Tribune-Review: From typist to Allegheny County manager, Jennifer Liptak is leaving after 26-year career

Jennifer Liptak spent 26 years working for Allegheny County, moving up the ladder from a typist to chief of staff to manager of a $3 billion budget and 5,000 employees.

Now, the longtime hidden hand behind the county’s bureaucracy is moving on.

Liptak, 49, of Shaler, will leave the county’s top bureaucratic role in two weeks and move to the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, to serve as its chief operating officer under Rich Fitzergald, her former boss.

Fitzgerald, the three-term county executive who left office in January, took over as the executive director of the commission, the federally designated metropolitan planning organization in charge of guiding government investment for the 10-county region surrounding Pittsburgh.

Liptak has no qualms about leaving. She said she’s confident that the county will be left in capable hands.

“We have been building a county government that is stable, where no one person should be the make or break of any success,” said Liptak, who ascended to county manager in February 2023 after more than a decade as Fitzgerald’s chief of staff.

Liptak said she trained scores of county employees to work independently and is sure they will thrive on their own and under new management.

She said she has been impressed with the administration of new County Executive Sara Innamorato, which made her decision to leave easier.

Liptak’s last day is June 7. Steve Pilarski, deputy county manager, will take over her position temporarily while the search for a new permanent manager is undertaken.

Her yearly salary was about $193,000.

Liptak started working as a clerk typist for county government in 1998 and has worked her way up ever since, serving as finance director for Allegheny County Council during the 2000s and ascending to the top unelected position by the end of her tenure.

She called her departure bittersweet because the role has been fulfilling, but she is ready to slow down and avoid the late-night and weekend calls to deal with county emergencies.

“It has been my entire life working in government,” said Liptak, who has worked for the county for more than half her life. She said wants to spend more time with her teenage children.

“For 20 years, it is 24/7. It is always on, always looking at emails, taking phone calls, doesn’t matter if it is a holiday, that is normal to my kids.”

Innamorato said Liptak’s depth of county knowledge will be nearly impossible to replace quickly.

“We have been accepting applications for her position since the transition, and it is a hard job to fill and find qualified people,” Innamorato said. “We are actively interviewing right now. Finding the right fit is difficult.”

Allegheny County Council President Pat Catena, D-Carnegie, and Liptak haven’t always seen eye to eye, with disagreements sometimes flaring at council meetings.

Still, Catena said Liptak’s institutional knowledge will be hard to replace and he praised her dedication to county government.

Innamorato said Liptak was instrumental to a number of initiatives within county government, including ensuring county workers’ wages and benefits increased and implementing drop-off locations for mail-in ballots.

She also praised Liptak for her role in getting the county to have arguably the quickest voting tabulations in the state on election night.

This primary election, Allegheny County had all of its mail-in votes tabulated 18 seconds after the polls closed. Many other counties take hours, sometimes days, to finish counting each mail-in vote.

“It was a team effort,” Liptak said. “We are doing something bigger. This is about the fundamental right to select our leaders, and we are all part of making sure that system operates properly for the county.”

Liptak said she recruits workers from virtually all county departments to sort and count votes on Election Day. She said everyone works a long day, but a sense of pride permeates the workforce on these vote-counting days.

One major issue left unsettled within county government is a potential countywide property reassessment.

Pittsburgh Public Schools recently sued to force the county to trigger a reassessment, and several other public school districts have voiced support for a countywide reassessment, as commercial property values have declined.

Innamorato said while Liptak’s presence will be missed, she believes the operation of the county is stable.

“There are so many people that have been here for so long, and those folks are staying put,” said Innamorato.

Liptak said she hopes her time at Allegheny County government will remind residents of the dedication of public servants and help push back against stereotypes that county employees are lazy. She praised the county’s janitors, engineeers, doctors and jail workers.

“Just be aware of all that we do,” Liptak said.

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