In the coming days, an in-depth, foundation-funded report will be released on the inner workings and looming challenges for the city government under a new mayoral administration, including staffing shortages in key departments.
The report is based on copious research and dozens of interviews with municipal workers in the final months of the Mayor Bill Peduto’s administration conducted by an independent team of consultants.
The Pittsburgh Foundation and The Heinz Endowments* conceived and funded the project with the goal of both assisting in the mayoral transition and providing the public with a comprehensive picture of Pittsburgh’s public sector as Mayor Ed Gainey begins his historic administration.
The initial idea for the report came last spring after Gainey’s victory in the Democratic primary.
“The Pittsburgh Foundation, in conversation with The Heinz Endowments, really started to think about ways that we could support a smooth transition,” said Phil Koch, vice president of policy and community impact for the Pittsburgh Foundation. “We know that times of transition and change can be tumultuous.”
The Thomas Consulting Group, which produced a similar city guidebook during New Orleans’ 2017 mayoral transition, created the report. Though it has not yet been released publicly, the group’s CEO highlighted a top issue for the city.
“The City of Pittsburgh is facing critical staffing shortages in several key departments such as Public Works, Mobility and Infrastructure, and EMS,” said Michelle Thomas, CEO of the consulting firm. “COVID-19 has only put more of a strain on staffing, as it has with most cities. Many of the staff in key departments are nearing retirement, which could continue to pose a problem over the next couple of years.”
Koch and his colleagues said the process that led to the report began with research on other cities that recently had similar elections. The foundations then solicited proposals from several private consulting firms that specialize in advising municipal transitions. They selected the Thomas Consulting Group, which also advised United States Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) during his early days as mayor of Newark.
One of the company’s main tasks was creating a report for the new administration, which Koch described as a “deep dive into all the departments and related entities to make sure all the information is documented so that the new administration isn’t searching for that info or trying to dig it up in their first 100 days.”
In addition to this previous experience, Pittsburgh Foundation vice president of communications Doug Root said the firm won the contract due to their competitive asking price and more holistic approach to research compared to the other proposals, which focused more on city finances.
The foundations approached both Gainey and Republican nominee Tony Moreno to see if the candidates would welcome such outside assistance. With approval from both camps and the cooperation of the outgoing Peduto administration, research commenced in the late summer.
The Pittsburgh Foundation and Heinz Endowments contributed a combined $250,000 to finance the project. The budget covered the labor of eight consultants working full time for three months. The consultants finished their data gathering around Election Day in November, and briefed the newly-anointed Gainey administration the next week.
Jake Pawlak, Gainey’s nominee for director of the Office of Budget and Management, did not discuss specifics, but said the initial findings of the report were useful, if largely in line with their expectations.
“I wouldn’t characterize the findings to be surprising,” said Pawlak. “The report has allowed our team to identify and address systems and processes that have room for improvement.”
Peduto could not be reached for comment for this story.
The final product will include an executive summary as well as individual chapters on 23 city departments and related entities. “As long as the department or the authority reported to the mayor, or the mayor had some control over that department or authority, we included that in the city guide book,” said Koch. “On average, I’d say each of those reports range anywhere from 25 to 55 pages per department.”
Neither Gainey’s administration nor the foundations shared text of the guidebook with PublicSource. According to Thomas, the text explores the day-to-day functioning of urban government and larger issues facing the city.
Root of the Pittsburgh Foundation said the report will be published on their website before the end of January, and will eventually migrate to the city’s website.
The Peduto administration collaborated closely with the city’s network of large charitable foundations on a number of policies. Whether Gainey will follow a similar strategy remains to be seen.
“Mayor Gainey understands the importance of civic partnerships and will work with the philanthropic community to advance priorities that improve the quality of life for all Pittsburghers,” Pawlak said. “We plan to meet with these partners regularly to keep them informed of our Administration’s priorities and how we can collaborate on solutions.”
*PublicSource receives funding from The Pittsburgh Foundation and The Heinz Endowments.
Bill O’Toole is a reporter based in Pittsburgh. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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