Foes of Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Twanda Carlisle launched a petition drive to impeach her yesterday, even as neighborhood groups criticized her for cutting them out of an effort to build stores in Lincoln-Lemington.
Phillip Martin, a 50-year-old Homewood resident, said he began circulating impeachment petitions in the morning, and had 17 signatures by lunch. The city's charter says it takes the signatures of 20 residents who are registered voters to begin the impeachment process.
The process involves Common Pleas Court, an investigative committee and, if the court approves, a hearing before other members of council. Council has never held an impeachment hearing.
"I don't know what grounds there would be," said Ms. Carlisle. She said she would not say more without seeing the petition.
Mr. Martin said he was motivated by reports of nearly $178,000 in discretionary spending Ms. Carlisle authorized since 2002, mostly for 24 consultants.
Ms. Carlisle said the consultants performed legitimate work for the communities she represents, though she has not detailed all of their services.
City Solicitor Susan Malie has referred records of her spending to Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. and the State Ethics Commission for review.
"Funds were spent outside the community," Mr. Martin said, noting that one consultant, Darlene Durham, received $43,545, mostly while she lived in Houston. "There's a lot of outrage."
Mr. Martin, a soldier in the Homewood-Brushton branch of The Salvation Army, is working with Ora Lee Carroll, executive director of East Liberty Concerned Citizens Corp., on the impeachment.
He said the petition does not include specific charges against the councilwoman, because he did not want to narrow the scope of any resulting proceeding.
He said he considered some of the contractors Ms. Carlisle used to be unqualified. He said Lee O. Johnson, a man who owns a Penn Hills house jointly with the councilwoman's mother, should not have received $27,195 to research health problems in the district.
He also questioned Ms. Carlisle's use of Paul Solomon of Larimer, whose work the councilwoman has publicly touted. He has received $1,225 through her office since 2002 for mowing vacant lots. "Mr. Solomon's track record will speak for itself," Mr. Martin said.
Mr. Solomon, 48, pleaded guilty in 1976 to theft by deception and criminal conspiracy. He was charged with possession and distribution of a small amount of marijuana in 1978, and went through an accelerated judicial process for first-time drug offenders.
"I used to be a little delinquent," Mr. Solomon said yesterday. Now, he said, "I want to make a difference."
Mr. Solomon was an alibi witness in the 1994 murder trial of gang member DeShawn Rosemond, saying that he was outside of a bar talking with the defendant when Jerome Kenney, 24, of Harrison, was murdered. He reiterated that contention yesterday.
Mr. Rosemond was convicted of that murder, plus two more he committed while out on bond.
Mr. Solomon said he gets Supplemental Security Income for a disability he would not specify.
He said some of the city money went for a new lawn tractor to cover the 18 to 24 city-owned or abandoned lots he tends. "I'm like a Picasso on my tractor," he said.
The city charter says an elected official can be removed from office for "mental incapacity, incompetency, neglect of duty malfeasance, mismanagement or for any corrupt act or practice."
Any impeachment petition goes to Common Pleas Court, where a judge rules on whether it sets forth "reasonable grounds" for an official's removal from office. If so, the court appoints an investigating committee that crafts a written report.
If the report finds that there are grounds for removal, the president judge of Common Pleas Court presides over a session of council in which the members decide the guilt or innocence of the accused. The solicitor serves as prosecutor.
The most recent council impeachment effort occurred in 1997, when residents tried to oust then-Councilman Joseph Cusick, who had drug and alcohol problems and was accused of misspending. Common Pleas Judge Robert E. Dauer dismissed that petition.
Ms. Carroll was among a handful of community activists who appeared before council to criticize Ms. Carlisle for the proposed sale of nearly three acres of tax-delinquent land to Alex Development of Mount Washington. The property is at 1111 and 1113 Lincoln Ave.
Ms. Carroll and Judith Ginyard, executive director of Lincoln-Larimer Community Development Corp., said they have been working with Alex Development for nearly four years on a $1.5 million plan to bring a Family Dollar, ethnic grocery and other small shops to the site.
Ms. Ginyard said that a resolution before council approving the sale would "cut us out completely, but would retain Alex Development." She called it "a blatant act of disrespect to our neighborhoods by our councilwoman."
Ms. Ginyard ran against Ms. Carlisle in 2003, and has been rumored to be a potential candidate in next year's race for the council seat.
Ms. Carlisle said she was trying to work with the community groups, but couldn't get needed information on the proposed financing plan.
Craig Cozza, owner of Alex Development, said he is still interested in working with the groups, though he did not believe the site was big enough for a grocery store.
He said former Mayor Tom Murphy held up the proposal. "This administration wanted it [started]. Twanda wanted it [started] ," he said. "Here we go."
He said that if council approves the sale of the land, and if environmental studies don't unearth surprises, a Family Dollar store could be open by Christmas. Council postponed action until today.
City Councilwoman Twanda Carlisle
Rich Lord can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1542.