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Munhall residents question council's voting ethics on hiring summer help

| Friday, June 21, 2013, 2:01 a.m.

Some Munhall residents are questioning the ethics of council's vote on Wednesday to hire part-time summer help in the public works department.

It appeared that council unanimously had approved Dylan Pisarcik, Austyn Ditillo, Cody Perlaky, Brendan Grueser, Norman Miller and Austin Weihagen as seasonal workers at $8.50 per hour.

That apparently included a yes vote by Ditillo's mother, Councilwoman Dana Ditillo.

On Thursday, the councilwoman said she spoke with borough office assistant John Leiendecker to assure that her vote had been registered as an abstention, because she said “nobody probably heard me.”

Resident Larry Rettger called Wednesday's move an ethics violation in a post Thursday morning on his Munhall News Watch Facebook page, which has more than 3,100 subscribers, or “likes” in social media terms.

The post received more than 40 comments, some questioning council's ethics and others saying the vote is not an issue.

According to the state Ethics Commission website, “The Ethics Act provides that public office is a public trust and that any effort to realize personal financial gain through public office, other than compensation provided by law, is a violation of that trust.”

Council president Joe Ballas, who sits two chairs away from Ditillo, said he did not hear how she voted.

“I don't know if she actually voted or not,” Ballas said. “I tried to tell her she had to abstain for the vote.”

Ballas said he thought the motion passed unanimously, and placed a call to solicitor Greg Evashavik on Thursday regarding Ditillo's vote.

“Her vote was not necessary to carry the motion,” Evashavik said.

He said Ditillo will submit a signed statement attesting that she had abstained, which will be included in the meeting's records. He said that should satisfy any state Ethics Act concerns.

Ballas said he was monitoring the audience at the time of the vote because of various outbursts and questions about other issues.

Council vice president Rob Falce said he thought Ditillo voted in favor of all six applicants.

“I don't want any problems,” Ditillo said on Thursday. “I did abstain because my son was wanting to get a job there.”

At a caucus meeting prior to the regular voting session, Ditillo responded to questions about her son's residency and qualifications.

Ditillo said her son lives with her 50 percent of the year, mostly in the summer, and is a good worker. He attends school in Baldwin, and knew about the job opening only because his mother is a borough official. She said not all potential applicants have that advantage. The summer positions were not advertised.

“That's all he wanted to do was make a little extra money for the summer and help the borough at the same time,” Ditillo said. “I wasn't trying to make it look like favoritism for my son.”

Borough officials said the seasonal work never had been advertised in past years except by word of mouth.

Ditillo said the jobs should be advertised to give all youths a fair chance.

“If we would have advertised it we might have had 30 people,” she said.

She suggested sending a letter to Steel Valley School District to inform high school students about future job opportunities.

State Ethics Commission officials could not be reached at presstime.

Michael DiVittorio is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1965.