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Burgess, Ferlo resist Peduto's call for board resignations

| Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014, 12:05 a.m.
Pittsburgh City Councilman Ricky Burgess, a Democrat
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh City Councilman Ricky Burgess, a Democrat

Mayor Bill Peduto said he won't force out members of Pittsburgh's commissions, boards and authorities who refuse to resign — and in some cases, the law may not let him.

Peduto this week asked for the resignations of all previous mayoral appointees on 10 key city boards, including the Urban Redevelopment Authority, the Parking Authority, the Housing Authority and Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority.

It is protocol, Peduto said, for board members to resign out of respect to a new mayoral administration. But at least two — a city councilman and a state senator who serve on two of the most powerful authorities in Pittsburgh — have said they're not stepping down.

Peduto said he won't force the removal of members.

“I don't think that would be in my best interest,” he said.

The request for resignations follows through on a promise made last year, when Peduto said new appointments would be part of his culture change in city government. New board members will be chosen through an online application process called Talent City — a partnership with The Pittsburgh Foundation and the University of Pittsburgh Institute of Politics. Incumbent members are asked to apply if they're interested in continuing to serve.

All council members appointed to boards also will be asked to resign. Peduto said Thursday that he would reappoint them either to their current board or to another, ensuring only one appointment per member.

Councilman Ricky Burgess, who often clashed with Peduto when he was a councilman, said the mayor has not asked him specifically to resign as chairman of the Housing Authority. His term ends in 2015.

“I intend to serve until the end of my term,” Burgess said. “I don't think he means me. That's my view of this. He doesn't mean council members. We're appointed by the mayor, but we serve by virtue of our office.”

Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park, said he doesn't intend to step down from his spot at the URA — a critical city entity in charge of brokering development deals, including The Buncher Co.'s proposed Strip District housing, office and retail development along the Allegheny River.

“I feel that I have a good track record of leading on the economic-development front, and I have 26 years of institutional knowledge going through several administrations,” said Ferlo, a former city councilman and state representative. “That can't be summarily dismissed.”

City Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle, whose URA term expires in December, said he wants to meet with the mayor before deciding what he'll do.

Board member William C. Rudolph's term expired last month, but he is continuing to serve.

“I have expressed to the mayor that I will do whatever he asks,” he said.

James Kunz, whose term expires in December 2015, declined comment.

Kevin Acklin, Peduto's chief of staff who recently was appointed chairman of the URA, said he is “hopeful that all of the people currently serving on city boards, authorities and commissions will show deference to the new mayor, but the mayor is not going to do any arm-twisting, at least not at this point.”

Michael Gasbarre, executive director of the Pennsylvania Local Government Commission, said Peduto's request is not unusual for new mayors. Board members, he said, “normally follow through.”

State laws governing redevelopment authorities — the URA, in Pittsburgh's case — do not have a specific removal provision. Attorneys for the Local Government Commission said that in that case, it reverts to the state constitution's requirement that board members can be removed “for cause,” not simply because of a new administration.

Pittsburgh's mayor generally has the power to remove members of boards and commissions at will, unless otherwise specified in the city charter. The mayor also can remove any member of an authority at will, except as otherwise provided by law. For example, former Mayor Luke Ravenstahl removed then-Councilman Peduto from the Stadium Authority in 2008 when Peduto's term expired.

John Brosious, deputy director of the Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Association, said state law governing municipal authorities — such as the water and sewer authority — does not allow for members to be removed unless they resign or are removed for violations.

The key word to the legality of Peduto's plans is “request,” Brosious said.

“He's requesting resignations, as opposed to demanding them,” he said.

Staff writers Bob Bauder and Tom Fontaine contributed to this report. Melissa Daniels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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