Wednesday, September 12, 2007

City Directors Who Act... And Actors Who Direct

[Post updated at 7:06 a.m.]

All of the talk in city government about "acting directors" brought to mind the theater casting calls for "singers who dance" and "dancers who sing". I googled "directors who act" and "actors who direct" and found this show business quiz.

As The Burgher of "The Burgh Report" blog notes, we are now marking 90 days since Mayor Luke Ravenstahl asked for resignations from ten top city officials. The 90 day mark may be significant, because the city code says that no one may serve as an "acting director" for more than 90 days. The mayor's news release back in June said that "all directors not appointed by Mayor Ravenstahl have been asked to serve the city in an acting capacity".

I say that the day "may be significant" because in recent weeks, the mayor has been telling reporters that he "never accepted" the resignations, but is keeping them in his desk. When I asked the mayor about this a couple of weeks back, he denied ever describing those affected as "acting" directors. While the news release from the mayor's office plainly described them in that way at the time, my check of Channel 4 Action News video that aired back in June does not show the mayor himself uttering the word. (Our raw, unedited tape is long gone. I'm sure other reporters are rummaging through bins for their old tapes right now.)

(To read the mayor's June news release, go to this link, then click 'Read More..." at the bottom of that post.)

The Burgher argues in his post that the issue is cut and dry--and not in the mayor's favor, but it appears there the mayor may find wiggle room in the city code. As The Burgh Report itself quoted from the city code back in June,

The mayor may remove the head of any major administrative unit at will. A removal shall not be effective until the mayor transmits reasons to council in writing.

The mayor may remove any member of an authority at will except as otherwise provided by law. A removal shall not be effective until the mayor transmits reasons to council in writing.

Some City Council members complained months ago that Mayor Ravenstahl never notified them in writing about the shakeup as the code requires. It seemed at the time to his critics to be an ignoring the law; it may now actually provide the mayor a technicality backing for his assertion that he never formally accepted the resignations. If the mayor never "transmits the reasons to council in writing", can he argue the removals will "not be effective"?

The insights of the affected directors themselves would be valuable on this point, but they are understandably silent. Some were so cautious as to ask me not to even mention their individual "no comment", out of apparent concern that saying even that much to a reporter might endanger their job security.

The only "acting" department head who freely discusses that status is Acting City Solicitor George Specter, who's been holding the post on a temporary basis for more than a year. He stepped up after the late Mayor Bob O'Connor-- acting from his hospital room-- dismissed several of his top administration officials.

Specter acknowledges that there is no enforcement provision in this law and says that no one has ever tried to force the issue. He also points out that his "acting" directorship is far from the longest-running in city history.

That distinction would go to Kathy Krause: she was Mayor Tom Murphy's acting public safety director for more than a decade. Murphy took office insisting that Pittsburgh's police chief would report directly to him and not through a public safety director. His administration never formally changed the structure of city government, however. In fact, some state and federal agencies apparently required that their formal dealings with the city involve its public safety director. Krause filled that role in a low-profile "acting" capacity for twelve years.

Council President Doug Shields introduced a bill back in July that would make changes in the city rules governing the use of "acting" directors. That bill has been held back in committee three times, so far: on July 2nd, July 18th, and July 25th. It's scheduled to come up again for discussion and a vote in today's council meeting. Some in city government say they expect that action on Shields' legislation will be delayed once again. The 90 day anniversary of the mayor's resignation requests to the directors may bring some discussion of the issue in council this time.

Footnote: All ten director positions are posted as current openings on the city's website. One position of note no longer posted there is "Press Secretary", though it's been vacant for nearly two months longer than the rest. Dick Skrinjar was moved out of the job back in April. Joanna Doven has been Acting Press Secretary for 4 1/2 months, though the mayor has said periodically that since April that he hopes to make a final decision on that post soon. While Skrinjar called himself "Director of Communications", the position is not a department-level job and does not require confirmation by city council.



Mark Rauterkus said...

I ask on my blog, and again here. What about clarification for the law department director. Is his post still noted as 'acting' or not? Did that post get advertised?

Bob Mayo said...

The job had been advertised, but the Mayor has named George Specter as his permanent choice for City Solicitor.
The nomination will go before council.