Nepotism at Turnpike Commission

Tom Barnes in the Post-Gazette with a great story on nepotism and patronage at the Turnpike Commission.

Rather than deny political favoritism in hiring (as they did last week), Turnpike spokesmen are now using the “Eh, nepotism and patronage, that ain’t so bad” defense.

Such talk infuriates Philadelphia lawyer Timothy Carson, one of the five turnpike commissioners. Mr. Carson said that many state agencies, not just the turnpike, get recommendations for hiring from various politicians and do hire some of them. …

“We make no secret of the fact that, like other agencies of government, we get recommendations [for employees] from elected officials. “

Like Mr. Carson, Mr. Brimmeier [Turnpike Executive Director] readily admits hiring relatives of some politicians. …

“I’ve never denied that when a job applicant comes to me and has a reference from a politician, I follow it up,” he added. “If I find out that he or she is a good person and can do the job, I’ll hire them. I’m not ashamed of anything I’ve done.”

Mr. Brimmeier also makes no bones about giving opportunities to members of his own family.

He hired a cousin, Edward Schauer, as a turnpike plumber. … He hired Shawn Linder, “the son of my godmother,” who had a computer science degree, to work in the Information Technology section, “but I fired him after a couple weeks because he didn’t show up for work and his supervisor complained to me.” … A sister, Bonnie, is a lawyer who worked in 2005 for Meyer Darragh, which the turnpike sometimes uses for outside legal work. … Another sister, Jan, is an architect who has worked for an engineering company that’s done work for the turnpike. But she doesn’t work directly for the turnpike. “I can’t prevent my family from making a living just because I’m director of the turnpike,” Mr. Brimmeier snapped. “My whole family would have to move out of state.” …

Questions also have been raised about $220,000 the turnpike paid in 2003-04 to a consultant, Michael Palermo, a turnpike administrator in the 1970s and ’80s and a friend of indicted state Sen. Vincent Fumo, D-Philadelphia. The federal indictment said investigators could find no discernible work Mr. Palermo had done for the turnpike, but he had apparently run Mr. Fumo’s 100-acre farm north of Harrisburg.

However, both Mr. Brimmeier and Mr. Carson said Mr. Palermo helped on important issues, such as implementing electronic toll collection (EZ Pass) and helping with the new travel plaza contract.

“Mike Palermo is a bright guy and he was knowledgeable about turnpike business,” said Mr. Carson. “There’s no question he had political relationships but he was a good resource.”