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Republican mayoral candidate proposes ethics reforms

| Monday, Sept. 17, 2007, 12:00 p.m.

Republican mayoral candidate Mark DeSantis wants to strengthen Pittsburgh's ethics code, appoint an independent ethics "compliance officer" and publish information about city contracts and vendors on the Internet.

Taxpayers need clear information about "where their money is going, how well it's being spent, and third, that the system that is spending that money and taking that money in is fair," DeSantis said during a new conference today at his Downtown headquarters.

He faces Democratic Mayor Luke Ravenstahl in the Nov. 6 election.

DeSantis, of Downtown, a consultant and president of a technology company, used the new conference to issue a four-part plan for a "transparent and accountable city government." The challenger didn't refer to Ravenstahl or cite specific ethics or transparency issues, although the new conference was a thinly veiled attack on the mayor, who went before the Ethics Hearing Board in August after accepting two free days of golf at a charity event. The board absolved Ravenstahl of violating city code.

Ravenstahl responded that "strengthening our ethics code and enforcing and ensuring a high level of transparency in government are critically important."

"My administration is working earnestly on both fronts. I am glad my opponent agrees," he said in an e-mail.

DeSantis proposed appointing a retired judge as an ethics compliance officer to oversee conduct by city employees -- including the mayor -- as well as hold annual ethics training classes, hear reports of possible ethics violations and work with the city ethics board to "significantly strengthen" the code. Similar watchdog officials are "very common in industry and large nonprofits," DeSantis said.

"If there is any question at all regarding an ethics issue -- for any employee, elected official, appointed official or government employee -- they will have the option of seeking an official opinion" from the compliance officer, he said.

The candidate promised to establish a "performance pledge" that sets benchmarks for the work of all city departments, based on the highest performances levels in other cities, and provide quarterly progress reports.

Requests for public information under "right-to-know" regulations would be expedited by appointing a worker in the city law department to handle all those requests, DeSantis pledged. Most right-to-know requests should be handled within five days -- and at the most, 15 days -- he said.

The plan calls for posting on the city's Web site "all the specific reasons why the city awards contracts to each vendor," whether any vendors were political contributors to the mayor, and the campaign finance reports of the mayor and all city elected officials.

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