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A new day for Allegheny

County government evolves today as Roddey becomes its executive, and a 15-member council convenes to choose its leader

Monday, January 03, 2000

By Jeffrey Cohan, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

After more than 18 months of anticipation, Allegheny County's new form of government finally arrives today. The future will become the present when County Executive-elect Jim Roddey and the 15-member County Council take their oaths of office.

  Jim Roddey, left, talks with Health Department Director Dr. Bruce Dixon at the Allegheny County Emergency Command Center in Point Breeze New Year's Eve. At center is John Bollie of Children, Youth and Families. (Joyce Mendelsohn, Post-Gazette)

Roddey will give his inaugural address at 10:30 this morning to an overflow crowd in an unconventional location -- a Duquesne food bank. Council members, in a separate event, will be sworn in at 4 p.m. in the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall, Oakland.

Jan. 3, 2000, has stood out as a red-letter day since May 19, 1998, when Allegheny County voters discarded the 212-year-old, three-commissioner system and adopted a new form of government for a new century.

The new government will start fast. The council intends to convene its first meeting at 5:30 p.m., minutes after the swearing-in ceremony. Selecting a council president, a matter of political intrigue since the November election, will top the agenda.

But the day belongs foremost to Roddey, who is making a symbolic statement -- at least two statements, actually -- by holding his inauguration at the new Duquesne headquarters of the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.

First, Roddey is evidencing his commitment to include the suburbs, especially the hard-hit Mon Valley, in his economic development plans.

Second, he is promoting volunteerism by drawing the spotlight to a food bank. In campaigning for county executive, Roddey pledged to open a county office of volunteerism to promote community involvement. And he co-chaired the fund-raising drive that paid for the food bank's $6.7 million Duquesne facility, a 94,000-square-foot warehouse that opened last month.

But Roddey, if only unintentionally, may be making a third symbolic statement: He is catering to the rich and well-connected, not to the public in general. Due to limited space at the food bank, the Roddey inauguration is by invitation only. He is expecting about 1,550 people, primarily dignitaries and political supporters. The public is not welcome.

  Roddy inauguration airing live

PCNC will cablecast the inauguration of Allegheny County Executive Jim Roddey at 10 a.m. today at the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. PCNC's Fred Honsberger and John McIntire will offer interviews, analysis and commentary.

A re-telecast will air tonight at 7:30 p.m.


"It's going to be very crowded," said Joyce Rothermel, the food bank's executive director. "It's going to stretch us."

Rothermel hardly minds the inconvenience, though.

"Our board of directors is extremely pleased about the exposure that this event will offer to our organization," she said.

George Matta, former Duquesne mayor, is equally pleased about the exposure this event will offer his city. The inauguration will allow Duquesne to show off the industrial park where the food bank is situated.

"A lot of people don't realize that we're ready to do business here," said Matta, the newly elected county clerk of courts.

Symbolism isn't limited to Roddey's choice of venues. He has chosen Common Pleas Court Judge Cynthia Baldwin, who is black, to administer his oath of office, reinforcing his promise to include women and minorities in his administration.

His inaugural address will focus, in part, "on the need for Allegheny County residents to step forward and make Allegheny County a better place," said Kent Gates, Roddey's spokesman.

Later today, Roddey intends to attend the council's swearing-in ceremony.

    Related article:

Councilwoman set to get her feet wet


In the name of efficiency, the council originally planned to ask Robert A. Kelly, president judge of Common Pleas Court, to administer all 15 oaths simultaneously. But District 9 Councilman-elect Richard Olasz, D-West Mifflin, insisted that his son, a district magistrate, swear him in. So the council shifted to the other extreme: The members have each picked a different judge or magistrate and will take their oaths one at a time.

The council members will not make speeches, though.

"We're trying to keep it quick," said District 12 Councilman-elect Wayne Fontana, D-Brookline.

The public is invited. The Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall is sufficiently large.

After a reception, the council members will assemble across the hall in a banquet room for their first official meeting. Besides selecting a president, the council is expected to adopt Robert's Rules of Order and a meeting schedule.

The council plans to meet at 5 p.m. on the first and third Tuesdays of each month. Accordingly, the council will reconvene tomorrow at 5 in the same banquet room. The council intends to hold subsequent meetings in the Gold Room of the county courthouse, Downtown.

Once the ceremonies end, Roddey and the council will have a government to run and bills to pay. The Roddey inauguration will cost an estimated $50,000, while the council event will total about $7,000.

The county executive and council members have been raising funds from the private sector to cover the expenses.

Looming is the more daunting challenge of meeting the public's high expectations for the new form of government. The elected officials taking the oath will immediately begin marking on their clean slate.

District 2 Councilwoman-elect Jan Rea, R-McCandless, said, "I can't wait for Jan. 3 to be over so we can get rolling."

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