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Act 47, oversight panels reach truce

Tony LaRussa
| Thursday, Feb. 3, 2005, 12:00 p.m.

The two state-appointed groups overseeing Pittsburgh's financial recovery made peace in a closed-door meeting Wednesday, according to those who attended.

The oversight board has been sparring with the Murphy administration -- and by extension the Act 47 team -- over the city's decision to negotiate five-year labor contracts with police and firefighters instead of short-term deals, which would give the city some time to reorganize the departments.

The Murphy administration last Friday appealed the police union's contract awarded by an arbitrator in December, claiming that parts of the pact violate the Act 47 recovery plan. The city still is negotiating a contract with firefighters. On Monday, the oversight board sued the police union and the city in an effort to block the contract.

The meeting yesterday was called by state Department of Community and Economic Development Secretary Dennis Yablonsky, of Mt. Lebanon.

"The secretary has been very clear that, in the best interest of the city, we need to move past the current dispute and focus on working together to bring Pittsburgh back to fiscal solvency," said Yablonsky spokesman Kevin Ortiz, who described the meeting as productive.

Duquesne University Chancellor John Murray, a member of the oversight board, said he came away from the meeting yesterday with the sense that "a great deal was accomplished."

"There comes a time when we have to stand up and say: 'We have a job to do here,' and we're not going to be able to do it if we don't communicate with each other," Murray said. "We had a candid discussion, and I believe we were able to overcome the breakdown in cooperation that we witnessed during the past several weeks."

Oversight board member David O'Loughlin said the board, the administration and the Act 47 team agreed to meet regularly.

"I think there was agreement that the oversight board has to have a seat at the table when discussions take place on what needs to be done to bring the city back from the razor's edge of bankruptcy," he said.

Murray and O'Loughlin defended the decision to bar the public and the media from attending the meeting because a portion of the discussions that took place involved details of the litigation involving the police contract.

Litigation is among the topics that governmental bodies may discuss in secret under the state's Sunshine Act.

The state Commonwealth Court yesterday rejected a newspaper's lawsuit to open the session to the public.

"Certain things have to be discussed in private," O'Loughlin said. "And I think the court's ruling agrees with our contention that this was a case where it was best to do it in private."

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