Mayor places top officials on leave
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Saying that staff interference in police discipline "will not be tolerated," Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl yesterday put Director of Operations Dennis Regan on paid leave while city lawyers conduct "a thorough investigation" of recent allegations by a police commander.
He also put the Zone 1 commander who leveled the accusations on paid leave, saying that "will enable us to have the investigation independent of any continuing operations by Mr. Regan or Cmdr. [Catherine] McNeilly."
Could they return after the investigation? "That could certainly happen," the mayor said. "It could certainly go the other way as well."
The move was an effort to get beyond a controversy that started Oct. 2, when the mayor nominated Mr. Regan to the post of public safety director.
That pick drew criticism from the start. It became political kryptonite when Cmdr. McNeilly strongly suggested that Mr. Regan had intervened to quash discipline against police Detective Francis M. Rende, who repeatedly took sick time to work side jobs.
Detective Rende is the brother of Mr. Regan's housemate, city Senior Secretary Marlene Cassidy.
After a 1999 sex act with a woman who had summoned police to address a domestic problem, Detective Rende was warned that any future violation of rules would result in termination.
In the days after Cmdr. McNeilly's accusation became public, city officials said she would be investigated by the Police Bureau, the Office of Municipal Investigations and the Law Department to determine whether she improperly released personnel records.
Yesterday, though, the focus was on the accusation against Mr. Regan.
"Any activity like this will not be tolerated, and we will act accordingly in these cases," the mayor said. "I felt that was a message that needed to be sent, because the residents of the City of Pittsburgh deserve that.
"There can't be any doubt in this city or in my administration about the public safety of our residents, or more importantly the integrity of the police department or the integrity of my administration. Any activity that's not focused on the duty of serving the residents of the City of Pittsburgh will not be tolerated in my administration, and I will act accordingly when the investigation is completed."
Neither Mr. Regan nor Cmdr. McNeilly, wife of former Police Chief Robert W. McNeilly Jr., could be reached for comment.
The move "sends a strong signal to the rest of the work force that Mayor Luke Ravenstahl is in charge and he will act decisively when he needs to," said Council President Doug Shields.
"I think it shows that whenever there's a problem, that Luke's going to look at all sides," said Councilman Jim Motznik.
To some outside of city government, though, the moves gave the impression of continued disarray in the halls of power. In just 11 weeks, the chief of staff, solicitor and finance director have been fired; a mayor has died and a 26-year-old was sworn in to replace him; a police chief has resigned; and now a top aide and a commander have been sent home.
"It sounds to me like it's rather chaotic and it's gotten out of control," said longtime political analyst and consultant William J. Green. "We'll know what kind of a leader [the mayor] is as we see how he recoups."
On Wednesday, Mr. Ravenstahl said he had not reviewed the accusations in detail. By mid-afternoon yesterday, he had, and he deemed them serious enough to warrant an investigation "that should leave no stone unturned," he said.
He told Chief of Staff Yarone Zober to inform Mr. Regan and Cmdr. McNeilly of his decision.
"I wouldn't classify it as an escort, but they left their city facilities," the mayor said. He did not know whether they cleaned out their desks.
He said Acting Solicitor George Specter will decide who will staff the investigation and work on it "on a daily basis."
"I am giving them the authority to look at anything and everything they feel they need to," the mayor said.
Until that's done, Mr. Regan, 53, will get his $89,900 salary, and Cmdr. McNeilly, 48, her $77,927 pay.
The move worsens understaffing in the administration that has persisted since July, and Mr. Ravenstahl said he would announce several new hires, including a police chief, in the next few weeks.
Mr. Regan was a controversial pick almost since the late Mayor Bob O'Connor made his longtime friend and relative by marriage director of intergovernmental relations in January. Mr. Regan previously had run a home improvement company that went bankrupt and had a decade-long problem paying his property taxes.
Mr. Regan was a prime mover behind the firing of Chief of Staff B.J. Leber, Solicitor Susan Malie and Finance Director Paul Leger in July, and was viewed as a bureaucratic foe of Police Chief Dominic J. Costa, who retired two weeks ago.
After Mr. O'Connor's Sept. 1 death, Mr. Ravenstahl elevated Mr. Regan to operations director, but it was the effort to give him power over public safety discipline that proved too much.
Council members -- especially likely mayoral candidate William Peduto -- questioned his qualifications, noting he had no public safety experience. Cmdr. McNeilly's e-mail to council, suggesting interference in favor of Detective Rende, helped prompt the mayor to withdraw the nomination and led to yesterday's announcement.
After Mr. O'Connor's two-month bout with brain cancer, Mr. Ravenstahl inherited an administration that had only been in place for eight months.
"Anybody in this situation would have a very difficult time in this transition, because of how quickly it went down," said state Rep. Don Walko, D-North Side, an early ally of Mr. Ravenstahl.
"From Luke's point of view, it's important that he's decisive and builds his own administration."Lake Fong, Post-Gazette
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl is seen through the silhouette of a television cameraman yesterday as he announces the decision to place Director of Operations Dennis Regan and Zone 1 Cmdr. Catherine McNeilly on paid leave.
Click photo for larger image.
First Published October 13, 2006 12:00 am