Later this month, the Port Authority board of directors will have an entirely new look and format, thanks to state legislation passed this summer. Mid-September, the board changes to an 11-member structure with appointees elected by the governor, the Democratic and Republican caucuses from both the state House and the Senate, and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. (The county executive alone previously made the appointments.) Jack Brooks sat on the board for 17 years, and occasionally clashed with Fitzgerald, who has taken a hands-on approach to running the agency.
As of press time, only four new appointments had been made: Senate Democrats appointed state Sen. Jim Brewster; Fitzgerald re-appointed John Tague and Thomas Donatelli; and Senate Republicans appointed Mount Lebanon businessman D. Raja, who challenged Fitzgerald in an ugly race for county executive two years ago. Brooks, for one, doesn't expect to be re-appointed. "You have a better chance of seeing the tooth fairy" on the board, he tells City Paper. He talked with CP after his final board meeting, Aug. 23.
Given your experience on the board, how do you think the new board makeup will serve the authority?
I think it's going to be harder. You've got a board within a board. You've got Corbett, the House — these guys are all going to be a part of it. And they have the say-so of the majority of the board. It's two boards within it. ... As long as they keep politics out of it, I think it'll work.
You were among the few board members to defy Fitzgerald by backing former CEO Steve Bland, whom the board ended up firing. How much of the board restructuring was due to how the Bland situation was handled?
[Fitzgerald] brought [restructuring] here, and this is my opinion. [Senate president pro tempore] Joe Scarnati brought [restructuring] through committee ... to show [Fitzgerald] "we're running the show, not you."
How did you feel about Fitzgerald's policy of having board members turn in undated, signed resignation letters?
It was like him saying, "They'll do what I want them to do." When I disagreed with him, he brought in the new people and asked for resignations and all of that. I disagreed with that. ... [When members gave updated letters to Brooks] I threw them in the garbage can, you shouldn't be asking people for resignations. ... That's not the way to do business. If a board can't make a decision, why have a board? And the employees — you make employees nervous, it's not nice.
Many of the legacy costs that have plagued the authority — the "golden parachutes" that allowed employees to "retire with benefits while working," and lifetime health care for non-union employees — took effect during your tenure. Would you have done anything differently?
That wasn't me — I was new on the board. [The legacy costs] transpired because [former PAT board chairman] Neal Holmes was talking to somebody and said, "Hey, that's a good idea." It didn't come through the board, it went through the court. ... Certainly if I had known about it, I wouldn't have agreed with it. It was ridiculous.