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Port Authority board to expand to 11 in Pittsburgh

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Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013, 9:45 p.m.
 

A former chairman of the Port Authority's board who clashed with Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said he won't wait by the phone for reappointment to the revamped board.

“I have a better chance of seeing the tooth fairy than Fitzgerald reappointing me to the board,” said Jack Brooks, whom county commissioners appointed more than a decade ago and two county executives reappointed. “I just don't agree with him on issues.”

Brooks and the other eight members will hold their August meeting on Friday, likely the last time the outgoing board will be together. The Legislature passed a bill last month increasing the number of board members to 11. Fitzgerald gets six appointments, although he must make two of those in consultation with government advisory groups such as the Allegheny Conference on Community Development. The governor and four leaders from the state House and Senate get the other appointments.

Previously, the county executive made all nine appointments, although some board members are serving terms from appointments by former County Executive Dan Onorato.

Fitzgerald, 54, said Wednesday that he plans to make an announcement about the board in a couple of weeks. He said some members could be reappointed, though he would not say who is on his short list.

“I'm evaluating everything right now,” Fitzgerald said. “We want the new board to continue to make improvements and make the system more reliable.”

Whether the board will function in harmony or gridlock depends on the appointees, experts said.

“Normally with any board ... when they're meeting face-to-face they get along well,” said University of Pittsburgh public administration and policy expert George Dougherty. “The different makeup will likely lead to different ideas, and if the CEO manages it well, it can be peaceful. Just because they're appointed by Republicans and Democrats doesn't necessarily lead to nastiness. ... I think that who appointed you becomes fairly insignificant after a year or so.”

Of the five picks to come from state government, only Sen. Jay Costa, leader of the Senate Democratic Caucus, has made a selection: fellow Sen. Jim Brewster, D-McKeesport.

Republicans Gov. Tom Corbett, Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati of Jefferson County, House Majority Leader Mike Turzai of Bradford Woods, and House Democratic leader Frank Dermody of Oakmont get picks. Their spokespeople declined to say who they are considering but said they would meet a mid-September deadline.

Bill Millar, retired president of Washington-based American Public Transportation Association and Port Authority's CEO from 1983 to 1996, said Philadelphia's transit authority, SEPTA, has a similar board makeup and appears to run well. State and county leaders share its appointments.

“Some would argue that SEPTA is functioning as best as it ever has,” Millar said. “What's important is that the political leaders behind the appointments have a common vision. If they don't, it will be difficult to resolve things.”

Brooks said his resistance to Fitzgerald's successful push to oust former CEO Steve Bland created friction between him and the county executive.

“I told Rich, ‘What the hell do you have a board for if they can't make decisions?' ” Brooks said.

Six members reached for comment — board Chairman Jeff Letwin and members Mavis Rainey, Connie Parker, Tom Donatelli, Amanda Green Hawkins, and Brooks — said they had not heard from anyone regarding reappointment. Eddie Edwards, John Tague and Bob Hurley did not return calls for comment.

Hawkins, Edwards and Rainey voted against firing Bland. Brooks said he opposed the firing but abstained from voting. Letwin, Donatelli, Parker, Tague and former member Joe Brimmeier voted to fire Bland.

Hurley replaced Brimmeier, former Pennsylvania Turnpike CEO who resigned from the board this year when a state grand jury accused him of taking part in a pay-to-play contract scheme. His trial is pending.

“If I can add value, I'd like to stay on,” said Donatelli, whom Fitzgerald appointed this year.

Parker said she is taking a wait-and-see approach. “I would like to finish what I started,” she said.

Bobby Kerlik is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7886 or bkerlik@tribweb.com.

 

 

 
 


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