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Mayor Peduto Seeks To Expand PWSA Board, And Get More Input On Appointments

Deanna Garcia
90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto wants to see a larger board at the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority – and he’s creating a new nomination committee to help him fill vacancies on it.

Peduto announced the creation of a new “nominating committee” Thursday morning. Made up of “five members with experience in community engagement,” the committee will recruit potential board appointees for the municipal water system and recommend eligible candidates to the mayor. It will act in a purely advisory capacity, according to the mayor’s office: As at other city agencies, Peduto will still ultimately choose his nominee, and City Council would have to confirm any nomination.

Nomination committee members include:

  • Quintin Bullock, Community College of Allegheny County President  
  • Director David Donahoe, former Regional Asset District Executive 
  • Michelle Naccarati-Chapkis, Executive Director of Women for a Healthy Environment  
  • Mark Nordenberg, former University of Pittsburgh Chancellor and current chair of the Institute of Politics 
  • Grant Oliphant, president of the Heinz Endowments 

Peduto also hopes the PWSA board will vote to expand from seven to nine members “to bring more leadership and oversight” to the agency, which in past years has had to contend with everything from billing problems to lead contamination.
PWSA Board Chair Paul Leger said he supported both proposals. While he said the current board functions well, a larger board “allows for more participation by the community, and it would put two more people on the board with more expertise than we have now. We could have a community representative, or representatives from the foundation community, which could be helpful.”

The PWSA would have to change its bylaws to expand its size, and Leger said the proposal was being added to the agenda of the meeting scheduled for Friday morning. But he said board members might table the measure to give themselves more time to assess the proposal.

There have been previous controversies about leadership changes at the PWSA.

A 2018 proposal would have removed elected officials from the process of choosing leadership entirely, giving that responsibility to an independent board. The idea was to depoliticize the agency, but there were concerns the approach would make the agency less accountable to the public and lead to privatization.

That proposal was shelved, and the new approach Peduto initiated Thursday is a far more modest reform that leaves the current appointment process intact. Peduto has disavowed any interest in handing over the water system to private operators.

Earlier this month, City Council replaced one of its own members, Deb Gross, as its representative at the agency, without giving a clear indication to Gross or the public that it was doing so. Gross insisted that, since the city hadn’t notified or specified that she was being replaced, she was still on the board. Gross did not respond to a call for comment Thursday, but Peduto’s office said it formally notified her of her removal in a Feb. 6 letter.

Gross was replaced by fellow Councilor Erika Strassburger, but there remains one vacant seat on the PWSA’s current seven-member board. The new nominating committee will recommend replacements. The PWSA board will meet at the agency’s Penn Avenue offices on Friday at 10 a.m.