Pittsburgh Council delays police review board shakeup

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Pittsburgh City Council today delayed a confirmation vote on Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's nominations to the Citizen Police Review Board until it can take up legislation clarifying the nomination process.

The decision came after about 20 residents demanded council take action to protect the board's independence -- and after a debate over Council President Darlene Harris' authority.

When Mrs. Harris announced she had decided to delay a confirmation vote on the nominations, council members Bruce Kraus, Bill Peduto and Doug Shields challenged her authority and demanded that council take a vote on postponing the confirmation proceedings.

Council recessed its meeting for discussion with the city solicitor's office. Afterwards, council voted to delay the confirmation proceedings until July 27.

Mr. Kraus, Mr. Peduto and Mr. Shields shared Mrs. Harris' desire to delay confirmation but objected to her unilateral approach.

"Where did you find that authority?" Mr. Shields asked her. "I'd like to see where it's written that you have the authority to do that."

On June 18, Mr. Ravenstahl proposed replacing five of the board's seven members. He proposed nominating two members to new terms.

The proposed changes came as the board was in court seeking asking to police records it wants for an investigation of police conduct during the G-20 summit.

The mayor said the nomination of new members was not intended to undercut the board's work, but board executive director Elizabeth Pittinger, some City Council members and advocacy groups said the timing indicated otherwise. The debate also brought to light concerns about the nomination process, including questions over whether council, the mayor or both bear responsibility for leading the nomination process.

This morning, anticipating a confirmation vote on five of the seven nominees, residents urged council to table the issue or keep the current review board intact until its G-20 investigation is complete.

Pete Shell, co-chairman of the Thomas Merton Center's anti-war committee, said the mayor is attempting a cover-up of G-20 misconduct, and he implored council not to be part of it

"We need to find out the truth of what happened," he said.

Speakers also demanded council clarify the nomination process. Introduced this morning were two bills -- one from Mr. Shields and a second from Councilmen Daniel Lavelle and Patrick Dowd -- to do that.

The board's independence is "put at risk when there is no clear process for nominating new members," Sara Rose, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, said.


Joe Smydo: jsmydo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548.


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