Pittsburgh City Council gave preliminary approval Wednesday to Mayor Ed Gainey’s proposed new Office of Equal Protection, which the administration has said would help enforce civil rights and labor laws.
The office, as part of the wider mayor’s office, would be an “enforcement and compliance” body for matters such as the city’s paid sick leave and disruptive properties laws, said Zeke Rediker, an administration official.
Mr. Rediker, the city’s executive advisor on legal policy, would head the new office, which would also ensure companies are in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, among other laws.
“We aim to establish what amounts to an office of public advocacy,” Mr. Rediker told Council on Wednesday.
Council still has to give its final approval to the new office, which could come as early as next Tuesday.
Mr. Gainey announced the new office earlier this month, saying it would protect the city’s “most vulnerable residents.”
“[The office] gives us the ability to make sure that everybody is following the laws,” he said at the time.
Mr. Gainey is forming the new office at a time when he has increasingly consolidated various city functions under his direct control, especially when it comes to how the government communicates and interacts with residents. The Post-Gazette reported earlier this month that the number of employees working under the purview of the mayor’s office has grown significantly.
The 311 call center and the city’s public access cable TV channel were both moved into the mayor’s office over the last year, and press officers from other departments have been moved to a new Office of Communications directly under Mr. Gainey.
Council President Theresa Kail-Smith said she felt “good” that the new office was in Mr. Rediker’s hands. But she expressed some wariness at yet another department being added to the mayor’s office.
“We’re seeing a lot of departments go under the mayor’s office,” she said Wednesday, adding that she’s concerned the new office will “become political.”
The office only has two employees so far: Mr. Rediker and Michelle Walker, the city’s new ADA coordinator. Because both of those positions were already in the city’s budget, the fiscal impact of the new office so far is zero, Mr. Rediker said — though he hopes to expand it in the future.
One of the office’s first steps will be focusing on commercial properties that qualify as disruptive. Officials have already worked with police and the city’s Office of Permits, Licenses and Inspections to identify the “most problematic properties” and create a strategy for how to deal with them, Mr. Rediker said.
Each of the laws the office seeks to enforce has its own enforcement mechanism baked into the legislation authorizing its creation, which will “make sure we can finally enforce the law,” Mr. Rediker said.
The office is also working on a form that will allow residents to submit complaints.
“Reach out to us, tell me where you feel you’re being discriminated against,” Mr. Gainey said earlier this month.
The ADA coordinator position was previously housed in the Department of City Planning, but was moved into the mayor’s office as part of its development of the Office of Equal Protection.
During the news conference announcing the new office, Mr. Gainey said moving that position into the mayor’s office would “keep our priorities moving and make it stay relevant.”
“The mayor himself, under the Home Rule Charter and under the City Code, is tasked with enforcing all of the laws in Pittsburgh,” Mr. Rediker said Wednesday.
Council this week also approved 11 of Mr. Gainey’s 12 nominees for the Commission on Infrastructure Asset Reporting and Investment.
The commission, tasked with identifying infrastructure projects that need immediate repairs and lobbying state and federal officials for funding, was created in the wake of the Fern Hollow Bridge Collapse. But it sat empty for over a year, until Mr. Gainey submitted his first nominees last week.
That came about a month after the Post-Gazette reported on the lack of action.
The only nominee not approved was Carrie Lewis DelRosso, a former Republican state representative who ran for lieutenant governor last year as Sen. Doug Mastriano’s running mate.
Ms. DelRosso, an Oakmont resident, has since become a lobbyist for Buchanan Ingersoll. Her nomination was withdrawn after lawmakers and community members raised concerns about her political affiliations.
Andy Waple, the executive director of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, was nominated and approvedin her place. The Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission is a government cooperative of 10 counties and the City of Pittsburgh, which helps funnel state and federal dollars to infrastructure projects in the region.
The city’s new infrastructure commission still has nine more seats to be filled.
View the full story at post-gazette.com