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Allegheny County: Roddey gets rolling

Newly elected county executive wants to name county manager, transition team soon

Thursday, November 04, 1999

By Mark Belko, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Wasting little time in getting his administration on course, Allegheny County Executive-Elect Jim Roddey said yesterday he plans to form an "ecumenical" search committee to find candidates for county manager and will name some members of his transition team Monday.

  Jim Roddey shares a laugh with reporters yesterday at his first news conference since winning the race for county executive. (Lake Fong, Post-Gazette)

At a post-election press conference, Roddey, who defeated Coroner Dr. Cyril Wecht Tuesday to win the county's first executive race, reiterated his plans to make economic development the top priority of his administration, suggesting a possible multicounty economic development council as an integral part of that strategy.

But during the next few weeks at least, Roddey will concern himself with the nuts and bolts of his new job, starting with the transition team and the important post of county manager, the person who will run the day-to-day operations of county government.

He said he also plans to start meeting with county departments next week as well as with the newly elected 15-member County Council. Though Democrats won 10 the seats, Roddey, in keeping with his message of consensus-building, said he sees the council members, Republicans and Democrats, as "people who care about this community," not partisan politicians.

"I'm looking forward to working with them. I don't see a problem," he said.

Roddey said he would head the bipartisan committee he plans to name within the next few days to begin the search for manager. He said he expects recommendations back from the committee within two to three weeks and he hopes to name his choice "as soon as possible, hopefully to be in place by Jan. 1."

  More on the election:

Allegheny County election analysis: Was it the message or just luck?

PG Online chart: County executive votes by municipality

Allegheny County Council theme is cooperation

GOP stalwart Elsie Hillman has backed many winners

Additional coverage and results on PG Online's Election '99 page


Roddey refused to discuss possible candidates, though he noted that he hoped to name a manager who lives in Allegheny County. He did not rule out the county's current manager, Glenn Cannon, saying: "He would certainly be one of the people we would consider."

Under the county's home rule charter, the manager would be in charge of all day-to-day operations, including hiring and firing and other personnel decisions. He also would carry out policies established by the executive and the County Council and help prepare budgets each year.

Roddey has said he plans to delegate great authority to the manager while he concentrates on the larger issue of economic development.

Toward that end, Roddey said, an important duty of his transition team will be to write a plan that will serve as the blueprint for economic development in the county. The Republican plans to name the chairman of the transition team and its leadership on Monday.

He also said he sees that development effort going beyond Allegheny County to adjacent counties. For that reason he wants to create a development council whose members would include officials from surrounding counties and perhaps a rotating chairmanship.

"We must cross those borders. We have an obligation in the county to deliver services within the borders of Allegheny County. But we've got to take those borders down when it comes to economic development," he said.

Roddey would not say whether he would keep Mulugetta Birru, director of the county Department of Economic Development, in his job, though he said he would retain the joint economic development operation. Birru also heads the city's Urban Redevelopment Authority.

"I think the joint economic development department is an absolute must. We must work together with the city. That is critical. So I would absolutely make a commitment to keep that form of operation," he said.

Roddey wouldn't say what current county directors he would keep or let go, saying he planned to announce his full slate of administrators around Jan. 1.

"We have some very good directors, so I'm hoping you'll see a government that is reflective of those that are doing their job well," he said.

Besides the hiring of a manager and creation of an economic development plan, Roddey listed his top priorities as developing an administrative code that would serve as the road map for running the new government and an ethics code that would govern public officials and employees.

He also indicated that he will go slow in implementing one of the more controversial issues of the campaign: his plan to form a nonprofit corporation to run the four John J. Kane Regional Centers.

He intends to meet with Kane administrators and labor officials to explain "what the real plan is" for the nursing homes and "not all of the nonsense that's been floated around during the campaign."

Wecht had painted the plan as a privatization that would reduce quality of care and end the county's traditional involvement with the nursing homes. But Roddey said the county would retain control under his plan and that the nonprofit board of directors would serve at the pleasure of the executive and the council. The plan, he said, also would honor all union contracts.

Roddey also wants to build independent and assisted-living centers at each of the Kane campuses to help the nursing homes better compete for patients. He indicated that the Kanes would not be one of his most immediate priorities.

He said he planned to work with council, the Kanes and labor representatives to come up with an acceptable plan in his first year in office.

Roddey said he already has been briefed on some aspects of the county budget situation. Asked how bad it was, he replied, "It's a challenge." He said the county could be looking at a shortfall in the neighborhood of $30 million.

County Council will have 35 days after the start of the year to amend the budget. Roddey said he expected modifications to whatever budget is adopted by the current commissioners.

Roddey's election likely will benefit the county because Republicans control Harrisburg and would be more likely to help Roddey than a Democrat to get funding approvals on projects he supports, area lawmakers said.

"It will definitely change the dynamics," said Sen. Melissa Hart, R-McCandless. "There hasn't been a warm feeling with the commissioners partly because there hasn't been one person in charge."

It should be easier to deal with one county leader, especially one Republican, than the three commissioners who currently run county government, she said.

The two Republican commissioners, Larry Dunn and Bob Cranmer, have been fighting for years and have not presented a unified front on what they want from Harrisburg.

Besides, she said, Roddey's well known in Harrisburg among Republicans, who control the House and the Senate. In fact, Gov. Ridge, another Republican, did some radio spots for Roddey's campaign.

So, if there's something that Roddey needs -- funding, support for a project, a law -- he'd be more likely to get the help in Harrisburg than a Democrat could, Hart said.

"Jim's been active in supporting [Republican] candidates over the years, and that helps," she said. "Roddey doesn't stick things to people. By his nature, he's a consensus builder."

Some lawmakers in the Democrat-controlled Allegheny County delegation said they would have preferred Democrat Wecht's election but said having a Republican chief executive could be beneficial to the county because Harrisburg is dominated by Republicans.

"He's certainly an insider and knows the ropes," said Rep. Frank Dermody, D-Oakmont. "It certainly can't hurt. ... We'll certainly work with him."

"I view Jim Roddey as a very reasonable guy who said there was room at the table for everyone," said Sen. Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills. "I hope he takes time to include us in the process. I stand ready to do that."

If the Democrats in the delegation are cut out by Roddey, "I'm not sure we could mount an all-out war," because the Democrats are in the minority and couldn't easily block a man who could go directly to the governor for help, Costa said.

"We'll cross that bridge if we come to that," he said.

Staff writer John M.R. Bull contributed to this story.

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