Pittsburgh (2550)

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:52

Information by design

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As Mark Dietrick fiddled with a drawing from Burt Hill Kosar Rittelmann’s Philadelphia office while his boss simultaneously did the same from his office in Pittsburgh, the full realization of what an information technology revamp would mean to the architectural firm struck him.

An architect by training, it became abundantly clear to Dietrick at that instant — after 18 months of preparation — that the system the company had spent a good part of 1998 building was going to affect it dramatically in the way it would do its work.

Not surprisingly, the professionals at Burt Hill like to be able to work on drawings simultaneously in two or more cities — one of many features provided by the new system. What might seem a little bewildering at first glance is why it took so long to put such a system into place, given that Burt Hill is a large, progressive architectural firm that has never been technology shy.

The fact of the matter, says Dietrick, chief information officer, is that Burt Hill has always embraced new technologies that allow it to do its work more efficiently and service its clients more effectively. And PC Solutions, the Pittsburgh-based systems integrator that assisted Burt Hill throughout the project, has been helping the firm implement such systems for at least a decade.

But the tendency for technology users has been to add technology without necessarily adding connectivity. As a result, technology systems may work well, but operate independently of one another. There’s also a tendency to milk every purchase for all it’s worth, even if it means passing up opportunities to gain productivity or realizing an advantage with new technology.

“I think we always had technology and are at the forefront of bringing technology to our profession,” says Dietrick. “We didn’t always do it in smart ways.”

Now, Burt Hill is at the vanguard of architectural firms in terms of technology.

“They’ve taken the next step that a lot of companies are talking about,” says Steve Wirth, executive vice president of PC Solutions, who describes Burt Hill as among the top companies when it comes to mature networks.

Without connectivity at Burt Hill, drawings for a project in one location might be developed by professionals and consultants in several locations. Shuttling the drawings around by fax for mark-up and changes meant faxing documents back and forth many times or travel by professionals from one office to another.

For Burt Hill, with offices in Pittsburgh, Butler, Pa., Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., and projects in cities around the globe, the lack of connectivity was becoming a handicap. By early 1998, says Dietrick, the firm realized there was a need for a change and that the time was right.

It was strong financially, there were Y2K issues to be resolved, and Burt Hill saw the need for a system that allowed its professionals to work more effectively among its various offices.

Visioning

The next step was to determine what the new system would have to do. PC Solutions began by interviewing a cross-section of the firm’s employees, including engineers, architects, sales and marketing executives and administrative assistants.

PC Solutions then developed and recommended initiatives that included Internet connectivity, standardized workstations and software, remote access, Y2K compliance and a host of others.

Implementation

With 400 workstations firmwide (most slated for replacement), and more than 50 software applications and connections to the Internet backbone to be installed, the project had to be implemented over a nine-month period.

Integrators swapped the old computers in groups of about 10 users, two groups a week. The changes had to be coordinated with individual office schedules. Employees then received two days of training while the new workstations were being installed.

What to consider

Companies facing a major IT project should realize that it’s not enough to simply throw money at a technology solution, Deitrick and Wirth stress. The decision will affect the entire organization, its clients and its competitiveness. There must be a visioning process that identifies needs and goals. Consider:

  • Top management must buy into the vision.

    “The commitment starts internally with the management of the firm,” says Deitrick. The clients who are most successful, adds Wirth, “have an appreciation that they could be making better use of technology.”

    The vision then must be sold to the rest of the organization by assessing their needs and keeping them informed as the project progresses.

  • Create a master plan tied to the goals of the organization.

    For Burt Hill, having Internet connectivity means that expertise can be more easily exported from one location to another. An architect in Pittsburgh with special knowledge can work on a project out of the Philadelphia office without traveling across the state.

    It also means clients, along with architects and engineers, can view the progress of their projects over the Internet, even if they are in Russia, the Pacific Rim or the Middle East. The firm’s projects and databases can be accessed from computers at an architect’s home or from a laptop or workstation in virtually any office anywhere.

    Offering clients and customers the opportunity to see their projects’ progress and having access to professionals who might otherwise be hard to utilize are appealing to new prospects and offer a powerful marketing edge, says Dietrick.

  • Make a thorough evaluation of the vendor.

    Wirth points out that the reputation of the systems integrator and the suitability for the job at hand should be the first consideration.

    “You start bidding this out and it doesn’t make sense.”

  • Allow enough time.

    Although Burt Hill’s project was completed ahead of schedule, Dietrick acknowledges that sometimes, he wasn’t sure the deadline would be met.

    “It got a little scary there a couple of times.”

