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What you need to know about Allegheny County's home rule charter ballot amendment

Matt Slocum

Allegheny County residents will vote this November on whether to allow county council members to run for another office without resigning.

Under the current charter, county council members are barred from seeking another elected office while serving on council. If voters approve the amendment to repeal the rule, county councilors could retain their seats while running for other offices.

The “resign-to-run” provision doesn’t apply to other elected positions in the county. Council member DeWitt Walton, a Democrat, said the rule was likely incorporated into the charter in an attempt to prevent ambitious politicians from using council as a launching ground for loftier political goals.

He noted that county council district populations can be twice as large as the populations of state representative districts, which could make county council an attractive starting position for those who eventually want to enter a higher office.

“There are some political fears in there,” said Walton.

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Fellow council Democrat Tom Duerr echoed the sentiment. Because county council is a part-time position, “Folks were worried about… [it] basically being used as nothing but a stepping stone and folks continuously not being able to serve out their term because they just want to run for council and use it as a stepping stone to a state office or a federal office.”

Neither Walton nor Duerr were involved in the creation of the charter.

Bob Macey, also a Democrat on county council, introduced the referendum question in January. Similar legislation was introduced in 2020, but ultimately failed.

Macey said the timing was right to take the question to the voters again. He also noted that a government review commission first recommended the rule be eliminated back in 2016.

“In view of the fact that members of County Council are part-time public officials with significant legal responsibilities, not the least of which is the adoption of budgets totaling almost one billion dollars, every effort should be made to encourage experienced members of County Council to remain in office,” the commission wrote. “Forcing members of County Council to resign their seats solely because they chose to run for another office… is not in the best interest of Allegheny County residents who want the most experienced and talented legislators to represent them.”

However, since it’s part of the county charter, any change has to be approved by voters.

Council ultimately voted 14-1 to send the question to the voters. Walton was the only “nay” vote. He said that while for some, county council is just the starting place for their political career, his duty is to his constituents.

Election Day: Nov. 8, 2022

“I understood from the outset that there was a rule in place that said if I wanted to run for another office while I was on county council, I would resign. I agreed to that. I agreed to live with those terms and conditions on the front side. And I don’t see any reason why that justifies a change and as a result I voted against it,” he said. “If I want to run for something else, I will live with the deal that I cut and I will resign. I believe in keeping my word.”

Others worry that retaining a council seat while running for another office would spread a person too thin and they wouldn’t be able to dedicate the same time to their county constituents.

Macey said he thinks a rule change could ultimately help voters; county council and state legislative districts often overlap, and a county council member could theoretically run for state representative and still serve a similar group of constituents, providing a sense of continuity.

“They would be able to take their experience, their strengths and their knowledge of their particular area and be able to use that to their advantage and to their constituents’ advantage because of their abilities and their knowledge of county as well as regional government,” he said.

Duerr noted the rule hasn’t stopped county council members from running for other offices. State Sen. Wayne Fontana was an inaugural member of county council, County Executive Rich Fitzgerald served on county council for about 10 years, and Cindy Kirk resigned from council earlier this year to run for Pennsylvania's 30th State House District.

And as county council is a part-time body, many members already juggle multiple responsibilities. Duerr himself still works as a political campaign consultant while sitting on council.

“I am well attuned to the time demands and the physical and mental demands of being on a campaign, and I’ve been able to do both, in my opinion, very, very well, and balance that,” Duerr said. “I firmly believe as someone who has lived that the past couple years that if a council member wants to take that step and is able to take that step and thinks they can take that extra burden on, I see no reason why we should stop them from doing both.”

Find the full ballot question on the Allegheny County sample ballot.

Julia Zenkevich reports on Allegheny County government for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at