In 2018, the city of Chester signed a parking contract that was profitable for the contractor but did not seem to be offered to the city.
But an analysis of WHYY News’s government funding documents shows that someone probably won: Chester Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland, who received $ 15,000 in contributions to the company’s funding from individuals and businesses associated with the parking contractor.
Chester does have the option to terminate the contract, but it costs a whopping $ 12.1 million – and the city is on the verge of bankruptcy.
A state-appointed bailiff tasked with rescuing Chester’s lost finances, Michael Dowery, in January for the first time expressed serious concern over a city parking contract with PFS VII LLC of Delaware. He said the contract was “very one-sided in favor of the parking manager” compared to industry standards.
Although Chester “sees not a penny” of parking revenue from the contract, there is a model of timely donations from those associated with the campaign, in the company of Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland for both Congress and the mayor.
Chester signed the initial parking contract with PFS VII on April 25, 2018, and later amended it on September 5, 2018 to further determine the project’s revenue, making the contract even more profitable for the parking manager. WHYY News has received copies of contracts in which PFS VII and Gatso USA Inc. are identified as transaction partners. Gatso usually works in the business of speed cameras and red lights.
Sticking out of government contributions
Over several years of reports on Kirkland’s election campaign funding, one multiple donor has stood out thanks to his Massachusetts address: Michael Lenz.
Under the city’s parking contract, Lenza is the head of PFS VII, as well as LLC Transportation Services Consultants, a consultant for PFS VII.
He gave Kirkland’s election campaign “Friends of Thaddeus Kirkland” $ 5,000 in 2019 and another $ 5,000 in 2021, the year Kirkland was not even re-elected. However, Lenz’s generosity did not stop at Kirkland alone.
The parking manager donated $ 500 to the campaign to re-elect Brian Kirkland, a nephew of the mayor, in October 2018, a few weeks after signing a revised parking agreement with the city, and another $ 1,000 in 2022.
Lenza is not the only person with an out-of-state address who makes significant donations to Kirkland’s company that coincides with the contract deadline. Several individuals with the surname Dugan, who have a single address on Rhode Island, have donated $ 2,500 as contributions to the Kirkland Mayor’s campaign in Congress in 2018 for the seat now held by U.S. Representative Mary Gay Scanlan.
Richard Dugan appears to have been Lenza’s business partner for TRANSPAY Ltd., according to an online database of Massachusetts corporations. Dugan’s donation took place on April 5, 2018 – just a few weeks before the signing of the initial parking contract with the city.
Anapolis-based Greenwill Consulting Group LLC has also made a $ 2,500 donation to Kirkland’s application for the 5th Pennsylvania Constituency with a date of receipt on April 11, 2018, two weeks before signing a contract with PFS VII.
The firm had one of its former clients, Gatso USA, a parking contract partner. Greenwill founder and CEO Ivan Lanier is also the brother of Erwin Lanier, Chester Parking Authority project manager.
Since 2018, Kirkland has received a total of $ 15,000 for its campaigns in Congress and mayors from individuals and businesses associated with a parking contract with PFS VII.
On Monday and Tuesday, WHYY News approached Lenz and Dugan, who are outside the state, for comments about their donations to the mayor of a small town in Pennsylvania, but no one responded.
Ivan Lanier gave an interview on Tuesday to WHYY News and said that having been born and raised in the city, he has strong ties to Chester and remains truly involved. He said the donation was “just a coincidence. They are completely separate. “
Referring to his own investment in Chester, Lanier said that because it is a small town, he is trying to do his best to work with different groups to improve the lives of young people, such as funding the revitalization of some sports grounds in Chester.
“I sacrifice a lot of people, and if someone runs away from Chester and has the best interests, I will support them,” Lanier said.
A city spokesman as well as the mayor of Kirkland also initially did not respond to inquiries Monday and Tuesday about comments.
A city spokesman had earlier canceled a scheduled interview for another story in March and told WHYY News by email that the mayor would not be involved in future interview investigations.
“Based on our current review, we will no longer be interviewing you,” the e-mail said.
Eventually, WHYY News contacted a spokesman on Tuesday, who confirmed it was still the case.
An attempt by WHYY News on Tuesday to get an interview or comment from a Kirkland staff representative also went unanswered.
The fee for parking meters is rising sharply
Kirkland is not the only government official in Chester to have received lucrative opportunities associated with a city parking contract. In 2018, shortly after signing a revised Chester parking contract, City Council member Will Morgan got a job as head of finance and human resources in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, despite living approximately a two-hour drive in Chester and still serving on Chester City Council. .
