Penn Hills mayor, councilman, formally apologize for background check debacle
Mayor Sara Kuhn and Councilman John Petrucci offered formal apologies to two people they erroneously alleged to have not complied with a municipal policy requiring board and committee members to undergo a criminal background check.
Arlene Holtz and Rita Spalding, both former members of the Penn Hills Arts Council, were included in a list of seven officials who had not complied with the policy in August.
“It was a huge mistake by the municipality,” said Penn Hills Mayor Sara Kuhn. She began a regularly scheduled council meeting on Sept. 23 with the formal apology.
“I cannot apologize to them and their families enough,” Kuhn said.
She said Holtz and Spalding moved out of the municipality and were no longer serving on the board.
Petrucci said the municipality should keep better tabs on who serves on which boards and committees. He tasked the manager to give council a yearly report of board and committee membership.
Council held a special meeting in August to remove those officials for not submitting to criminal background checks. The governing body changed course when Deputy Mayor Catherine Sapp suggested those people be given another chance.
One of the officials included Jerry Chiappinelli, a planning commissioner currently serving in his third four-year term. His criminal record is what precipitated the special meeting to remove him and others for not complying with the December 2018 policy.
The record is from charges filed against him in 1975, when he was 29-years-old. However, an Allegheny County Grand Jury dismissed the case a few months after those charges – simple assault and making terroristic threats – were brought against him.
Residents criticized council at the heated special meeting Aug. 29 for seemingly singling out Chiappinelli, who was never made aware of council’s intention to remove him from the board for his noncompliance with the policy.
Chiappinelli and the others who were not in compliance with the policy submitted the criminal background checks shortly after the special meeting in August.
“I’m all clear,” Chiappinelli said of his state police issued criminal background check.
He called the municipality’s policy reasonable but reiterated his distrust of the “system” that he thought would jeopardize his and others’ identity.
“This is not the end,” he warned. He said he is considering legal action against politicians who he said singled him out, scheduled a special meeting to oust him and never notified him of it.
“We’re reviewing malfeasance, discrimination, defamation of character … all for throwing my non-indiscretions in the public like that,” Chiappinelli said.
Manager Scott Andrejchak verified Chiappinelli’s compliance with the background check.
He said Anthony Salazzo, a board member of the UCC Board of Appeals, did not comply. But he said the policy does not apply to him because the UCC Board of Appeals is defunct.
“We delegated that authority to the Turtle Creek Council of Governments,” he said. “So for all intents and purposes, we have 100% compliance.”
Andrejchak thanked all the officials for submitting to the criminal background checks, a policy that will make vetting appointees easier.
He said the documents, which are stored in a locked storage room in the municipal complex, will be destroyed by the end of September if officials don’t claim them.
Dillon Carr is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Dillon at 412-871-2325, [email protected] or via Twitter .