What Fresh Hell Is This?

December 13, 2006

"A Rotten Smell on Grant Street"

That's how the P-G editorial board describes what's left over from the Dennis Regan/Catherine McNeilly debacle.

We blogged on it here.

The editorial:
Former Pittsburgh Operations Director Dennis Regan has left city government, but the episode that sent the powerful political appointee packing left a rotten smell on Grant Street.

Mr. Regan, the former aide to Mayor Bob O'Connor and his successor Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, quit Dec. 1 after a city probe found no evidence that he interfered in a disciplinary matter involving detective Francis Rende, brother of Mr. Regan's housemate.

Although Mr. Regan had a dignified exit via resignation and not firing, he had become too much of a political liability for even Grant Street cronyism to redeem with a straight face.

His drama began as many municipal dramas do: He was named to a position (head of intergovernmental affairs) for which he had little qualification by a grateful friend and new mayor -- Mr. O'Connor. In that job, while the mayor was in the hospital battling cancer, Mr. Regan helped to oust rival administration officials: the mayor's chief of staff, the city solicitor and the city finance director.

After Mr. O'Connor's death, Mayor Ravenstahl named Mr. Regan as his director of operations, then nominated him for public safety director despite a nonexistent resume for that post.

In October, however, while Mr. Regan was under consideration by council for the public safety job, police Cmdr. Catherine McNeilly sent an e-mail to City Council members questioning Mr. Regan's fitness for the post and strongly implying that he quashed the disciplining of Detective Rende, one of her subordinates. The mayor suspended both Mr. Regan and Cmdr. McNeilly with pay and ordered a probe of their actions.

Despite the merits of Ms. McNeilly's complaint against Mr. Regan, her decision to divulge details of Mr. Rende's personnel file was the trigger for her own suspension during what turned out to be a 50-day probe.

It took courage to do what Ms. McNeilly did. We even called her a whistle-blower for daring to come forward against a man who was arguably the city's most powerful unelected official. How far would she have gotten in her complaint against Mr. Regan without providing hard evidence? Would the Law Department have investigated him without details on his role in the police discipline case?

In the end, the mayor said there was no conclusive evidence Mr. Regan did anything wrong. But, incredibly, he resigned anyway. Last Thursday, as a result of the Law Department's investigation, Cmdr. McNeilly was demoted to lieutenant for violating Mr. Rende's expectation of privacy, and her salary was cut from $77,927 to $67,764. Yesterday, in an interview with this editorial board, Mayor Ravenstahl said while he believed the demotion was necessary, Ms. McNeilly is now in "good standing" with the police department.

We're relieved she wasn't fired outright, but we're concerned about the chilling effect her demotion may have on others eager to speak out against wrongdoing in city government.

Even by the lame ethics of Grant Street, the punishment of Catherine McNeilly is a disgraceful capitulation to political expediency. It's a bad smell that the mayor will have to answer for as he campaigns for election next year.
Huh - there's that "smell" metaphor again.


Anonymous said...

Opie had almost 2 months to make this decision. His handling of the matter therefore provides the best evidence of how he will handle difficult situations. A host of unflattering adverbs and adjectives comes to mind. Short of firing Commander McNeilly, I can't think of a single thing Opie could've done to handle the matter even more ineptly? Turning a blind eye to the ineptitude of embracing & promoting Regan to Operations Director in the first place, Luke would've earned back a tiny bit of respect had he: (1) not attempted to broaden Regan's power; or, upon having been advised of the obvious, had he (2) quietly asked for Regan's resignation; or had he (3) asked for an expeditious investigation that allowed Cmdr. McNeilly the decency of coming to work for her pay & one that included a legal analysis of whistleblower law (I'm laughing as I type as we all know that this would just be another example of the young mayor ordering up an opinion w/the answer of his choosing) Since Cmdr. McNeilly was demoted after Regan's departure, perhaps the lingering "smell" is due to the fact that those still in power are cut of the same cloth as Regan? Opie doesn't practice what he preaches - he preaches diversity and transparency, yet his inner circle is made up entirely of white males w/no corporate leadership experience, and his idea of transparency means "only when it won't embarass me" ...And this is just the beginning of the analysis. Imagine the decisions we know nothing about?

Anonymous said...

Screw Cathy McNeilly (at your own peril). The McNeillys have been playing this act for years -- they ratfuck and play politics with the best of them, then they stand back and say, "Well, shucks, we're just cops." Bullshit. They play the game and there's a cost. In this case, it's 10 grand.

Tina said...

Anonymous #2: I have no idea what this "ratf*cking" that you seem so familiar w/is? It seems pretty clear that the "cost" of McNeilly's actions are the humiliation worn by the Ravenstahl administration for having to be hit over the head w/the embarassing truth about Regan and whatever $ judgment McNeilly wins in her whistleblower suit.