Tube City Almanac

January 04, 2011

Raucous Meeting Kicks Off City Council's 2011

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Several candidates for mayor of McKeesport apparently held their first, unofficial debate Tuesday night in city council chambers.

Officially, council was assembled to appoint a new president and vice president, and to set the agenda for Wednesday's regular scheduled meeting. But four council members and at least one other official are rumored to be considering a campaign for the city's top position.

As a result, the likely rivals and Interim Mayor Regis McLaughlin squared off Tuesday night for an hour over what otherwise appeared to be routine items, including the reappointment of city Solicitor J. Jason Elash and language in the city's 2011 budget, which was approved last month.

. . .

The first heated exchange came at the city's reorganization meeting.

On a motion made by Councilman Dale McCall and seconded by Councilwoman Loretta Diggs, Councilman Michael Cherepko was elected president of council by 5-2 vote. Councilmen Darryl Segina and A.J. Tedesco voted no. Diggs was elected vice president of council unanimously.

Cherepko then addressed a story by Patrick Cloonan in Tuesday's Daily News in which McLaughlin said he had dismissed Elash effective Dec. 31.

"It is our opinion here on council that under the terms of the city charter, the position of solicitor is not vacated until it is approved by council," Cherepko said.

. . .

That brought a sharp rebuke from Segina, who said Cherepko could speak only for himself, not on behalf of council. Cherepko and Segina are both reportedly planning to run for mayor; Cherepko has the backing of former mayor Jim Brewster, now a state senator.

Asked by Walker why he wanted to remove Elash, McLaughlin declined comment, saying it was "a personnel matter."

On a motion by McCall and seconded by Diggs, council voted 4-3 to name Elash "special counsel" at a salary of $60,000. Segina, Tedesco and Councilman Richard Dellapenna dissented.

Cherepko said that he intends to introduce a resolution at Wednesday's council meeting to re-appoint Elash as city solicitor.

. . .

Following the reorganization meeting, council held its regular monthly agenda meeting, which usually takes only a few minutes. This month, however, council engaged in a lengthy debate over a proposal to reappoint Ed Coulter as the city's emergency management coordinator.

Under the proposal, Coulter would be paid $12,000 per year for the part-time position.

Several councilors, including Segina and Tedesco, questioned why the numbers on the budget approved on Dec. 1 didn't correspond with the line items on a spreadsheet presented to council later in the month by City Administrator Dennis Pittman.

. . .

The budget authorized a total appropriation for Coulter's department of $25,000, which Pittman said includes Coulter's salary plus expenses to run the office.

But Segina said the spreadsheet showed only $12,000, and said he had voted on the budget based upon the spreadsheet, not the ordinance.

Segina and Tedesco questioned whether someone had "changed the numbers" after council voted. Cherepko exploded. "Can you read?" he said, holding up the spreadsheet. "I didn't vote on this. I voted on the budget ordinance."

The budget ordinance adopted on Dec. 1 set general appropriations for each department, but did not break down exact line items, Elash said. Putting the line items into the ordinance would tie the city's hands and prevent it from re-allocating money within a specific department, he said.

. . .

City Controller Ray Malinchak --- also rumored to be considering a run for mayor --- questioned whether Coulter's expenses should be included in the mayor's budget, since the position reports to the mayor.

"With all due respect, I think that's 100 percent wrong," Pittman said. "The expenses that accrue to that position should stay in that part of the budget."

Council also clashed over a proposal to officially lease a house on the so-called Palkovitz property to a tenant who has lived there for at least a decade. The property, soon to be incorporated into Renziehausen Park, was acquired by the city in 2009 in lieu of delinquent taxes.

. . .

Other items on council's agenda for Wednesday include creation of a subdivision between Old Long Run Road and Marshall Drive Extension; and a lease on an empty, unfinished warehouse in the city's Third Ward. Currently owned by Allegheny County, the warehouse was built by the now-defunct Capco Contracting Co. and is being used for boat storage by McKees Point Marina.

Council meets at 7 p.m. in the Public Safety Building (former Municipal Building), 201 Lysle Blvd. at Market Street.

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Feedback on “Raucous Meeting Kicks Off City Council's 2011”

Wow. Just wow.
SusanLu - January 05, 2011

And people wonder why things don’t ever get done here. Everyone wants to be in charge, and they don’t care how they get there.

Welcome back to the Dark Ages, McKeesport. Hopefully I’ll be long gone by the time the bubonic plague sets in, and I’m not talking about the catfish in Lake Emilie. Speaking of which, has the royal court chosen a jester?
John - January 05, 2011

The Mayor is completely in his rights per the Home Rule Charter to dispose of the Solicitor. Mr. Cherepko’s out of place motion along with Diggs, Walker and McCall’s votes just unbalanced the budget to the tune of $60,000.

Political activity by the Solicitor was illegal under the Home Rule Charter. He chose his own fate.

Nice shot John. You applying? :)
Paul - January 05, 2011

Before this devolves into a political argument, which I will not tolerate:

The city charter (at Sec. 13.7-709) gives the mayor authority to “appoint, suspend or remove all City employees except as otherwise provided by law or by this Charter.”

The italics are mine. I am not a lawyer, but I suspect that clause is important, because there is a separate section of the charter (at Sec. 13.10-1001) authorizing the mayor to appoint the city attorney. That section does not expressly give the mayor authority to fire the city attorney.

That’s very unlike the charter’s language regarding the city administrator, for instance, who can be removed by the mayor “at any time with or without cause.” (See Sec. 13.9-904.)

It could be argued that the language of the charter is ambiguous. After all, if the mayor has authority to fire the city administrator and other employees, why not the attorney? In that case, the matter would need to be decided by a judge.

The mayor does have the power to veto ordinances, resolutions and contracts approved by city council. So if council approves a contract over the mayor’s objections, the mayor could veto the action. Council would then have to override the veto.

Finally, the annual budget of the city Law Department is $120,000. If the $60,000 is coming out of that annual $120,000, the city is not over-budget, unless the city appoints another attorney and pays him or her more than $60,000.
Webmaster - January 05, 2011


No political argument from me. I stand corrected on the budget for the Law Department. I thought Council had reworked that and offered the Solicitor $60,000. Perhaps this was in the spreadsheet quoted in today’s Daily News and not the Ordnance. In any event, I was incorrect.

I do disagree on the legal argument though. As you quoted, the Mayor can fire any city employee and nowhere in the Charter does it say that he can’t fire the Attorney, therefore, there is no “except as otherwise provided by law or by this Charter” to hang a legal argument on in my opinion.

Have a good night and enjoy the meeting.

Paul - January 05, 2011

BTW, Thank you for giving me the opportunity to post contrarian positions to city political matters.
Paul - January 05, 2011

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