Of the city departments Mayor Bill Peduto inherited when he took office, the police bureau is arguably the one most in need of reform. But four months into his term, despite an ongoing federal investigation that touched former Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's office and the conviction of former Chief Nate Harper for diverting public funds into an unauthorized account, the department is still being supervised by a temporary chief and a public safety director Peduto seems intent on replacing.
On Monday, Peduto told City Paper that three three new finalists for the public safety director job have been forwarded to his office by Talent City, a foundation-funded process Peduto has said will keep politics out of hiring decisions, although no timetable for the hiring decision has been set.
"We have three interviews this week and we will also be re-interviewing [current public safety director] Mike Huss," Peduto said. "Hopefully over the next couple weeks we’ll have a final recommendation and selection for director."
This is the third set of finalists who have come through Talent City, Peduto said. Mike Rodriguez, former special agent responsible for the Pittsburgh branch of the FBI, turned down the position citing "family issues," he added.
Another candidate turned down the position because the salary wasn't high enough — City Council has since raised the salary from $105,000 to $125,000.
"We’ve got four years we’ve been elected to. Finding a couple extra months to find the best public safety director we can to me is a wise investment,” Peduto said. Once a director is hired, the search for a new police chief will begin. The search hasn't started, Peduto said, because he wants the new public safety director to be involved in formulating the criteria that will be used to select a new chief.
The mayor also said he plans to hire an assistant public safety director — a move designed to help morph "the department of public safety, so it’s not just the public safety director and a secretary, but actually a department." The assistant director's focus will be on community outreach.
Asked why Talent City hasn't produced a successful candidate, Peduto said very few have the range of experience, including having led "hundreds of people", that he's looking for.
"You really want to find someone who’s been tested on integrity," he says. "We need somebody who is going to clean up the mess within public safety."