Pittsburgh public safety director named

FBI agent needs city council OK

Mayor Bill Peduto on Wednesday called his pick for public safety director a man of "integrity, judgment, and on-the-ground know-how" whom he hopes will restore confidence in a city scandalized by a federal investigation.

It took five months for Mr. Peduto to select Stephen A. Bucar, 54, an FBI agent who works in Washington, D.C., and is also a former Pennsylvania state trooper and police officer.

Two others previously turned down the position overseeing the bureaus of building inspection, animal control, fire, EMS and police.

Choosing an outsider marks a departure from a previous administration and the end of an era for Michael Huss, who has seen his own share of highs and lows while serving in the position for almost seven years.

Mr. Bucar is expected to begin work in early June at a salary of $125,000. His appointment is subject to approval by city council.

Some have called the selection of a public safety director the mayor's most important decision.

Age: 54
Residence: Nazareth, Northampton County.
Family: Wife, Carolyn, and two grown children — a daughter who is an FBI agent and a son who is a Pennsylvania state trooper
Education: Bachelor’s degree in business administration with a concentration in accounting in 1984 and associate degree in accounting, both from California University of Pennsylvania
Work history: Currently with the FBI as a supervisory special agent section chief in the Counterterrorism Division in Washington, D.C. Previously worked with the FBI on the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force (2010); assistant section chief for the Counterterrorism Division in Washington (2007-’09); special agent in Newark, N.J. (2002-’06); headquarters supervisory special agent at the Criminal Justice Information Services Division in West Virginia (1999-2002); and special agent investigating street gang activity and gun instructor and SWAT team member in Newark (1991-’99); Pennsylvania state trooper from 1985-’91 (Belle Vernon and Uniontown); West Brownsville police officer, 1984-’85.
New position: Pittsburgh public safety director, overseeing police, fire, EMS and building inspection.
Expected salary: $125,000.

Mr. Bucar joins the city at a time when the public safety unions prepare to negotiate new contracts, when officials attempt to create plans to continue to operate under continued state financial oversight and when the police bureau operates without a permanent chief.

"We want a new era within public safety that Pittsburgh can become a model when it comes down to rooting out corruption, not only in public safety, but in every department across the city of Pittsburgh," Mr. Peduto said.

In a prepared statement, he said he wanted his selection to be like Eliot Ness, a storied federal Prohibition agent known for his inability to be corrupted.

Many working in public safety in the city said they have never heard of Mr. Bucar but welcomed the chance to work with him.

Mr. Bucar's work with the FBI at times has focused on gangs in Newark, N.J., counterterrorism and information technology involving law enforcement, among other issues. He previously worked as a state trooper in Belle Vernon and Uniontown and as a Brownsville police officer.

Ralph Sicuro, vice president of the city firefighters union, said he hopes Mr. Bucar shows "fairness, open-mindedness and the willingness to work with everybody that's out there."

Officer Howard McQuillan, president of the police union, noted that he thought Mr. Bucar would have made a fine selection for police chief, but he looked forward to seeing what he does as public safety director.

"Difficult decisions will need to be made to include a new police chief, the ousting of incompetents, political hangers-on and formation of a road map for the future of public safety in Pittsburgh," Officer McQuillan said. "Here is to you, Mr. Bucar, for taking on the challenge."

Mr. Peduto interviewed four finalists for the position in the past two weeks -- including Mr. Huss and former city medic Wendell Hissrich. Joining the mayor in the interviews were his brother, David Peduto, who has a background in psychology and helped develop programs to screen candidates for the FBI and military operations and intelligence, and mayoral chief of staff Kevin Acklin.

What impressed him most, the mayor said, were Mr. Bucar's "integrity and his in-depth answers to the questions that we were asking."

Mr. Bucar could not be reached Wednesday. A spokesman for the mayor's office said Mr. Bucar was not available and the city would not release his application materials Wednesday.

Mr. Bucar said in a statement that he is "excited to return home to southwestern Pennsylvania and help the Mayor -- and the city's public safety employees -- build a new Public Safety Department for Pittsburgh. I have long enjoyed working in law enforcement and government, and this position will be both a challenge and the natural next step in my public service career."

Mr. Huss said he learned from Mr. Acklin Tuesday evening that he did not make the final cut for the job.

"I feel that I stepped up when the city needed me through a very difficult time, and I feel I did everything I could both in public safety and outside of it to carry the city forward," Mr. Huss said. "I think I'm leaving this place in better shape than I found it in."

Still, Mr. Huss declined to address what role he played in the probe by the FBI of former police Chief Nate Harper -- who is serving time in federal prison on conspiracy and tax convictions -- and the police bureau.

He described the turmoil of the past year as merely a "snapshot" of his tenure as public safety head.

"When you look at my total contribution to the city of Pittsburgh, there's a lot there," Mr. Huss said. "I hope you don't take my whole career and place it in the hands of Nate Harper."

Where Mr. Huss goes from here is unknown.

The mayor said he felt Mr. Huss had "unfortunately been targeted" by the "failings of the previous administration." He said he hoped Mr. Huss will stay on during the transition and said there could be a role for him in the city.

But Mr. Huss said he does not plan to stick around after Mr. Bucar arrives.

"I'm going to look outside the city and see what opportunities I can find. I want to stay in Pittsburgh," he said. "So I'm looking in the private sector to see if there's a good fit for me out there."

While Mr. Huss searches for a new job, the administration -- including the new public safety director -- will search for a permanent chief for the police bureau, which has been run by an acting chief, Regina McDonald, since Harper's departure last year.

Mr. Peduto declined to put a firm timeline on the hiring of a new police chief but said the search could begin as early as next week.


Liz Navratil: lnavratil@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1438 or on Twitter @LizNavratil. Moriah Balingit: mbalingit@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1962 or on Twitter @MoriahBee. Jonathan D. Silver: jsilver@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1962 or on Twitter @jsilverpg. First Published May 14, 2014 12:30 PM

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