State Rep. Erin Molchany (D-South Hills) will host a House Democratic Policy Committee public hearing on transportation funding on Feb. 20.
“Comprehensive statewide transportation funding can be the silver bullet," Molchany said in a press release. " We just need to do this right and pass a funding bill that is clean, comprehensive, and — most importantly — complete."
The hearing will collect testimony from local stakeholders on the region's need and vision for transportation. The hearing will be held at 1 p.m. Wed., Feb. 20, at the Sheraton, 300 W. Station Square. The hearing is open to the public.
Citing the amount of funding the county gives entities like the transit agency, Fitzgerald said that "at the end of the day, policy and direction of an agency is going to be by my administration" and county council.
Bland was fired, he said, because he wasn't receptive to ideas from Fitzgerald, wasn't an effective lobbyist and was disconnected from drivers and mechanics.
As we've noted previously, Fitzgerald inserted himself in contract negotiations with Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85 this summer which led to significant concessions, a linchpin to state funding to stave off massive service cuts.
Fitzgerald told reporters today that talks "broke down" under Bland's leadership.
"It got so bad during negotiations we had to take over," Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald also referenced Bland's relationship with Harrisburg legislators, some of whom we've previously noted were displeased with his constant criticism of lawmakers on finding a dedicated funding source for transportation.
The county executive also pointed out service issues, including one last May in which light-rail riders experienced significant delays on the weekend of the Pittsburgh Marathon, a Pirates game and a concert.
"People were losing confidence in that system," Fitzgerald said. "And they didn't call the nine board members; most people don't know who they are ... But calls came to my office. The calls came to me. We get the calls ... and we're the ones people vote for."
Fitzgerald confirmed that he asks board members to submit signed, undated resignation letters, as former health department director Bruce Dixon alleged in a lawsuit stemming from his own ouster. Fitzgerald could use such a letter to force the departure of any board member he wished, but Fitzgerald says at the Port Authority, not every member has signed a resignation letter. No one on any board has stepped down from their post as a result of those letters being on file, he added.
Fitzgerald also confirmed he'd originally been looking to tap Port Authority board member and former turnpike chief Joe Brimmeier to lead the agency in the interim, but decided against it. He said that Brimmeier was not a candidate for the post long-term.
He balked at criticisms over Brimmeier's past at the Turnpike, which is currently under investigation.
"I've been disappointed" with such criticisms, Fitzgerald said. "Joe is a guy who worked his way up through the ranks ... He's always been a civil servant."
Fitzgerald also said he offered the interim post to other Port Authority administrators, but declined to elaborate.
He said the idea of appointing authority CFO Ellen McLean to act as interim leader was the board's idea.
"I've never met the woman, to be honest," he says.
A divided Port Authority board today fired CEO Steve Bland, and appointed an interim director while it conducts a national search for a replacement. And while controversial board member Joseph Brimmeier was not installed in Bland's place, a shake-up of the board's leadership has left allies of County Executive Rich Fitzgerald holding the reins.
Bland, who took the post in June 2006, was fired on a 5-3 vote. Board members Jeff Letwin, Connie Parker, Brimmeier, Tom Donatelli and John Tague voted in favor of the move. Amanda Green Hawkins, Mavis Rainey and Eddie Edwards voted against it. Former board chair Jack Brooks didn't vote: Brooks said he didn't have to as board chairman, as he proposed the measure to terminate Bland without cause. That move allowed Bland to collect severance pay.
Prior to voting, Green Hawkins said Bland should have an opportunity to "confront his accusers" in a hearing.
"What I have witnessed has been a concerted and methodical effort to get rid of Steve," she said. "Thus Steve has become collateral damage or collaterally damaged in all of this -- treated as something readily discarded and not without the dignity and respect that we all want."
Green Hawkins, a county councilor who was appointed to the board in 2011 -- before Fitzgerald was elected -- says Bland made hard choices in tough economic times to keep public transit running.
"No chief executive, or for that matter, no man is perfect," she said. "But I see nothing that demonstrates Steve's imperfections warrant termination without a hearing."
According to multiple sources, Port Authority board member and former turnpike chief Joe Brimmeier will not be tapped by county executive Rich Fitzgerald to head up the transit agency. Sources tell City Paper that current CEO Steve Bland's departure is still likely to be announced tomorrow at the agency's board meeting, however.
