Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said Monday that he would not appoint a permanent chief to the embattled police bureau during his remaining 10 months in office and instead will leave the choice to his successor.
"It wouldn't be fair in my mind to the next mayor to not have him or her have the chance to choose their chief, especially given all the recent activity around the bureau," he said.
The mayor asked the former chief, Nate Harper, to step down Feb. 20, nearly a week after news broke of a federal investigation at the police bureau. Mr. Ravenstahl said he made his decision after meeting with federal investigators for two hours and "learned enough to know it was time to ask Chief Harper to resign."
Mr. Ravenstahl's announcement was met Monday with praise in many corners of the community. Many had expressed concern the city would be unable to recruit a viable candidate because Mr. Ravenstahl is leaving office in 10 months and new mayors often appoint their own department heads.
In the interim, however, criticism of acting Chief Regina McDonald continues to swirl since she directly oversaw the Office of Special Events. Deputy Chief Paul Donaldson said that office, which arranges off-duty security jobs for officers and handles millions of dollars in checks written from businesses that employ them, is part of the federal investigation.
Council President Darlene Harris, who is also running for mayor, called the mayor's choice "a wise decision."
"There's a lot of people that have something to say. We want to absorb everything that the community is saying," she said.
City Controller Michael Lamb, another candidate for mayor, expressed that sentiment, too, saying the process would be "rushed" should the mayor attempt to select a new chief in the next 10 months.
Councilman Bill Peduto, also a mayoral candidate, said he believed the mayor would be hogtied in any effort to find a good candidate for chief.
"I don't think anyone that would take the position knowing that the present administration will not be there in January," he said.
Sgt. Mike LaPorte, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 1, said he thought it was prudent for the mayor to hold off on appointing the next chief. But he said there are growing concerns about Chief McDonald, who previously served as the assistant chief of administration.
A memo written by Officer Christie A. Gasiorowski in January suggests Chief McDonald was alerted to the fact that a check sent to the special events office was deposited in an unauthorized account at the Greater Pittsburgh Police Federal Credit Union in 2009.
"If she had that information and she did nothing with it, that was wrong," Sgt. LaPorte said. "Maybe if she had done something ... then we certainly would have had more credibility and we wouldn't be in this situation right now."
"There's still a whole myriad of questions about what transpired in there. Then why would that person be elevated to acting chief of police?" said asked Elizabeth Pittinger, executive director of the Citizen Police Review Board. She called it "unsettling" that the former chief's second-in-command, Deputy Chief Paul Donaldson, was passed over for the job.
Councilman Patrick Dowd said he thought Mr. Ravenstahl was right to not appoint a new chief. But he said that does not mean that the administration should not move forward with a serious overhaul of police staffing, secondary employment and the "dearth" of sergeants in the bureau.
Moriah Balingit: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-2533 or on Twitter @MoriahBee. Jonathan Silver and Rich Lord contributed.