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Port Authority CEO search takes shape

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Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Port Authority of Allegheny County officials will move “aggressively” to replace fired CEO Steve Bland and pursue County Executive Rich Fitzgerald's plan to strengthen the transit agency.

“I've already gotten several calls” from local people interested in the Port Authority's top post, Fitzgerald said, declining to identify them.

Port Authority's board of directors fired Bland on Friday, culminating almost a year of friction between him and Fitzgerald, who said the transit chief “resisted” his proposals to improve the system. Bland could not be reached Monday.

Port Authority Chairman Jeff Letwin said the board will finalize a search committee this week and all members can be on it.

The agency used executive search firms to identify candidates in a national effort the last time it hired a CEO. The search committee interviewed top candidates and hired Bland in 2006. That search took about three months, Letwin said.

Letwin described the timetable as “aggressive,” but Fitzgerald — who appoints authority board members and signs off on about $30 million in county funding to the agency — says he wants “major changes” soon at the agency.

Fitzgerald's ideas include boosting revenue through sponsorships and naming-rights deals; equipping buses with GPS technology so riders can track buses' whereabouts; removing buses from inner streets Downtown; increasing economic development along the T light-rail line and improving signs; and converting buses to run on natural gas.

But Fitzgerald said of the CEO search, “We'd rather do it right than just quickly.”

Fitzgerald wanted former Turnpike CEO Joseph G. Brimmeier, a Port Authority board member, to replace Bland on an interim basis, but the board chose Chief Financial Officer Ellen McLean. Fitzgerald said he doesn't know McLean well.

“Ellen really led us through some difficult financial times. More importantly, I think she's a woman of unquestionable integrity,” said former Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy, for whom McLean worked as city CFO from 1999 to 2005, overseeing a $450 million annual budget.

Murphy said McLean, 59, played a key role in shaping the city's tax structure when it entered the state's Act 47 program for financially distressed municipalities.

McLean did not respond to requests for comment. She will continue earning $138,000 a year in her new role; Bland made $185,000 a year and will receive half that amount as a severance for being fired without cause.

Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or

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