Fold ethics hearing board or give it power

One would think Pittsburgh’s ethics hearing board would have more to do. When Mayor Luke Ravenstahl overhauled the city’s ethics code in 2009, hopes were high that the board would provide government transparency and regulate ethics on a level that Pittsburgh had never seen before — and although the ethics board had been around before 2009, it was then revitalized and made itself known in order to uphold these new doctrines.

Today, the board struggles to determine its purpose, with no help from the rest of the city’s government.

The five-person board has shrunk to two people, as the mayor failed to appoint his own members or approve those nominated by City Council.

According to the 2009 legislation, city employees must disclose gifts they receive that are over $100 on a designated website — but since 2009, only one such divulgence was made. The board is supposed to hold annual ethics training sessions for many city employees, but none has been held since 2010. The board’s “website,” which is only a small subspace on the mayor’s own site, says “Meetings are held, as scheduled below, at 10:00 a.m....” There are no meetings listed.

If members of Pittsburgh’s government think that the board is ineffective, then they should disband it. If they think it could stand to do some good with proper direction and power, they should give it legal representation and more influence. The worst possible action is the one they’re making now: to shirk responsibility and let the ethics board fall into disrepair.

Why Ravenstahl would push for the ethics board’s restoration and then not appoint or approve new members is anyone’s guess. As it stands, though, the board has nothing to do and no one to do it. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Pittsburgh City Law Department takes care of most cases on ethics, and the ethics board doesn’t have its own attorney even if it wanted to get involved.

Yes, Ravenstahl is getting ready to leave — but he and the rest of the city council should finish what they started when they revitalized the city’s ethics board.