b. have a personal or private interest in any legislation proposed or pending before council, unless they;
1. disclose the fact to council; and,
2. refrain from voting or participating in the discussion of the matter;
Section 1102: DEFINITIONS "Conflict" or "conflict of interest." Use by a public official or public employee of the authority of his office or employment or any confidential information received through his holding public office or employment for the private pecuniary benefit of himself...
With all that in mind, today we read:
Mr. Motznik said the four should have gone through a competitive process to choose a law firm, and then sought council approval before incurring the expense. If they want the bill to be paid now, they should do it out of their office allocations for staff and services, he said. (P-G, Majors and Lord)
Much seems to hinge on who will be identified on the invoice of attorney Hugh McGough, and to whom he ultimately would send collections notices.
Doug Shields and the other three members of Council acted forthrightly in the public interest, as public servants are to be expected. Yet if in the final analysis they acted with greater valor than discretion -- if Mr. McGough cannot or will not simply bill the City of Pittsburgh directly -- it is hard to see how the individuals named on his invoice will not be subject to the harsh strictures placed upon conflicts of interest.
It appears that Councilman Motznik is correct on this one.
(Pause for effect)
These four council members will have to recuse themselves or lose their jobs, it seems -- or else take an extraordinary risk that some higher authority will side with them on the merits, considering the extenuating circumstances and challenges -- a risk few politicians would dare take, let alone all four out of four.
How can we resolve new understanding this with our previous editorial? Very easily.
Since the work undertaken by Hugh McGough was both necessary and useful -- since it was critical in engineering a good and valuable outcome for city residents -- and especially since the city Law Department recused itself from fulfilling this responsibility for the council members as normally required -- those council members who hired him in good faith ought to be reimbursed for their expenses, even if they cannot act to make it so themselves.
Council members Dan Deasy, Darlene Harris, Jim Motznik and Tonya Payne (and Patrick Dowd, if possible) should all support the legislation releasing these funds. Councilwoman Harris is already to be commended for comprehending the justice of this action. The others should follow suit, putting politics aside and declining to simply exact a measure of vengeance on Lamar Advertising's behalf.
Better still, Mayor Ravenstahl should instruct the city Law Department to reimburse the four council members from its own funding allocation. It is not the council members' fault that the Law Department was pulled in several directions at the same time during this fiasco, and it is certainly not their fault that they came up victorious.
To do anything less would be to invite a level of acrimony and mistrust into City Hall that would be entirely unnecessary, and would not heal quickly.