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Toll call: Who stays, doesn't go at turnpike

| Sunday, Nov. 16, 2008

Think of the quandary in which poor Joe Brimmeier finds himself.

Brimmeier is chief executive of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, the outfit that operates and maintains the 545-mile series of toll roads stretching across the state.

Given the struggling economy, times are tough for the commission. People no longer need the turnpike to travel to jobs they no longer have, so traffic and toll revenue have declined precipitously.

Things are so bad that Brimmeier now is looking to reduce expenses and trim some of the commission's 2,250 jobs. Layoffs are being discussed if enough employees don't participate in a "voluntary departure program."

Given the manner in which many well-connected turnpike employees and consultants obtained their jobs, Brimmeier probably is meeting plenty of resistance as he attempts to cut costs and pare payroll.

In fact, it's easy to imagine how awkward some of the e-mail exchanges related to those endeavors must be:

To: Robert Brady, turnpike operations

From: Joe Brimmeier, turnpike chief executive

Bob, do you have any interest in participating in the voluntary departure program?

To: Brimmeier

From: Brady

I'm not sure. Let me discuss this with my father -- Bob Brady, the powerful Pennsylvania congressman, former turnpike commissioner and long-time Philadelphia Democratic Committee chairman who recommended me for this job -- and get back to you, OK?

To: Brimmeier

From: James Dodaro, powerful Pittsburgh attorney

Joe, while I no longer serve as a turnpike commissioner, a job I held for 20 years before stepping down in 2004, I thought you might like some advice as you wrestle with the painful decisions of which turnpike positions may have to be eliminated during this time of austerity.

Don't even think about getting rid of my son, Daniel, in auditing.

To: Dodaro

From: Brimmeier

Jim, I would never remotely consider laying off your son. He does a fine job.

But we can't keep everyone. I'm not sure I'll be able to retain Roberta Rudolph, your cousin who works as an administrator in our western regional office.

To: Brimmeier

From: Dodaro

She's off limits, too.

To: Ron Klink, c/o Ron Klink & Associates lobbyists

From: Brimmeier

Ron, given the economy's fragile condition, I'm not sure that any future lobbying contract we give you can be quite as lucrative as to what you are accustomed. As a former congressman, I'm sure you understand a public agency's need to be fiscally responsible.

To: Brimmeier

From: Klink

I more readily understand the need of a former congressman-turned-lobbyist to rely on his old friends to award lucrative contracts even during severe economic downturns. And considering all those years you spent as my chief of staff when I was in Congress, you certainly qualify as an old friend.

I'll be expecting that next contract in the mail shortly.

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