A majority of Pittsburgh Council members has agreed to hire a lawyer to represent the city's legislative branch.
Seven council members signed a letter, filed with the City Clerk's Office today, citing legislation passed last year that enables council to spend as much as $39,900 on a variety of professional services, including legal work. The letter suggests that all of that may be spent on a lawyer.
Council members Jim Motznik and Patrick Dowd did not sign the letter.
Council members have long spoken of hiring their own lawyer, as permitted by the city charter, rather than relying solely on the Law Department's attorneys. The city solicitor runs that department, and reports to the mayor's administration, leading some council members to the view that the department may face a conflict of interest when there is a dispute between the two branches of government.
The issue resurfaced as part of a dispute over a $10,706 bill submitted by attorney Hugh McGough for work done on behalf of four council members who challenged a permit for an electronic billboard on the Grant Street Transportation Center. Councilman Bruce Kraus, one of the four members, said the $39,900 would not cover that bill, which is now the subject of a State Ethics Commission review initiated by the four members.
The Law Department has classified that bill as a personal debt of the four members, and has said they entered into a conflict-of-interest situation when they voted tentatively to have the city pay the tab.
The lawyer would be administered through the city clerk's office, but specific rules on how the lawyer could be used haven't been made public yet.
More details in tomorrow's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.