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Building Innovation is a collection of stories by 90.5 fm WESA reporters about the Pittsburgh region focusing on efficient government operation, infrastructure and transportation, innovative practices, energy and environment and neighborhoods and community.

County Councilwoman Says Legislative Branch Of County Government Is ‘Superfluous’

Liz Reid
90.5 WESA

Republican Allegheny County Councilwoman Heather Heidelbaugh on Tuesday suggested to the Government Review Commission that the legislative body on which she serves be disbanded.

At a news conference ahead of the commission’s meeting Tuesday afternoon, Heidelbaugh called the council “superfluous,” citing a 91.8 percent passage rate for ordinances proposed by County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.

Disbanding the county’s legislative body was one of three recommendations Heidelbaugh gave as possible remedial actions to “render county government more inclusive and less dysfunctional.” The Government Review Commission is charged with reviewing the “effectiveness, efficiency, and equity” of the county and its charter every 10 years.

Heidelbaugh said, without a legislative branch, constituents would have a clearer picture of how decisions are made at the county level.

“Then the voters would know everything that takes place in the county takes place as a result of the county executive,” Heidelbaugh said. “If they like it, they’ll vote him or her back into office. If they don’t like it, they will vote him out of office.”

In a 15-page document, Heidelbaugh stated that Fitzgerald had introduced 85 ordinances since January 2012, while all 15 members of council together had introduced 36 ordinances. She also asserted that Fitzgerald inappropriately attends Democratic caucus meetings and is integral in setting the agenda for Democrats on council.

Council President John DeFazio disputed that assertion, saying that Fitzgerald rarely attends the meetings. However, he said it is not unusual for the county executive to sponsor the lion’s share of bills introduced and voted upon in council.

“Basically that’s how it’s always been for the most part,” DeFazio said. “(Heidelbaugh) tries to put things in that don’t make sense and nobody wants to agree with her ideas.”

DeFazio maintained that Heidelbaugh is “bitter” because few members of council have agreed with legislation she has introduced.

He said that’s the reason that the bills Heidelbaugh has introduced have not come up for a final vote in County Council.

“I have introduced legislation for three years, since 2012. It has never been discussed in committee,” Heidelbaugh said. “This year I tried to pull it out of committee. By the administrative code, it had to be voted on in 90 days, but they have used every parliamentary maneuver, legal and illegal, to prevent a discussion.”

Aside from disbanding County Council entirely, Heidelbaugh suggests amending the county’s charter to require legislative authorization for all contracts and to “include a blanket provision invalidating actions undertaken in violation of any Administration Code provision that carries no delineation of the consequences of failing to follow its requirements.”

One of those provisions which Heidelbaugh asserts that County Council has violated is a rule which says that all bills introduced in County Council must be voted upon within 90 days. According to Heidelbaugh’s document, the average time in committee for bills submitted by Fitzgerald is 18.2 days, while the average time in committee for bills introduced by County Council members is 111.75 days.

Barring implementation of any of the three recommendations listed above, which Heidelbaugh admits would be difficult, the councilwoman is urging the commission to “publicly acknowledge the facts” contained within her document, condemn Fitzgerald’s actions and advocate compliance with the 90-day rule.

But Heidelbaugh said she has concerns about whether the commission will seriously consider her recommendations, recalling that appointments to the commission were made without much input from the minority party.

“I hope that’s not the case,” she said. “I know there’s good people on this commission, and I hope they will take these issues very seriously, they will look at the facts, the uncontroverted facts that I have provided.”

DeFazio said he believes Heidelbaugh’s motivation for submitting her testimony to the commission is self-serving.

“She’s politicking,” he said. “The word is, supposedly, she’s running for some big office next year or something, so she’s just trying to get into the news and make a grand standing thing all the time. She’s always controversial on almost everything.”

Heidelbaugh told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in January that she was considering a run for state Attorney General. She is not running for re-election to her at-large seat in the fall. 

Read Heidelbaugh's full memo to the GRC below.

Heidelbaugh Memo to GRC