Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto stays very busy in 1st day on job

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On his first full day in office, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto moved swiftly to implement changes, letting go three politically connected public works employees in the name of streamlining the department, while promising new hires in police, fire and emergency medical services.

And, following what was described as a "positive" meeting with the Buncher Co., the developer has agreed to put its plans for the Strip District's produce terminal on hold while alternatives are explored.

The day started with an internal staff meeting at 8:45 a.m. and a meeting with Mr. Peduto's Cabinet members at 10 a.m. in which chief of staff Kevin Acklin, a notorious workhorse who arrived at city hall at 5 a.m., laid the ground rules. Staff meetings will be daily, and anyone who arrives late will not be allowed in. Men will wear jackets and ties. (Mr. Peduto attended the chief's meeting.)

"I also told them thousands of people would love to work for this administration," he said. "Don't take it for granted."

Later that morning, Mr. Peduto met with public safety director Mike Huss, acting police Chief Regina McDonald, fire Chief Darryl Jones, acting director of the Bureau of Building Inspection John Jennings, and Mark Bocian, acting chief of Emergency Medical Services.

"I just wanted to hear from each chief on what's happening presently, what their needs are ... and to share a little bit with them what I want to do," he said. "One of the things that came of it was an immediate need for personnel."

Mr. Peduto said his administration also planned to make decisions about whether to keep Mr. Huss, who was hired by Mayor Tom Murphy to head the fire bureau and then appointed public safety chief by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl in 2007. The position was one of several that was posted on the website for Talent City, a foundation-backed initiative that uses human resources professionals and volunteer committees to cull the best candidates for jobs, giving the administration the final say on hires. It's part of Mr. Peduto's effort to use merit instead of politics for hiring.

Mr. Huss was one of the finalists for the job, and Mr. Peduto said his administration will determine by early next week if he'll be kept on.

Public works director Rob Kaczorowski is slated to be let go after he failed to become one of the finalists for the position he has held since late 2009. His replacement will be chosen by the end of next week, Mr. Peduto said.

Later in the afternoon, Mr. Acklin met with assistant public works directors Kevin Quigley, a former staffer of and longtime friend of Mr. Ravenstahl, Robert Palmosina and Dennis James to inform them their jobs were being eliminated and that their last day of work was Monday. Mr. Palmosina and Mr. James are both Democratic ward chairmen. Mr. Quigley and Mr. James both declined comment and Mr. Palmosina could not be reached. All three men made annual salaries of $77,700.

Mr. Peduto said their jobs were eliminated in the 2014 budget in an effort to streamline the department, which was previously divided into six bureaus. Mr. James and Mr. Palmosina were both assistant directors of the operations bureau, which is being folded into the administration bureau. Mr. Quigley headed the bureau of properties, which is also being combined with the administration bureau.

A half-dozen new hires started Tuesday in the mayor's office. They are office manager Gloria Foruzan, policy manager Matt Barron, sustainability manager Grant Ervin, deputy chief of staff John Fournier and Corey Buckner, who is Mr. Peduto's personal assistant. Laura Meixell was also hired as the analytics and strategy manager and will work with City Information Systems.

In yet another meeting in his jam-packed afternoon, Mr. Peduto said he and the Buncher Co. will be meeting weekly to consider options for the Strip landmark, once the hub for produce wholesalers.

Buncher has been battling local preservationists over plans to demolish the western third of the 1,533-foot-long structure in order to extend 17th Street to the Allegheny River as part of its proposed $450 million Riverfront Landing office and residential development.

At the same time, Mr. Peduto has been championing a "third way" to do the development that could involve "decoupling" the terminal from the rest of the project and finding a way to provide riverfront access without razing part of the structure.

Mr. Peduto said after his meeting Tuesday that Buncher is willing to put its plans on hold "while looking at the options."

"There's a lot of different options that are available to us in partnering with them on potential redevelopment of the terminal building and bringing in other developers as well, and we will be pursuing that over the course of the next three to six months," he said.

The mayor has said that he has spoken to developers from Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania who are interested in reusing the terminal without demolishing any part of it. He said there was a "spirit of cooperation" on both sides during Tuesday's meeting.

"I really do believem, at the end of the day, that we have the ability to see the adaptive reuse of the terminal building, access to the site for Buncher and the potential redevelopment of their entire site and also Smallman Street itself to bring in much more development than had been proposed earlier," he said.

Tom Balestrieri, Buncher president and CEO, said after the meeting that his company and the mayor were "exploring alternatives that will satisfy everyone." He added that a "myriad of things" are being discussed in terms of options.

"We're working toward a common goal. We want something that's good for everybody," he said.

Buncher has an option to purchase the terminal from the city Urban Redevelopment Authority for $1.8 million.

Council is still weighing a city historic designation for the terminal that would make it much more difficult for Buncher to raze part of the building. Mr. Peduto said that regardless of how the vote goes, there's still an opportunity to redevelop the site and reuse the building.

Buncher has proposed spending more than $20 million to rehab the terminal, sans the section that would be demolished. It has argued that its plan is the best way to preserve the structure, which has fallen into disrepair.

Moriah Balingit: mbalingit@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2533. Mark Belko: mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262. First Published January 7, 2014 5:49 PM

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