Democratic senators propose reforms for Pittsburgh’s Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority
Top Democratic lawmakers in the state Senate on Friday introduced legislation designed to reform an embattled state watchdog overseeing Pittsburgh’s finances, drawing the strong support of several powerful GOP leaders.
Spearheaded by Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, and Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Brookline, Senate Bill 1221 seeks to make the Pittsburgh Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority more accountable to the legislators who created it in 2004, the taxpayers who fund it and City Hall.
“The purpose of this legislation is to provide oversight to a board and an agency that were supposed to be providing oversight of the city. Which sounds silly when you say it, but it’s important to make these reforms,” said Fontana.
If enacted, the legislation will force ICA to:
• Follow the state’s Right to Know and document retention laws to safeguard financial records from destruction;
• Bar advisers, consultants, employees and board members from unfairly profiting from agency contracts;
• Detail annually the financial health of Pittsburgh, ICA’s spending and the flow of Rivers Casino gambling revenue into city coffers;
• Fix its defunct website so citizens can read ICA records;
• Report city wrongdoing it uncovers; and,
• Disappear after ICA’s board approves three consecutive city budgets and five-year spending plans.
The ICA works alongside a similar state body established under Act 47 authority to help solve Pittsburgh’s long-term financial problems. A dozen years ago, the city was $1 billion in debt and teetered on bankruptcy.
The reform package arrives in the wake of a series of Tribune-Review stories that uncovered the apparent mass destruction or loss of ICA financial records.
The Trib revealed that the ICA’s executive director, Henry Sciortino, received federal bankruptcy protection from 2010-11 after being accused in court documents of running a string of sham companies out of his West Chester home to hide his assets from an ex-business partner who won a civil judgment against him.
The Allegheny County District Attorney’s office, the state’s Auditor General and Attorney General and the FBI are investigating the ICA and its only employee, Sciortino. On April 20, DA detectives raided ICA’s Downtown headquarters and removed dozens of boxes of documents and the agency’s computer system, but they have filed no criminal charges. Sciortino could not be reached.
Five days earlier, the five voting members of the ICA voted to let Sciortino’s month-to-month contract expire. He is slated to exit the agency on May 31.
The bill is co-sponsored by powerful Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson County, plus fellow senators Guy Reschenthaler, R-Jefferson Hills; Rob Teplitz, D-Susquehanna County; Randy Vulakovich, R-Shaler; James R. Brewster, D-McKeesport; John T. Yudichak, D-Luzerne County; and Vincent J. Hughes, D-Philadelphia.
“We have bipartisan support for this, so we don’t how you could stand against this,” said Fontana, who believes the ICA should be eliminated quickly to “get rid of this extra layer of government bureaucracy that doesn’t even need to be there.”
The Senate will reconvene May 9 with the bill marked for committee hearings. If fast-tracked through the legislature, it could become law in June.
State House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Marshall, signaled his support for the measures in an emailed statement to the Trib.
“The ICA has successfully functioned as a fiscal watchdog over the City of Pittsburgh but changes are clearly necessary. We applaud (ICA board member) Mike Danovitz who under trying circumstances insisted on sound fiscal management to improve the fiscal state of the city.”
Danovitz, a Downtown attorney and accountant, is a Democrat who represents the conservative Turzai on the board.
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto’s administration is in litigation with the ICA board to compel the release of what soon will be $20 million in gambling revenue earmarked for the city but withheld by the agency in a budget battle.
“I’m happy Senate leadership is joining us in calling for good government reforms at the ICA, including better oversight over the funds long overdue to our taxpayers. To make the reforms more ironclad, I urge the Senate to consider changes to the agency’s no-bid contracting procedures as well,” Peduto wrote in an email to the Trib.
On March 29, the ICA board voluntarily adopted a list of internal reforms long sought by Peduto, including competitively bidding all ICA contracts valued at more than $10,000. The state legislature could make those changes permanent by tweaking the bill.
Editor’s Note: This story is one in an occasional series on the ICA. To view the entire series online, go to TribLIVE.com/PittsburghICA/.
Carl Prine is a Tribune-Review investigative reporter. Reach him at 412-320-7826 or [email protected].