Port Authority board fires Bland

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Port Authority's board of directors voted today to fire CEO Steve Bland after efforts broke down to reach a settlement under which he would resign.

The dismissal was engineered by Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. He has not commented on the matter but sources who asked not to be identified have said friction developed between the two over Mr. Fitzgerald's desire to have greater control of day-to-day operations at the agency.

The vote to dismiss Mr. Bland was 5-3, with four members recently appointed by Mr. Fitzgerald all voting yes, along with board member Jeff Letwin, who was appointed by the prior county executive, Dan Onorato. The others voting to fire were Joe Brimmeier, Connie Parker, John Tague, Tom Donatelli.

Voting no were Mavis Rainey, Amanda Green Hawkins and Eddie Edwards Jr., all of whom are board veterans.

The board chairman, Jack Brooks, a supporter of Mr. Bland, did not vote.

Mr. Bland could not be reached for comment.

The motion to fire Mr. Bland was "without cause," meaning he will be paid a half year's salary, or $92,500.

The board then voted unanimously to appoint Ellen McLean, the current chief financial officer as interim CEO and to conduct a national search for a permanent replacement.

The board then began a second private session to discuss election of board officers after Mr. Brimmeier nominated Mr. Letwin in a bid to oust Mr. Brooks.

Mr. Bland was hired in May 2006 and has been credited with guiding the authority through difficult financial times. The agency has seen its state funding cut at a time when health care, pension and fuel costs are soaring. It has had to cut service by 15 percent on two occasions and narrowly averted a 35 percent cut in September.

His initial salary was $180,000, with $5,000 annual raises, but before the first one took effect in 2007 he volunteered to take a pay freeze. He also canceled a contract provision calling for $15,000 in annual deferred compensation, and he gave up his company car and all benefits not received by other supervisory personnel.

The board in 2011 negotiated a three-year extension that runs through June 2015 at an annual salary of $185,000. He would have been due a 2.5 percent raise in June.

Mr. Fitzgerald's displeasure with Mr. Bland surfaced in May after serious delays in Light Rail Transit service after weekend events on the North Shore. At the time, he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: "This problem is going to get solved. If it can't get solved by the people who are here, we'll find people who can solve it." He later issued a statement threatening "top to bottom" changes.

When the authority announced the elimination of 13 stops on the rail system in June, officials made it clear that the decision was Mr. Fitzgerald's. The county executive personally reinstated two of the stops based on citizen complaints.

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Jon Schmitz: jschmitz@post-gazette.com


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