Monday, December 8, 2008
The Pittsburgh city council voted today to hire a lawyer for its exclusive use but that person’s pay will come out of the city legal department’s budget. All but councilman Jim Motznik felt the council needed a lawyer at their disposal to answer questions about drafting legislation and taking stances on certain issues. Several members complained that the 14 lawyer staff of the legal department was so over worked that it often took too long to get answers to their pressing needs. Motznik argued that the post could not be reasonably filled for the $66,000 budgeted and felt the post was not needed in general. Councilman Bill Peduto and Doug Shields argued that the position should be put under the council’s budget to eliminate any possible conflict of interest. The concern was that the ultimate boss of that lawyer would be a mayoral appointee. Had the position been added to the council’s budget it would have needed approval from the oversight board because it would have grown that line item by more than 5 percent over what the board had approved. The salary would not have been enough to trip that trigger if it would be added elsewhere in the budget. Councilmember Bruce Krauss says the council will work diligently to make sure the new employee will not feel pressure from the legal department but still have access to the assets and advice of that department. He says he will also join Peduto and Shields in an effort to move the position into the Council’s budget in the next year. The post is called for by the home rule charter and its need became apparent to several council members when it went against the mayor’s office over approval of an electronic billboard.