Allegheny County Councilman Bill Robinson, recently pushed off his influential post atop the county's budget committee, says he's done with council Democrats and wants the council president to resign.
In an hour-long news conference Monday, Mr. Robinson intimated council president Charles Martoni had "fired" him at the bidding of Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, with whom he had clashed over budget matters. Reading references to the separation of powers from the preamble of the county charter, he said Mr. Martoni had grown too close to Mr. Fitzgerald to continue his role with independence and called on him to resign his post.
"I don't believe Dr. Martoni has been able to live up to these words," he said.
Mr. Martoni demoted Mr. Robinson last week, announcing in a terse email that the Hill District Democrat was no longer the budget chairman. His decision came after a roiling budget battle the night before, when county council failed to pass a $50 million capital budget over disagreements over a proposed $500,000 grant to the August Wilson Center for African-American Culture.
Mr. Robinson had berated other council members, Mr. Martoni said, accusing them of "starting a fire." At one point, Mr. Robinson and Councilwoman Jan Rea, R-McCandless, got into a heated argument in the midst of the meeting.
Monday evening, Mr. Martoni had to chuckle at his colleague's resignation demand -- he already had announced his intention to step down from the president's seat at the end of the month.
"What else can I do? I can't resign twice," Mr. Martoni said. "I've known him for years and always liked him ... but he's just gone off the deep end at this. He's forgetting his responsibility."
Councilman Michael Finnerty will serve as budget chairman through the end of the month, Mr. Martoni said.
During his news conference -- which included multiple references to 12th- and 17th-century English politics -- Mr. Robinson said he also was leaving council's Democratic caucus, which he believes is dominated by Mr. Fitzgerald.
The county executive regularly attends caucus meetings before Tuesday council meetings to give his opinion.
Mr. Fitzgerald declined to comment.
"I have not found it a useful use of my time," Mr. Robinson said. "I refuse to put myself in circumstances where I might be berated or screamed at."
The councilman said he plans to drop his request for a grant to the August Wilson Center, which is currently in foreclosure. County police already have investigated one alleged threat against him from a resident, he said, though it was only a precaution.
And in one of the more bizarre moments of the news conference, Mr. Robinson said he also will ask the county police to sweep his office for electronic bugs, "to see if there are people in the administration monkeying around with our computer system."
Andrew McGill: email@example.com or 412-263-1497.
Andrew McGill: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1497. First Published December 9, 2013 1:01 PM