A county councilor is calling for an investigation of another county councilor allegedly approaching a state legislator and offering a political favor if she were to resign from the regional sewer board.

Tom Duerr, who represents the 5th District in the South Hills, sent a letter Friday to the county’s Accountability, Conduct and Ethics Commission and asked for a formal investigation.

“The notion that a sitting at-large member of County Council could be using their position to cut back room political deals regarding spots on various boards that County Council oversees the appointments to is very troubling,” he wrote.

Sam DeMarco III, the Republican at-large member of County Council who also chairs the Republican Committee of Allegheny County, has previously called for a “close examination” of what may have happened.

[Read: As FBI asks questions of board members and employees, county Treasurer John Weinstein denies wrongdoing at Alcosan or desire to retain board seat]

State Rep. Emily Kinkead, D-North Side, and her campaign manager Schuyler Sheaffer told the Union Progress earlier this month that Bethany Hallam, D-at large, approached them last April with a way to get rid of a primary challenger. The catch was Kinkead would have to resign from her city-appointed board seat at the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority and make way for Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey to appoint County Treasurer John Weinstein in her stead.

Hallam is running for reelection this year to County Council, and Weinstein is a front-runner in the potentially decisive May 16 Democratic primary to become the next county executive.

At the time, Kinkead was facing both a redrawn district and a challenge in the Democratic primary from businessman Nick Mastros. He received the endorsement of the Allegheny-Fayette Central Labor Council and quickly raised tens of thousands of dollars from some of Weinstein’s biggest donors.

Weinstein previously told the Union Progress he didn’t do anything to help Mastros, adding, “Nick’s a friend, but it’s not my district.”

Weinstein had lost his Alcosan board seat when County Executive Rich Fitzgerald decided not to renominate him, citing what he said were multiple employees and other board members getting approached in late 2021 by the FBI with questions about Weinstein. Weinstein said he was “fine” to move on from Alcosan and didn’t wish to stay on the board.

Hallam told the Union Progress earlier this month that she hadn’t interpreted what she conveyed to Sheaffer and Kinkead as a potential deal to be struck. The conversations came after a lunch she had with Weinstein and city Councilor Bobby Wilson, during which Hallam said Weinstein mentioned “he wanted to be on the Alcosan board.”

“I don’t think it was necessarily, like, in exchange for it — that’s at least not how I took it or how I presented it,” Hallam said. “I was mainly reporting back to them about, ‘Here’s how our lunch went,’ and that’s what I said.”

Kinkead said she approached Efrem Grail, who leads the law firm where she works, and asked for advice. She eventually spoke with Hallam and declined the offer.

“I really felt like I had stumbled into an episode of ‘The Sopranos,’” Kinkead said. “It’s things that you hear about where you’re like, ‘Oh that doesn’t happen, that’s just what you see on TV, these kinds of things don’t get offered.’ And then it did, and I was like, ‘I don’t even really know how to react to this.’”

Kinkead sent an unusual memo to both her campaign and state office staff, dated April 27, 2022, describing laws governing conduct of elected officials. She wrote in the memo, a copy of which was obtained by the Union Progress, that “minimal observance of the laws governing public officials and campaigns is not enough,” and her team “must act with the highest level of ethics and honesty at all times.”

Mastros did not respond to a request for comment. A Gainey spokesperson told WESA-FM that the mayor would “never consider” filling one of the three seats designated for Pittsburgh with someone who lived outside the city.

Kinkead ended up beating Mastros by 31 percentage points in last year’s primary. She remained on the Alcosan board and is now the board secretary.

Jon, a copy editor and reporter at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, is currently on strike and working as a co-editor of the Pittsburgh Union Progress. Reach him at jmoss@unionprogress.com.

Jon Moss

Jon, a copy editor and reporter at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, is currently on strike and working as a co-editor of the Pittsburgh Union Progress. Reach him at jmoss@unionprogress.com.