Allegheny County Councilman Bob Macey plans to seek a rules change to assure that all members of the county legislature can take part in meetings of the Budget and Finance Committee.
Mr. Macey, D-West Mifflin, said Friday he wants a clear, written policy confirming that council members can participate -- either in person or by conference call -- in those committee sessions.
Finance committee Chairman Bill Robinson, D-Hill District, declined Wednesday to allow Mr. Macey to telephone in and listen to committee proceedings. Mr. Macey is not a member of the finance committee.
Mr. Robinson in recent weeks has sought to rein in participation by council members who are not members of his committee. He said Friday that he and other committee chairs had broad latitude to set rules for their meetings.
His moves, nevertheless, have drawn an angry response from members of council's Republican minority. They held a news conference Friday to announce that they would seek to have Mr. Robinson replaced as finance chairman.
"It has been a long-standing practice that any member of county council can attend any committee meeting," Councilwoman Heather Heidelbaugh, R-Mt. Lebanon, said. "Nonmembers can't vote, but we've always been allowed to ask questions."
Mr. Robinson's new policy, requiring that nonmembers refer their questions to him, limits their ability to make informed decisions about the budget, she said. "We talked to him privately, but he won't change the rule."
She and her Republican colleagues have asked council President Charles Martoni, who appoints committee members and their heads, to review the policy.
"We are asking [Mr.] Martoni to look at the situation, analyze it and see if it comports with the way he wants council business to be conducted," Ms. Heidelbaugh said. Mr. Martoni couldn't be reached for comment.
"I am disappointed that members have taken their concerns to the media," Mr. Robinson said. "This is an internal matter that should be handled within the confines of council."
While county Executive Rich Fitzgerald will propose a spending plan, council has the last word on tax rates and the budget. Mr. Macey said limiting his participation in the review of financial issues was unfair to his constituents in the Mon Valley.
Mr. Robinson said council members, who are not members of his committee, still have multiple ways to get information about financial matters. "They can utilize another member who is on the committee to ask their questions," he said. "They can address their questions to the chair."
Council members also are free to ask for information directly from members of the Fitzgerald administration, he said.
When the Budget and Finance Committee holds public hearings Nov. 14 and Nov. 15 on the 2013 spending plan, all council members -- not just committee members -- will have opportunities to ask questions, he said. Those sessions will start each day at 4 p.m. in the Gold Room of the county courthouse.
Len Barcousky: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1159.