Robinson blames Fitzgerald for demotion

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Allegheny County Council budget committee chairman Bill Robinson found himself abruptly demoted Wednesday, stripped of his post as his colleagues struggle to finalize the county's financial plan for 2014.

In a terse email sent to council early Wednesday afternoon, council President Charles Martoni said his decision to remove the bombastic councilman was effective immediately. He did not name a replacement but said one would be coming soon.

"There's nothing personal about it," Mr. Martoni, D-Swissvale, said Wednesday. "I think the committee needed a change. It was going nowhere."

On Tuesday night, council passed an $817 million operating budget by a wide margin but ran into roadblocks on its $50 million capital plan, which funds county infrastructure projects. Mr. Robinson, D-Hill District, had submitted a proposal that included a $500,000 grant to the struggling August Wilson Center for African-American Culture, a controversial allocation that county Executive Rich Fitzgerald threatened to veto.

Council members appeared poised Tuesday night to strike out the grant through revisions -- so Mr. Robinson withdrew the whole proposal, leaving the county without a capital budget.

Now, he suspects Mr. Fitzgerald had a hand in his swift demotion.

"I believe that outside influences convinced Dr. Martoni there needed to be a change because things weren't going in a direction those outside influences wanted," he said. "It's a dastardly deed. I've lost respect for Dr. Martoni for doing it this way."

Mr. Fitzgerald's staff denied comment.

Mr. Robinson has long been a colorful figure on council, given to lengthy speeches but admired by his colleagues for his stewardship of the budget committee. Even Mr. Martoni's email lauded the chairman for his service, saying Mr. Robinson has helped council define its role and "become more efficient in fulfilling its budgetary responsibilities."

What happens next is uncertain. Council is required by law to pass all budgets by Friday, though there's no explicit penalty for breaking the deadline. The next budget committee meeting is scheduled for Wednesday.

By all appearances, Mr. Martoni has sacrificed more than Mr. Robinson's leadership position -- he may have destroyed the former chairman's allegiance to the Democratic caucus on council, with Mr. Robinson jokingly suggesting he might find a better friend in Republican Gov. Tom Corbett.

"What is the value of what Democrats on council are attempting to do?" asked Mr. Robinson. "They are giving the impression they would do anything Rich Fitzgerald asked them to do."

Andrew McGill: or 412-263-1497. First Published December 4, 2013 4:42 PM

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