Water torture: The head of PWSA was too conflicted to stay

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No servant can serve two masters, but that is just what it seems the deposed executive director of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority did during much of his tenure. The conflicts of interest that permeated Michael Kenney's 21/2-year term as head of the authority were a betrayal by someone entrusted as a public servant to conduct the people's business with only their best interests in mind.

The details of Mr. Kenney's associations have trickled out over the past 12 months, with the latest revelations contained in a report written by Farrell and Reisinger, a Downtown law firm hired by the water authority board to review PWSA's contract with a private vendor and Mr. Kenney's role in it.

City Councilman Patrick Dowd, who sits on the water authority's board and who had called for Mr. Kenney's removal last March, prepared a resolution last week seeking to fire him based on the law firm's report. The attempt became moot when Mr. Kenney resigned Friday, but it remains troubling that so many officials -- state Rep. Daniel Deasy, who chairs the board, and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl among them -- praised Mr. Kenney's work.

Before joining PWSA, Mr. Kenney was operations director for the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County, working under Resource Development and Management, a firm which oversees that authority. His boss later founded Utility Line Security, a firm that received an unusually advantageous contract provision with Pittsburgh that allows it to assess a $5 monthly charge for water line insurance without prior consent from the customers.

Utility Line also shares some owners with Utilishield, a 13-year-old company in which Mr. Kenney held a 20 percent interest, something he didn't disclose until after Utility Line's agreement with Pittsburgh was inked. According to Mr. Dowd's resolution, Utilishield paid Mr. Kenney $15,000 and covered his country club membership dues well after PWSA first approved the line-warranty program. New information found by the law firm, according to Mr. Dowd's resolution, also includes a claim that Mr. Kenney met with Utilishield principals several times and exchanged e-mails with them prior to WSA seeking a new line insurance program.

Other information about Mr. Kenney's ties to the related firms, including the employment of some of his relatives, were revealed in reports published in the Post-Gazette during the past 10 months, including in part of a series titled "The Network," which described long-standing relationships among a group of lawyers and businessmen.

Mr. Dowd correctly has asked PWSA attorneys to decide whether concerns about the line insurance contract and Mr. Kenney's role should be reported to the state Ethics Commission. We hope they'll answer with a "yes," and that the authority soon will release the complete findings of Farrell and Reisinger. Public employees clearly are barred from exerting influence on behalf of businesses in which they have a personal interest, so the inquiry into Mr. Kenney's actions should not end with his resignation.


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