City clears Regan, who quits

Operations director was accused of meddling in personnel decision

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Pittsburgh's controversial Operations Director Dennis Regan resigned yesterday, even as Mayor Luke Ravenstahl closed a 50-day investigation into his actions that found no evidence of wrongdoing.

The mayor would not say whether a parallel probe found fault with Mr. Regan's critic, police Cmdr. Catherine McNeilly, whose e-mail to City Council touched off the investigations. He said she remains on paid leave, and Police Chief Nate Harper will decide on her status next week.

Mr. Ravenstahl said her actions, which included the transmission of an internal disciplinary report to council, were "not a case of whistle-blowing." That means they may not, in his view, be entitled to special legal protections.

Cmdr. McNeilly strongly implied in her e-mail that Mr. Regan quashed her effort to discipline Detective Francis Rende, whom she accused of calling off sick to work side jobs.

Since a 1999 incident of misconduct, Detective Rende has been working under an agreement that said any violation of attendance policy would result in his termination. He is the brother of Marlene Cassidy, a senior secretary in the mayor's office who lives with Mr. Regan in Point Breeze.

"The investigation revealed no conclusive evidence that Dennis Regan committed any wrongdoing with regard to the accusations made by Catherine McNeilly," the mayor said. He said Mr. Regan never made a personnel decision without the involvement of the mayor.

Neither he nor city Solicitor George Specter would provide any details of the investigation's findings. "That's the historic practice in handling these kinds of investigations," Mr. Specter said, also noting that the state public records law doesn't cover investigation reports.

"These types of investigations are conducted on a confidential basis, the information is obtained on a confidential basis and must remain private," the mayor said.

Mr. Regan's letter of resignation, dated and accepted yesterday, called accusations against him "vile, factually false and morally wrong," but said he doesn't "want to subject myself, my family or [the mayor] to this type of continued behavior."

"The fact that some of your political adversaries and mine would attempt to exploit this issue for their personal political gain and the fact that some members of the media would act as judge and jury with no facts is inexcusable and unacceptable," it continued.

"I refuse to continue to be used as a political pawn."

Mr. Regan's nomination to the post of public safety director, which was withdrawn following Cmdr. McNeilly's e-mail, drew criticism because he has no police, fire or paramedic experience.

Yesterday, Councilman William Peduto, likely to challenge the mayor in next year's election, reiterated that criticism.

"The decision by the mayor to make Dennis Regan the public safety director was a flawed decision, and from flawed decisions come situations like this," he said.

Mr. Regan could not be reached for comment.

Pressed for information on Cmdr. McNeilly's status, Mr. Specter said city employees are not allowed to send aspects of colleagues' personnel files to City Council.

"If somebody shares their opinion, that's one thing, and everybody in the city of Pittsburgh has the ability to do so," the mayor said. "It's when you go beyond that, that's when it changes."

Chief Harper said he hadn't made a final decision on Cmdr. McNeilly's status, but he noted that he has "begun action and it has to take its course through arbitration or whatever is next."

He said he will decide, probably by Thursday, whether to mete out discipline, dismiss any findings against her, or order counseling.

She would then have five days to respond in writing, and the option of challenging any discipline through the civil service system.

Cmdr. McNeilly referred requests for comment to attorney Timothy O'Brien.

He said her actions are "the precise definition of whistle-blowing" which he said is "when a public employee reports wrongdoing to superiors or other governmental entities which the employee had a reasonable basis to believe occurred."

Whistle-blowers have special legal protections, he said, and if she is disciplined she has "numerous options available" under state and federal laws.

During the investigation, Mr. Regan was paid around $12,400, and Cmdr. McNeilly got around $10,500.

Mr. Specter said its duration was due to problems coordinating schedules and the desire of some parties to consult attorneys.

Mr. Regan, 54, joined city government in January, when his friend, the late Bob O'Connor, was mayor.

During Mr. O'Connor's two-month bout with cancer, Mr. Regan was widely viewed as the most powerful man in city government.

Mr. Regan was involved in the mayor's July 27 firing of Chief of Staff B.J. Leber, Solicitor Susan Malie, and Finance Director Paul Leger, who were accused of insubordination.

In addition to various roles in the mayor's office, he was made chairman of the Housing Authority board. The mayor said he will remove him from that post.

The mayor said he will seek a new operations director. He will also reorganize his office staff, and he said there was "nothing to report" on Ms. Cassidy's future there.

He said he has not helped Mr. Regan hunt for another job and could not say what his career plans are.

Cmdr. McNeilly, 48, is a 28-year veteran of the city police bureau and wife of former Chief Robert W. McNeilly Jr., who was let go by Mr. O'Connor.

Annie O'Neill, Post-Gazette
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, right, listens to acting Solicitor George Specter discuss the investigation into the activities of city Operations Director Dennis Regan during a news conference yesterday.
Click photo for larger image.

Related coverage

Read Dennis Regan's resignation letter to Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.
You must have Adobe Acrobat Reader to view this file.



Rich Lord can be reached at rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542.


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