The breaking news tonight is a shakeup in city government involving a power couple in Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's administration.
Here's the text of my live report on Channel 4 Action News at 5:30 PM. The Pittsburgh Channel now has the video online.
City URA Executive Director Pat Ford is part of Mayor Ravenstahl's inner circle and has held a variety of top posts. His wife Alicia Sirk is the mayor's press secretary. They say their friendship with the Lamar advertising executive goes back some time and has nothing to do with the billboard deal.
But the Mayor's chief of staff has just informed us that Alecia Sirk resigned today.
It's in relation to the issues in the story you are about to see..
The URA's Pat Ford has requested a temporary paid leave of absence -- granted, effective immediately -- to allow a review by the appropriate agencies into the gift matters in the report you're going to see now.
This is city official Pat Ford -- who struck the deal that bypassed Pittsburgh's permit process to allow Lamar Advertising to put up an electronic billboard on the Grant Street Transportation Center now being built.
His wife Alecia Sirk -- Mayor Ravenstahl's press secretary -- blogged about the couple's friendship with Lamar executive Jim Vlasach a couple of years back.
She calls her husband 'our hero'.., and wrote JV -- that's the Lamar exec -- had gifted her with a sound system.
• "...The best part was that i got a christmas gift! jv brought me surround sound for my dvd player!"
"it is like knock you over one of the best things evah."
Local political blogs The Burgh Report and The Pittsburgh Comet got a tip about it, even though the original files are no longer on the net.
Blogger Bram Reichbaum: "we feel that the appearance of an impropriety is clear. There's certainly enough out there for a perception of impropriety. That's not for us to determine."
Ford is not available for comment, but told our news partner, the Tribune-Review:
• "The gifts ... are of nominal value."
• "I've been in public service long enough now to know what's appropriate and what's inappropriate behavior."
• ".. I also am professional enough and mature enough to know when to separate business with a friendship."
Sirk isn't available for comment today, but she told Blogger Bram Reichbaum that "she didn't regard anything that she had written about in her blog as inappropriate and there was nothing inappropriate about the relationship."
[Back on camera]
The mayor's chief of staff Yarone Zober says the State Ethics commission will review the controversy.
Published reports quote Ford as confirming repeated gifts from his friend,including cigars, ties, and other gifts, which he says are of nominal value.
The Lamar executive did not return our call for comment.
Lamar is suing city council members who are challenging the done deal.
Reporting live, Bob Mayo, Channel 4 Action News.
Later this evening, Joanna Doven of the mayor's office issued this news release:
MAYOR ANNOUNCES PERSONNEL CHANGES
(PITTSBURGH) April 9, 2008 Mayor Luke Ravenstahl announced today a series of personnel developments.
The Mayor has accepted the resignation of press secretary, Alecia Sirk, effective immediately.
Additionally, and in response to a series of media announcements today, Pat Ford, executive director of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, has asked for and been granted a leave of absence. Mr. Ford has further requested a full review of the issues raised relative to the exchange of gifts by the appropriate agencies.
Mr. Ford’s board seat on the Housing Authority will be filled by Fred Frank.
For additional information related to these personnel developments, please call Yarone Zober at [phone number]. All other media inquires are to be directed to Joanna Doven.