Over the Limit | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Over the Limit

In the next few weeks, Pittsburgh Parking Authority board will begin casting votes that could shape the future of the city's parking lots. 

But the future of the people making those decisions is very much in doubt. 

As City Paper reported this summer, members of numerous city boards and authorities are serving under expired terms [See "Whack-a-Pol," July 16]. Most notably, the mayor has failed to replace or reappoint four of the Parking Authority's five board members whose terms have expired. A fifth seat is vacant. 

"Pull the trigger," says Pittsburgh City Council President Doug Shields. "It's not good to have a board sit there that's not under term."

By state law, authority-board members can cast votes until a replacement is named -- even after their terms expire. But they're ultimately serving on borrowed time, since a mayor can remove them whenever he wishes.

Some on council have accused Mayor Luke Ravenstahl of using expired terms as a "strategy" to squelch dissent on city boards and authorities. And with "the Parking Authority [sitting] in the middle of a huge pension storm," Shields says, its board members are especially vulnerable.

Ravenstahl hopes that by leasing the garages, the city could generate more than $200 million to help shore up the pension fund. But parking rates could soar, and there's concern that job losses might follow as well.

Currently, the fund sits about a third full, and Harrisburg had previously threatened to seize control of it. But for now, state officials have given Ravenstahl's plan the OK. 

The mayor's office has put out a call to consulting firms to bid on the job of shepherding a lease through.  Those proposals were due Nov. 4, and city officials plan to finish reviewing them in the next week. On Nov. 19, the Parking Authority board is scheduled to pick a winning firm. With the consultant's help, the city hopes to find a garage operator by next August.

But the consultant chosen this month will be picked by board members whose terms have already expired. The terms of two board members -- management consultant Michael Jasper and former Pittsburgh Steeler L.C. Greenwood -- expired in 2008. Those of two others -- Art Victor, the city's director of operations, and Linda Judson, an Allegheny County judge who recently won a seat on the Superior Court -- expired more than six months ago.

"It's frustrating," says City Councilor Patrick Dowd. 

According to the city's policy manager, Gabe Mazefsky, "There is no problem" with the board's current make-up. "The board is legal," he says. 

Mazefsky promises that "what you'll see is a ... review of appointees by early next year." But by then, the Parking Authority will already have cast important votes concerning leasing city garages. 

Shields, for one, is troubled by the hold-up. "What's up [Ravenstahl's] sleeve at the Parking Authority?" asks Shields. "Lord knows."

Shields says replacing or reappointing board members after their terms expire is "Government 101 stuff." 

Actually, it's more complicated than that. City officials can't even agree on what laws they should be reading for guidance. 

Some city councilors argue that the city is in violation of its Home Rule Charter, which requires that "a member of council shall serve on each authority board." No current councilor serves on the Parking Authority. 

Shields also points to another provision of the charter, which states that if the mayor fails to fill a vacancy within 60 days, "council may fill the vacancy." 

The charter enables the city to do anything not prohibited by state law. And Jennifer Case says state law -- specifically the Municipal Authorities Act -- seems to allow council to choose its own board members. 

"City council has the power to appoint a new member," says Case, a government-relations liaison for the Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Association.

Mazefsky disagrees. He cites another law -- the Parking Authority Law of Pennsylvania -- as the governing principle. And the Parking Authority law says nothing about giving city council a seat on the board, or the power to appoint replacements.  

"It doesn't make sense to me," says Shields. "What authority [does council] have?"

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