Mayor Luke Ravenstahl started out the New Year with a handful of appointments to city authorities ... and for those seeking more political independence from those bodies, his choices were a mixed bag.
Ravenstahl's most important appointments -- which he notified Pittsburgh City Council about on Jan. 12 -- may have been to the city's Parking Authority. The often-overlooked authority faces a critical decision about leasing the city's parking garages this year, and as City Paper reported in 2009, its five-member board had been staffed largely by members serving under expired terms. While state law allows that, it meant that Ravenstahl had the power to remove them at any point -- and, in fact, he recently removed the city's former operations director, Art Victor, after ousting him from his city post.
The recent appointments, however, mean the board should remain relatively stable, although Ravenstahl maintains connections to it.
The mayor replaced Victor with Scott Kunka, who currently serves as Ravenstahl's finance director. Ravenstahl also appointed Chris D'Addario, who owns Just Ducky tours and who has contributed $2,000 to Ravenstahl's campaign in the last two years. At the same time, Ravenstahl also appointed new City Councilor Natalia Rudiak, who campaigned on a reform-minded platform -- and whose first official vote was in favor of a new council president, Darlene Harris, whom Ravenstahl did not support. The mayor also reappointed management consultant Michael Jasper, whose previous term expired in 2008 -- and late last year he reappointed Superior Court Judge Linda Judson.
"The mayor is very pleased with the make-up of this board," says Gabe Mazefsky, the city's policy manager. "This board will be making one of the most important decisions" for the city this year.
Ravenstahl hopes that by leasing garages and parking meters, the city will generate more than $200 million to help shore up the pension fund -- which is currently just about a third full. But there are concerns about the impact on parking rates.
The mayor also made changes to other authority boards. City Councilor Daniel Lavelle will replace former councilor Tonya Payne on the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) board. Lavelle, like Rudiak, is just beginning his first term, but he supported Theresa Kail-Smith for council presidency -- the candidate Ravenstahl preferred. Kail-Smith herself was appointed to the board of ALCOSAN, the county's waste-treatment facility.
The mayor also reappointed City Councilor Patrick Dowd to the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority board. Dowd has been an outspoken critic of water-authority governance, and he ran against Ravenstahl in last year's mayoral primary. Lately, though, there have been signs of improving relations between them.
But the mayor's three most strident foes -- city councilors Bruce Kraus, Bill Peduto and Doug Shields -- were effectively sidelined by the appointments.
"What's that about?" says Kraus. Peduto and Shields are the two most experienced hands on council, Kraus notes, while critical appointments to the URA and the Parking Authority went to council rookies. "You would think that appointments would go to the most senior [council] members. But that's not the case."
In fact, none of the three councilors have ever been picked by Ravenstahl to serve on an authority board. Kraus is a member of the Equipment Leasing Authority -- but he was appointed to that position by Shields when Shields was council president. Peduto, meanwhile, used to be on the Stadium Authority, which presides over development at the site of the old Three Rivers Stadium, but Ravenstahl removed him from the post last year.
Ravenstahl named Darlene Harris to replace Peduto, and Kraus notes that creates a problem of its own. Harris already serves on the Sports & Exhibition Authority -- which manages the site of the city's still existing stadiums. And the city's home-rule charter states that "no member of council may serve on more than one authority board at the same time."
"That's of no concern," says Mazefsky, who argues that the city's home-rule charter doesn't govern authority boards. "There is no conflict with the law."
Besides, Mazefsky points out, both of Harris' authorities focus on developing adjoining parcels of land on the North Side. "[Harris] sits on two separate authority boards that are essentially performing the same task."
Shields, for one, doesn't seem too fazed by the mayor's latest appointments. Even D'Addario's contributions to Ravenstahl's campaign don't concern the city councilor all that much. "I don't see him as someone who bought his way in," says Shields.
In any case, Shields says it's no shocker that he, Kraus and Peduto are on the sidelines.
"Board appointments are essentially a coin of the political realm," he says. "It is what it is."
- Luke Ravenstahl