How to reach: Burt Hill Kosar Rittelmann, (412) 394-7000 or www.burthill.com; PC Solutions, (412) 394-7094 or www.pc-solutions.com

Ray Marano (rmarano@sbnnet.com) is associate editor at SBN.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:52

Getting you globally

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A profusion of often conflicting state and federal court rulings leaves a company with a Web site vulnerable to having to defend itself in court anywhere, even in a place it may have done little or no business — and even if no evidence exists that anyone there saw the Web site.

For now, the way a business uses the Internet affects how likely it is to be sued. Consider the following:

Companies that use Web sites primarily for advertising won’t likely be sued in a given location unless that advertising is coupled with more traditional contacts in that location.

For companies that use the Internet to facilitate sales, the chances of lawsuits in distant places will increase in proportion to their customer base.

Those operating largely on the Internet, providing essentially electronic products or services online, should expect to be subject to jurisdiction anywhere on the globe unless they specifically restrict access from places where they want to avoid being sued.

A business thinking about venturing into e-commerce can minimize the risk of exposure to litigation far from its home base by consulting its attorney.

Mark A. Willard

No benefits for unmarried heterosexual live-ins

According to a recent ruling by a federal court in New York, a company offering benefits to unmarried same-sex domestic partners but denying them to unmarried heterosexuals does not violate civil rights law.

In Foray v. Bell Atlantic, a male employee sued the telephone company for sex discrimination when it denied benefits to his live-in girlfriend. He argued that, if he were female, his female live-in partner would be entitled to benefits. Thus, he was a victim of gender discrimination.

The court ruled that his claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was invalid because the company did not treat him differently from a “similarly situated” person of the opposite sex, i.e., a woman with a live-in boyfriend. A woman with a female domestic partner, the court reasoned, is differently situated from the male employee because, unlike the male employee, she cannot legally marry her partner.

Foray v. Bell Atlantic provides further support for employers who wish to extend to employees with same-sex domestic partners those benefits which traditionally have been offered only to married employees.

William E. Adams

Good intentions count in discrimination cases

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that employers cannot be forced to pay punitive damages in discrimination suits if a manager’s discriminatory behavior runs counter to the employer’s good-faith efforts to comply with the law and run a bias-free workplace.

In Kolstad v. American Dental Association, a female employee sued her employer for sex discrimination after being denied a promotion. Although the trial court ruled that she was the victim of discrimination and awarded her back salary, the trial judge refused to consider punitive damages because she had not shown that her employer’s conduct was “egregious,” as required by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision, holding that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires a showing of egregious conduct. The Supreme Court rejected the appeals court’s ruling, holding instead that the employee must prove only that the employer acted with “malice or reckless indifference to the employee’s federally protected rights.”

However, it also gave well-intentioned employers a break, stating that an employer will not have to pay punitive damages for a manager’s discriminatory conduct when such conduct is “contrary to the employer’s good-faith efforts” to comply with Title VII. An employer’s “good-faith efforts” may be demonstrated, for example, by an employer’s implementation and enforcement of anti-discrimination policies, including education of all personnel on Title VII’s prohibitions.

All employers, therefore, should, at a minimum, adopt and distribute to all employees a clear policy against discrimination which includes a procedure for complaining about discrimination.

William E. Adams

Harassment liability guidelines

In June 1998, the U.S. Supreme Court issued two important decisions which held that employers will be liable for sexual harassment by supervisors resulting in a “tangible employment action” (e.g., termination, failure to promote, undesirable reassignment) unless they can prove that 1) they exercised reasonable care to prevent and promptly correct any harassing behavior; and 2) the employees unreasonably failed to take advantage of preventive or corrective opportunities provided by the employers or failed to otherwise avoid harm.

In the wake of these landmark decisions, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has issued guidance that provides its interpretation of the Supreme Court’s decisions and how it will apply those decisions to its investigations of harassment charges. The EEOC clarified that the rule regarding employer liability for a supervisor’s harassment applies not only to sexual harassment, but also to harassment based on race, religion, national origin, age or disability.

The EEOC suggests the following measures as reasonable action to prevent and correct harassment:

  • Have a written policy prohibiting harassment of any kind and disseminate it to all employees.

  • Have an effective complaint procedure that provides more than one person with whom to lodge complaints and assures employees that no adverse action will be taken against an employee for making a good-faith complaint.

  • Conduct harassment training for all employees once a year.

  • Investigate complaints or other evidence of harassment promptly and thoroughly and document the investigation.

  • Take immediate and effective corrective action when a complaint is substantiated and follow up with the victim to establish that the problem has been remedied.

