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Pittsburgh City Council advances bill to review deputy-level mayoral appointments

Maggie Young
90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh City Council is set to vote next week on a bill that would give council the ability to interview mayoral appointees for positions like deputy and assistant directors and chiefs.

With the administration of incoming Mayor Ed Gainey due to begin next month, "we're going to have a slew of new directors and assistant directors, and I think for us to be able to do our jobs ... most of our conversations, I talk to the assistant directors," said Ricky Burgess, who sponsored the measure. "I want the public to know who they are and for us to know who they are."

While council has the power to confirm some top appointees, it has traditionally had little oversight of second-tier positions for city departments like Finance, Law, or Public Works.

The original bill would have given council power to confirm, or reject, the appointments. But during a council discussion earlier this week, Burgess said that after meeting with Gainey and his team, the two sides "compromised" by giving council the ability to interview.

"I think the public should know who the next administration is going to hire, what they plan on doing," said Council President Theresa Kail Smith. "We should have been doing this."

Some councilors had concerns about the message the bill could be sending, and the burden it might put on council.

"[W]e have to interview them before they hire them," said Anthony Coghill. "We're just getting through budget hearings. Last thing I want on my plate is 30 interviews to assistant directors.

"If I don't have confidence in a deputy chief, I call them to my office," Coghill said. "If we as a body don't have confidence in a deputy, we just don't fund them next year. ... I don't want to go through those interviews, I really don't. I want to have faith in the director of that department."

Coghill added that the bill seemed to show a lack of confidence in Gainey's administration, and "that's a bad foot to start on."

But Burgess said when former District 1 Councilor Darlene Harris was a councilmember, she would call for council to interview every board member of all authorities, even the ones they did not appoint. He noted the bill does not require council to interview those positions.

"We don't have to interview them," he said. "If the body does not want to, we can forgo the process."

Kail-Smith said doing the interviews is part of their job as council.

"We were elected for the people, and I think they have the right to see," she said. "I think that Gainey is going to bring forward good names, and the people are going to want to see who they are."

Ultimately Councilors Coghill and Corey O'Connor voted no on the bill, and Deb Gross abstained. The bill still received council's preliminary approval, and will be up for final vote next week.