Pittsburgh council OKs board members without interviews

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Pittsburgh City Council divided sharply today before taking the unusual step of opting not to interview 12 nominees to city boards prior to approving them.

The 5-4 vote leading up to approval of a raft of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's picks came after Councilman Jim Motznik, in a surprise move at what would have otherwise been the end of today's council meeting, pulled nomination papers from his suit pocket and accused others on council of delaying the process of vetting them. The nominees are among 21 the mayor introduced to council on June 22, launching a council approval process that usually includes a public interview and typically takes two or three weeks.

"I don't agree with delaying those appointees any further," Mr. Motznik said. "A lot of these people have been scheduled for interviews, only to have them cancelled the night before."

"I would at least like to have the courtesy, for God's sake, to sit down and meet them," said Councilman Bruce Kraus.

The nominees, including some to the Planning Commission, Zoning Board of Adjustment and Historic Review Commission, are meant to replace some members who have continued to serve, though their terms have expired. Council President Doug Shields suggested that some of the departing members were being replaced because their votes were not favorable to Mr. Ravenstahl's administration, and argued that their proposed replacements should be scrutinized.

But Mr. Motznik presented e-mails in which the city clerk -- who usually answers to the council president -- cancelled nominee interviews.

In one of the e-mails, six nominee interviews that had been set for July 8 were postponed indefinitely by an e-mail of 4:26 p.m. the afternoon before.

In another, an interview with a nominee that had been set for Aug. 5 -- the first day of council's summer recess -- was bumped back to September.

Later, as it became clear that the necessary five votes were in place to approve the appointees without interview, Councilman William Peduto called it "the exact kind of government I abhor."

"Shame on the lot of you even bringing this forward," said Mr. Kraus.

That set off Mr. Motznik, who said council's failure to approve Historic Review Commission members prevented that board from having the quorum necessary to meet.

"Because the president of council, and [Mr. Kraus], [Patrick] Dowd, and Mr. Peduto, want to play these games, that's what's happened," said Mr. Motznik, who will leave council at the end of this year to become a district judge. "This was the best job of my life. But the gamesmanship, the political crap that we have to go through, those are the downsides."

Voting to go without interviews, and then to approve nominees, were Ricky Burgess, Darlene Harris, Mr. Motznik, Tonya Payne and Theresa Smith.


RichLord can be reached at rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542.


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