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Advocates of city-county merger skip meeting

| Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2008, 12:00 p.m.

Two of the first politicians to support merging the governments of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County passed on a chance Monday to defend the idea.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and county Executive Dan Onorato failed to send representatives to answer questions from Pittsburgh City Council members during an afternoon meeting about how a merger would work.

"Shame on the elected officials for not being here to defend it," said Councilman Bill Peduto. "If this is the most pressing issue for this region, they should have found a way to have representatives here today."

Mark Jones, an executive assistant to Onorato, attended the meeting but was not authorized to engage in the public discussion, said Kevin Evanto, Onorato's spokesman.

Evanto said his office informed City Council last week that Onorato could not attend because of a scheduling conflict.

Joanna Doven, Ravenstahl's spokeswoman, declined to comment.

Representatives for state Sens. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park, Jane Orie, R-McCandless, and Rep. Chelsa Wagner, D-Beechview, participated in the meeting.

Council members used most of the 2 1/2-hour session to raise concerns that a merger -- and the creation of a large county council -- would hurt representation for the many minorities who live in the city. They also worry it would erode the quality of basic taxpayer services such as trash collection, police protection and firefighting.

"My biggest concern is that the population that can least afford to lose representation is the first population that is going to lose representation," Councilman Bruce Kraus said.

Councilman Ricky Burgess said he could not imagine eliminating Pittsburgh in favor or a larger, metro government. He likened city-county consolidation to a "suicide bomber" who's going to "blow up the city" for no reason.

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