and higher tolls. The two largest entities paid a combined $84 million to the commission in 2013; the third-highest, Fed-Ex Ground, paid $3.4 million.
The Associated Press asked the commission for detailed data on the discounts and the results of any investigation into the program. The commission rejected the data request, claiming that the Transportation Act shields the data.
So the public yet again is left in the dark by an agency for which such secrecy too often has been a license for corruption. The commission should provide the data.