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Pittsburgh mayor's 'change in culture' puts meetings on hold

By Melissa Daniels and Tom Fontaine
Sunday, March 16, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
 

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto's request for the resignations of board and authority members who served during the past administration has put some city business on hold.

The Pittsburgh Parking Authority has not held a meeting since December, unable to meet a quorum with an empty five-person board. Boards of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, city housing authority, Allegheny Regional Asset District and Sports & Exhibition Authority did not have February meetings.

City officials say the departures haven't interrupted operations, and a new era is in sight. Kevin Acklin, the mayor's chief of staff and chief development officer, said the administration expects to announce appointments early this week.

“I don't think it took any longer than expected,” Acklin said.

A Jan. 15 letter from Peduto told members of 10 key city boards and authorities to resign their posts by Jan. 31. All but three members complied: Councilman Ricky Burgess, who chairs the Pittsburgh Housing Authority, and state Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park, and Councilman Daniel Lavelle, both of whom are on the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

Previous mayors took office with political appointments lined up. Peduto, stressing “a change in culture” on Grant Street, devised a new method.

Like other city jobs, board seats would be filled through Talent City, an online application and vetting process run through the Pittsburgh Foundation.

Former board members were welcome to re-apply, but the process would be open to other applicants.

The undertaking has gone on for about 60 days. Burgess, who does not intend to resign, said the housing authority wasn't able to meet in February because it lacked a quorum.

“Everybody resigned,” said Burgess of North Point Breeze. “I'm the only member of the housing authority.”

Acklin said the city requested remaining members stay on so business could continue.

“We've been in close contact with directors (of the various departments and agencies), and I'm not aware of any business being delayed,” he said.

David Onorato, executive director of the Pittsburgh Parking Authority, said day-to-day operations “haven't missed a beat” despite the fact that there are no sitting board members. The board's next meeting is set for March 20.

“We're fortunate enough nothing came up that required board action, such as signing a contract or issuing a contract,” Onorato said.

The Parking Authority has a $43 million annual budget for 2014 and maintains dozens of lots and garages citywide. Former Parking Authority board member Christopher D'Addario, who resigned and reapplied for his seat, said he trusts the staff to run the authority.

“It's one of the few authorities in the city that's fortunate enough to create revenue for the city,” D'Addario said.

Linda Judson, who was the board's chair, said she resigned in December because she's moving to Beaver County. She said it was unusual to cancel meetings, other than occasionally in the summer when the board lacked a quorum.

“We're all just trying to hold down the fort,” said Wrenna Watson, who chairs the city's planning commission and zoning board of adjustment.

In some cases, it hasn't been easy. Watson said one zoning board member, Manoj Jegasothy, stepped down, meaning she and Kirk Burkley must be present to conduct hearings. A tie vote results in denial of appeals for a variance or exceptions to the zoning ordinance. That's happened once since January, affecting a proposed residential development in Shadyside, Watson said.

Watson reapplied for positions on both boards. As of Friday, she hadn't heard from the city. She said all the planning commissioners resigned but agreed to continue serving until their replacements are named.

Water and sewer authority meetings are postponed until further notice, according to the authority's website.

Julie Goetz, spokeswoman for the Allegheny Regional Asset District, which funds organizations through a portions of the sales tax, said its February meeting was canceled because of a lack of business. But the two board members who were mayoral appointees from the previous administration resigned, leaving the seven-member board without the six required to vote on financial matters. Goetz said none had come before the board.

Goetz said filling the seats can be time-consuming, as members must not serve on any boards of the 90 organizations that receive money from RAD. The next meeting is scheduled for March 24.

Staff writer Bob Bauder contributded to this report. Melissa Daniels and Tom Fontaine are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Reach Daniels at mdaniels@tribweb.com. Reach Fontaine at tfontaine@tribweb.com.

 

 
 


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