"Blindsided" by broad corruption allegations from a former friend and top development official, Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl yesterday called the claims "outrageous and very malicious" and said he had no reason to believe his administration was being investigated.
"There are a lot of rumors and things being said right now," he said. "Nobody in my office, nor myself, has ever been contacted by any investigatory agency."
But Lawrence Fisher, attorney for Urban Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Pat Ford, continued to come within a split hair of claiming that there is, or was, interest by investigators in administration dealings.
"If I could say more, I would. But you know, these are sensitive matters, and it is not our intention to interfere with an investigation," Mr. Fisher said, after being escorted out of the mayor's morning news conference by a police detective. "If a public official has been contacted by authorities and has cooperated on matters of mutual interest, you can determine whether there's an investigation or not."
Mr. Ford resigned Wednesday, effective at the end of the year, by way of a letter calling Mr. Ravenstahl's a "failed administration" that housed a "culture of deception and corruption."
"I'm saddened by the whole turn of events," Mr. Ravenstahl said. "Never once, ever, did Pat approach me, approach the chairman of his board, approach anyone at the URA to suggest that there was any kind of corruption, or decisions being made that weren't in the best interests of the residents."
Suggestions made now are "contrived," the mayor said. "I think, clearly, he has decided to attack others to potentially benefit himself."
Mr. Fisher would not lay out allegations of corruption. "At this point, Mr. Ford is not going to air this administration's dirty laundry," he said.
He pointed to news reports on city contracts going to campaign contributors.
Mr. Ravenstahl mentioned a construction management contract the URA granted to McTish, Kunkel & Associates, which is now being reviewed by city Controller Michael Lamb. The firm initially asked for $525,000 to manage road construction at the Pittsburgh Technology Center, in South Oakland, while Trumbull Corp. bid $510,000, according to URA acting Executive Director Rob Stephany.
McTish's proposal was "overkill," said Mr. Stephany, and the agency gave it "a chance to submit a revised bid, which was cheaper than Trumbull's." In March, the URA board authorized a contract of up to $525,000, but the pact signed in May was for $425,000.
Trumbull was not invited to revise its bid, Mr. Stephany said, though he did not know why. He said the URA is trying to increase its pool of contractors.
"I stand here confident that that decision, and all of the decisions that have been made, were made appropriately," said Mr. Ravenstahl.
Matthew McTish, president of the firm, gave Mr. Ravenstahl's campaign a $10,000 contribution in December 2006.
"We've awarded contracts to contributors. We've awarded contracts to non-contributors," Mr. Ravenstahl said. "The reality of the situation is that we make decisions based on who we think is the best and most responsible person."
He said he had no imminent plans to propose either contracting or campaign finance reforms. In June, the mayor vetoed campaign contribution limits but left the door open for some reforms.
He said he would let the URA board decide next month whether to honor Mr. Ford's claim that he should be paid through year's end. The director has been on paid leave since April, when he confirmed that he got Christmas gifts from an executive with Lamar Advertising, which wants a permit to put an electronic billboard on the Grant Street Transportation Center, Downtown.
Mr. Ford and the URA asked for a state Ethics Commission review of the gifts. Mr. Fisher said the review has not resulted in an investigation, but Mr. Ravenstahl said he hasn't gotten any word from the commission.
Mr. Ford is getting $9,823 a month.
Mr. Ford's wife, Alecia Sirk, resigned from her post as mayoral press secretary in April, and received a total of $1,886.50 in unemployment compensation in April and May from the URA, where she worked prior to joining the mayor's office in September.
URA officials explained that Ms. Sirk was employed longer with the URA than she was with the city, so compensation was due through the authority. Compensation can be paid to someone who quit work if it was for a "cause of a necessitous and compelling nature," according to the state statute.
Mr. Fisher -- who called the mayor "gutless" Wednesday -- said it was "rude" that he was not invited to the news conference.
"I don't know that I appreciate the comments he's made about me and my administration, and I didn't want him in the room," Mr. Ravenstahl explained.
Correction/Clarification: (Published Sept. 3, 2008) Engineering firm McTish, Kunkel & Associates has worked for the Urban Redevelopment Authority prior to the agency's March decision to hire the company to work on the Pittsburgh Technology Center in South Oakland. This story as originally published Aug. 30, 2008 incorrectly indicated that the firm had done no prior work for the URA.
Rich Lord can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1542.