Saying he wants to have more open lines of communication, particularly on issues pertaining to the African-American community, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, his Chief of Staff Jennifer Liptak and County Manager William McKain joined the New Pittsburgh Courier editorial board for the first of what he said could be quarterly meetings.
Though he, of course, wanted to promote his preferred candidate in the Pittsburgh mayoral race, Bill Peduto, he also wanted to tout his record on a number of fronts including fiscal management, dedicated funding for mass transit, and Black participation on development projects and in county government positions.
He also wanted to dispel his characterization, by some, as “King Richard,” rampantly lopping of heads of various county departments.
“When Jim Roddey came in he got rid of 20 department heads. Dan Onorato fired 19. I’ve only fired six,” he said. “Two of those replacements are African-Americans; Elliot Howsie as public defender and the new Warden Orlando Harper, but we have a lot of changes at the deputy director level. Right now, 18 percent of our employees are African-Americans and so are 26 percent of my board appointments.”
While he praised the efforts that resulted in 52 percent of contracts going to minority firms on the K. Leroy Irvis Science Center project at the Community College of Allegheny County, and $127 million of the county human services department’s $650 million budget going to minority firms, only 10 percent of the development contracts go to African-American companies.
“Everyone should share in our improved economy. That hasn’t happened. It’s not easy,” he said. “But Doris (Carson Williams) is giving us recommendations on professional personnel, and has been very helpful with referrals.”
Fitzgerald also noted there has been no backhanded agenda to oust William “Jack” Simmons, who is Black, from his position as director of the Shuman Juvenile Detention Center. But McKain is instituting changes in the wake of the January beating of a juvenile by a guard, which cost the facility its license.
Security is now being handled by county police, and changes to improve overall morale have also been initiated following reports by employees of favoritism, and the county human resources department has taken over hiring of part-time staff, previously done in-house.
“I’m not going to hire, fire or fail to fire someone based on race,” said Fitzgerald.
When it comes to mass transit, Fitzgerald credited Gov. Tom Corbett and Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch with finding state funds for PAT last year after he worked to get union concessions and Regional Asset District funding to reduce the deficit, especially when he has to deal with people like state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry.
Fitzgerald said he was stunned to hear Metcalfe say on May 8 that state funding for South East Pennsylvania Transit Authority “like subsidizing a minority of our population’s bus fare, which is just more welfare.”
Fitzgerald ended the meeting by laughing at the idea that Peduto would be his “puppet” if he became Pittsburgh’s mayor.
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