Picture this: Prickly former Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy, hauled before the City Council he used to ignore, and forced to answer sticky questions about a 2001 contract with firefighters under pain of indictment.
Council members raised that possibility yesterday, even as some said it would never happen.
On Monday, U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan announced that she would not indict Mr. Murphy, following a two-year investigation into the expensive firefighters contract.
A condition, according to a summary Ms. Buchanan's office released, was that Mr. Murphy will "when requested, provide information and testimony to the Pittsburgh City Council" and other entities. If he meets all conditions for a year, he's off the hook.
Councilman William Peduto said he'd like to take that "opportunity to clear the air [regarding the contract] and make some needed reform." He proposed a special, televised hearing with the former mayor.
"If [Mr. Murphy] does not want to face indictment, he would have to work with this council," he said.
Neither Mr. Murphy nor his attorney, David Hickton, could be reached for comment.
Councilman Jim Motznik predicted that he'd never see Mr. Murphy before council.
"We had trouble getting him to come to the table and discuss things with us when he was mayor," he said.
He said it's "very disappointing that Mary Beth Buchanan has given Tom Murphy a pass."
As part of the deal not to prosecute, Mr. Murphy admitted to signing agreements with the firefighters, and benefitting politically. Their support may have delivered him the 2001 election.
The contract drove Fire Bureau spending from $50.9 million in 2000 to $58.3 million in 2003. It is now $48.4 million.
Councilman Doug Shields, who asked for the investigation in 2004, said it "is obvious now what happened. ... There was a conspiracy of sorts between [firefighters union President Joe] King and Mayor Murphy that each would get what they want and leave the city behind."
Council President Luke Ravenstahl said he was "surprised" by the decision not to prosecute or exonerate, and would talk with Ms. Buchanan and then "figure out the best process moving forward."
Rich Lord can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1542.