Port Authority board vote to fire CEO delayed

Fitzgerald leading effort for ouster

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An effort by Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald to oust Port Authority CEO Steve Bland has been set back for at least a week.

Mr. Fitzgerald wanted the authority's board of directors to fire Mr. Bland at a scheduled meeting on Friday unless he agreed to resign beforehand. Instead, board chairman Jack Brooks, a supporter of Mr. Bland, decided to push the meeting back a week.

Mr. Brooks declined comment later.

About 20 minutes after the board meeting's scheduled start time of 9:30 a.m., authority spokesman Jim Ritchie announced to the audience in the agency's Downtown Pittsburgh board room that the meeting had been rescheduled to the same time next Friday. He did not give a reason.

Mr. Ritchie told reporters that board members did not meet in private executive session before the rescheduling.

An official familiar with the situation said Mr. Fitzgerald, who appoints the authority board, has lined up five of the nine members to vote to fire Mr. Bland, with whom he has had personality clashes. The official declined to be identified, citing orders from the county executive that no one should comment publicly on the situation.

Mr. Fitzgerald's spokeswoman, Amie Downs, declined to comment, saying it was a personnel manner.

If Mr. Bland is fired without cause, he is entitled to one-half of a year's salary, or $92,500.

Mr. Bland was hired in May 2006 and has been credited with guiding the authority through difficult financial times. The agency has seen its state funding cut at a time when health care, pension and fuel costs are soaring. It has had to cut service by 15 percent on two occasions and narrowly averted a 35 percent cut in September.

His initial salary was $180,000, with $5,000 annual raises, but before the first one took effect in 2007 he volunteered to take a pay freeze. He also canceled a contract provision calling for $15,000 in annual deferred compensation, and he gave up his company car and all benefits not received by other supervisory personnel.

The board in 2011 negotiated a three-year extension that runs through June 2015 at an annual salary of $185,000. He would be due a 2.5 percent raise in June.

Mr. Fitzgerald's displeasure with Mr. Bland surfaced in May after serious delays in Light Rail Transit service after weekend events on the North Shore. At the time, he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: "This problem is going to get solved. If it can't get solved by the people who are here, we'll find people who can solve it." He later issued a statement threatening "top to bottom" changes.

When the authority announced the elimination of 13 stops on the rail system in June, officials made it clear that the decision was Mr. Fitzgerald's. The county executive personally reinstated two of the stops based on citizen complaints.

A board member who declined to be identified said Mr. Fitzgerald has interfered with day-to-day operations at the agency. "I feel sorry for Steve (Bland). He's done the job," the board member said.

Although the Port Authority operates semi-independently of the county, its board is appointed by the county executive and confirmed by county council. The board selects the CEO. Mr. Bland's contract states that he reports to the board chairman.

Mr. Bland was a finalist for jobs heading transit agencies in Jacksonville, Fla., and Atlanta last year, but said at the time that he preferred to remain in Pittsburgh. He was not hired for either position.

He could not be reached for comment Friday.

Transportation

Jon Schmitz: jschmitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1868. Visit the PG's transportation blog, The Roundabout, at www.post-gazette.com/Roundabout. Twitter: @pgtraffic.


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