Council orders Ravenstahl to attend meeting on recovery plan

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Being mayor of a distressed city isn't supposed to be a day at the beach.

That's the message Pittsburgh City Council sent yesterday, taking the unusual step of voting to compel a vacationing Mayor Luke Ravenstahl to attend a special meeting Monday at 1:30 p.m. on the city's imperiled recovery plan. The administration had, until late yesterday, declined to say publicly whether it supported the new Act 47 plan, even as it argued privately that it must be approved by June 30.

"I suggest that the mayor find a flight from the beach and get back to work," said Council Finance Chair William Peduto.

The administration responded with a statement in which Mr. Ravenstahl said he's "largely in agreement with the Act 47 plan" though he "will not support increasing taxes imposed solely on city residents."

The 300-page amended plan for getting Pittsburgh out of distressed status would replace one that has governed city spending since its 2004 passage. The new plan would cap wage increases, strip out work rules that constrain management, and force the city to put $10 million to $14 million more each year into its beleaguered pension fund -- even if it takes a tax increase.

"The decision to support the amended Act 47 plan is a difficult one for everyone," Mr. Ravenstahl said in his statement. "City workers already are underpaid and overworked ... But the reality remains that we are living in a time in which we can't spend."

Floated May 21 by the co-leaders of the state-picked Act 47 team, the plan only can take effect with council approval, and only can be amended with the team's approval.

Council voted to postpone its tentative vote on the plan, which was set for yesterday, pending a date with the mayor.

Act 47 co-leader Dan Kaplan said that "council needs to approve the plan we've presented them" by June 30. If they suggest changes, he said, he'll "listen to them," but he added that it "may already be too late."

So far, he has one of the five council votes needed.

"This plan should be adopted as is -- no political pandering, no major changes -- because this is too important an issue," Councilman Ricky Burgess said. Adoption, he said, would allow city leaders to "go to Harrisburg and get the structural changes we need," while refusal would jeopardize "tens of millions of dollars" of state aid.

He also argued that if the plan is not passed by June 30, it may not effectively cap expected arbitration awards to police and firefighters, for whom contract negotiations start July 1 -- a notion that city Solicitor George Specter seconded. Police and fire salaries and overtime make up $114 million of the $438 million budget, and their benefits comprise tens of millions more.

Councilwoman Tonya Payne, though, added her voice to the list of members in opposition to the plan. She joined Darlene Harris, Theresa Smith and Patrick Dowd, while Council President Doug Shields and Bruce Kraus also voiced concerns with the plan.

City Clerk Linda Johnson-Wasler has served council for 30 years, and could not recall any prior vote to force a mayor to appear.

But the motion to compel attendance passed 7-1, with Mr. Burgess voting no, and Jim Motznik absent.

The administration said the Law Department is reviewing the demand.


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


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