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Incoming Allegheny County chief executive Fitzgerald names team for transition

Tony LaRussa
| Friday, Dec. 23, 2011, 12:00 p.m.

Rich Fitzgerald selected a team of six labor, business, civil rights and education leaders to advise him as he takes the reins as Allegheny County executive next month.

Named to the transition team on Thursday were:

-- Philip Ameris, president and business manager of the Laborers' District Council of Western Pennsylvania

-- Esther L. Bush, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh

-- Michael R. Dunleavy, financial secretary for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local No. 5

-- Barbara McNees, president of the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce

-- Mark A. Nordenberg, chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh

-- Audrey Russo, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Technology Council

G. Terry Madonna, a political science professor at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, said the makeup of Fitzgerald's team "seems to be on the right track" for a large urban county.

"Having organized labor heavily represented on the (transition) team is somewhat expected, considering the support he received from unions during the election," Madonna said.

"But the team is still quite diverse in that it has someone from education, a person concerned about the county's urban core along with representatives from traditional business and new technology."

Among the transition team's initial tasks will be identifying people to serve on "vision teams" that will be asked to come up with recommendations for the county's role in a dozen key areas of concern, including economic development, infrastructure, human services, public safety, transportation, public health and workforce development.

Fitzgerald, a Democrat who served on Allegheny County Council for 12 years before resigning to run for executive, said he is "very comfortable setting priorities and making decisions about directors and administrators."

"The vision teams are about our future and how we can continue to improve, promote and move Allegheny County forward," he said during a news conference. Vision team members and chairs will be named in the weeks after Fitzgerald's inauguration on Jan. 3.

Earlier this week, Fitzgerald named Jennifer Liptak as his chief of staff and Amie Downs as his director of communications. Liptak has been County Council's budget director since 2004. Downs has been chief of staff for state Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Brookline, for the past four years.

Each of the vision teams is slated to conduct a "listening session" in the first 30 days after its formation to gather opinions and recommendations from the public, said Fitzgerald, adding that members of the transition and vision teams will be volunteers.

Madonna said he likes Fitzgerald's idea of creating vision teams.

"If the teams are made up of people who are at the cutting edge of their fields, it could bear fruit for the county," he said.

Bush, who attended the news conference, said she was "especially pleased" that Fitzgerald is creating vision teams that will focus on financial sustainability and intergovernmental cooperation.

"Those areas are critical to all of the work that needs to be done in Allegheny County," she said, adding that it was her hope the vision teams will be able to come up with "some strategic directions that maybe haven't even been considered before."

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