Pittsburgh City Council passed legislation Tuesday that is intended to provide more oversight of money collected by the police bureau's Special Events Office after former Chief Nate Harper was indicted for funneling $70,000 of city money into outside accounts.
The Special Events Office arranges off-duty security jobs for officers at bars, restaurants, construction sites and other businesses, billing them officers' wages plus a fee. The office collects checks from businesses and then forwards them to the bureau's Office of Personnel and Finance.
Federal authorities said bureau employees took the checks from the Office of Personnel and Finance at the direction of the former chief and deposited them in outside accounts. Mr. Harper then tapped the money with a debit card, spending it on meals and electronics to the tune of about $30,000.
A bill sponsored by Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith would divert all of the money collected by the Special Events Office into a trust fund, giving the city stronger oversight over the money. It would also give officials a better sense of whether the fee is adequate to cover expenses associated with officers working side jobs, like workers' compensation claims, legal fees when officers are sued and court overtime when officers make arrests.
The bill also empowers the city's central finance office to set policy on how the money will be handled. Ms. Kail-Smith said she hopes the entire process -- including the collection of checks -- is removed from the bureau.
Another bill, sponsored by council President Darlene Harris, would change the fee charged to businesses from $3.85 per hour to $4.30. The new rate is based on 10 percent of the hourly wage of a fourth-year police officer working a side job. The previous fee raised legal concerns because it was never approved by council.
Councilman Patrick Dowd, who has articulated concerns about the Special Events Office, cast the sole dissenting vote in both bills. He believes there are broader problems with the office, which he called "a pox on the bureau," that need to be explored before council passes legislation.
Council also passed a bill to contract with attorney Steven M. Toprani, the former Washington County district attorney, to review the bureau's policy on employment outside of the bureau for $10,000. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl asked for the outside review after revelations that Mr. Harper set up a side business with several subordinates. They included Zone 2 Cmdr. Eric Holmes, who also had a second, full-time job as the head of campus security at Slippery Rock University in 2007 and 2008. Cmdr. Holmes is now the subject of an internal inquiry.
Moriah Balingit: email@example.com, 412-263-2533 or on Twitter @MoriahBee.