PITTSBURGH (AP) – It may have been illegal for the mayor to promise $155,000 in gifts to needy city employees as part of his appearance on the CBS show “Undercover Boss,” and the state Ethics Commission has been contacted about the matter, the district attorney said.
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto pledged the money to four workers during his appearance on the show last month.
Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr.’s office “made certain inquiries concerning the payments,” but it “has no active investigation involving the city’s participation in the program,” said Zappala spokesman Mike Manko.
Zappala told KDKA-TV, the local CBS affiliate, that “salaries of public employees are negotiated. You cannot just give a bonus.”
Peduto has repeatedly defended the gifts as legal, saying the city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority is overseeing how the money is raised and paid out to avoid any improprieties. He has said the money will come from private donors, though at least one agency that is contributing money – the tourism-promotion group VisitPittsburgh – gets most of its $11 million budget from taxpayers.
Peduto’s chief of staff Kevin Acklin said, “As of now, we have not received any indication that anything we did was other than in full compliance with city and state law.”
Last week, county Controller Chelsa Wagner threatened to withhold $681,000 in tax revenues to VisitPittsburgh, which has contributed $25,000 toward the fund and planned another $25,000 contribution. Peduto has said the show amounted to an hour-long commercial for the city in prime time, when networks normally charge $200,000 for 30 seconds of air time.
On Friday, Wagner told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette she had decided to release the tax money after speaking with members of the VisitPittsburgh board. She’s still advising them not to contribute the second $25,000, however.
Manko, Zappala’s spokesman, said Wagner’s office and unions that represent city workers both have a legal right “to try and determine whether payments made to workers as part of the ‘Undercover Boss’ program represented illegal bonuses.”
The state Ethics Commission would not confirm or deny an investigation.
But Peduto’s spokesman Tim McNulty said the office hasn’t been contacted about such a probe.
“Our lawyers completely vetted this months ago,” McNulty said Friday. “We’re in total compliance with city and state ethics laws.”