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Review of spending on Pittsburgh's Great Race finds no wrongdoing, but key employee out

Bob Bauder
| Tuesday, June 27, 2017, 6:06 p.m.
Runners fill Beechwood Boulevard in Squirrel Hill at the start of The Great Race on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Runners fill Beechwood Boulevard in Squirrel Hill at the start of The Great Race on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016.
Runners head into the final stretch during Pittsburgh's Great Race, at Point State Park on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Runners head into the final stretch during Pittsburgh's Great Race, at Point State Park on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016.

A key employee is out of Pittsburgh's parks and recreation department following a review of expenditures from accounts that fund the Richard S. Caliguiri City of Pittsburgh Great Race, a city official said Tuesday.

Jamie Beechey, the department's deputy director, opted to “pursue other opportunities” Friday when the mayor's office concluded an investigation into spending of money that supports the popular annual race.

Kevin Acklin, Mayor Bill Peduto's chief of staff, said the Office of Municipal Investigations found no evidence of malfeasance or theft, but the expenditures violated a 2014 executive order requiring approval of the Finance Department and City Council for spending from all accounts. He said unapproved expenditures of Great Race funds included an employee picnic and gifts for Great Race volunteers.

Acklin said he reviewed OMI's findings Friday with Beechey and parks Director James Griffin. Beechey chose to leave her job. Acklin would not say whether she was terminated or resigned, declaring it a “personnel matter.” Her budgeted salary for 2017 is $89,122. She could not be reached for comment. Griffin declined to comment.

“She did leave the employ of the city to pursue other opportunities,” Acklin said. “She was definitely somebody who instituted a lot of change management with the parks department, and we wish her well in her new endeavors.”

Peduto in May ordered OMI to look into spending from two accounts associated with the Great Race, including a city trust fund and a bank account held by South Side-based nonprofit City Source Associates, after an employee notified him of a potential problem.

Pittsburgh has since closed both accounts and transferred race management from the Parks and Recreation Department to the Pittsburgh Marathon . Sponsorships and entry fees cover race costs.

Trust fund invoices included fees for a clown to appear at park events, repairs to the Westwood swimming pool and rental of a tree stump grinder and backhoe for work in Frick Park, the Trib reported in May.

Acklin said Peduto issued an order in 2014 requiring departments to have finance and council approval for spending from all accounts. He said it was not clear why the parks department failed to seek that approval.

“No evidence of any theft, or malfeasance or conversion, but it did violate city policy of this administration, and we take that seriously,” Acklin said.

The city last month suspended Beechey without pay for 15 days, but Peduto declined to give the reason, saying only that it was related to the OMI investigation. Acklin on Tuesday said it was unrelated to the Great Race but also declined to offer a reason.

Beechey previously served as Crafton's director of borough services before the city hired her in 2014. Acklin said the city is evaluating whether to fill her position.

The Great Race is scheduled for Sept. 24. Organizers expect 16,500 competitors.

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @bobbauder.

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