Gov. signs reforms bill for Pittsburgh ICA that resulted from Trib probe
Gov. Tom Wolf signed sweeping bipartisan legislation Wednesday designed to reform one of the two state financial watchdogs overseeing Pittsburgh.
The legislation came in the wake of a Tribune-Review investigation that detailed financial mismanagement and numerous other problems at Pittsburgh's Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority and with its controversial former director, Henry Sciortino.
The new law brings more accountability and transparency to the ICA by forcing it to safeguard most financial records for up to seven years; tightens ethical standards for board members and employees; hikes the auditing the agency undergoes; and puts most budgets, contracting and fiscal records online for the public to inspect.
“This is going to be a big change for this organization, and this is an organization that needs the support of the community,” Wolf said from Harrisburg. “This makes it more worthy of that support.”
Formed a dozen years ago to save Pittsburgh from municipal bankruptcy, ICA works alongside a similar state body organized under Act 47 to approve Pittsburgh's budgets.
Unlike the Act 47 overseers, ICA can stop the flow of $10 million in annual Rivers Casino slot revenues to the city to force budget concessions — a sum that's risen to nearly $20 million.
A sunset provision in the new law could make the ICA disappear by mid-2019, sooner if the Act 47 team goes, too.
A Trib investigation into ICA published in early April showed that 92 percent of all ICA spending receipts between 2010 and 2016 apparently had been lost or destroyed. Under Sciortino's watch, all ICA bank records and only two invoices for his agency's spending between 2004 and 2009 survived.
Past and present ICA board members told the Trib that they had no idea Sciortino underwent federal bankruptcy protection in 2010-11 after he was accused of bilking a business partner and then trying to hide millions of dollars in assets from creditors in a string of sham companies run out of his Chester County home. The bankruptcy was uncovered by the Trib while analyzing California property records and Philadelphia County court filings.
The reporting triggered ongoing criminal investigations of ICA by the Allegheny County district attorney, the state auditor general and attorney general and federal agents reporting to the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania.
Sciortino was ousted on May 31 following an ICA board vote to terminate his month-to-month employment contract.
Spearheaded by state Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa of Forest Hills and fellow Democratic Sen. Wayne Fontana of Brookline, the ICA reform legislation quickly and unanimously passed both chambers of the Pennsylvania legislature, spurred along by House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Marshall.
“The citizens of Pittsburgh must have a comfort level with the activities at the ICA ... and how the resources that come from the state are managed,” Costa said.
Fontana told the Trib that inspiration for revamping ICA came from ongoing efforts by Wolf to reform government through executive orders, especially when it came to retaining records and making them available to the public.
Reached by telephone while attending the GOP convention in Cleveland, Turzai said that working with legislators across the aisle to pass the ICA law never was controversial because “none of this was partisan.”
“These measures give renewed purpose to the ICA. The bill bolsters what ICA has done well, which is restore financial health to Pittsburgh, while making it more transparent and accountable to the people of Pennsylvania,” said Turzai.
The bipartisan ICA reforms could kick off a wider push to clean up other corners of state government. A package of measures championed by Wolf calls for bans on gifts to state employees; discloses the political contributions of vendors seeking state contracts; raises lobbyist oversight; and restricts campaign donations to fund a range of political activities, including a politician's legal fees.
“This, I hope, will continue to lead to the expansion of efforts to promote transparency, openness and integrity in all branches of government,” Wolf said.
Carl Prine is a Tribune-Review investigative reporter. Reach him at 412-320-7826.