Pittsburgh's acting police chief takes more action; Ravenstahl defends his reputation
February 23, 2013 10:00 AM
Michael Huss, Pittsburgh's public safety director
By Liz Navratil and Moriah Balingit Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A tumultuous week in the Pittsburgh police bureau ended Friday with the acting chief promising to create an additional layer of oversight for the office at the center of a federal investigation.
Effective Monday, the personnel and finance office will report directly to the assistant chief of administration. It had done so until 2010, when former Chief Nate Harper ordered it to report directly to him for reasons that remain unclear.
"It was something that a number of chiefs felt," Chief Regina McDonald said, referring to the desire to move the office out from under the chief's direct command. "No unit should report directly to the chief or deputy chief. It protects the chain of command."
Chief McDonald, on her second day in the bureau's top spot, said additional changes could come next week but declined to specify what they might be. She said her focus moving forward will be to repair the bureau's reputation.
Meanwhile, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl focused on protecting his own reputation, saying a document he cannot currently provide will prove that credit cards his bodyguards had were used for legitimate business purposes, even though they were attached to an unauthorized bank account.
His comments came after a former bodyguard, Fred Crawford, said the mayor was aware of the accounts at the Greater Pittsburgh Police Credit Union, which is not one of 15 authorized depositories for city funds.
The mayor said that during his two-hour meeting with the FBI and the U.S. attorney's office on Wednesday, federal authorities showed him an "internal document" that listed charges for various debit cards issued from the unauthorized accounts.
He concluded that the expenses made by the men -- Sgt. Dom Sciulli and Mr. Crawford -- were all for city business. A third bodyguard, Sgt. Matt Gauntner, had a card but never used it, the mayor has said.
"I have seen and been provided, during my FBI conversation and conversation with the U.S. attorney, records that showed me that there was no improper spending from my security officers," Mr. Ravenstahl said. "I want nothing more than to provide that to you ... so that all these questions can be answered."
He said he cannot provide that document because it is still with the federal authorities. And he added that he had attempted to obtain them from the federal credit union but was denied because it's "a non-city account."
City Controller Michael Lamb, who is running against Mr. Ravenstahl in the Democratic primary for mayor, said he, too, would like to see the documents. In a letter issued from his government office -- not his campaign -- the controller asked Mr. Ravenstahl to hand over all statements and receipts related to the debit card spending within 10 days.
"To the degree these cards and/or accounts were used for personal expenditures, please have the officers provide information on how and when reimbursement was effectuated," he wrote. "The controller's office pre-audits all expenditures of the City of Pittsburgh, and given that these debit cards were used for official purposes these expenditures must follow the city's public process."
In a 20-minute interview also on Friday, Mr. Ravenstahl said he already has begun the search for the new chief and is pursuing candidates outside the bureau. He said some candidates from other cities had contacted him and that he had reached out to others, but he declined to name them.
Mr. Ravenstahl said he had no plans of employing a consultant or a search committee to recruit candidates.
He did say he would consult with rank-and-file officers, Public Safety Director Mike Huss, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 1 (which represents officers in the department) and "other law enforcement" before selecting his nominee.
"I don't know if they'll sit in on the interview necessarily. I will certainly be more than happy to have a conversation or multiple conversations on their thoughts on what qualities and or what persons should lead the bureau," he said.
During the same interview, Mr. Huss said the bureau has no immediate plans to suspend, fire or discipline anyone else. Chief McDonald on Thursday placed Officer Tonya Montgomery-Ford and civilians Tammy Davis and Kim Montgomery on paid leave pending the end of the investigation.
Officer Montgomery-Ford and Ms. Davis were listed as organizers for Diverse Public Safety Consultants LLC, a private security firm started with Sgt. Barry Budd, Cmdr. Eric Holmes and Mr. Harper.
Warner Macklin III, who is serving as a spokesman for Officer Montgomery-Ford, questioned why Sgt. Budd and Cmdr. Holmes weren't placed on leave as well.
"Not everyone connected is in that same situation," Mr. Macklin said. "If everyone who's a part of this was in this boat, everyone should receive the same public scrutiny."
Chief McDonald, who has met with the FBI about the investigation of the personnel and finance office, declined to say why the three women had been disciplined and the two men had not. She called the situation a "personnel matter."
She denounced any accusations of favoritism, saying, "We still have a lot to do and a lot to look at."
"This is Day Two that I'm chief," she said. "We've ruffled some feathers, and we're going to ruffle some more."
Chief McDonald has been a source of controversy for some time. She's been working with the police union leaders and the city Law Department to consider revamping the bureau's secondary employment policy, which dictates how and when officers may moonlight. The lucrative jobs provide an extra form of income for the officers.
Chief McDonald said she would like to eliminate a policy that allows businesses to pay officers directly for moonlighting, instead requiring all payments to go through the city.
Union president Sgt. Michael LaPorte initially expressed shock at the appointment of Chief McDonald because she oversaw the special events office, from which the FBI also seized documents.
But the union has since been more reserved, emphasizing that it wants to hold off on judgment until it has more facts.
Quietly, some have posted on the union message boards questions about why Chief McDonald is allowed to have a nearly 30-year relationship with a man, Max Homer, who was convicted in 1975 for extortion and perjury and served prison time. While a state representative in the early 1970s, Mr. Homer extorted $6,500 from two businessmen to help secure a building permit for their petroleum business.
City policy states: "No member shall knowingly commence or maintain a relationship with any person ... who has an open and notorious criminal reputation in the community."
Chief McDonald, who said she met Mr. Homer after he served his time, said she views her relationship with him like a relationship with a spouse or relative.
Clarification: (Published Feb. 23, 2013): This story has been updated to make clear that Max Homer was charged with extortion while serving as a state legislator.
Staff writers James O'Toole and Rich Lord contributed. Liz Navratil: email@example.com, 412-263-1438 or on Twitter @LizNavratil. Moriah Balingit: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-2533 or on Twitter @MoriahBee. First Published February 23, 2013 5:00 AM