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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 mwereschagin@tribweb.com.

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