Undated resignation letters questioned at Allegheny County Council meeting

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Even for a bold politician such as Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, it can seem a bit brash: his admitted practice of requesting undated resignation letters from every county appointee.

But while Mr. Fitzgerald makes no apologies for the practice, one county council member says her own legal review has turned up serious concerns.

At Tuesday's council meeting, Heather Heidelbaugh, R-Mt. Lebanon, said the letters amount to a seizure of power by the county executive, who has no legal power to fire an appointee to one of the county's many independent authorities.

And even if the ousted individual did agree to leave, she continued, the letters are likely unenforceable in court.

"It appears to me these letters are ineffective and violate the law," Ms. Heidelbaugh said.

She's particularly concerned about the recent resignation of Port Authority board member Joe Brimmeier, a Fitzgerald pick who recently stepped down amid a pay-to-play scandal dating back to his days as the Pennsylvania Turnpike's CEO.

Mr. Fitzgerald announced last week that Mr. Brimmeier had called him the night before he was named in a federal indictment and told him he was resigning immediately. If the ousted board member left via one of the executive's undated resignation letters, Ms. Heidelbaugh contends he might still legally be on the authority.

County spokeswoman Amie Downs says Mr. Brimmeier departed on his own accord.

"Joe contacted the executive the night before to indicate he would be resigning, and he resigned to the Port Authority board, specifically the chairman," she said.

But Ms. Heidelbaugh's chief complaint is a moral one. The county executive has only the power to suggest a county council-approved appointee, nothing further, she wrote in a letter to Mr. Fitzgerald. When he also holds the power to remove them, informal as it may be, it undermines the essential independence of county boards and authorities.

She's asking the executive to stop requesting resignation letters and to destroy any he already has. "Why create these boards, authorities and agencies in the first place if the members of the board can be controlled by a single individual?" she wrote.

region - electionsmunicipal

Andrew McGill: amcgill@post-gazette.com.


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