Fitzgerald on Port Authority, boards: "I get to set policy." | Blogh

Friday, February 1, 2013

Fitzgerald on Port Authority, boards: "I get to set policy."

Posted By on Fri, Feb 1, 2013 at 4:30 PM

In the wake of Steve Bland being fired from the Port Authority this morning, county executive Rich Fitzgerald reiterated that in his view, county boards and authorities aren't independent.

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.

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