'Smoke eater' has city official seeing red

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Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Darlene Harris has told the city Department of Public Works to take a $1,290 "smoke eater" out of her office, saying yesterday that it's not what she wanted for her stuffy work space.

"I wanted a little square box" with a ventilation fan, she said. Gesturing at the 2-foot-by-4-foot Trion Eliminator Series SE 800E mounted in the ceiling above her desk, she said, "When I came in and saw that thing, I couldn't believe it."

The city's receipt of the device, which has two fans to suck in air and electrical fields to remove tobacco smoke, dust, bacteria and mold spores, was reported on Dec. 28 by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Allegheny County's ban on smoking in most workplaces took effect last Tuesday and the City-County Building, where Ms. Harris works, is a no-smoking zone.

The councilwoman, elected in a Nov. 7 special election to the seat formerly held by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, said she noticed early on the stuffiness in her office, which gets the afternoon sun. She ran her air conditioner, but didn't like it.

"Why would I spend money on an air conditioner while the heat was on?" she said.

She asked the city clerk for something to improve ventilation.

"And then this came," she said.

The device was mounted in her ceiling over a holiday weekend, she said. When an electrician came in to hook it up, she told him not to.

"I don't think I'll be able to hear on the phone with it running," she said.

She said she has asked Public Works Director Guy Costa why the device was ordered and installed when she only wanted a ceiling fan.

"I'm still trying to find that out, and I don't know if I ever will," she said. "I'd like to know, is this politics, or what?"

A city official said the purchasing unit was just trying to fulfill her request.

Ms. Harris said she has occasionally smoked in the office on nights when she was working late. She said she's been working hard to get more plainclothes police in North Side neighborhoods, catalog abandoned houses, identify drug and prostitution hot spots and write legislation to govern absentee landlords.

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


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