Skrinjar out of job in Pittsburgh city government, and Peduto ally in
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, in a shake-up of the Parks and Recreation Department, fired an assistant director in charge of senior programming and promoted a personal friend with deep political connections.
Dick Skrinjar, 63, of Highland Park, who was former Mayor Bob O'Connor's communications and policy director, said his position was eliminated as part of the reorganization. His last day is Wednesday.
Taking his place is Mark DePasquale, 56, of the North Shore, who describes himself as “a very close friend of the mayor.”
“Mark DePasquale has extensive organizational management experience and was hired in parks to coordinate activities across senior centers,” Peduto spokesman Tim McNulty wrote in an email response to inquiries. “His hiring was not politically motivated, and we have been very happy with his work.”
DePasquale has worked in the city's senior citizen programming division since March. He is the son of the late City Councilman Eugene “Jeep” DePasquale and uncle of state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale.
Mark DePasquale worked for the city in the 1980s as a sidewalk inspector. He was suspended for five days and reassigned to other duties after a TV news story reported he took private driving lessons and did little work while a reporter observed him on the job for a week.
His yearly salary in the newly established position of senior program manager remains $65,249. Skrinjar earned $83,183 a year. Peduto froze salaries for 2015.
Part of the mayor's campaign platform in 2013 included a vow to hire employees based on merit, not political connections. To accomplish that, his administration relied heavily on Talent City, a foundation-supported program designed to recruit, assess and recommend qualified candidates to top posts. Many of Peduto's high-profile hires emerged from the program.
DePasquale said his life changed dramatically since the 1980s. He completed associate degrees in business and hospitality management at Community College of Allegheny County and had a career in the hospitality industry. He recently worked as a salesman at the Baierl Kia dealership in Ross.
“It was an issue 30 years ago, long before I started my whole career,” he said.
DePasquale said he applied for his new job through the city's civil service department.
McNulty said the city saved nearly $18,000 by replacing Skrinjar. He noted that PennDOT fired Skrinjar in 2004 as District 11 spokesman.
“It is not unexpected that he would be political and take unfair shots against dedicated city employees on his way out the door,” McNulty said. “The city has changed everything from the oversight of its senior programs to the double-sized, City-County Building office suite Skrinjar used to enjoy, and it's clear he didn't want to be part of those improvements.”
Skrinjar declined to comment about his departure, saying he didn't know who or why the administration made the decision. He said he's hopeful about the future.
“I've been very blessed to have a very long, very interesting and very satisfying career at this point, and it's not over,” Skrinjar said. “I'm exploring free agency.”
A Pittsburgh native, Skrinjar said he is considering running a political campaign in 2015 for City Council's District 7 seat held by Deb Gross of Highland Park, a close ally of Peduto. In addition to Highland Park, the district covers Bloomfield, Friendship, Lawrenceville, Morningside, Polish Hill, Stanton Heights and the Strip District.
“I learned from politics and campaigns that it's all about timing,” he said. “If the timing is right and everything else lines up, maybe.”
The Peduto administration hired Jamie Beechey as deputy parks director, a new position, said Tim McNulty, Peduto's spokesman.
In addition, officials moved Louise Horan from fiscal supervisor to administration and operations manager, and plan to hire a recreation manager.
Beechey's salary is $86,509, and the recreation manager will receive $65,249, according to the 2015 budget. Horan is earning $71,124 this year, but it's not clear whether her salary will remain the same.
Skrinjar also worked in radio and television. He wasn't eligible for an early retirement program the city offered nonunion employees at the beginning of the year.
Controller Michael Lamb said he intends to audit that program.
Skrinjar began working for O'Connor in January 2006. He said his city career was bittersweet after O'Connor's death that September.
“I went from the sadness of burying a friend and mayor and confidant to going to (the Late Show with David Letterman) with Luke Ravenstahl,” Skrinjar said of O'Connor's successor. Ravenstahl did not run for re-election in 2013.
Skrinjar said his career high points included helping to balance budgets when Pittsburgh faced chronic deficits, overseeing parades to honor Super Bowl and Stanley Cup victories by the Steelers and Penguins, and working with senior citizens.
Councilman Corey O'Connor, son of the late mayor and chair of council's recreation committee, said no one in the administration briefed him on Skrinjar's firing.
“Dick will be missed in the city” government, he said.
Bob Bauder is a Trib Total Media staff writer.