The Port Authority of Allegheny County voted 5 -3 Friday to oust CEO Stephen Bland. Bland has served as head of the Port Authority since 2006, but recently, rumors of friction between him and County Executive Rich Fitzgerald have circulated. Fitzgerald has been critical of Bland over budget numbers, union relations, and service cuts.
The “no” votes came from board veterans Mavis Rainey, Eddie Edwards Jr., and Amanda Green Hawkins.
“What I have witnessed has been a concerted and methodical effort to get rid of Steve,” said Green, “thus Steve has become the collateral damage, or collaterally damaged in all of this. Treated as something to be readily discarded and not with the dignity and respect that we all want, and that meets my collective bargaining and due process sensibilities.”
Those voting to fire Bland included four members appointed by Fitzgerald: Joe Brimmeier, Connie Parker, John Tague, and Tom Donatelli. Jeff Letwin was appointed by the previous county executive, he also voted to oust Bland.
Bland’s dismissal is effective immediately; as per his contract, he will be paid $92,500, which is half a year’s salary. The board approved the appointment of current Chief Financial Officer Ellen McLean as interim Port Authority CEO. A national search for a permanent replacement will begin immediately.
Community groups hope that process is as open as possible and includes the public.
“Transparency, from our perspective, has grown tremendously in the last six years and that has to continue both in terms of who is selected, but also in terms of how the selection process itself goes,” said Chris Sandvig, regional policy directory for Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group.
The Port Authority Board also approved structural changes Friday. James Letwin is the new Chair, Tom Donatelli is vice-chair, John Tague is secretary, and Connie Parker is treasurer. All new officers are Fitzgerald appointees.
The Port Authority has roughly 2,400 employees and serves more than 214,000 riders on an average weekday. The Authority’s nearly $283 million operating budget comes from a mix of Federal, state, and county funds along with income from fares and advertising.