Battle brewing between council, mayor

City Council eyes proposal to appoint members to boards

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Pittsburgh Councilman Patrick Dowd plans to introduce legislation Tuesday to give council and the controller some say in the management of the city's challenged pension fund. It may prompt legal objections from the administration, since the city charter gives the mayor appointment powers.

His proposed ordinance would put one council member and the controller on the seven-member Comprehensive Municipal Pension Fund board, though he may amend it to let them place designees there. It would reduce from four to two the number of mayoral appointees, while leaving the other three seats to representatives of the police, fire and other employees, respectively.

The legislation comes as new financial consultant Mercer Investment Consulting is realigning the pension fund's portfolio, with board involvement. At year's end the fund contained $354.8 million -- around 42 percent of what it should have to cover its obligations to retirees and current employees.

"I think that this is the biggest problem, from a legacy standpoint, that the city faces, and that all elected officials of the city have to be, to one respect or another, represented on the board," Mr. Dowd said.

Controller Michael Lamb's deputy said he supports the idea. Council President Doug Shields is on the board, an appointee of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.

A legal argument over appointment powers may ensue, and both sides have ammunition.

The city charter gives the mayor the power to appoint the members of "all boards and commissions," subject to council approval. The charter can be amended through referendum, but not council action.

Several city boards created by ordinance, though, must include council members, or people picked from a list provided to the mayor by council. Among them are the Citizen Police Review Board, Ethics Hearing Board, and three boards that award pensions. Mr. Dowd argued that the pension board is similar to those.

The move comes as a more assertive council argues for inclusion on city panels and is challenging the administration in other areas. Mr. Ravenstahl has resisted what he views as encroachment on his authority over take-home cars and permitting, especially in the case of a controversial electronic billboard slated for a parking garage/bus terminal on Grant Street.

"Historically, for some number of years, the powers of council have sort of atrophied. Council has not necessarily exercised its authority the way it should in order to maintain the proper checks and balances in the system," said Mr. Dowd.

Traditionally, each council member has a seat on one city-related authority or commission.

Three new council members -- Mr. Dowd, Ricky Burgess and Bruce Kraus -- have not been appointed to any boards. "We are not put on board or authorities, and [Councilman] Motznik has told us why -- because we don't count," Mr. Burgess said at a heated Tuesday council meeting.

Later that day, Mr. Ravenstahl said he is looking at filling several board vacancies. Would the new council members be considered? "Potentially, but not if they're considering or calling me unethical ... I don't know how that's cooperative, or how I could appoint somebody who makes those comments."

Mr. Dowd has called the late passage of the Urban Redevelopment Authority's budget unethical.

The city charter requires that a member of council serve on each city-related authority board. The Pittsburgh Housing Authority board includes no council member, and three of its seven seats are vacant.

Mr. Shields said he believes he has the power to choose a member of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority board. One seat is held by former councilman Leonard Bodack, another by Councilman Dan Deasy, who was put there by Mr. Ravenstahl.


Rich Lord can be reached at rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542.


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