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Allegheny County Executive Fitzgerald discloses resignation letters he requested from 57 officials

| Wednesday, March 27, 2013, 11:50 p.m.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald on Wednesday released copies of 57 undated letters of resignation he asked for and received from members of county boards and authorities, saying elected officials need to have control of government-related boards.

Fitzgerald said the letters ensure that board members of independent agencies — such as the Port Authority — adhere to the policy set by him and County Council. If a board member doesn't follow the policy, Fitzgerald can date the letter, and the member is deemed to have resigned.

“It's been a long-standing desire of County Council to rein in and make sure boards and authorities don't go (astray) from what elected officials do,” Fitzgerald said. Without the letters, “once a person gets on that board, we have no recourse, legally. It's more of a pledge that ‘I'm going to follow the policy of the elected official.' ”

The letters are from several boards including members of the Port Authority, Airport Authority, Community College of Allegheny County, Health Department and the Sports and Exhibition Authority.

Councilwoman Heather Heidelbaugh, R-Mt. Lebanon, criticized Fitzgerald's move, saying it's illegal.

“I believe it's contrary to the law and contradicts common sense. Why do we have independent boards if they have to adhere to administration policy?” Heidelbaugh said.

Heidelbaugh said the law provides for board members to be removed through court proceedings.

The letters were spotlighted in February when the Port Authority board voted to fire CEO Steve Bland amid almost a year of friction between him and Fitzgerald. Sources have said Fitzgerald lined up board votes to oust him.

Former board Chairman John A. Brooks, who opposed Bland's ouster, said he refused to sign a letter. Brooks was appointed to his current term by former Executive Dan Onorato.

“I wouldn't sign one. I said, ‘Don't insult my intelligence,' ” Brooks said. “Why do you have a board if they can't make decisions? It's ridiculous.”

Several Port Authority board members did sign letters, including Thomas Donatelli, Eddie Edwards, Connie Parker and John Tague.

Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or bkerlik@tribweb.com.

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