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Politics & Government

Republican County Councilwoman Says Dems Won’t Hear Her Ideas

Tucked away in Allegheny County’s administrative code is a rule saying that all bills introduced in County Council must be voted upon within 90 days.

In contrast, the rules of Allegheny County Council state that bills can only be pulled from committee and put on the council’s agenda for a final vote if they get a two-thirds affirmative majority in committee within 60 days of being introduced.

In the two rules, County Councilwoman Heather Heidelbaugh (R-At Large) said she sees a contradiction, one that has prevented bills she has introduced from ever making it beyond the committee stage.

County Council meets every other week when they are in session. Committee meetings are more sporadic, according to Heidelbaugh, and her bills have rarely, if ever, been put on the agenda for discussion at committee meetings. Without an affirmative vote at a committee meeting, they cannot be brought to a vote at meeting of the full council.

“The majority can prevent … legislation from ever being heard,” Heidelbaugh said.

That majority is made up of Democrats, led by County Council president John DeFazio. Heidelbaugh is a Republican, and said she blames party politics for the fact that she’s unable to get any traction on her legislation.

“One of the council members said ‘Heather, this is the game. This is how politics is,'” Heidelbaugh recalled. “I’ve been in politics since I was 18, and I reject that notion. I reject that politics is a game. I reject that county government should be a highly partisan endeavor.”

Heidelbaugh on Tuesday evening will introduce seven bills based on the notion that the administrative code—that is, the 90-day rule—takes precedence over the rules of council.

Each bill calls for a final vote a piece of legislation introduced by Heidelbaugh between February and April 2014. Six of the seven bills are in the Committee on Government Reform, headed by DeFazio.

Heidelbaugh said one of the more significant pieces of legislation challenges County Executive Rich Fitzgerald’s authority to appoint the members of boards such as the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority and the Airport Authority. She said the Home Rule Charter of Allegheny County and the Municipality Authorities Act both give that responsibility to the county’s governing body.

“County Council should be appointing certain members of boards and authorities that currently the County Executive is appointing,” Heidelbaugh said. “Pursuant to the underlying statute, he should not be appointing these people.”

Another bill Heidelbaugh is pushing would put a freeze on property taxes for low-income seniors.

“I have a resolution to encourage the state and the county to work with the state Legislature to try to get that done, and I can’t even get that heard,” Heidelbaugh said.

She said she expects the bills introduced Tuesday evening to meet the same fate as her previous pieces of legislaton.

“They don’t want to hear any of my ideas,” Heidelbaugh said.

However, she did acknowledge that there are Democrats on Council who support her efforts, including Barbara Daly-Danko and William Russell Robinson. Still, Heidelbaugh she said it feels like some councilmembers vote solely along party lines.

“I feel that there is a lot of direction taken from the county executive by the majority members,” Heidelbaugh said. “I have felt since I started that there is not an independence, and I think that’s a detriment to (the residents of the county.)”