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City Of Pittsburgh Challenges Open Government Ballot Measure

Margaret J. Krauss
90.5 WESA


On Wednesday, a court will decide whether a referendum to change Pittsburgh's home rule charter will remain on the November ballot. The city argues the proposed amendment unduly hampers city government.

OpenPittsburgh.org collected more than 12,000 signatures in favor of its open government amendment. It calls for a lot of things, including digitizing all city records and making all city government meetings available by video. But the most problematic provision is its creation of a Citizen Advisory Panel, says Mayor Bill Peduto's chief of staff Kevin Acklin.

"It would completely undermine the basic structure of city government. It proposes to have an unelected body of citizens without limitation, being able to summon the mayor, council members to meetings at various times. It would grind city government to a halt."

While the administration supports the spirit of the amendment, and encourages open government, the language posed to voters is misleading, says Acklin.

"The problem is the ballot question doesn't match what the actual referendum stands for. And that difference between the two is unconstitutionally vague."

But whether or not the judge will get to hear the city's arguments comes down to timing, says Lawrence Otter, OpenPittsburgh.org's attorney. The challenge to the amendment was served after the deadline.

"And the case law is absolutely settled on that issue. It's 5 o'clock or nothing. And in this case they're gonna come up with nothing."

Otter added he once served a challenge after the deadline, as the city did. "You only make that mistake once."

The Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas hearing is scheduled for Wednesday. If the judge dismisses the city's challenge because of the clerical error, the open government amendment will remain on the ballot.

Find this report and others on the site of our partner, Keystone Crossroads. 

Margaret J. Krauss is WESA’s senior reporter. She covers development and transportation, and has produced award-winning podcasts on housing, work, and Pittsburgh’s lesser-known history. Before joining the newsroom full time, she covered the challenges facing Pennsylvania cities as a statewide reporter, and spent another life as an assistant editor for National Geographic Kids Magazine in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at mkrauss@wesa.fm.