Gastgeb looks into holding both Allegheny council seat and airport job
Allegheny County Councilman Vince Gastgeb said Monday he is examining the legalities of accepting a $113,500-a-year job at the Allegheny County Airport Authority while remaining an elected official with influence over authority board appointments.
The Bethel Park Republican left open the possibility that he would step down from his elected post if a legal review doesn't support maintaining the dual roles.
“Initially, I thought it would complement both positions,” he said.
Gastgeb, 49, a former sales manager for Sara Lee Foods, will start Feb. 19 in the newly created post of director of corporate and community relations at the airport authority. As a member of County Council, he is paid $9,000 a year. He makes $27,131 a year as a member of the state Securities and Exchange Commission.
Gastgeb intends to ask authority solicitor Mike Wojcik and other attorneys if a provision in the county's Home Rule Charter that says council members “shall not receive any salary, stipend or other compensation from the county or any county authority” applies to the airport authority.
Gastgeb so far has relied on a legal opinion by County Council solicitor Jack Cambest, who contends the state Municipal Authorities Act created and governs the airport authority — not the county's Home Rule Charter. Ron Hicks, solicitor for the county Republican Committee, said he thinks the charter dictates that Gastgeb should step down from council.
“County Council doesn't have much purview over the airport authority,” Gastgeb said.
He acknowledged the council votes to accept or reject appointments to the authority's nine-member board of directors.
“There's no tax money or appropriation from the county. The authority is a really a function of the state,” he said.
The authority receives state and federal funding. The largest chunk of its $140.5 million in projected operating revenue comes from terminal fees charged to airlines using Pittsburgh International Airport.
Gastgeb plans to abstain from votes on airport authority appointments. He said he was uncertain if he will participate in a council vote scheduled for Feb. 19, his first day of work at the authority, that could authorize the leasing of mineral rights under airport land for drilling.
“People don't elect public officials to recuse themselves from important decisions,” said Tim Potts, chairman of the Majority Party PA, a political action committee and government watchdog. “That's an admission of a problem. That's not a solution. When you recuse yourself, you recuse the people who voted for you as well.
“If they call it a county authority, it doesn't matter where the money comes from.”
JoAnn Jenny, an airport authority spokeswoman, said Gastgeb would report to CEO Bradley Penrod and work with a communications and government affairs team that includes Jenny and Lucinda Harshman, director of air service development.
Gastgeb's job would be to market the airport to travel websites and arrange seminars to tout its direct flights to corporate leaders to increase business. Jenny said Harshman has done some of that work, but Gastgeb will make it his focus.
“It's a business-to-business marketing of Pittsburgh Intentional Airport,” she said.
Jeremy Boren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.