Whistleblower fired from campaign job

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The campaign worker who blew the whistle on a political telephone call made from Pittsburgh Councilman Jeff Koch's office said he was fired yesterday by the campaign of state Supreme Court candidate Debra Todd.

Meanwhile, city workers who were seen wearing Mr. Koch's campaign T-shirts while working temporarily escaped a promised referral to the city Ethics Hearing Board.

"I'm the only person in this scenario who didn't break the law, but I'm the only one who loses their job," said Jason Phillips, who on Wednesday showed media evidence of a political phone call made on city time from a city office by a member of Mr. Koch's staff.

Campaign work using government resources and on government time is illegal.

Mr. Phillips got the call on Monday at 11:55 a.m., asking if he would allow his name to appear on a piece of campaign literature for Mr. Koch. The councilman wanted to produce a campaign flyer showing that some of his rivals in a March 2006 special election support his reelection bid. Mr. Phillips was one of eight candidates who ran in that special election.

He told media members, who reported on the call. "I don't believe my actions are unethical," he said.

Yesterday, he got a call from the campaign, he said, informing him that he had been fired from his full-time position he held since January. He said he was told that Democratic Committee ward chairs were mad about his actions.

Debra Todd, now a Superior Court judge, could not be reached for comment. phone. Her campaign manager, Alison Hall, would only say that Mr. Phillips no longer works for the campaign.

The ethics board held its first official meeting in years yesterday, but did not get a promised first case referral from Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.

Mr. Ravenstahl on Tuesday suspended five Redd Up Crew members for uniform violations, when four of them were photographed wearing shirts reading, "Re-Elect Jeffrey Koch, City Council, District 3" while clearing lots in that district. The fifth suspended worker was driver Ray Sansone, who is Mr. Koch's campaign treasurer.

"I am also referring the matter to the Ethics Hearing Board for their consideration," the mayor said in a statement Tuesday.

Board Chair Sister Patrice Hughes asked Acting City Solicitor George Specter how the board should proceed regarding the shirts. Mr. Specter said his department had not yet received any complaint related to the matter. He said cases must start with a complaint to the Law Department. The ethics code indicates that the board can initiate inquiries itself.

Mr. Ravenstahl later said he'd "absolutely" submit the matter to the board and said the administration's failure to do so by yesterday was due to "logistical" challenges.

The board will meet at 10 a.m. on the second Friday of every month in City Council Chambers in the City-County Building. Meetings will be open to the public, except when ongoing investigations are being discussed. The board will not take complaints at its meetings.

The board has tried to meet repeatedly over the past year but was not able to muster more than two of its five members, until yesterday, when all showed up.

Rich Lord can be reached at rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542.


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