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City Government: Mayor finds the most talented officials in America close to home

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When Mayor Luke Ravenstahl announced that he was reviewing the future of 10 city department heads, he promised to conduct a national search for the best-qualified people. Apparently in eight of 10 departments, the best-qualified people in the country already had the jobs.

On Sept. 13, Ravenstahl accepted the resignation of just two of them. But despite the nationwide search that he launched at the time -- a search that yielded hundreds of applicants, the mayor said -- Ron Graziano, the chief of building inspections, and Greg Tutsock, the executive director of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, were not replaced.

Ravenstahl announced several staff changes and additions at the Sept. 13 press conference, but the two director positions that have been in question since the letters were issued were not filled, despite the nationwide search. And the mayor, responding to reporter's questions, didn't say why.

The mayor only said that the search process "will remain in place" and when the time was right, "I'll make the decision." He said the national search process yielded several candidates both locally and from across the country, but didn't actually yield any replacements.

The status of the 10 directors has been up in the air for months despite a city requirement that acting positions be filled within 90 days. However, since the mayor didn't formally accept the resignations -- they sat on his desk, in essence -- he claimed he wasn't bound by that timeframe.

Mark DeSantis, the Republican challenger for Ravenstahl's job, took the mayor to task for asking for the resignations and then doing nothing about it for months.

"[Ravenstahl] is saying that the departments are not performing well and that city government is awful, but he refuses to say why it's awful or what his definition of excellence is," DeSantis told City Paper. "It's not good governance, it's not good leadership and it's not good management. I think it's indicative of what's wrong in city government."

In a cliché-sprinkled address to reporters, Ravenstahl said that he wanted to "raise the bar" when it came to department performance and he wanted to make sure he had "the best team on the field."

Ravenstahl wouldn't discuss specifics surrounding the firings. When asked why the two positions were not retained Ravenstahl once again said: "We need to be more efficient and raise the bar." He also reiterated that he wanted to "put the right team on the field."

The water and sewer authority, at least, has been under a lot of scrutiny recently following a spate of water-main breaks, including one that raged through Oakland causing service interruptions to thousands of customers.

"Today's announcement makes clear who I feel should and should not be part of my administration," Ravenstahl said. "A number of our current directors proved to me that they are the right people for the job."

The directors who will retain their jobs include Guy Costa, public works director; Phillipe Petite, equal opportunity review commission manager; Duane Ashley, parks and recreation director; Howard Stern, city information director; Chief Robert McGaughan, EMS; Fulton Meachem Jr., housing authority executive director; and David Onorato, parking authority executive director.

Additionally, Jerome Dettore, head of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, left the URA for another position after turning in his resignation, deciding not to reapply for his job. On Thursday, Ravenstahl announced that the mayor's economic development director Pat Ford would head up that authority.

"With Mr. Ford at the helm, we will have a strong continuity between my administration and the URA," Ravenstahl said. There have been talks in the past about making the URA part of city government. Ford's ties to the city could certainly serve to speed that process along. After the press conference Ford said that his first priority once he takes over at the URA is to "help develop the mayor's development vision."

Ravenstahl also announced the appointment of Arthur Victor as his new chief of operations; Alecia Sirk, wife of Pat Ford, as his new communications director; and, after spending more than a year as the acting city solicitor, George Specter was named to that position. Ravenstahl said Victor, the former chief of staff to county commissioner Bob Cranmer, will oversee all department heads and report directly to the mayor.

Aside from filling vacancies, the mayor also announced the reinstatement of a full-time public safety director. Fire Chief Mike Huss has been doing both jobs for some time now, but Ravenstahl said, "It has become painfully clear to me that public safety must be a priority in this city."

Huss will replaced at the fire bureau by Darryl Jones, an assistant chief who joined the department two months ago after serving as for 12 years as the fire chief in Aliquippa. Jones will be the city's first African-American fire chief, a fact that he says will be little more than a "piece of trivia" in the future. "I want to be judged on my leadership, my vision and my ability to move forward."

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