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Summer of Love Short in Courthouse

County exec talks unity, but city-county cooperation sparks spat.

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Bipartisanship reigned, cooperation was the buzzword, and Dan Onorato was the uncontested leader of Allegheny County on July 13 - for about three hours.

 

At 2 p.m. that day, County Executive Onorato gathered county councilors, state legislators and Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy in the courthouse to tout $404 million in goodies written into the state's recently passed slot machine legislation. He said revenue from slots will eventually help reduce debt on the airport, convention center and city and county development funds; build a new hotel; and fund new infrastructure. Credit for that windfall, he said, belonged to a new spirit of cooperation. "This is the first time in a long time you have the mayor standing here, you have the executive standing here, you have senators and representatives from both parties," Onorato said.

 

Actually, just one of the 13 elected officials who attended was a Republican: state Rep. Mark Mustio, of Moon. That didn't stop Democrat Onorato from expressing optimism that cooperation with the Republican-led state legislature will extend to the effort to fix the city's budget woes.

 

Three hours later, Onorato came before council, at the request of that body's Republican minority. Much of his 90-minute appearance was dominated by tough questions from the Republicans regarding his commitment to lowering taxes, reducing the number of elected county row officers, and involving council in future cooperation efforts with the city. Onorato criticized a proposal to give council veto power over proposals to consolidate city and county functions like their bomb squads, purchasing departments, pet licensing and tax collection. "You're creeping over to the executive function under the Home Rule Charter," he said.

 

Without council involvement, "you're taking 75 percent of the voters out of the equation," countered Councilor Vince Gastgeb, referring to the percentage of county residents who live outside the city.

 

Onorato said he was willing to "go in amicably to court" to determine whether the executive or council has the power to finalize consolidation agreements.

 

Still smarting from being left out of the consolidation of the city and county 911 services, council went ahead and gave itself veto power over consolidations anyway, by a unanimous vote. That set up a possible court contest -- amicable or no -- just as city-county cooperation could become crucial to Pittsburgh's fiscal recovery.

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