The mayor’s office has been required since 2006 to produce an annual report showing at least the gender, age and zip code of members appointed to Pittsburgh boards, authorities and commissions.
Six reports should be part of the public record. But none exist.
Each report would have been the responsibility of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl who took office eight months after the passage of the “Fair Representation” law, which outlines efforts toward diversity and transparency in board appointments.
The theory behind the ordinance was that by holding officials accountable for their appointments and giving the public a way to easily apply for board vacancies, appointees would begin to reflect the diversity of the city’s population.
The 2006 city law followed a Heinz School of Public Policy study that found 34 percent of the 129 city appointees were women. Meanwhile, 51 percent of the city’s working-age population of 213,000 was women.
City Councilman Bill Peduto, the District 8 Democrat who introduced the ordinance, was concerned that the diversity reports do not exist. “These are public boards making decisions using public dollars, and that information should be available at your fingertips.” said Peduto, who is expected to run for mayor against Ravenstahl next year.
Ravenstahl, who was a rising star of city council at the time, signed on as a co-sponsor of the ordinance. However, his administration has failed to produce a single report to the city council about the make-up of boards.
“I don’t think because there has been no formal submission to city council that it is in any way hampering our ability to have diversity or transparency,” said Ravenstahl, a Democrat. “The information is available, and people can get it.”
More women and blacks are helping to make decisions about the city today than six years ago, yet there’s still a disparity between their share as appointed board members and their percentage of the population.
The mayor’s staff said it does collect the demographic information. Yet it took two and a half months before the mayor’s office provided any information to PublicSource.
When PublicSource requested the reports under the state’s Right to Know Law, the mayor’s office referred it to the open records officer, who said he would need the full 30 days allowed by statute to hand over the reports. At the end of the 30 days, he asked for a two-week extension.
The records officer then wrote a letter to PublicSource saying: “No such records exist.”
After PublicSource told the mayor’s office a story was being written about the absent reports, members of the mayor’s staff met with the reporter and said the data was collected, but the reports had never been compiled.
Gabriel Mazefsky, the mayor’s policy manager, eventually provided PublicSource with a breakdown of the race and gender of current appointees. It included the race and gender information for all 209 appointments Ravenstahl has made since taking office in September 2006.
Still, the information is incomplete because the city could not provide annual snapshots of its board members’ demographics. It is also unknown whether different areas of Pittsburgh and various age groups are being adequately represented because the data did not include age or zip code, as required by the ordinance.
Ravenstahl said he would check into the reason the annual diversity reports have not been made.
“We’ll take a look at that ordinance,” he said. “I can’t speak to specifically why it hasn’t been done.”
Dozens of organizations lobbied for the ordinance, at the city and county levels, urging officials to make appointments that represent the diversity of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County populations.
Allegheny County follows a fair representation law similar to the city’s, but without a mandate to produce a public report each year.
County officials provided the gender and racial breakdowns of board appointees since 2003 to PublicSource in just over a week.
The city ordinance became effective at the beginning of new leadership under late Mayor Bob O’Connor. Ravenstahl, then the president of city council, became mayor on Sept.1, 2006, the night O’Connor died of cancer.
Heather Arnet, executive director of the Women and Girls Foundation, said she is dismayed by the lack of reporting by the mayor.
“Part of why we worked so hard to ensure there would be a report-out component to the process was so that there would be long-term transparency and accountability,” Arnet said.
Tim Stevens, the chairman of the Black Political Empowerment Project, a city advocacy group, said he has witnessed more blacks sitting on city boards since the ordinance passed. However, he said their stake could be even greater.
“It’s human nature to not do as well as you could if a reporting system is not being demanded,” Stevens said. “There’s been improvement. But if part of the commitment is ignored, the results will never be at a level it could be. That’s a sad comment on the commitment.”
Despite the progress, Stevens said he would be more comfortable if an annual, public report was delivered.
“Then we all know that commitment is ongoing, actively reviewed and purposefully pursued,” he said.
Joanna Doven, the mayor’s spokeswoman, said the mayor’s commitment to diversity shows in his appointments, hiring and programs.
Ravenstahl spearheaded the DiverseCity 365 Task Force and the Civic Leadership Academy, programs designed to diversify the workforce and encourage involvement in local government.
There are 43 blacks in 164 management and senior leadership positions in city government. By comparison, blacks occupied 30 of 143 positions in 2005, according to information provided by Tamiko Stanley, the city's equal employment opportunity officer.
Doven said the mayor has also hired more blacks for leadership roles “than ever in the city’s history.” The city has experienced a 5 percent increase in blacks occupying management and senior leadership positions since Ravenstahl took office.
Ravenstahl also delivered on another major requirement of the ordinance, said Mazefsky.
The city’s website lists all city-related boards, authorities and commissions and their governing documents. It also cites term limits and an explanation of who makes the appointments.
The diversity report may have been overlooked, Doven said, but the mayor has not forgotten the spirit of the ordinance.
“So much stuff gets passed by city council on a daily basis, sometimes things can get lost in the shuffle,” she said. “The important thing is, ‘Are we committed to diversity?’ Yes.”
Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak conceded that the city is a “complex organism with many moving parts,” but said it is the responsibility of the mayor and his staff to enforce the laws on the books.
Rudiak, a Democrat representing District 4, said she plans to follow up on the reporting issue with the mayor’s office and the city controller.
“I think this just seems like a fundamental baseline issue.”
Reach Halle Stockton at 412-315-0263 or firstname.lastname@example.org.