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Pittsburgh's 'Great Race' paid for clown, stump grinder, swimming pool

Bob Bauder
| Thursday, May 11, 2017, 8:30 p.m.
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.
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.

Sponsorships, donations and registration fees that support the annual Richard S. Caliguiri City of Pittsburgh Great Race also pay for special events at city parks, swimming pool repairs, park maintenance and landscaping equipment rental, according to city invoices obtained by the Tribune-Review.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto this week said a Parks and Recreation Department employee notified his office about a potential problem with the Special Parks Programs Trust Fund, which collects money to put into the Great Race. He said the Office of Municipal Investigations is reviewing the matter.

“I am concerned about what I have learned about the investigation,” Peduto said. “I can't speak to the specifics of the case while the case is being investigated.”

The trust fund contains $658,220, according to Controller Michael Lamb's office.

The parks department spent $343,326 from the fund in 2016. At least 40 percent of that paid for expenses other than the Great Race.

Jim Griffin, the parks department director, declined to comment for this story. Griffin signs the invoices along with Louann Houran, a financial manager.

The Trib examined 50 invoices submitted for payment from the fund in 2016 and found that parks spent at least $156,000 on equipment and services associated with the Great Race. T-shirts given to participants were the largest single race-related expense at $103,782.

Race organizers also spent at least $137,000 on purchases that don't appear to be associated directly with the race.

Not all of the invoices listed a specific event for which the money was used. City Council voted to approve many of the bills.

Invoices included $2,000 for Giggles the Clown to appear at 10 park events between July 1 and Aug. 5; $26,579 for repairs to the Westwood swimming pool; $5,968 for rental of a tree stump grinder and backhoe for Frick Park; $3,126 for 12 tables from Virco Inc.; and $2,014 for a television and related equipment at a city recreation center.

The fund also contributed $11,107 toward city bicentennial events, $6,648 to a Black History Month celebration and $3,061 toward a victory parade for the Penguins after the team won the Stanley Cup Championship in 2016.

Peduto spokeswoman Katie O'Malley said OMI is checking to “ensure that fund transactions were going through the proper controls and approval processes administered by city entities such as (the Office of Management and Budget) and City Council.”

Officials said they do not suspect theft and that the situation will not impact this year's race on Sept. 24. It's expected to draw 16,500 competitors.

Two of the major race sponsors — Highmark Inc. and the Allegheny Health Network — are aware that donations help fund other city events, Highmark spokesman Aaron Billger said.

Mayor Richard Caliguiri, who died in 1988 of amyloidosis, established the race in 1977 as a community “fun run,” according to the race website. The city donates $1 from each registration fee to the Richard S. Caliguiri Amyloidosis Fund, which supports medical research. The donation totaled $14,618 in 2016, according to invoices.

A council resolution establishing the trust fund in 1979 and Pittsburgh budget documents contain conflicting language as to exactly how the money is supposed to be spent.

The resolution makes no mention of the race and authorizes the parks department and controller to pay expenses for “special parks programs.”

A trust fund section in city budget documents for 2016 and 2017 says the fund is “now used solely for the Great Race event,” but contradicts that statement two paragraphs later by saying expenses can include “salaries, materials, supplies and misc. services and expenses in connection with Special Parks Programs.”

They include community enrichment programs, BIG League baseball, softball, hockey and soccer programs for youths 4-18, preschool, Partners in Parks programming and special events, according to the budgets.

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-765-2312, bbauder@tribweb.com or @bobbauder.

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