Transit talent: The Port Authority deserves a leader with integrity
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If Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and the Port Authority board want to get rid of the transit agency's executive director, they can remove Steve Bland from office -- but they should forget about offering the job to board member Joe Brimmeier.
Mr. Fitzgerald has made no secret of his dissatisfaction with Mr. Bland or his attempt to engineer the director's departure. Their dispute goes back to at least May, when the county executive threatened "top to bottom" changes after major delays on the light-rail transit system marred a weekend featuring a Pirates game, fireworks, the Pittsburgh marathon and a concert at Stage AE.
It's not fair to decide Mr. Bland's fate on that basis alone. Since his arrival in 2006, the Port Authority has cut jobs, revised routes on a systemwide basis and reached leaner contracts with its employees. Mr. Bland himself has refused raises to which he was entitled, a show of leadership and integrity at the top. His is not an easy job, and other transit agencies have taken notice, entertaining Mr. Bland as a candidate for positions elsewhere.
This job should not be a lifetime appointment, though, and the board and Mr. Fitzgerald may have their reasons for wanting a change. That's not necessarily a problem.
But Joe Brimmeier, whose name has been mentioned as a possible successor favored by Mr. Fitzgerald? Big problem.
Mr. Brimmeier is a member of the Port Authority board who goes back a long way as a Democratic Party operative associated with all manner of old-school political cronyism. He filled a number of local roles, including director of the county Parks Department and aide to former congressman Ron Klink before becoming CEO of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission in 2003. During his eight-year tenure at the turnpike, Mr. Brimmeier was credited with a $5 billion construction project on the toll road and expansion of E-ZPass.
His term was replete with questionable practices, however. He continued the turnpike's history of patronage, hiring some of his own relatives and those of influential friends. Claims of "pay-for-play" contracting continued unabated. There also was a grand jury investigation, the eventual firing and federal conviction of the turnpike commission's chairman and a public battle with his patron, former Gov. Ed Rendell, over privatizing the toll road.
Joe Brimmeier is a well-known name, one better left in the past than advanced to lead the region's indispensable transit system into the future.
First Published January 31, 2013 12:00 am