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Ex-board member lays resignation on Alcosan 'surprises'

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By Bob Bauder and Aaron Aupperlee
Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013, 9:49 p.m.
 

Two board members abruptly quit the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority's board, with one saying it was because she was continually “blindsided” by administrators acting without board approval.

Theresa Kail-Smith, a Pittsburgh councilwoman representing the West End, and Kristen Baginski, director of alumni relations for Point Park University, resigned their board posts in July. It is a critical time for the authority: Alcosan is preparing to spend about $2.8 billion during the next 20 years on a plan to keep raw sewage out of rivers.

“I no longer felt comfortable serving while continually being blindsided by actions unbeknownst to the board until after the fact,” Kail-Smith wrote in her resignation letter.

In an interview on Thursday, she declined to be more specific, but said “it happened more than once, and I just felt I didn't want to serve on a board where I'm being surprised by things when I walk in the door.”

Baginski did not return phone calls.

“It was just a feeling we had that we didn't feel comfortable,” Kail-Smith said.

Alcosan Executive Director Arletta Scott Williams did not respond to a request for comment.

Board Chairman Harry Readshaw said he was surprised by Kail-Smith's resignation and unaware of her concerns until he received her letter.

“She was never specific to me personally with any those concerns,” said Readshaw, a Democratic state representative from Carrick. “I don't know what she's making reference to. I never had any personal conversation with her.”

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl appointed Kail-Smith and Baginski to the board. His office did not return a phone call.

Readshaw said the authority has always operated professionally.

“I think over the years it's been run like a business, which it should be. It always has those that reside in the service area and who pay the service fee in mind,” Readshaw said.

Readshaw said he suspects Baginski's resignation was due to a career change.

“She just didn't have the time to devote to (the board),” he said.

City Controller Michael Lamb, whose office is auditing Alcosan, said Kail-Smith told him of her resignation, but did not say why she resigned. Lamb is following up on his 2009 audit that found Alcosan awarded no-bid engineering and construction management contracts without documenting the hiring process, which is required by its own policy and state law.

“That's certainly something we're looking at,” he said.

Barry Kauffman, executive director of the government watchdog group Pennsylvania Common Cause, said board resignations should raise red flags.

“There's probably some fire beneath the smoke,” he said.

Kail-Smith had two years left on her five-year term, and Baginski had four years remaining. Their spots on the seven-member board remain vacant.

Bob Bauder and Aaron Aupperlee are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Reach Bauder at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com. Reach Aupperlee at 412-320-7986 or aaupperlee@tribweb.com.

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