Gov. Wolf removes, replaces Port Authority board member |
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Jamie Martines

Gov. Tom Wolf removed and replaced a member of the Allegheny County Port Authority Board Thursday following calls from regional transit advocacy groups.

In an open letter sent Thursday to Wolf and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, Pittsburghers for Public Transit, along with a dozen other organizations and elected officials, urged Wolf to consider replacing Robert Kania on the 11-member board.

Kania’s four-year term expired in 2017. He was appointed to the 11-member board by former Gov. Tom Corbett in 2013.

The groups also pointed out in the letter that a complaint has been filed against Kania for an alleged violation of state campaign finance law by the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Campaign for Accountability.

Hours later, Spokesperson J.J. Abbott said in a statement that Wolf had removed Kania from the board and replaced him with an interim appointee, Jessica Walls-Lavelle, the governor’s Southwestern Regional Director.

“We have been engaging stakeholders and legislators regarding potential appointees and that process continues in hopes of finding consensus,” the statement said.

It went on to express confidence that Walls-Lavelle “will be a strong advocate for building and maintaining the transit network in Allegheny County.”

Kania, president of the Pittsburgh-based internet technology consulting firm Direct Technology solutions, could not be reached for comment Thursday.

The April 8 complaint lodged with the Allegheny County Board of Elections and the Allegheny County District Attorney’s office alleges that Kania failed to disclose political activity and report campaign finances in 2018.

“Mr. Kania should be held accountable for any campaign finance violations, and Gov. Wolf should seriously consider whether someone who behaved in this way is fit to serve as a public official in Allegheny County,” Alice Huling, counsel at the Council for the Campaign for Accountability said in a statement.

The complaint cites reporting by WESA and alleges that Kania was involved in running a political committee called Americans Against Socialism since the fall of 2018. The committee was established to oppose the election of state Rep. Sara Innamorato, who was backed by the local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, according to the report. Officials with the Pennsylvania Department of State told WESA that such committees would be required to follow state laws for registering the committee and filing financial disclosure forms.

“While we appreciate that Governor Wolf has heeded transit riders’ call in removing Kania from the board, we have yet to hear from his office,” Laura Wiens, executive director of Pittsburghers for Public Transit said in a statement Thursday. “Transit riders and transit workers are key stakeholders in this vital public asset and must have a say in the appointment process.”

The organizations are encouraging the public to write to Wolf to request that he appoint Heather McClain to replace Kania on the Port Authority board. She currently serves as the community initiatives manager for Healthy Ride bike share.

At least 70 people have participated in the letter-writing campaign as of Thursday evening, Wiens said.

“In her role as the community initiatives manager for Healthy Ride, Heather McClain has been a tireless advocate for increasing mobility and access, particularly for marginalized communities,” Laura Wiens, executive director of Pittsburghers for Public Transit, said in a statement. “She is a long-time, regular transit rider, and is a leader in advancing equitable, inclusive growth in the Beechview community.”

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