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Fitzgerald stacks legislative wins as Allegheny council members struggle

Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Allegheny County employees with take-home cars can use them to commute to and from work, and for small personal errands, according to legislation county Executive Rich Fitzgerald proposed Tuesday.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014, 10:39 p.m.
 

Allegheny County Council members push legislation Executive Rich Fitzgerald proposes into law while their own bills fizzle before they get a vote, an analysis shows.

A rule that requires council committee members to vote on legislation within 90 days is ignored, some members said.

“This process of sending bills to committee to die is not fair to elected members of council,” said Councilwoman Barbara Daly Danko, D-Regent Square, who brought the 90-day rule to the forefront when her bill to impose a three-year hold on drilling under county parks sat in committee for months. “We should at least have a discussion.”

When council meets on Aug. 19 after a summer recess, 29 bills introduced this year will have languished in committee reviews beyond the 90-day rule. Fitzgerald proposed two of those bills, according to the analysis prepared by council staff.

Twenty-eight — 85 percent — of the 33 bills Fitzgerald presented this year passed, but only four — 11 percent — of council's 36 bills made it into law. In 2012 and 2013, council passed 77 percent of Fitzgerald's bills and 14 percent of bills proposed by its members, according to council records.

Fitzgerald can submit bills directly to council. From there, they go to a committee whose members decide whether the full council will vote.

“It does raise the issue of whether or not, as the legislative body, we are legislating or whether we have given that over to the chief executive,” said Councilman Bill Robinson, D-Hill District, who has 15 bills awaiting action. “A lot of council members are waiting for the chief executive to make his move, and then they take action.

“I don't think it's good for county government.”

Fitzgerald, a councilman for 12 years, said past administrations enjoyed similar success rates. Council passed about 72 percent of legislation from former executives Jim Roddey and Dan Onorato, council records show.

Fitzgerald said his legislation doesn't pass as easily as statistics suggest: “A lot of work gets done behind the scenes. A lot of conversations are had prior to it going to public debate.”

Council members often propose bills to communicate a message, knowing they likely won't come to a vote, he said.

Former Councilman Matt Drozd, a Republican from Ross, proposed abolishing County Council and seceding from Pennsylvania. The measures went nowhere.

Robinson introduced legislation in January to limit taxpayer money to organizations that pay employee bonuses, amid questions about the compensation of top officials at nonprofit tourism agency VisitPittsburgh. It remains in committee.

Bills from Robinson and Councilwoman Heather Heidelbaugh, R-Mt. Lebanon, to strengthen council's 90-day rule have been before the Government Reform Committee for more than 90 days. Both would require legislation to come to a vote after 75 days in a committee.

“When you allow that to happen, you are centralizing power and the system becomes less and less democratic,” Keith Schmidt, who runs Bridge Connections, a Downtown public relations firm, said of languishing bills. Schmidt helped draft the council's charter.

Council President John DeFazio, D-Shaler, said he intends to push committee chairs to clear the backlog.

DeFazio promised a meeting by the end of August of the Government Reform Committee, where 17 or 18 bills awaiting action have passed the 90-day mark.

Aaron Aupperlee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7986 or aaupperlee@tribweb.com.

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