Urban Redevelopment boss Pat Ford resigns

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Urban Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Pat Ford issued a strongly worded resignation letter today, alleging a "culture of deception and corruption" and saying he will no longer "support the actions of what I believe to be a failed administration" nor seek to "return to a position where I will again be forced to serve as a scapegoat for the inappropriate affairs and activities of others."

The letter, directed to URA board Chairman Yarone Zober, comes nearly five months after Mr. Ford went on paid leave following revelations that he accepted Christmas gifts from an executive for Lamar Advertising, which has substantial dealings with the city, including a lease and permit application for a controversial electronic billboard Downtown. That revelation prompted a state Ethics Commission review.

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Lawrence Fisher, attorney for Mr. Ford, has said the review is over, but the URA has not received confirmation from the commission and has not brought the director back to work.

The resignation is effective at the end of this year, when Mr. Ford's contract runs out. The letter anticipates that he will be paid through year's end.

The URA board won't act until it holds a closed-door session on Mr. Ford's status, probably on Sept. 11, according to a statement the redevelopment agency issued.

"The board has respectfully received Mr. Ford's resignation letter and needs to meet in executive session to address a personnel matter such as this," the statement said. "In the interim, the URA's Acting Executive Director Rob Stephany is anticipated to continue to serve in that capacity until an Executive Director is appointed by the Board."

The resignation "is a very good turn of events for the city of Pittsburgh," said city Councilman Patrick Dowd, who has been a critic of Mr. Ford since early this year. The URA head "has been a sort of cavalier and Ford-centric individual and hasn't really been thinking about the good of the city."

The resignation letter paints a different picture.

"When I returned to work for the late Mayor Bob O'Connor, I believed that great things were about to happen in this city," it said. "I hoped for those same things when I was promoted by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. Unfortunately, I have not seen that to be the case."

Mr. Ford's wife, Alecia Sirk, resigned from the position of mayoral press secretary at the time of the gift revelations.

"To this day, my wife and I are being persecuted with no support from the administration I served, for no real reason whatsoever," the letter goes on to say. "Over the past two years I have told myself that I was a 'good soldier,' and that I did what was asked of me by the mayor I served. I believed that by working together we could have a positive impact on this city, embracing all that it has to offer. But that vision never materialized, and as I have always said, 'Where there is no vision, people perish.' I have no desire to perish along with Luke Ravenstahl's Pittsburgh."

Mr. Ford's camp recently launched a letter-writing campaign to urge his reinstatement. Ms. Sirk recently sent out an e-mail soliciting contributions to a legal defense fund.

The resignation letter goes on to say: "I have stood by recently and watched as you personally retaliated against those who tried to support me, and I cannot allow others to be penalized for not understanding that, when it comes to Pat Ford, honesty is not appreciated."

Mr. Fisher today detailed that allegation, saying Mr. Zober called the people who wrote letters supporting Mr. Ford, "saying, 'Don't do that.'" or they "will be destroyed."

Mr. Zober said that accusation is "completely untrue.

"To the best of my knowledge, we received two letters of support," he said. "One of those people contacted me. I said, 'I understand, we got your letter.'" He said that was the extent of his conversation with the first letter writer, and he had no communication with the second.

Mr. Fisher would not detail the "corruption" alleged in the letter, other than to say that "the way contracts are supposed to be awarded to the lowest responsible bidder, and the way contributions have been made to the mayor, I think it's self-evident."

Councilman William Peduto has called for a City Controller's Office audit of URA contracting policies. Today he e-mailed from Norway, where he is studying city government, writing that the issue "goes much further than Pat Ford. Pittsburgh is no longer a city that is open for business, Pittsburgh is a city for sale."

Controller Michael Lamb plans to meet with URA officials next week, according to Deputy Controller Douglas Anderson.

One contract recently qustioned was a URA contract recently awarded for construction management to McTish, Kunkel & Associates, despite the fact that it was not initially the lowest bidder. That type of contract does not need to go to the lowest bidder, and URA spokeswoman Megan Stearman said in a statement that after "understanding the actual requirements, [McTish, Kunkel] submitted a bid lower than the other responsive bidder."

Matthew McTish, president of the firm, gave Mr. Ravenstahl's campaign a $10,000 contribution in December 2006.

`He would not detail earlier statements that Mr. Ford was cooperating with authorities. Mr. Ford has taken information on what he said is wasteful spending and mismanagement at the Pittsburgh Housing Authority to Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr., who is reviewing the matter. Mr. Ford chaired the authority board until early April.

In December. Lamar got a no-bid lease, and a city permit granted without public hearings or votes, to put a 1,200-square-foot electronic billboard on the Grant Street Transportation Center, Downtown. Mr. Ford advised the zoning administrator who approved the permit, and was chair of the board of the Pittsburgh Parking Authority, which owns the transportation center. Mr. Ravenstahl said he supported those decisions.

Federal investigators have asked at least two people about several matters related to Mr. Ford's work as city planning director and development czar, before he joined the URA in October. Included is the award of billboard permits, for areas in which new signs are not allowed, to Liberty Pacific Media, a West Coast firm whose executives later gave $27,000 in contributions to the mayor's campaign.

Mr. Fisher said the resignation was "the culmination of months and months of waiting for the administration to step up and defend a loyal soldier ... He's been abandoned on the field of battle."

He said Mr. Ford was out of the state and unavailable for comment.

Mr. Dowd called the resignation "an opportunity to find someone who can head the URA and implement the administration's vision."

More details in tomorrow's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.


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