The city of Upper Marlboro is a client of Greenwill Consulting. Morgan no longer works at Upper Marlboro.
WHYY News asked Morgan for comment Monday and Tuesday, but received no response immediately. A city spokesman also acknowledged and denied the requests in a phone call Tuesday.
From the beginning, Chester’s parking contract with PFS VII didn’t make much financial sense for the struggling city.
Under company supervision, Chester’s hourly parking fee rose to $ 2.00, higher than in Philadelphia and other neighboring suburbs. The recipient reviewing the contract also found that the cost of expired tickets was “significantly higher” than in these areas.
The contract with PFS VII provides for the installation of 1,500 parking machines, including 500 on the Widener University campus.
While Chester should receive an “advance” of $ 1,000,000 at proportional intervals as 1,500 parking machines are installed, the city will receive 100% of the revenue just 10 years after all the meters are installed.
However, Chester received only $ 300,000 from this advance, while PFS VII collects the entire parking fee.
This is because it is set at only 750 meters, the rest still needs to be laid in the ground. The parking contract gives the parking manager “unilateral authority” to decide if to share the revenue.
Since the city does not have the ability to force the installation of all 1,500 parkers, the provider can technically continue to collect 100% of the revenue forever.
Currently, PFS VII is the subject of a lawsuit from Widener University, which opposes the plan. The university filed a lawsuit in the Delaware County General Court in 2019. Judge Barry Dozor issued a temporary injunction that stopped the installation of machine guns on campus.
In Widener University’s response to the cancellation petition in December, the university argued in court that it was trying to block a contract that Ivan Lanier and Erwin Lanier were related.
The case is still pending in court.
On Tuesday, WHYY News asked Wiedener University and Chester Receiver for comment, and both declined to respond.
In March, the executor sent city officials, primarily Kirkland and Morgan, to court for interfering in the city’s financial recovery efforts. The petition to the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania asked the city to cooperate with the orders.
The controversy revolved around elected officials raising their salaries on the orders of lawyers, as well as two orders that were ignored by city officials.
One was related to a city council ordinance granting a license to economically build on alcohol-owned products owned “in part” by Chester’s director of business development, who happens to be Kirkland’s former son-in-law.
The second order concerned Morgan’s activities as director of the city’s finance and human resources department. Among the many incidents cited in the petition to the Commonwealth Court, the bailiff has targeted a specific incident as a source of concern.
“In December 2021, board member Morgan claimed compensation and verbally ordered a city official to reimburse him for purchasing $ 1,500 gift cards without sufficient documentation, and to date he has not provided the requested documentation to the interim CFO,” the legal petition read.
WHYY News has reached the Pennsylvania Ethics Commission about ethics issues that arise in connection with contributions to a municipal contract company.
And if the government body could not deal with the matter specifically or hypothetically, then the executive director of the commission Mary Fox gave a declaration of the law.
“It contains a number of restrictions and obligations for people who are government officials and civil servants, as these terms are defined in law,” Fox said. ‘But, as a rule, it forbids anyone who is a government official or civil servant to use their office for personal financial gain for themselves, for a member of their immediate family or for a business with which they or a member of their immediate family.’ and engage connected ”.
The state ethics commission has a lot of responsibilities. One of them is education. The Commission provides an accelerated ethics course for government officials and employees on rights and conduct deficiencies. However, the commission is also doing more practical work.
“The Ethics Commission has an investigative unit that investigates and prosecutes violations of the Ethics Act,” Fox said.
Kirkland, who was first elected mayor in 2015, previously represented the state in the area from 1993 to 2016. His financial decisions have caused distrust in the State House. In 2013, a longtime Democratic MP became the subject of an investigation by order of the Pennsylvania Ethics Commission on potential conflicts of interest and a scheme to allocate public funds to people with close ties to Kirkland.
Ultimately, the State Ethics Commission ruled in 2014, concluding that no violations occurred, “when legislative initiative grants for Kirkland-related organizations and / or members of Kirkland’s next of kin sponsored / recommended funding. through the Kirkland Legislature between 19 December 2007 and 30 November 2009. ”
However, the commission found that Kirkland did commit one violation of the State Ethics Act when a grant of a legislative initiative for an organization affiliated with Kirkland’s daughter “was recommended for funding through the Kirkland Legislature.” His daughter was paid $ 2,000 for “services” provided to the Across Colors Cultural Committee.
The Ethics Commission subsequently ordered Kirkland to return $ 2,000 to the state.