PWSA drops investigation of former exec director
Share with others:
The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority dropped an investigation into possible conflicts of interest by Michael Kenney after he resigned the executive director's job in December.
The authority told the law firm working on the inquiry to focus instead on developing new ethics guidelines.
Those recommendations were contained in an eight-page report released at a PWSA board meeting Friday. The report was produced by the Downtown law firm Farrell and Reisinger.
The report said PWSA should provide ethics training to employees, develop an ethics manual, fine-tune contract procedures, and impose unspecified checks and balances on the next executive director.
Last summer, the board voted to pay Farrell and Reisinger up to $50,000, plus expenses, to examine Mr. Kenney's ties to Utility Line Security LLC, a company that received a contract to provide line warranties to customers.
At the time, state Rep. Dan Deasy, D-Westwood, board chairman, said the study was needed to safeguard PWSA's integrity. On Friday, however, Mr. Deasy said the board decided after Mr. Kenney's resignation not to "dwell on the past" and to focus on developing ethics rules for the future instead.
The board never voted publicly to change the scope of the law firm's work.
"I think the main thing is to learn from what might have happened" with Mr. Kenney's situation, Scott Kunka, an authority board member and the city finance director, said.
Mr. Kenney could not be reached, and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's office did not respond to a request for comment.
The change in direction angered, but did not surprise, city Councilman Doug Shields, a sometime PWSA critic.
"It was my impression this was going to be a whitewash," Mr. Shields said. "If the fix is this," he added, referring to the law firm's ethics recommendations, "what did you see behind the curtain that caused you to recommend the fix?"
In line with the recommendations, the authority board voted Friday to develop new procedures for awarding contracts and to develop an ethics training plan. Mr. Deasy said some of that work will be completed in about a month.
The board also voted to create a committee of water experts, customers, developers and others to help with the search for Mr. Kenney's replacement. City Councilman Patrick Dowd, a PWSA board member, said the committee will establish the authority's key objectives for coming years and develop a job description based on those objectives.
After the new executive director is hired, Mr. Dowd said, the group will remain active in an advisory role.
The PWSA board approved the Utility Line contract in July 2009. At first, the program was structured so that customers could sign up for the coverage; the board later adopted "opt-out" coverage, with customers automatically billed $5 per month unless they removed themselves from the program.
The change generated a public backlash and a lawsuit.
Questions about Mr. Kenney's ties to Utility Line led the board to authorize the investigation in June. Mr. Kenney resigned Dec. 10, about the time the law firm's report was expected to be completed. Last month, Mr. Deasy said the report was forthcoming but didn't indicate that the scope of work had changed.
No draft of Farrell and Reisinger's early work ever was circulated publicly. However, in December, Mr. Dowd referred to that early work in a resolution he prepared to fire Mr. Kenney. Mr. Dowd never introduced the resolution because of Mr. Kenney's resignation.
In the resolution, Mr. Dowd cited what he called new information, based on the Farrell and Reisinger investigation, about Mr. Kenney's ties to Resource Development and Management, Utilishield and Utility Line Security, companies that have some overlap in ownership. Mr. Kenney reported to Resource Development in a previous job in Westmoreland County and was part owner in Utilishield, a company that, like Utility Line, provides line warranty protection.
According to information from Farrell and Reisinger, Mr. Dowd's resolution said, Mr. Kenney still was being divested of his Utilishield ownership interest months after Utility Line was awarded the PWSA contract in July 2009.
The resolution said Mr. Kenney received a final, $15,000 divestiture payment from Utilishield in December 2009. It said Utilishield paid Mr. Kenney's dues at Ligonier Country Club until November 2009.
The resolution said Mr. Kenney should have disclosed such details at the time the authority was considering the contract with Utility Line.
In addition, the resolution said Mr. Kenney "met several times with Utilishield principals and exchanged e-mails with them" before PWSA invited vendors to compete for the line warranty contract. The resolution also said Mr. Kenney did not disclose that a family member had worked at Resource Development.
First Published February 12, 2011 12:00 am