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Peduto Seeks Quality Over Speed in Filling Public Safety Positions

Ryan Loew
90.5 WESA

Mayor Bill Peduto said he is not rushing to fill two of the most high profile vacant positions in the city: public safety director and police chief.

In a Monday interview with Essential Pittsburgh’s Paul Guggenheimer, Peduto said it is more important to find the right person for those positions than it is to get them filled right away.

“In the case of public safety director, unlike any other position, I’m not going with a second choice,” Peduto said. “If I’m not able to get my first pick, then I’m starting again from scratch.”

Peduto said he already had two people in mind for the public safety director position, but due to personal circumstances, neither was able to accept the position. While he hasn’t openly said so, Peduto’s comments suggest that current Public Safety Director Mike Huss is not high on his list of possible candidates. The mayor said he will not even post the police chief job opening until he has a public safety director in place.

When it comes to choosing a police chief, Peduto said it will be a deliberate process that could take up to nine months. He said the city will base search criteria on national standards of education, training and experience, and on input from the community and rank-and-file officers.

“There’s a division between the Bureau of Police and the community right now, which needs to be healed, and unless the community is involved in the process of selecting (the next police chief), it’s not going to be able to start off on the right foot,” Peduto said. “I would argue that within the bureau itself, there is a lack of morale as deep as I’ve seen since the days of the consent decree, when the federal government came in and told us how our police department has to be run.”

Peduto said a “canyon” has erupted between the police and low-income and minority communities over the last seven years. He also said that individual police officers have told him in private conversations that the current system is unfair and they want to see things change.

“The favoritism, the cronyism, the one group over the other group, the officers who feel they can’t be whistleblowers because if they blow the whistle on this person, it’s going to be repercussions brought against them,” Peduto said. “That whole old-boy network has to be stripped away.”

Also to be stripped away are many middle management positions within city government. Peduto pointed to some managers who don’t have any employees reporting to them, but are still paid a manager salary. Peduto said he’s looking forward to finding out how many people accept his severance incentive package at the end of this month.

“We’re looking to create a different city government, and we’re looking to go in a different direction,” Peduto said. “In some cases, we’re not even looking to upgrade the system we have. We’re looking to allow it to die on the vine and create a new system.”

Peduto was outspokenly ambitious during his campaign and has set a high bar for himself and his administration over the past several weeks. He has touted his open data initiative, plans for a more efficient and fiscally responsible city government, and has even promised that Pittsburgh will take its place as “the next great American city.”

But all that is easier said than done.

“Every day that we are in that mayor’s office, it’s like opening another drawer and finding a mess, and just shutting it halfway, and trying to figure out what month it is that we’re going to get around to that next one,” Peduto said. 

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