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Bill Would Change Control of Port Authority Board

Control of Allegheny County’s Port Authority (PAT) board could be at risk as a bill moves through the state Senate.

Legislation in the Pennsylvania Senate would diminish the power of the county executive when it comes to PAT.

The bill, put forth by Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson), would allow state officials to appoint five board members to the transportation agency, compared to all nine members being appointed by the county executive.

Scarnati’s legislation would add two more board members, bringing the total to 11. The governor, the Senate president pro tem, the Senate minority leader, the Speaker of the House, the House minority leader, the mayor of Pittsburgh and the Allegheny county executive would all appoint one board member. Four members would be appointed by two at-large county council members.

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said the legislation is a step in the wrong direction.

“We’ve made some major reforms over the last year and a half, and we want to continue to make major reforms,” he said. “And the fact that Senator Scarnati wants to use politics to take away good government is very unfortunate.”

Fitzgerald believes there needs to be state involvement, and even state-appointed members on the PAT board, but he said this many appointees doesn’t leave anyone responsible.

“When everybody’s accountable, nobody’s accountable” Fitzgerald said. “So, you need to have one person who has to answer the questions, who has to take responsibility for the agency. In this case, it’s the county executive. If the county executive’s not doing a good job in running the authority, the voters have recourse.”

Scarnati has said that he tried to negotiate with Fitzgerald about who appoints PAT board members.

Fitzgerald did not criticize Scarnati for proposing the bill, but instead brought attention to William Lieberman, president of the Lieberman Company and Pennsylvania Turnpike Commissioner, who Fitzgerald said is “pulling the strings.”

“He’s (Scarnati) obviously doing what Bill Lieberman wants him to do,” Fitzgerald said.

Lieberman was a strong supporter of former county controller Mark Patrick Flaherty’s unsuccessful 2011 campaign for county executive. Lieberman could not be reached by phone Tuesday.

Scarnati’s legislation passed the Senate Appropriations Committee Monday by a party line 16-10 vote. A full Senate vote could be held Wednesday.

The Erie, PA native has been a fellow in the WESA news department since May 2013. Having earned a bachelor's degree in print journalism from Duquesne University, he is now pursuing an M.A. in multi-media management. Michael describes his career aspiration as "I want to do it all in journalism."
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