Share This Page

State bill would strip most power of county exec to appoint Port Authority board

| Monday, June 10, 2013, 3:00 p.m.
JC Schisler | Tribune-Review
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.

HARRISBURG — A bill to restructure the Port Authority of Allegheny County's board of directors set off a war of words between one of the state's most powerful legislators and the county official who would be affected most by the changes.

The Republican-controlled Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday approved a bill 16-10 along party lines that would take away all but one of the Allegheny County executive's appointments to the Port Authority board and give Republicans multiple appointments. The executive appoints all nine members at present.

“This is (Senate President Pro Tempore Joe) Scarnati screwing up the Port Authority,” Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, a Squirrel Hill Democrat, said of the bill's sponsor.

Fitzgerald accused Turnpike Chairman William K. Lieberman — who supported former county Controller Mark Patrick Flaherty's unsuccessful campaign for county executive two years ago — of lobbying Scarnati for the legislation, calling the senator “a puppet.” Lieberman did not return calls.

“His terminology is insulting at the very least, let alone outrageous,” Scarnati said. “The statements reflect the real immaturity of his thought process.”

Scarnati said he took issue with Fitzgerald initially requiring appointees to sign undated resignation letters he could use to remove them should they go against his or county council's policy wishes, a practice he scrapped amid growing criticism. Scarnati expressed concern over Fitzgerald's appointment of former Pennsylvania Turnpike CEO Joe Brimmeier to the Port Authority and his failed attempt to install him as interim CEO; Brimmeier was indicted in March on corruption charges.

Fitzgerald said the Port Authority has moved in the right direction under the current leadership.

Under Scarnati's proposal, 11 appointments to the newly constituted board would be spread out among the governor, legislative leaders from four caucuses, county council's at-large members, the mayor of Pittsburgh and the county executive.

The county council's two at-large members, John DeFazio, D-Shaler, and Heather Heidelbaugh, R-Mt. Lebanon, would get a total of four appointments; Fitzgerald, the county's highest-ranking official, would get just one.

An effort by Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, to water down Scarnati's proposal and leave Fitzgerald with four appointees lost along party lines. Costa would have kept the governor and four caucus leaders among those making appointments, but excluded the mayor.

Scarnati's bill would take effect 60 days after final approval. Costa tried unsuccessfully to extend that to 180 days.

Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park, called Scarnati's bill “overreaching.”

Scarnati said Costa and Fitzgerald “refused a compromise on the makeup of the board,” so he reverted to his earlier proposal.

“I can't negotiate with myself,” Scarnati said.

Fitzgerald, however, said Scarnati canceled at least five scheduled meetings in the past six weeks.

“He doesn't even have the guts to meet with me,” Fitzgerald said, saying he was open to giving state leaders appointment powers.

Scarnati denied he canceled any meetings.

Tom Fontaine and Brad Bumsted are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Fontaine can be reached at 412-320-7847 or tfontaine@tribweb.com. Bumsted can be reached at 717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.