Is Allegheny County Council member's second job a conflict?

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Bob Macey has a new job. Several days a week, the Allegheny County councilman drives to McKeesport and helps residents get help, whether it be filling out Medicaid forms, applying for subsidized heat or filing a request for rent rebates.

To the Democrat from West Mifflin, it's just a continuation of a long record of community work. But what might otherwise be lauded as public service could soon land Mr. Macey in hot water, mostly because of his new employer: state Sen. Jim Brewster, a fellow elected official.

According to county law, council members are barred from taking jobs as personal staff members to other elected officials. Written to protect council from conflicts of interest, the law draws the line at working "in a confidential administrative capacity" in a local, state or federal office.

Mr. Macey, a former steelworker who went back to school and built a second career when the mills shut down in the 1980s, has worked as a constituent service representative in Mr. Brewster's office since October. Punching in 30 hours a week, he makes $21.15 an hour, according to state records. (He makes $9,000 a year as a councilman.)

The Democrat said he isn't in it for the money -- he's not taking a state pension -- and assures he got permission from county council solicitor Jack Cambest before taking the job. Mr. Cambest did not return calls for comment.

"He said he didn't see a problem," Mr. Macey said. "I work part time for the county, and I work part time for the senator ... I didn't get a political job, and there's no political payback.

"I've been working in the public for 35 years," he continued. "I can empathize with many people who need our services. I can understand their needs. I'm here to try and work with people and represent the Mon Valley the best I can."

Even so, some say Mr. Macey's new job violates the law. County Republican Party chairman Jim Roddey expects that if the councilman were challenged, he'd be forced by the courts to quit his job or resign his seat.

Just imagine, the Republican said: If the county wanted state money from a committee Mr. Brewster headed, wouldn't that put Mr. Macey in the tough position of lobbying his own boss?

"The language is clear," he said. "Macey's a good guy, and he's been a good councilman. But nevertheless, we need to preserve the integrity of the home rule charter."

Tim Joyce, Mr. Brewster's chief of staff, said Mr. Macey was hired precisely because of his connections in the county, not in spite of them. In a district that needs as much help as it can get, he can direct residents to county programs they might have overlooked, Mr. Joyce said. He repeated that the councilman received a written opinion from Mr. Cambest giving the OK to his new job.

Council president John DeFazio said he heard about the hire months ago but was told Mr. Cambest was looking it over.

This isn't the first time a council member has faced controversy over their day jobs. In 2007, Jim Ellenbogen, D-Banksville, successfully fought to have county rules modified so he could keep his post at the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue. Last year, Republican Vince Gastgeb resigned after taking a job with Pittsburgh International Airport, which is indirectly overseen by the county.

Mr. Macey hopes he doesn't have to make the same decision and vowed to fight any challenge to his position.

"I don't think this has to do with ethics at all," he said. "If someone thinks that Bob Macey is unethical, then we'll have it out in court."

Andrew McGill: or 412-263-1497.

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