Controls still not enough to prevent another Bedway
Pittsburgh has failed to make changes that would prevent the type of fraud that Robinson businessman Art Bedway admitted on Tuesday, city officials said.
City Council President Darlene Harris said legislation she is developing would give council oversight of all contracts more than a certain amount, such as $30,000, but it has been stalled in the Ravenstahl administration for two years. She said she did not know why.
Council Budget Director Bill Urbanic said council typically votes on contracts that total in the millions of dollars but gives the mayor's office and department directors blanket approval to seek and award lesser contracts. Council sets a maximum amount on those contracts and permits the mayor's office and department heads to hash out details.
“When I was on (Pittsburgh) school board, the school board approved all contracts,” said Harris, who considered a run for mayor this year. “I believe we should be looking at contracts. That would put another set of eyes on procurement.”
Marissa Doyle, spokeswoman for Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, referred questions to Finance Director Scott Kunka, who did not return calls, and Solicitor Daniel Regan. Regan declined comment.
Harris and other city officials said no amount of enforcement and oversight would completely stamp out contract corruption.
“If someone is intent on committing fraud, there isn't a lot you can do to stop it,” said city Controller Michael Lamb.
Bedway, 63, pleaded guilty to paying a city employee $6,000 to write specifications for his bid on a $327,000 contract for installation and maintenance of computers in police cruisers. The employee, Christine Kebr, 56, of Castle Shannon was responsible for reviewing the bids and recommending a company for the contract. Based on Kebr's recommendation, the city awarded the contract to Bedway's company in 2007. Kebr, who resigned in 2011, pleaded guilty in December to conspiracy.
According to a federal indictment, Bedway created Alpha Outfitters with a “straw” female owner so he could boost his chances of winning the contract under city rules for contracting with businesses owned by minorities and women. Lamb said he has recommended increased enforcement powers for the city's Equal Opportunity and Review Commission, which is responsible for reviewing minority contracts. He suggested that additional employee training on conduct rules would help minimize fraud.
City Council last year gave the commission the authority to levy penalties and other powers, but the lame-duck Ravenstahl administration is delaying implementation until the next mayor takes office.
Lamb said the city requires plenty of contract oversight, including a review by his office. It also has a strong ethics code for employees, he said.
Lamb said his office was tipped to the Bedway scandal in 2008 and immediately turned it over to authorities for investigation.
“It's not like it went undetected,” he said.
Henry Sciortino, executive director of the Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority, which was appointed by the state to review and approve city budgets, said new financial management software would help reduce the chance of fraud. The city has implemented part of the financial system required by the ICA and is in the process of buying more software to complete the system.
“It creates a higher level of visibility for all the kinds of financial things that go on,” Sciortino said.
Councilman Ricky Burgess said council in 2009 enacted legislation outlawing no-bid contracts worth more than $30,000. That same year, Ravenstahl issued an executive order placing more stringent controls on contracts for professional services, such as engineering and architectural work, which do not fall under state laws for competitive bidding.
“There are still things we can do,” Burgess said. “I would still like to see oversight of contracts that the city funds. Unfortunately, you can't protect from human greed and human error.”
Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com 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.
- Attorney wants evidence from South Allegheny teacher’s cellphone thrown out
- Pittsburgh police chief finds use-of-force policies ‘quite satisfactory’
- Maryland man found with missing Ohio girl in Pittsburgh motel
- Police find marijuana grow rooms in Castle Shannon
- Pittsburgh on cusp of leaving fiscal oversight
- Buffalo man killed by truck in the West End Circle wanted ‘a fresh start’
- 2nd command officer at Allegheny County Jail punished
- Terror threat doesn’t keep Pittsburgh International travelers down
- In letter, Plum school superintendent reassures parents on safety
- Swissvale teen on his way to high school shot 5 times, survives
- ‘Structural barriers’ thwart black men in Pittsburgh, report finds