As we noted earlier this morning, rumors of Brimmeier's potential appointment have attracted increasingly public concern, and folks within Fitzgerald's inner circle have also expressed discontent with the idea.
Count former Gov. Ed Rendell among those not too concerned about the possibility that former Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission head Joe Brimmeier could take over the Port Authority.
Rendell, who as governor appointed Brimmeier to the Turnpike post, says Brimmeier "did a great job."
"The turnpike ran incredibly well," Rendell tells City Paper. "It was an effective agency in doing its job."
Rendell specifically praised the turnpike's snow-removal efforts during inclement weather, and lauded its handling of toll raises in 2004 and 2008. (The 2008 increase stemmed from Rendell's own transportation-funding plan, Act 44.The law obliged the Turnpike to pay $450 million a year to PennDOT, and has since been blamed for subsequent Turnpike woes.) Rendell said he had no criticisms of the way Brimmeier did the job. "I often would get anonymous letters about secretary this or secretary that, but none of that about Joe, no reports or anything," Rendell says.
Asked about an ongoing state grand jury investigation into the turnpike for its hiring, contracting and political practices among other concerns about Brimmeier's past, Rendell says "I don't know anything about that."
"Do I know how he handled his interpersonal things on personnel? No, I don't know. Do I know how he dealt with contracts? I have no idea," Rendell says. "No problems ever reached my desk."
And asked about rumors swirling around his own political career, most recently that he was a contender of Mayor of New York City, Rendell says he wants to do transportation lobbying advocacy work with Building America's Future, a group he co-chairs with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
"I think I can do more to advance the cause of investing in transportation infrastructure from the outside then the inside," he says. "And I don't think New Yorkers would vote for an Eagles fan."
While State Sen. Jim Ferlo hasn't been thrilled with outgoing Port Authority CEO Steve Bland, he says he's disappointed with how a change in leadership is coming about at the transit agency.
"I don't think it should be so contentious," he says. "There is enough citizen criticism and disappointment with PAT leadership. I hate to see the board divided. It's not the way to have a smooth transition with a divided board consumed by politics."
The board is reportedly divided over whether to fire Bland at the behest of county executive Rich Fitzgerald. Bland has been chief executive officer since 2006. In 2011, his contract was extended until 2014 and there have been no vocal complaints of his tenure by board directors at monthly board meetings in at least two years. Fitzgerald has reportedly been meeting with board members individually, according to sources.
"I guess [Fitzgerald] is the type of person who wants his own people at the various authorities and agencies," says Ferlo. "I can't blame him for that, it's a new sheriff in town."
Ferlo reiterated that Bland has lost some support from the Allegheny County state delegation for constantly criticizing Harrisburg politicians for not solving the state's transportation funding debacle.
"Bland was obviously the spokesperson and at times he'd keep focusing the attention and deflecting criticism back to the state legislature," Ferlo says. "People like myself and others get a little upset about that. We don't have any director or board rep on the PAT board when more than 60% of revenue comes from state resources and authorizations."
And while he says he personally likes former turnpike chief Joseph Brimmeier, the rumored next, albeit controversial, leader of the agency, at least on an interim basis, "I think given the type of salary it pays and the need for a transportation professional....there could have been an effort to do a search, whether it be regionally or nationally," Ferlo says. "But then again, that's the kind of thing to the victor goes the spoils, and the victor is Mr. [Fitzgerald]."
State funding that was a lynchpin in the Port Authority's funding package for the year is not in jeopardy if the agency undergoes leadership changes, even to a controversial figure like board member and former head of the PA Turnpike Commission Joseph Brimmeier.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has so far paid the Port Authority $9.3 million of $30 million committed for this year.
"The funding was part of Governor Corbett’s commitment to sustaining public transportation for the citizens of Pittsburgh and surrounding communities in exchange for the Port Authority agreeing to real, long term cost-containment reforms that addressed their budget's structural problems in the years ahead," says Steve Chizmar, PennDOT spokesman, in an email. "The funding is not in jeopardy."
Chizmar says transportation secretary Barry Schoch "has enjoyed and continues to enjoy" a working relationship with authority CEO Steve Bland, who county executive Rich Fitzgerald will likely ouster at tomorrow's board meeting.
"If the decision is reached to replace him, [Schoch] hopes that there is careful consideration given to his replacement and future direction of the Port Authority," Chizmar says.
