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Additional raises for high-ranking Pittsburgh Police approved by council with little scrutiny

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA

On today’s episode of The Confluence: WESA’s government and accountability editor Chris Potter explains why Pittsburgh City Council voted to give an additional raise to the police bureau’s 19 highest-ranking positions; lawmakers in Washington D.C. are considering regulations for congressional members and their families on buying and trading individual stocks; and a researcher on discussions of race and racism in everyday life.

City Council passes raises for police bureau top leadership
(0:00 - 6:54)

Last month, Pittsburgh City Council raised the salariesof the police bureau’s top 19 positions. It amended the 2022 budget to give raises of $4,500 or more, after the budget approved weeks earlier allotted initial races to police command staff.

The raises for these top positions, when combined, increase salaries of more than 11 percent.

WESA’s Politics and Accountability editor Chris Potter says these raises apply to the police chief, assistant police chiefs and commanders in the bureau.

“These [commanders] are the folks who preside over the city's six zones and several other sort of major departments within the bureau,” Potter says.

City council members said the raises were necessary to attract officers to leadership positions.

“Lieutenants are covered under the Fraternal Order of Police contract, while the city commanders aren't,” he says. “They [commanders] are administrative people, and so what that means is they lose overtime payments [upon getting promoted]. And there was a concern, especially on the part of Council President Theresa Kail-Smith, that officers were being penalized for taking a promotion to a command level staff that the city needs.”

While officer retention is an issue leaders in the police bureau bring up, Potter says that hasn’t quite played out.

“The city is at about 895 officers. Their targeted level is 900, so not a lot of attrition, but there is concern going forward, both within Pittsburgh and outside of it.,” says Potter. “Where do our next sort of crop, where [does] the next generation of officers come from? It's actually kind of a statewide, even a nationwide concern.”

One of Mayor Ed Gainey’s transition teams is expected to make policy recommendations regarding law enforcement in the spring.

Some lawmakers want to limit stock trading among congressional members and their families
(6:58 - 14:15)

U.S. lawmakers have introduced proposals to either tighten rules for or outright ban members of Congress and their families from buying and trading individual stocks.

Amid this example, and others, there are three types of legislation under consideration: outright banning ownership and trading of individual stocks by members of Congress; allowing members, their spouses and adult children to own and trade stocks, but only through a blind trust; and a bill allowing members to keep stocks owned prior to being elected, but a ban on trading them once they’re in office.

“Proponents of this type of legislation and ethics watchdogs say that Congress members have an edge because they have access to privileged information that the general public does not,” explains Ashley Murray, Washington, D.C. Bureau Chief for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “This information can come to them through their committee assignments or closed briefings, and can have to do with a range of regulatory issues, including trade or defense.”

Murray says that proponents of the pending legislation argue that conflicts of interest, real or perceived, sow distrust.

This comes as Republican Congressman Mike Kelly from Butler County faces an ethics probe into stocks his wife purchased in 2020.

Rep. Kelly’s wife purchased stocks in Cleveland-Cliffs, the parent company of AK Steel Butler Works, and the probe is questioning whether she had information before it was made public that there would be federal intervention to avoid the closure of AK Steel Butler Works.

The2012 STOCK Act (Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act) does require members of Congress and some staff to report stock trading transactions within 30 days. Sen. Pat Toomey has argued this law is sufficient, and any further restrictions might discourage candidates from entering public office.

The issue has become more heated in light of more reporting and media investigations into improper trading, including a recent Business Insider investigation and piece by the Inquirer.

“There is the 2020 example of Sen, Richard Burr of North Carolina basically offloading a large part of his portfolio in early 2020 before the pandemic” says Murray. “People who are observing this conversation now and questioning why House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was against tightening restrictions but has now loosened up a bit, … They're pointing to this investigative series as sort of the fire behind this.”

Researcher says, ‘break the norm of colorblindness’
(14:21 - 22:30)

Ali Michael, a researcher and co-director of the Race Institute for K-12 Educators, returned to her hometown of Mt. Lebanon this weekend for a series of events focused on building a healthy multiracial community.

Michael says growing up in this predominantly white suburb of Pittsburgh in the 1980s, she was raised to be “colorblind.”

“I was also taught to believe, I mean this again is the 1980s, that it's racist to talk about race,” she says. “That was a message that was coming straight from the White House when in actuality, we live in a multiracial society. It's going to be very hard to make this a healthy, multiracial society if we're not able to talk about race and to talk about the way that has impacted us historically.”

She says one reason it’s important for white people to discuss race is that racism hurts and divides communities.

“It undermines us,” Michael says. “It makes it easier to manipulate. That's been true historically. People in power have used racism to divide white people from people of color to believe that they don't have common cause.”

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in Monday to Thursday at 9 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts. 

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