Members of the Pittsburgh police force received an email Thursday night telling them that Deputy Chief Paul Donaldson will continue to act as police chief in Chief Nate Harper's absence.
The one-line email from Deputy Chief Donaldson said only, "In addition to my normal duties I will continue to serve as the Acting Chief of Police until the return of Chief Harper."
It provided no explanation of where Chief Harper is, why he is gone or how long he will remain out of the office.
Deputy Chief Donaldson could not be reached for comment.
Asked earlier in the day, police spokeswoman Diane Richard said, "I am not certain of the Chief's whereabouts but I am assuming that he is taking care of personal business involving his mother's recent death."
"As far as what type of 'leave he is on,' the Chief has earned discretionary time off that he can utilize as needed," she said. "In addition all members of the Bureau receive three bereavement days."
Chief Harper's mother, Geraldine Harper, 83, of the Hill District, died on Jan. 15 and was buried there on Monday, according to her obituary.
Ms. Richard said he has not been in the office this week.
A federal grand jury met at least two days this week to investigate the way a contract was awarded to a former friend of Chief Harper.
It heard testimony from entrepreneur Art Bedway, his wife Colleen Bedway, and Pittsburgh police Sgt. Gordon J. McDaniel, who oversees the bureau's vehicles, on Tuesday.
Former city employee Christine Ann Kebr, 56, of Castle Shannon appeared before the grand jury for about a half hour on Wednesday.
Ms. Kebr pleaded guilty to conspiracy last month and faces an April 4 sentencing after she admitted to taking two bribes worth $6,000 and steering a $327,000 police radio installation contract to Alpha Outfitters, a firm also connected to Mr. Bedway.
Mr. Bedway, 63, of Robinson, has pleaded not guilty to related charges of mail fraud, bribery and conspiracy and court records show his attorneys and prosecutors are in discussions about a possible plea agreement.
Alpha Outfitters was created in July 2006. Though it appeared to have been run by a woman, Lois Kolarik, who was an employee of Mr. Bedway, federal prosecutors have said she was just a straw owner.
City councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith, who oversees the public safety committee, and spokeswomen for Mayor Ravenstahl could not immediately be reached for comment tonight.
The president of the police officers' union could not immediately be reached for comment either.
Councilman Bill Peduto said he had not received the email or any information about when the chief would return. But when asked about the email he said he "didn't read anything into it, but I wish there would be more information provided to council."
He said he understood the chief's need to take off time in the wake of his mother's death. Mr. Peduto said that when his own father passed away in 1998, he took a week off from his job as chief of staff for Councilman Dan Cohen.
"The only conversation I've had with him is on the difficult loss of his mom," Mr. Peduto said, saying he'd only spoken with him once in the last two weeks.
Lexi Belculfine, Moriah Balingit and Jonathan D. Silver contributed. Liz Navratil: email@example.com, 412-263-1438 or on Twitter @LizNavratil. First Published January 25, 2013 5:15 AM