Penn Hills Council to vote on code of ethics ordinance
Penn Hills Council is expected to vote on an ordinance that establishes a code of ethics for the municipality’s employees and elected and appointed officials.
Outgoing Councilman Mark Brodnicki first introduced the ordinance in July, when he referenced wanting to model a Ross Township ordinance that limits elected and appointed officials from doing business with the township or face fines or jail time.
He did not respond to multiple calls seeking comment.
Brodnicki’s comments on the ordinance came after council extended its towing services contract with Don Kuhn Auto Body, which is owned and operated by Mayor Sara Kuhn’s husband. The contract was approved 3-2, with Kuhn abstaining and Brodnicki dissenting.
“I believe municipal employees and officials should stay away from doing business with family members,” he said in an interview with the Tribune-Review at the time.
The ordinance places rules on municipal officials – elected, appointed or employed – that prohibit them from:
• Giving preferential treatment to anyone.
• Have conflicts of interest, whether financial or personal, in any transaction with any public body.
• Soliciting or accepting for personal use or the use of another person a gift, gratuity, favor, entertainment, hospitality, loan or any other thing of monetary value and in-kind gifts from anybody seeking to do business or who has a financial relationship with the township.
• Using information the municipality possesses for personal gain.
• Asking employees for donations or to perform political work such as campaigning and fundraising.
• Engaging in political activity during work hours.
Excluded from the rule about receiving gifts are items of minimal value, which was set at a total of $500 per year for employees and $50 “per entity” for elected and appointed officials, with a cap of $500 a year.
Also excluded are gifts from friends or close relatives when it is clear the item is motivated by a family relationship or personal friendship rather than the position of the employee or official.
The proposed ordinance is not as stringent as the one in place for Ross Township officials and employees.
For example, Penn Hills’ version does not include rules that would prevent officials from using municipal-owned equipment, supplies and property, performing outside work other than their regular jobs without approval from the municipal manager and accepting honoraria, speaking fees or any other item of value unless they are donated to charity or a non-profit organization.
The proposed code of ethics also does not expressly prohibit employees and elected or appointed officials from doing business with the municipality and it does not apply to employees that belong to a collective bargaining agreement.
If employees violate the rules, they could be reprimanded, suspended or terminated. If an elected or appointed official breaks the rules, they could be charged with a misdemeanor, and upon conviction, could face up to a $1,000 fine, one year in jail or both.
If anyone receives financial gain from an alleged infraction, that person could face having to pay that back equal to three times the amount they originally earned.
The ordinance includes a grandfather clause, protecting potential past violations from punishment.
It also requires elected and appointed officials to, upon taking office, file a “disclosure statement of all areas of financial interest or personal interest.”
The ordinance comes before council two weeks after the general election, when Penn Hills voters chose a new mayor and elected two new faces to sit on council.
Mayor-elect Pauline Calabrese said the ordinance is a good first draft, but that it is “subject to interpretation and should be more straightforward.”
“I also think there should be a clause that strictly prohibits impropriety or even the appearance of impropriety,” she said, mentioning the municipality’s towing contract as an example.
Mayor Kuhn declined to comment before sharing her thoughts publicly at a Nov. 18 council meeting where council is expected to discuss the ordinance and take a vote.
The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. in council chambers, 102 Duff Road.
Dillon Carr is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Dillon at 412-871-2325, [email protected] or via Twitter .