Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto speaks to a panel before they interview finalists for a financial and legal advisory team for the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority last month.
By Adam Smeltz / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
When a water advisory in February closed more than 20 Pittsburgh schools, Chatón T. Turner knew how much it would stress families over feared contamination and scrambled schedules.
Those temporary closures “disturbed me greatly,” said Ms. Turner, associate counsel at UPMC and the mother of two kids, ages 3 and 6. She said “people who live in urban settings have a right to expect quality water just like people in other settings.”
Now Ms. Turner, of Manchester, could help fortify the troubled Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority against future crises. She is among three nominees announced Friday by Mayor Bill Peduto for the seven-member PWSA board. The others are Debbie Lestitian of Brookline, Mr. Peduto’s chief administration officer, and Jim Turner of Highland Park, a recent retiree and former city official. The Turners are not related.
Together the trio would replace former board members Andrea Geraghty, Caren Glotfelty and Alex W. Thomson, all of whom tendered resignations last month after their terms expired. If confirmed by city council, the new members will join sitting Peduto appointees to face lead contamination, customer service shortfalls, leaky infrastructure, nine-figure debt and public outcry over PWSA’s admitted failures.
“We considered several options in candidates, but these are the three candidates we felt made the best sense for the city,” said Kevin Acklin, Mr. Peduto’s chief of staff. He said the administration wants to have them confirmed in time for the PWSA board meeting May 26.
The nominees fulfill Mr. Peduto’s push for financial, legal and human resources expertise, plus his emphasis on diversity, Mr. Acklin said. He said Mr. Turner fits the financial category, with experience as budget director, finance director and chief administrative officer for the city.
Mr. Turner also worked with the Allegheny Conference on Community Development and at the Pennsylvania Economy League. He serves as an adjunct professor at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.
“The first thing any new board member has to do is go in and do a lot of listening, reading and talking before reaching any conclusions,” Mr. Turner said.
He said he wasn’t yet able to assess PWSA’s performance. The Peduto administration put no conditions on his nomination, he added.
Nor did the administration make any “particular ask of me in this role,” Ms. Turner said, apart from doing a good job.
“I’m doing it for my children. I’m doing it because we’re living here, we’re raising them here, and I want to make sure it’s a quality product” from PWSA for Pittsburghers, she said. She thinks the authority “definitely could tighten up their controls.”
Mr. Acklin touted her legal background with regulatory issues. She supplies legal support to UPMC’s physician services division, Center for Fertility and other UPMC units, according to the Downtown-based health care system.
Ms. Lestitian, a former PWSA board member, doubles as personnel director under Mr. Peduto and can help PWSA keep and attract talented workers, Mr. Acklin said.
“We’re not starting from scratch. The city cannot afford to have a learning curve on the board with respect to the personnel issue,” he said. Ms. Lestitian did not immediately comment Friday.
At Pittsburgh United, an advocacy group whose Clean River Campaign encourages “green” solutions to stormwater runoff and sewer overflows, managing director Jennifer Kennedy said the nominees “seem to have a wealth of financial and administrative experience.”
“I would have liked to see a real leader on green infrastructure on the board, but I realize PWSA has many challenges, and addressing them also helps us go in a more sustainable direction,” Ms. Kennedy said. She said her group will reach out in hopes that new board members’ “knowledge and commitment will deepen” on green infrastructure.
Mr. Acklin said the city and PWSA have strong advocates on the issue in both leadership and staff positions. He counted Deborah Gross, a city council and PWSA board member, and Mr. Peduto among them.
“You better be sure he’s going to make sure, if there are threats to the quality of that water, if there are flooding concerns and raw sewage floating in the river, he’s going to own that problem” and find solutions, Mr. Acklin said.
Adam Smeltz: 412-263-2625, firstname.lastname@example.org, @asmeltz. Staff writer Chris Potter contributed.
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