Council tempers flare in debate on gender pay study

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A debate over a study on fairness in the city payroll led to a public Pittsburgh City Council meltdown today, during which both the city personnel director and the council president stormed out. Councilman Jim Motznik then called for Council President Doug Shields' resignation from his leadership post.

The blow-up came after an already-long meeting took a turn for the worse as Mr. Shields pushed for funding for a long-sought study on whether the city payroll is fair to women and minorities. He sought to add $71,700 for that purpose to a $910,000 bill to cover fuel and police uniforms from unused debt payment money.

Councilman Patrick Dowd and others said they wanted council to draw the money from its own pots. That led Mr. Shields to engage in a lawyer-like cross-examination of Personnel Director Barbara Trant in which he suggested that Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's administration was trying to sabotage the study.

Other members tried to moderate Mr. Shields' tenor.

"Can the chairman let the department director answer the question?" urged Mr. Motznik.

"It's a pack of lies, Jim!" Mr. Shields answered.

Ms. Trant then walked out -- an unusual move for a city director.

"Bring the director back here," Mr. Shields said, sending the police officer assigned to council to retrieve Ms. Trant.

The officer caught Ms. Trant at the door to the mayor's suite.

"I am not coming back," Ms. Trant told the officer. "If he wants to calm down ..." She then went into the mayor's suite.

Back in Council Chamber, Councilman Ricky Burgess bemoaned a "lack of civility ... We cannot insult women at the table to ask for a gender equity study."

Members then back-burnered Mr. Shields' bid for funds, as he walked out.

Mr. Motznik then said he should "step down as council president."

Council gave tentative approval to the fuel and uniform spending.

More details in tomorrow's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.


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