ShareThis Page

Allegheny County hires former Pittsburgh workers, leading to criticism

Aaron Aupperlee
| Sunday, Oct. 5, 2014, 9:30 p.m.

For some Pittsburgh employees out of a job when Mayor Bill Peduto took office, help was available just up Grant Street in the Allegheny County Courthouse.

County Controller Chelsa Wagner hired four city employees — two of whom held influential positions on former Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's finance team — using practices that experts say are open to cronyism and political patronage.

“That's called the old boys' network,” said Dave Baker, CEO of the Cranberry-based executive headhunting firm Human Capital Advantage.

Wagner disputed the claim, saying she hired qualified people for open positions in her office.

“The majority of people I hire have experience in government, and Pittsburgh isn't very transient,” Wagner said. “It's not a huge group of people who have government and policy experience.”

Wagner, in the past two months, hired Paul McKrell, Ravenstahl's former government relations manager, and Anthony Pokora, a former city controller and assistant finance director, as analysts. She hired Stephanie Sikora, who worked in Ravenstahl's press office, to be her spokeswoman in January.

Jim Sheppard, a neighborhood initiatives coordinator under Ravenstahl, works as a contractor for Wagner. Sheppard, a Democratic committeeman for Pittsburgh's 19th Ward, is developing an internship program for Wagner's office.

Luke Wagner, son of former Auditor General Jack Wagner, Chelsa Wagner's uncle who made unsuccessful bids for governor and mayor, is an intern. Wagner said her office has more demand for interns than they have applicants.

Wagner is not alone in hiring former city workers. Treasurer John Weinstein in April hired Scott Kunka, Pittsburgh's former finance director, to be the county's chief investment officer. Neither Kunka, who is on medical leave, nor Weinstein could be reached for comment.

Wagner said she does not advertise openings for about half of the jobs in her office. Union jobs ­— mostly accountants — are advertised, she said. She said her office does not have a formalized hiring policy.

Wagner said she relies on a network of government employees and people who serve with her on boards and foundations to recommend people for positions in her office. She receives resumes every week for open positions. Her office vets applicants and conducts a lengthy interview process.

She said she wishes the city, state and county could devise a pension-sharing system so it would be easier to share employees.

“In order to make sure you've hired the most qualified individuals, you should cast a pretty big net,” Baker said. “You're really limiting yourself if you only walk across the street.”

Moe Coleman, director emeritus of the University of Pittsburgh's Institute on Politics, said the recycling of employees between the city and the county is common. Wagner appears to have hired some of the city's top financial advisers, not political operatives unqualified for their new jobs, he said.

“Most of us hire people that somebody knows because that gives you a sense that you're not hiring a pig in the poke,” Coleman said.

Peduto worked with Talent City, a foundation-driven search firm, to hire key positions in his administration and to avoid looking at the usual pool, said Leigh Halverson, Peduto's deputy chief of staff for economic development. Halverson, who worked at the Pittsburgh Foundation and with Talent City, said after Peduto won the Democratic primary, campaign contributors started calling.

“Many were requesting hiring favors, and that was not how he wanted to run his administration,” Halverson said.

Halverson said Talent City did not find the talent pool small. It had more than 1,700 applicants apply for 32 jobs.

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

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.