Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority board chairman linked with company hired to do public relations
One of Pittsburgh's financial oversight agencies recently awarded a $3,000-a-month contract, which runs indefinitely, to a lobbying and communications firm with close ties to the chairman of the agency's board.
The Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority's board voted unanimously on June 29 at a public meeting to hire Bravo Group of Harrisburg for public relations services.
ICA board Chairman Dana A. Yealy said Bill Miller, senior director for the Bravo Group and head of the firm's Western Pennsylvania operations, worked for him as manager of government relations at Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh, Downtown. Yealy, 53, of Marshall is general counsel for the bank.
Miller said he left the bank for Bravo in September 2010, adding that he did not report directly to Yealy.
Yealy said he has no financial stake in Bravo and voted to approve the contract on the recommendation of the ICA's communications committee. The board hired Bravo to inform the public and policymakers about Pittsburgh's financial condition, Yealy said.
ICA Executive Director Henry Sciortino said “four or five” other companies bid on the contract. It wasn't clear whether Bravo submitted the low bid. Yealy referred questions about the bids to the communications committee. Its chairwoman, Ann Dugan, did not return a phone call.
“I have no friendship, interest or any other relationship (with Bravo),” Yealy said. “They are a proven vendor that was looked at by the committee and vetted by the committee.”
Sciortino said Yealy disclosed his relationship with Miller privately to other board members and told them that Miller did “great work.”
“Because you know someone, I don't think that inherently is a conflict, especially if you know what their professional capabilities are,” Sciortino said.”
State law prohibits ICA board members from being “a party to or be interested in any contract or agreement with the authority.” A member found in violation can be ousted from the board and the contract voided, according to the law.
Observers said the contract gives the appearance of favoritism.
“When you have that kind of incestuous relationship, it doesn't look good,” said Barry Kauffman, executive director of Pennsylvania Common Cause, a government watchdog group. “I think government agencies should always strive to avoid situations that may make the public develop a sense of mistrust.”
The state Legislature created the ICA in 2004 to return the city to financial independence, while working with an Act 47 recovery team to reduce debt and a $1 billion employee pension obligation.
The Mayor's Office has complained that it has taken sufficient steps to escape state oversight. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl did not respond to requests for comment.
The governor and legislative political caucuses each appoint one member to the ICA board. House Republicans appointed Yealy in September 2011.
House Speaker Sam Smith of Punxsutawney and Majority Leader Mike Turzai of Bradford Woods did not return phone calls. The ICA has a state-funded annual budget of $228,000.
Jeff Brauer, professor of political science at Keystone College, said the law's intent is to prohibit board members from benefitting financially from a contract.
“The real question of wrongdoing goes to what the process was and was the process followed,” he said. “If the process was followed it may be legal, but whether it was ethical is another question.”
The state recently hired the Bravo Group for about $250,000 to help educate people about the new voter-ID law. Company CEO Christopher Bravacos has contributed more than $30,000 to Republican candidates and causes since 2000.
Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.