As for the potential appointment of Brimmeier, the former CEO of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission whose tenure has been clouded by charges of nepotism and cronyism and multiple state and federal investigations, Chizmar says: "Transit is a complicated business to operate efficiently. It is always critical that transit management has transit experience and is qualified to manage the agency."
Federal funds, at least from the Federal Transit Administration, are also not in jeopardy. According to the FTA, the agency has no role in actions regarding executive leadership of agencies that receive FTA funds. The authority received $38.5 million in FTA funding in Fiscal Year 2012.
Some local lawmakers aren't happy with the way Port Authority CEO Steve Bland called them out while lobbying for transportation funding in Harrisburg and that could be contributing to county executive Rich Fitzgerald trying to oust Bland as head of the agency.
State Senator Wayne Fontana (D-Brookline) says Bland often pointed the finger wrongly at the Allegheny County delegation for lack of effort to get a state transportation funding solution in place.
"A lot of us, I think, behind the scenes felt he was pointing specifically at us rather then the ones who were really in the way, like the Governor," Fontana tells City Paper. "We just felt he singled us out when we're here fighting."
Fontana says that Bland had an "indifferent attitude" to county lawmakers. "His attitude was a lot of times...'Just get it done, I don't care about Democrat/Republican stuff'," he says. The agency has pointed squarely at Harrisburg as holding the key to fix the funding crisis and Bland hasn't been shy about directing criticism there either.
"It bothered me. Why would you call out the people you knew were advocating for you?" Fontana says. "We were all over this. He knew that."
"It went well until his funding got cut and he wasn’t able to get more funding," Fontana says. "When it came to crunch time he didn’t seem to know how to crunch it." Fontana also faults Bland for implementing a 15% service cut in Mach 2011, saying that some of the routes cut were "questionable." He also has questioned the authority's decision to spread out a one-time funding flex from former Gov. Ed Rendell.
Regardless, Fontana says its up to Fitzgerald to hire and fire as he sees fit and that state lawmakers only offer opinions about "how to lobby in Harrisburg," not personnel decisions. But he does say that it seems like Bland no longer wants to be there since he's been a candidate for jobs at other transit agencies.
"The guy's been out looking for work; I have to assume he's uncomfortable there," Fontana says. "This is a county authority. I would think Rich would want to surround himself with people who have the same philosophy."
"It's been something that's brewing," Fontana says. "I'm not shocked Rich wants makes a change. When you see a guy looking for other jobs, he either sees it coming or wants it to come."
The agency's board was expected to take action on Bland's fate this morning, but the meeting was postponed to next Friday.
The Port Authority today postponed a meeting that was expected to determine the future of its CEO.
As KDKA reported last night, authority CEO Steve Bland is facing pressure from county executive Rich Fitzgerald to resign or be fired.
The board will meet at 9:30 a.m. Fri., Feb. 1. Port Authority spokesman Jim Ritchie declined comment as to why the meeting was postponed and declined to comment on the allegations that's Bland's future is uncertain. Fitzgerald's spokeswoman, Amie Downes, also declined comment.
We'll have more on this as it unfolds. Stay tuned.
The Port Authority of Allegheny County is looking for volunteers to participate in two test pilot programs for new technologies.
In the first program, riders will test the authority's new Interactive Voice Response system for transit schedule information by phone. The system provides automated voice-activated/touch-tone transit information 24/7. It will decrease wait times on the authority's customer service phone line. For more information or to sign up, visit here.
The transit agency is also piloting a new online account management tool for its ConnectCard program, a smartcard fare system. The online system will allow riders to manage their account from a computer.
For this program, the authority is seeking riders who regularly ride any of the following bus routes:
51L Carrick Limited
52L Homeville Limited
53 Homestead Park
53L Homestead Park Limited
56 Lincoln Place
59 Mon Valley
60 Walnut-Crawford Village
61A Wilkinsburg via Forbes Avenue
65 Squirrel Hill
81 Oak Hill
P3 East Busway-Oakland
P7 McKeesport Flyer
P76 Lincoln Highway Flyer
Y1 Large Flyer
Y45 Baldwin Manor Flyer
Y46 Elizabeth Flyer
Y47 Curry Flyer
Y49 Prospect Flyer
Riders interested in participating in this pilot can find more information and sign up here.
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