ShareThis Page
North Hills

McCandless launches probe into councilman's confrontation with teens

Tony LaRussa
| Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018, 2:54 p.m.
McCandless Councilman Steve Mertz
McCandless Councilman Steve Mertz

One of the first official actions of the new year for McCandless council was to pass a resolution to investigate the conduct of a councilman accused of a vulgar tirade against three teenage volunteers who were at a polling precinct on Election Day.

District Judge William Wagner conducted a swearing-in ceremony at the Jan. 2 reorganization meeting for two new members of council: Bill Kirk, Ward 2; and Carolyn Schweiger, Ward 6; as well as Ward 4 Councilwoman Joan Powers, who was re-elected.

Council voted unanimously to appoint Ward 1 Councilwoman Kim Zachary as president, and Greg Walkauskas, Ward 5, as vice president.

Kirk began the business portion of the meeting by introducing a resolution calling for “a full investigation into the performance of duties of Councilman (Steve) Mertz including citizen complaints against him.”

“We have no greater purpose than to serve our citizens with integrity, which means policing our own ranks at times,” Kirk said. “While it's incredibly disappointing to start a new year by needing to deal with the issue of a serious citizen grievance that has been publicly leveled against a member of our council, the only worse thing would be to ignore it or overlook it.”

The incident came to light during the Dec. 18 council meeting when Don Mueller of McCandless said Mertz accosted his two sons, age 16 and 15, and their 13-year-old sister, who were volunteering at the polls Nov. 7 on behalf of Councilman Ralph LeDonne's re-election campaign.

Mertz, who is in his first term as the Ward 3 representative, was at the polls to support Schweiger — who served as his campaign manager.

Schweiger, Mertz and Zachary cast the three votes against the resolution to investigate the incident.

In an interview with the Trib, Mertz said he used only a single insult containing the F-word while speaking to the teens. He contends they initiated the confrontation by insulting him and making disparaging remarks about Muslims and gay people. The councilman compared their behavior to members of the Westboro Baptist Church, the Kansas-based congregation known for its harsh anti-gay rhetoric and picketing at military funerals.

Josef Mueller said he and his two younger siblings did not make such statements and characterized Mertz's action as a “tirade” that included multiple uses of the F-word.

Kirk said he introduced the resolution because he believes council “has an obligation to act.”

“We must afford these citizen grievances the weight they deserve,” he said. “While there are two sides to every story, elected officials should never carry more weight than any other citizen.”

But Mertz maintains that the language he used was appropriate because he was “standing against bigotry.”

“Even if these accusations were true, which I don't believe they are even slightly true, what exactly do you feel is the point where someone should ignore blatant bigotry at a polling station while it is being chanted? Where do you draw the line?” Mertz asked Kirk.

Mertz's contention that the teens instigated the incident was disputed by Walkauskas, who said he was “a direct witness.”

“I don't recall any of that,” Walkauskas said. “I recall the confrontation, but I don't recall them (the teens) saying these bigoted things.”

The incident was initially referred to the McCandless police, which recused itself from investigating to avoid any conflicts of interest.

Allegheny County Police investigated the exchange between the children and Mertz but the district attorney's office did not file any charges against the councilman.

Tony LaRussa is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-772-6368 or or via Twitter @TonyLaRussaTrib.

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.

click me