A limited role: County Council doesn't need to get into hiring

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Some Allegheny County Council members need a history lesson because they don't seem to understand the role that voters created for them when they approved the current form of home-rule government.

In May of 1998, voters made a historic change by replacing the three-member board of county commissioners with a single, elected, full-time county executive and a 15-member council. In doing so, they created the office now held by Rich Fitzgerald, arguably the third most powerful government executive in Pennsylvania.

The council, by contrast, was designed to be an advisory body, witness the fact that 13 members elected by district and two more elected on an at-large basis are paid only $9,000 for what clearly was intended to be a part-time job.

That doesn't mean that council members should be a rubber stamp for the administration, but it does mean their role is limited and the executive is supposed to manage operations.

The idea that council members should be more involved in key hiring decisions reared its head in June, when Democrats William Robinson of the Hill District and James Ellenbogen of Banksville sought a role in interviewing candidates to head the county Health Department. (Mr. Fitzgerald proved he could choose wisely with his selection of Karen Hacker, a respected Harvard Medical School associate professor.)

Now Council President Charles Martoni, a Swissvale Democrat, has joined his two colleagues in seeking a role in the process of finding a new director for the county's Shuman Juvenile Detention Center.

The members' request is not without some foundation. The County Code says council "shall be given the opportunity to interview all final candidates for directors of departments and make recommendations" to the executive. However, this practice has rarely been employed, and it is all the more complicated now because Mr. Robinson is a long-time and vocal supporter of William T. "Jack" Simmons, who was just dismissed from the position at Shuman.

As a way to comply with the code, and perhaps out of courtesy, Mr. Fitzgerald could make his selections available to meet with council members before he finalizes their employment. But that should be the extent of council's involvement in hiring.

opinion_editorials


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