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District Attorney Zappala to review all of Pittsburgh’s no-bid contracts dating back to 2020

A man stands at a podium.
Keith Srakocic
District Attorney Stephen Zappala

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala plans to broaden his look into the City of Pittsburgh’s use of no-bid contracts — a review that Mayor Ed Gainey's office says amounts to little more than an election-year stunt.

In a statement issued Monday, Zappala said he’s filed new requests with the city for documents pertaining to no-bid contracts as far back as January 2020.

No-bid, or sole source contracts, are an exception to the usual competitive bidding process. They can be used when work requires special expertise. Zappala’s inquiry, which first began in August, stems from a no-bid contract between the city and Matrix Consulting Group for an evaluation of the city’s police staffing levels.

The study found that the city has an adequate number of police officers — despite the bureau employing at least 100 fewer officers than it’s budgeted for — and suggested patrol units be significantly decreased.

“This recommendation is shocking given the ongoing daily chronic mandatory overtime assigned to Pittsburgh Police Officers, coupled with the dangerous downward spiral of public safety in the City of Pittsburgh,” Zappala said in a statement Monday.

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Zappala first directed his office to investigate the city’s dealings with Matrix in August, after he claimed to have heard concerns from “public and private officials.” On Monday, Zappala claimed that Matrix’s study was designed to reach a “preordained outcome.”

“The Matrix reports that recommend defunding the city police while the city is torn by rising violence, is irresponsible, dangerous and disturbing,” Zappala said in a statement.

Notably, however, the Gainey administration and Pittsburgh Police Chief Larry Scirotto have already disregarded the study's staffing recommendations. "I don’t want to reallocate any patrol operations," Scirotto said after the study was released.

Gainey has said the study provides a blueprint for the bureau to work from, but that he will rely on the expertise of Scirotto — who was appointed chief in late May — to run the bureau.

Zappala, though previously a Democrat, is running for re-election as a Republican against Democratic nominee Matt Dugan, Allegheny County's chief public defender, this November. Zappala's campaign has launched ads playing up crime fears in the city, characterizing his candidacy as an effort to oppose "extremists" who want to turn the city into the country's "next social justice experiment.”

In a statement, Gainey’s communications director Maria Montaño claimed Zappala is “busy playing politics,” and clarified that the Matrix study “does not in any circumstances advocate for defunding the police. … What it does do is talk about how great our response time is and looks to find ways to maximize existing resources.

"While we are glad that he seems to have found his office in order to send out campaign style press releases in an election year, we hope that he is able to find the time to prosecute those who have caused harm to people in our city and answer the tough questions regarding major high-profile cases,” Montaño said.

Zappala’s office said he was not available for further comment on Tuesday.

The study’s recommendations aside, Zappala took further issue with how the city selected Matrix for the job. Zappala pointed to Matrix’s claim that the company began collecting input about the study in March, though the no-bid contract would not have commenced until two months later.

“Such a glaring contradiction suggests that the city process documents may be pretextual and mere window dressing for a preordained outcome,” Zappala said.

But the Gainey administration has contended that its business with Matrix has been by the book. Jake Pawlak, the city’s Deputy Mayor and director of the Office of Management and Budget, said in August that the administration sought an exemption from the formal bidding process because they believed Matrix was the “only known company,” to do this work.

Although the city commissioned a similar study from the International Association of Chiefs of Police in previous years, Pawlak argued that the association’s board members lead police agencies and negotiate police contracts, which could bias the study findings. The city was also in the process of negotiating a contract with the police union at the time.

In prior years, Zappala also tangled with the city's previous mayor, Bill Peduto. But Dugan, his rival this fall, has touted a crime-fighting strategy that emphasizes working cooperatively with the mayor and other local officials.

On Friday, Dugan rolled out policy prescriptions for addressing a spike in crime Downtown that relied on designating a magisterial district judge to address such concerns. More broadly, he said, while "law enforcement begins with the DA's office … we look forward to leading that effort — as we work beside Mayor Gainey, Sara Innamorato, the Chief of Police, and the Courts."

Kiley Koscinski covers city government, policy and how Pittsburghers engage with city services. She also works as a fill-in host for All Things Considered. Kiley has previously served as a producer on The Confluence and Morning Edition.