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City Council Grills New Peduto Appointees for Legal and Tech Teams

Liz Reid
90.5 WESA

Mayor Bill Peduto’s nominees to head the city’s legal and tech teams came before City Council Wednesday.

The mayor has tapped Lourdes Sanchez Ridge to be the next city solicitor, while Debra Lam is his choice for the newly created chief innovation and performance officer position. As part of that position, Lam would also be in charge of City Information Services, but she said it’s not primarily a technology position.

“It’s a position that should definitely be comfortable with technology, should definitely appreciate and champion technology,” Lam said. “But it’s also a performance management, sustainability, innovation position, and that’s what should drive it.”

The meeting was largely procedural, as Ridge and Lam explained their experience and qualifications and laid out how they would approach their new jobs. Ridge said she looked forward to giving equal attention to City Council, department heads, and the mayor, and also introduced Kelly Mistick, who will serve as the council’s liaison to the solicitor’s office.

Lam said that she is pleased with the quality of the workforce in CIS, but that the overall structure of the department needs to be revamped.

However, there was one sticking point for a few members of City Council: Both Lam and Ridge lived outside the city of Pittsburgh before joining the Peduto administration.

Lam now lives with her husband in a downtown apartment, while Ridge purchased a condominium in Shadyside. Her husband and daughter, who is a senior in high school, still inhabit the family home in Upper St. Clair.

Councilman Ricky Burgess said this arrangement was unacceptable and that it violates the spirit of the law he authored requiring that all city employees live within Pittsburgh city limits.

“I don’t think we can confirm you,” Burgess told Ridge. “At least if we do confirm you, we’re telling the city that we don’t really believe in our rules and our laws. We’ll be telling our city that … as long as you have the wealth, you can … skirt the issues.”

Burgess said he would author a letter to Peduto asking that he withdraw his nomination of Ridge as City Solicitor.

Councilwoman Darlene Harris also expressed concerns about Ridge’s living situation, while Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith said she questioned how objectively Ridge would enforce the residency requirement, when her own compliance is based on a “technicality.”

However, Kail-Smith agreed with Corey O’Conner when he said that perhaps council was getting a bit too inquisitive about Ridge’s personal life.

“As a woman, it’s actually infuriating me. It’s amazing that we’re telling somebody how their family should be running,” said Kail-Smith. Bringing some levity to the conversation, she added that she thinks “it sounds like an ideal situation to have your husband in one house, and you in another.”

In her defense, Ridge said she was truly living at her condo in Shadyside, and that the current arrangement was only a transitional step until her daughter graduates from high school.

“If it required me to yank my kid out and have her be unhappy, I wouldn’t have taken this job,” Ridge said. “I took this job because I believe that this city is worth living in and making it better, and that’s what I’m doing.”

City Council will meet Tuesday to vote on final confirmation of Lam and Ridge in their new appointments.