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Consultant to review top brass at Pennsylvania Turnpike

| Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, long a target of criticism for handing out patronage jobs and contracts to the politically connected, plans to seek an outside consultant to review the agency's top management.

"There is no stated objective, other than we want to make sure we have effective and efficient management," said turnpike spokesman Carl DeFebo.

Created in 1937, the turnpike commission today oversees 545 miles of toll highways across the state that generate more than $700 million in revenue.

DeFebo said an outside consultant conducted a review of the agency when former Gov. Ed Rendell took office and appointed Joseph Brimmeier of Ross as CEO. The consultant's recommendations included changing job titles and responsibilities, he said.

Turnpike Commissioner Pasquale Deon of Bucks County said they resulted in the elimination of millions of dollars in wasteful spending.

"This is a different agency than it was even four years ago," Deon said. He said he has not been briefed on the latest proposal but is "always willing to look for ways to make the agency better."

DeFebo said this review would "be more limited in scope" than the previous one, looking at the agency's top 14 management positions, not the entire organization. A list of the top jobs, and who holds them, was not available on Wednesday afternoon.

Some lawmakers hope the review's impact is not limited.

"The question is: Is this business as usual or is this a new day for the commission• We can only hope it is a new day," said Rep. Rick Geist, R-Altoona, chairman of the House Transportation Committee.

Rep. Mike Vereb, R-Montgomery County, agreed.

"If it's a true reassessment and not some politically connected consulting firm getting the work, then that has to be looked at as a positive note," Vereb said.

He introduced legislation last session to fold the commission into PennDOT, but he said it went nowhere because there is "very little appetite in the Legislature for such a large shift of management."

Rep. Joe Markosek, D-Monroeville, House minority chairman, questioned hiring an outside consultant.

"It seems to me the new CEO is from the outside," Markosek said, referring to Roger Nutt, a former New Jersey transportation official who previously served as executive director of the state's highway authority. "It begs the question: Why do you need to pay someone from the outside to determine what the new folks should perhaps be determining?"

It's unclear how much the review might cost. DeFebo said the commission could begin soliciting bids this summer.

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