Government transparency in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County
July 10, 2014 12:00 AM
The Pittsburgh City-County Building on Grant Street.
By Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Post-Gazette is monitoring transparency in local and state governments. Many public officials, including Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, have pledged to make information about their administrations readily available to the public.
How are city, county and state governments doing? This page offers some stories to help track the answer.
Feb. 4: Pittsburgh officials roll out an online data platform that will place a trove of city spending and revenue information at the public's fingertips.
Feb. 4: Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner filed an amended campaign finance report to provide more information about individual contributions left off an earlier filing. Ms. Wagner’s campaign manager called it an “unfortunate clerical error.”
Feb. 3: Allegheny County politicians seeking countywide office filed 2014 financial reports showing some healthy war chests.
Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner. (Darrell Sapp/Post-Gazette)
Jan. 14: Two alumni-elected Penn State trustees made a public appeal to board chairman Keith Masser for details of a settlement that they learned had been proposed in a lawsuit over NCAA sanctions imposed on the university in 2012. Al Lord and Anthony Lubrano criticized the chairman for not telling the full panel.
Dec. 24: Mayor Bill Peduto said the money doled out to employees during his appearance on “Undercover Boss on CBS” is coming from private corporations and other institutions and that he would release the accounting once the fundraising is complete. Mr. Peduto said the donors “would rather remain anonymous” but they would be identified in the interest of “full disclosure.”
Dec. 23: During the broadcast of “Undercover Boss” on CBS, Mayor Bill Peduto noted that because he had to “raise money from friends” to help bestow five-digit sums upon city workers -- an effort to address life challenges they told him about while Mr. Peduto was in disguise on the job. But it’s unclear who they were. “[T]he City is not identifying the outside donors at this time,” a mayor’s office statement said.
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto in disguise on "Undercover Boss." (CBS)
Dec. 15: Meal charges by West Mifflin Area School District administrators on district credit cards have become a point of controversy. But school officials say administrators are following an unofficial policy that allows them to charge meals to the district rather than filing for mileage reimbursement on occasions when they must attend evening functions.
Nov. 26: The City of Pittsburgh would not make public documents expected to provide more detail about a Milwaukee consultant’s pending contract with the police bureau that has raised concerns with a councilman there. Sonya Toler, the public safety spokeswoman, gave the Post-Gazette a partial contract for ESM Advisors LLC, but it did not include an exhibit titled, “Scope of Work Addendum and Fee Schedule,” and Ms. Toler declined to explain the omission.
Oct. 24: Caster Binion, Pittsburgh Housing Authority executive director, declines to release results of a probe into tenant council elections at the Bedford Dwellings housing units. The 76-page report was completed Oct. 22.
Mazzy Bailey, then 17, of Bedford Dwellings in the Hill District, goes in for a dunk in 2012 at a lowered rim during events at the Bedford Dwellings Community Day as organized by the Housing Authority. The authority won’t release its findings from an investigation into tenant council elections at the housing complex. (Bill Wade/Post-Gazette)
Oct. 24:SelectPlan for Women, a Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare website, gives no indication that a special Medicaid program will be ending at year’s end, putting some 90,000 Pennsylvania women at risk of losing access to the free family planning and women’s health-care coverage it offers.
Oct. 21: Three widely cited state studies of air emissions at Marcellus Shale gas development sites in Pennsylvania omit measurements of key air toxics and calculate the health risks of just two of more than two dozen pollutants.
Sept. 25: Aides to Attorney General Kathleen Kane named eight former employees whose agency email accounts, they said, included images ranging from photographs of nude women to graphic videos of sexual acts. But the AG’s office said it was not revealing the names of 30 other current employees whose accounts were found to have contained such images because of human resource policies and union agreements.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane. (John Heller/Post-Gazette)
Sept. 16: The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette sued the state Monday in Commonwealth Court, asking a judge to halt a practice across the executive branch of destroying emails after five days and instead order they be preserved for at least two years. The Post-Gazette on Aug. 24 reported the executive branch email practices, the five-day permanent deletions, as well as concerns of open-government advocates.
Sept. 5: A female patient at Western Psychiatric Institute & Clinic of UPMC reported an alleged sexual assault to a hospital staff member on Aug. 25. A Pittsburgh police officer was dispatched to Western Psych the morning of Aug. 26, but police did not provide any information about the case, or even confirm that it existed, until 10 days later.
Aug. 29: The state has begun exploring ways it might archive emails that routinely are deleted by its 80,000 executive branch employees. But the state does not appear to have plans to address — at least immediately — the other concerns raised by open-government advocates who were quoted in a Post-Gazette story.
Aug. 29: A city controller audit of a fund found that the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation needs to develop written policies and do a better job of documenting payments to referees and umpires. “City funds should not be held in non-city bank accounts.” Michael Lamb said.
Aug. 12: Recently, acting state Secretary of Education Carolyn Dumaresq cited a department practice of purging emails each evening as the reason her department released only five emails for Ron Tomalis, the governor’s then special adviser on higher education, during his first year in the position. But the practice violates the department’s policy on record retention. It took two informal requests and a Right-to-Know request to the Department of Education for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to get a copy of the department’s policy on record retention.
Ron Tomalis (Post-Gazette)
Aug. 6: The Allegheny County Health Department was trying to be transparent in slapping Chinatown Inn with a Consumer Alert July 24 for a slew of violations. But the Downtown restaurant blocked the effort with two strategically placed potted plants in front of the yellow Consumer Alert decal. That plan backfired with an inspector photographed the cover-up and the county fined the eatery $800.
July 27: Records obtained by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette through requests under the state Right-to-Know Law raise questions about how much time the governor's office required Ron Tomalis to spend on duties as special adviser to Gov. Tom Corbett for higher education.
July 18: The state Department of Public Welfare expressed regret for the deteriorated state of the former Dixmont State Hospital cemetery in Kilbuck and vowed to make sure it is not neglecting any other institutional burial grounds the state still owns.
July 17: Neither the state Department of Public Welfare, which operated Woodville and Dixmont hospitals, nor the state Department of General Services, which oversees state properties, responded to questions about dilapidated cemeteries at the former facilities.
Isolated in the woods of the former Dixmont State Hospital property in Kilbuck are the crumbling concrete markers of more than 1,300 graves of patients who died from 1863 through 1937.
June 30: A Pittsburgh police officer is selected as liaison to public safety director, but some officers say they were not aware the city was looking to fill the position.
June 23: Mayor Bill Peduto is seeking ways of forcing event promoters to pick up a larger share of the cost of city services required for special events, such as concerts. But no details about implementation were provided at a June 23 news conference.
Workers clean up trash from the Carnegie Science Center parking lot on the North Shore the morning after the June 21 Luke Bryan concert.
June 16: The mayor's office says it took an officer off the streets following the controversial arrest of a woman at PrideFest. But Mayor Bill Peduto didn't refer to the officer by name.
May 27: Allegheny County hired a firm to curb employee sick-leave abuse. At the center of the controversy was the county's administration of the federal law that allows employees to take up to 12 weeks off for family and medical reasons without losing their job.
May 6: Are Pittsburgh City Council members using some of the city's discretionary funds for self-promotion? The city's controller said that is the case with some.
April 3: An Allegheny County 911 dispatcher remained silent for about 40 seconds while on the line with a woman accused of fatally drowning two of her children. County officials refused to identify the call-taker or release any information about their protocols.
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