Pittsburgh City Council President Gene Ricciardi yesterday urged the Murphy administration to reactivate the city's ethics commission to enforce new conflict-of-interest rules on gambling.
Ricciardi also urged county officials to approve similar rules, saying the Pittsburgh area should be at the fore of efforts to keep policy-makers and gambling interests apart.
On Tuesday, council approved an ordinance barring city officials, appointees and their immediate family members from having an interest in slot machine businesses.
The city's Ethics Hearing Board is to oversee the ban, but it is dormant and has not met in years. Council approved a nonbinding resolution Ricciardi introduced yesterday calling on Mayor Tom Murphy immediately to nominate five people to serve on the board.
Council also approved two related resolutions saying the city should print ethics handbooks for every city worker and calling on all city agencies to adopt city government's ethics code as their own.
In letters to county Chief Executive Dan Onorato and County Council President Rich Fitzgerald, Ricciardi said city and county taxpayers need reassurance that "all their tax dollars are not clouded by lucrative profits to be made in the nascent gaming industry in Pennsylvania."
Fitzgerald said: "It's a good-government idea and I don't have any problem with it. I'm sure it makes a lot of sense."
Onorato forwarded Ricciardi's letter to the county Law Department and has no position on the gambling ban, pending the legal review, his spokeswoman, Ali Detar, said.
The Legislature approved slots casinos statewide earlier this month and one is earmarked for Pittsburgh. The bill allowed state legislators to own up to 1 percent of gaming businesses, though support is building in Harrisburg to eliminate that provision.
Pittsburgh formed its ethics board in 1990, in the wake of former council President Ben Woods' conviction on federal racketeering and extortion charges. The board officially has the power to issue advisory opinions on ethical questions and can fine elected officials up to $1,000, but it has been essentially dormant since 1992.
Council took away the board's power to investigate officials on its own, saying it can look only into official complaints filed with the agency. No complaints ever were filed, leading to the board's long dormancy. Complaints have to be filed with the city's solicitor.
Tim McNulty can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1542.