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Ronnie Polaneczky: At PPA, tickets and violations

November 8, 2011

By Ronnie Polaneczky, Daily News Columnist

This is the $125 ticket that a Parking Authority employee says she was hounded to buy…IN 2004, five Philadelphia Parking Authority employees complained to the Daily News of being pressured to buy tickets to Republican fundraisers or risk reprisal on the job.

The PPA conducted its own investigation of the alleged "macing" and concluded that there was no wrongdoing. Still, the PPA's revised handbook now states that no employee shall be "made to believe that his or her continued or advanced employment . . . is contingent upon participation in charitable or political activity of fundraising."

Didn't Ron Wooden read it?

A 17-year PPA employee, Wooden is the authority's head security supervisor and also Republican leader of the 11th Ward. According to a PPA employee who wants to be identified as "Tameka" in this column, Wooden hounded her to buy a $125 ticket to the Republican City Committee's fall fundraiser, held last Tuesday.

She said that Wooden, her "sponsor" in the Republican-controlled PPA, had always made it clear that, if she didn't buy tickets to the committee's three annual fundraisers, her job could be in jeopardy. So she bought them.

But it irked her.

"It's extortion," she said.

So, a month ago, when Wooden started pushing her to buy yet another ticket, she contacted the Daily News. I then was invited by her to listen in when she returned a call from Wooden to discuss the ticket.

Tameka said that she couldn't afford the ticket; her fiancé was out of work. Wooden reminded her that "three [tickets] a year is what it's all about." If Tameka ran into job problems, he said, the first thing PPA bosses would ask is, "Did she buy her tickets?"

They sparred for about three tense minutes. Finally, Wooden suggested that Tameka pay for the ticket in two installments.

Tameka reluctantly agreed.

"I'm afraid to say 'no,' " she said after she hung up.

Over the next few weeks, though, she ignored Wooden's follow-up calls for the money. Finally, she phoned PPA's deputy executive director, Linda Miller, for advice about the situation, although she never told Miller that Wooden was the person pressuring her.

Both women agree that Miller assured Tameka that job security didn't depend on ticket purchases. But they disagree about what was said next.

Miller, Tameka claims, suggested that, in the future, Tameka regard the tickets as a Republican "donation," the way Miller had done for years. She says that Miller also suggested that Tameka create a "payment plan" so that, when fundraisers came up, she could pay for them with squirreled-away savings.

Miller told me she was speaking hypothetically about what Tameka might do if she chose to buy tickets. She said she emphasized that the PPA doesn't condone the practice of seeking political contributions from employees. And she said that she offered to guide Tameka through a formal complaint process if Tameka chose to go that route.

"I said, 'You need to make sure that someone else knows about it and resolve the situation,' " Miller told me.

I asked Miller if, given the seriousness of the 2004 scandal, she brought Tameka's allegation to PPA directors.

"No, but in I hindsight, I probably should have," she said, adding that Tameka's complaint was the first that she'd heard of "any ticket-selling inside the PPA" since 2004.

Last week, Tameka finally outed Wooden to the PPA's human-resources department, after Wooden left her two voice mails that freaked her out.

"Hey . . . gimme a call, very important," he says in the first. "All right, y'all call me when y'all want somethin' so gimme a call."

Then came the second.

"Hey . . . it's me," he says. "Ya ain't answerin' ya phone. When somethin' go wrong I'm-a do you, I'm-a do you the same way, 'cause all it takes is for you to do is call me. It's all it takes. I understand if you don't have the money. All you got to do is talk to, answer the phone, call me back. The same way you doin' me, I'm-a do you the same way. Believe me, somethin' gonna come up."

Within hours of hearing the voice mails, PPA management "severely disciplined" Wooden, says authority spokesman Marty O'Rourke. Wooden, reached for comment, told me that he couldn't talk "because I don't have a lawyer with me."

He might need one.

I reached out to former chief deputy city solicitor Ralph Teti, now a partner and employment-law expert at Willig, Williams and Davidson, to ask what he made of Wooden's voice mail.

"He might have a lot of explaining to do to the district attorney and the U.S. attorney," said Teti, since federal and state laws make clear that "political affiliation is not supposed to be a criteria for getting a job, keeping a job or being terminated from a job.

"It sounds like this is not a matter of whether the law was broken but of how many laws were broken."

Since Tameka exposed Wooden, his calls to her have stopped. But she doubts, without those voice mails as proof, that she'd ever have gotten peace.

"I'm just a ticket writer," she said. "Who'd believe me?"

   
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