Pittsburgh City Council gave preliminary approval Wednesday to legislation to address some of the problems in the police bureau's Special Events Office, where federal investigators say around $70,000 in funds were illegally diverted at the direction of former police chief Nate Harper.
The Special Events Office arranges off-duty security jobs for officers at bars, restaurants, construction sites and other businesses, billing them officers' wages plus a $3.85 per-officer, per-hour fee. That fee is intended to cover legal costs, workers' compensation claims and court overtime incurred by officers working side jobs through the office.
The first bill, sponsored by council President Darlene Harris, would raise the fee to 10 percent of a fourth-year officers' wages -- or around $4.30 per officer, per hour -- and embed the fee in city code. The current fee was never legislated by council, which has raised legal concerns.
Deputy Chief Paul Donaldson, who spoke at Wednesday's meeting, said the fee was set in 2005 at $3.85 because it represented 10 percent of officers' wages at the time. But it has not been adjusted since to account for pay raises.
He called the adjustment "fair compensation for the services provided."
The second bill, sponsored by Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith, would direct all money paid to the Special Events Office to a trust fund overseen by the city's public safety department. The councilwoman said she wants to ensure that costs associated with the officers working side jobs would be borne by businesses and not taxpayers.
At Wednesday's council meeting, city officials acknowledged they lacked a good accounting of how much money the special events surcharge had brought into the city and whether it adequately covered expenses for workers' compensation claims, legal costs and vehicle and equipment damage.
Council budget director Bill Urbanic said depositing the money into a trust fund would give city officials more insight into how much money the fee collected.
Council also gave preliminary approval to a contract with attorney Steven M. Toprani, the former Washington County district attorney, to review the bureau's policy on employment outside of the bureau. His inquiry will not include secondary employment, but rather jobs taken by police officers that are not arranged through the Special Events Office. Mr. Toprani will be paid up to $10,000 for his services and expects the review will take four to five weeks.
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl asked for the outside review after revelations that Mr. Harper set up a side business with several subordinates. They included Zone 2 Cmdr. Eric Holmes, who also had a second, full-time job as the head of campus security at Slippery Rock University in 2007 and 2008. Cmdr. Holmes is now the subject of an internal inquiry.
Moriah Balingit: email@example.com, 412-263-2533 or on Twitter @MoriahBee.