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Going through the Motions

We sit through City Council so you don't have to

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In January, many people thought there would be a shift in the way city council voted. Before councilors Ricky Burgess, Bruce Kraus and Patrick Dowd were elected, there was often a strong five-member bloc that tended to vote with the mayor's office.

But since Dowd came on council, it's often been unclear where his vote would go. In the recent Lamar billboard legal-fees flap, even though Dowd also appealed Lamar's permit -- as a private citizen -- he voted not to pay the legal fees for four councilors who appealed in their official capacity as elected officials.

In fact, that situation has gotten downright heated. But if politics stays true to form, a mini-feud on council with a long life could provide Doug Shields, Bill Peduto, Burgess and Kraus with that fifth vote -- especially when Dowd is on the other side.

During the recent dust-up between Shields and Dowd over the legal bills, Councilor Darlene Harris accused Dowd of playing politics. Harris, the former long-time at-large school-board member, was ousted by Dowd in 2003, a move that launched his political career.

On July 8, during a vote to approve an amendment to the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority sewage service in Robinson Township, Harris and Dowd mixed it up a little again.

While the bill is not particularly contentious, Harris had some questions about the project, and said she wanted to see the "contract and paperwork before I vote." On July 8, she said she hadn't received the packet of information until 9:35 a.m. that day.

Her request was rebuffed by both Councilor Jim Motznik, who phoned into the meeting from vacation, and Dowd. Motznik asked that the measure not be sent back to committee, so as not to delay ongoing development in the area at a cost of "hundreds of thousands of dollars."

Dowd added that Harris' questions from last week were "not germane" to the bill, and said council needed to "dispense with this business." But Harris countered that the packet she received was an inch thick. "We don't have one council member who speaks for all of us," she said. "All I'm asking for is one week, seven days, to review this information."

Her request was passed 6-3, with Councilor Dan Deasy joining Dowd and Motznik.

"I'm in favor of this measure," Burgess said of the ALCOSAN agreement. "But I really don't see the harm in giving Mrs. Harris the extra time she needs to exercise her right to do her due diligence."

Last week, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review ran a story on how Dowd may have lost his political capital during the billboard flap. It will be interesting to see how much of that capital has been scooped up by Harris.

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