ShareThis Page

Gastgeb might not be able to sit on council, work at airport

| Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013, 12:02 a.m.

The lawyer for the Republican Committee of Allegheny County says a GOP county councilman might run afoul of the home rule charter if he takes a paid job at the Airport Authority without resigning his elected post.

County Councilman Vince Gastgeb, R-Bethel Park, plans to take a newly created job as the authority's director of corporate and community relations on Feb. 19. The $113,500 salary would come on top of the $27,131 he's paid as a member of the state Securities and Exchange Commission and the $9,000 annual stipend that county council members collect.

“I'm talking to our solicitors, and I'll do whatever is proper and appropriate,” Gastgeb said.

The county Home Rule Charter says council members “shall not receive any salary, stipend or other compensation from the county or any county authority.”

“It seems pretty cut and dry that the airport authority is a county authority,” said Ron Hicks, solicitor for the Republican Committee of Allegheny County.

But county council's lawyer, John Cambest, said that because state law authorized the authority's creation, it's a state authority.

“There truly is no county authority,” Cambest said. “It was created under the municipal authorities act, which is a state legislative act.”

Two of Gastgeb's Republican colleagues expressed concern over his decision, questioning its legality and the message it sends. “To me, it doesn't engender a feeling of confidence that other people who were applying got the same level of consideration that maybe an insider got. It's concerning,” said at-large County Councilwoman Heather Heidelbaugh, R-Mt. Lebanon. “The most important issue for me is I thought the charter prohibited this.”

Even if it's legal, “there's a gray area,” said County Councilman Matt Drozd, R-Ross.

“Vince is a quality guy. He has a very nice family, but the bottom line is he has to ask himself the hard questions,” Drozd said. “We're watchdogs. That's our job. Can he do that in that position?”

One official involved in drafting the charter — which took effect in 2000 — said he couldn't remember that specific provision, but that the “concept (of county council) was this was really a citizens council.”

“They didn't want a situation where every council member suddenly was employed by Allegheny County directly or one of its financially associated authorities,” said Jim Turner, who worked as managing director of the Pennsylvania Economy League in the 1990s, where he supervised the team that drafted the charter.

The drafters worried that council members would “go to work for this authority or that authority. Then, once you're there, because you're an elected council member, it becomes very hard to manage you. I suspect that was the concern” behind that section of the Home Rule Charter, Turner said.

County council confirms the chief executive's appointees to the Airport Authority's board of directors.

“I'm sure, if there was some objection, that the county solicitor's office would be voicing it, and I have not heard anything coming out of there,” Cambest said. “I'm sure the county executive conferred with them before he made a recommendation.”

Actually, he didn't, County Solicitor Andrew Szefi said.

“This was not a matter we were involved in or asked to render any kind of opinion on,” Szefi said. He declined to offer an opinion on it, saying he hadn't researched it.

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said he didn't contact board members to endorse Gastgeb, but gave him a good recommendation when members called. The two were elected with the first class of county council members in 1999. As for the legality, Fitzgerald said he asked Gastgeb about it “and he said he got an opinion that said everything was OK.”

Mike Wereschagin is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7900 or

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using 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.