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Dawida, Cranmer reclaim power to hire, fire

Thursday, November 12, 1998

By Mark Belko, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

A year after delegating it to two top-level administrators, Allegheny County Commissioners Mike Dawida and Bob Cranmer have reclaimed their authority to sign paperwork hiring and firing people, awarding pay raises and making other personnel moves.

Commissioner Larry Dunn quickly accused his colleagues of moving to "put their fingers into patronage" in anticipation of next year's county executive race, in which all three commissioners are candidates.

Cranmer and Dawida denied it, saying they were just trying to keep a closer eye on the county's personnel practices.

"It's actually an attempt to make sure the mess he created will be cleaned up," Dawida said, referring to Dunn's brief tenure as commissioners' chairman. "Frankly when you're in the deficit we're in, the patronage just isn't there."

"There's nothing underhanded or devious," Cranmer said.

Without fanfare, he and Dawida instructed county Controller Frank Lucchino last month to honor their signatures on paperwork hiring and firing people, awarding pay raises and authorizing transfers, promotions and demotions.

A year ago, in a directive to Lucchino, they had relinquished that authority to county Manager Glenn Cannon and Budget Director Carmen Torockio.

At the time, Cranmer said: "We bring professionals on to manage and we have to give them the flexibility to manage."

Before then, personnel actions required signatures of two of the three commissioners.

Dawida and Cranmer's new directive did not strip Cannon and Torockio of the authority. It instructed Lucchino to honor two commissioners' signatures on paperwork as well. That gave the commissioners the ability to override or bypass their administrators.

One event that apparently triggered the decision was Torockio's refusal to sign paperwork authorizing 18 percent pay raises for three assistant solicitors.

They were requested by Solicitor Kerry Fraas as part of a reorganization. Torockio and Cannon had decided to limit raises to a maximum 15 percent. Fraas appealed to Cranmer, who told Torockio to honor the request. But Torockio continued to resist.

Cranmer said Fraas had planned and budgeted for the raises. He also said Torockio had no business holding them up.

"Kerry doesn't come under the supervision and control of Glenn and Carmen. They really don't have a right to argue with Kerry on that point," he said.

Cranmer said Torockio also delayed hirings in the public defender's office that were authorized as part of a court settlement. He said Torockio was "dead set" against the hirings. He said he feared the commissioners would be held in contempt of court if they were not approved.

Torockio declined to comment on specific cases but said he had no problem with Cranmer and Dawida reclaiming their authority.

"I think they should have that right. They are the commissioners of the county. Glenn and I aren't," he said.

Fraas and Cannon declined comment.

Dunn, who faced questions about his own hirings as chairman, called the move "typical hypocrisy on the part of Cranmer and Dawida. They talk good government and they do old-time politics."

Cranmer and Dawida said there would be no pre-election payroll padding, given the county's projected $9 million budget shortfall for next year.

"We're not hiring anyone in an election year, believe me. Not with the deficit we have," Cranmer said.

Dawida said he thought the system "needs to be watched a little closer" and that he wanted to review all paperwork.

Dawida pointed to a report in yesterday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that two county departments -- Children, Youth and Families and Mental Health/Mental Retardation -- may have violated civil service regulations by hiring through employment agencies rather than using state-mandated procedures.

"The theory that I'm in charge is one I take seriously. My goal is not to create patronage or any of that nonsense ... but to move the paperwork through the system efficiently and effectively," he said.

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