City works supervisor's firm did work for water agency

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A Pittsburgh public works supervisor and Democratic ward chairman also is the owner of a contracting company that has performed dozens of repair jobs for the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority's beleaguered line warranty program.

John Klinger founded Vortex Sewer Inc. in July, according to state business records, and registered it with the state attorney general's home improvement consumer information program in October.

Mr. Klinger makes about $61,000 annually as a street maintenance supervisor with the city public works department, according to the city controller's office. He's also Democratic chairman of the city's 24th Ward, giving him an influential role in city politics.

In an e-mail, Mr. Klinger said he performs no Vortex work on city time and had encountered no conflicts of interest arising from his outside pursuits. He said he commits evenings, weekends and vacations to Vortex.

"I perform no personal endeavor while working for the city," he said.

In all, Mr. Klinger said, Vortex has performed 62 repair jobs for Utility Line Security LLC, the company that received a 2009 contract to operate the line warranty program for PWSA. The program was implemented last year, with customers automatically charged $5 a month for line warranty protection unless they opted out.

After PWSA terminated the program for legal reasons Friday, Utility Line filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Vortex, owed about $10,400 by Utility Line, was listed as that company's seventh-largest unsecured creditor.

Although Utility Line asked the bankruptcy court to keep the line warranty program in operation, a judge declined to do so Tuesday. Mr. Klinger said Utility Line already had told him "that no services will be needed at this time."

City solicitor Daniel Regan said the city code and home-rule charter placed certain limitations on outside employment by city workers.

"To our knowledge, they do not apply to this situation," he said, referring to Mr. Klinger.

Vortex is based at Mr. Klinger's Spring Garden home. Mr. Klinger said the company had three full-time workers -- a registered plumber, a vehicle operator and a laborer, none of whom is employed by the city or PWSA.

Mr. Klinger said Vortex wasn't established to serve Utility Line specifically. He said the company had other customers and that it markets itself through the Yellow Pages and other outlets.

Vortex "is a small fledgling family business. If the business grows, I hope to someday retire from the city and devote full time to my company," Mr. Klinger said. The controller's office said he'd been with the city since 1986.

People excavating in Pennsylvania, including homeowners, are required to call 811 three days before digging so any utilities can be identified. The calls come to the Pennsylvania One Call System, which has logged about 80 inquiries from Vortex since August 2010. About 65 calls were for projects related to Utility Line, system records showed.

For some projects, Mr. Klinger also had to obtain permits from colleagues in the city public works department.

Since October 2010, public works has issued 20 permits to Vortex, most of them for digging into streets, according to data provided by the city. About half of those permits were for projects related to Utility Line, according to a comparison of city and Pennsylvania One Call data.

This isn't the first time Mr. Klinger has juggled a city job and other pursuits.

"I have attended evening classes while working for the city, attained a degree in Civil Engineering Technology, had many part-time jobs, worked many years as a state constable and was a professional wrestler. Time management is important in my life. I am also supported with my business by my wife and adult children," Mr. Klinger said.


Joe Smydo: jsmydo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548. Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542.


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