Businesses might not have to implement a formal complaint procedure as long as they have effective informal mechanisms to prevent and correct harassment. Regular staff meetings where anti-harassment policies and procedures are discussed might qualify as such a mechanism. Employers should nevertheless be sure they document such meetings, including the date, attendees and subjects discussed.

William E. Adams

Cash options and overtime pay rates

A recent decision by the Federal District Court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania has raised significant concerns regarding the calculation of overtime pay for those employers who maintain a cafeteria benefit plan under which employees can elect to receive cash.

In Madison v. Resources for Human Development, Inc., the court held that, because of the cash option, the company’s cafeteria plan was not a “bona fide” plan, and therefore, an employee’s regular rate of pay must include contributions made by the employer to the cafeteria plan, regardless of whether the employee selects the cash option.

For such a plan to be bona fide, the cash option must be:

  • An incidental part of the plan;

  • Available under circumstances specified in the plan;

  • Consistent with the purpose of the plan in providing benefits;

    If your cafeteria plan contains an option to receive cash in lieu of benefits, discuss the implications of the Madison case with your attorney.

Paul M. Yenerall

Look, regulators, no paper...

The U.S. Internal Revenue Service and Department of Labor have issued proposed regulations on the use of electronic media in administering employee benefit plans. The regulations permit electronic delivery of certain notices and distributions to employees and set minimum standards for benefit records maintenan ce and retention.

The regulations require that the electronic media:

  • Be reasonably accessible;

  • Be no less understandable than the paper documents they replace;

  • State that a paper version of the document is available on request.

    The proposed regulations are effective the first day of the first plan year beginning on or after June 18, 1999. Plan sponsors and administrators may rely on the proposed regulations until the final ones are issued.

Paperless administration promises considerable cost savings for businesses; it will speed completion of transactions and make record keeping easier and more efficient. Business owners should keep in mind that both federal agencies continue to require that certain documents be distributed and maintained in paper form.

Paul M. Yenerall

You can suspend workers’ comp. payments

The US Supreme Court has affirmed the constitutionality of the 1993 amendment to Pennsylvania’s Workers’ Compensation Act, which allows insurers to suspend payments for medical treatment during an independent “utilization review” to determine if the treatment provided to an employee is reasonable and necessary.

In American Manufacturers Mutual Insurance Company v. Sullivan, employees of a school district sued state officials, the school district, and private workers’ compensation insurers. The employees’ claim, brought under 42 USC 1983 alleged that the Act’s “utilization review” procedure guaranteed by the law deprived them of property (i.e., medical treatment) without due process under the Constitution because they did not receive notice, nor were they given an opportunity to present their side, before payment was suspended.

The court disagreed, holding that employees are entitled not to all medical treatment once the employer’s initial liability is established, but only to reasonable and necessary treatment. The court held that an employer is not obligated to pay for employees’ medical treatment until the reasonableness and necessity of the treatment have been established.

The Supreme Court, consequently, has left in place a mechanism intended to help Pennsylvania employers control burgeoning insurance costs.

James G. Seaman

Law Briefs is written by attorneys from Eckert, Seamans, Cherin and Mellott, LLC, a national law firm based in Pittsburgh.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:52

Boomers or bust

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I’ve always thought that we baby boomers get just a little too much attention, mainly by virtue of our sheer numbers. The Ford Mustang, Woodstock and bell bottoms became huge successes mostly because of us.

Later on, minivans, liposuction and mutual funds became rages because of the boomers. The makers and providers of just about every product or service have their sights trained on us, trying to figure out what we’re going to be wearing, eating, driving and watching.

Now, however, boomers are beginning to attract the kind of attention that I really like.

Because of important demographic shifts expected to emerge over the next few decades, employers are likely to be courting boomers for years to come. As a result, retirement for us probably will not be what it is has been for prior generations. We’re promising to be in big demand in the work force of the future, and that’s going to have an impact on how you, Mr. Entrepreneur, run your business in the next century.

When baby boomers begin to retire, it turns out, the baby bust generation that follows won’t be big enough to fill all of the jobs that will be available. Employers aren’t going to have the luxury of a huge pool of youthful boomers to fill slots vacated by retirees. A few of us boomers — about 13 percent, says the American Association of Retired Persons — will retire and never even consider working again.

Some of us will have to work, and others will find it rewarding to continue on the job. In fact, says the AARP, more than half of us will work at least part time after we leave our full-time jobs. That means there’s better than one chance in two that I’ll be behind a desk instead of the wheel of a golf cart when I hit 65. The AARP also says its research indicates that nearly one in five boomers wants to start a business after leaving his or her job.

What will this mean for business owners? The following are some things to consider:

  • Generation Xers, the segment of the population born between 1965 and 1977, are redefining the contract between worker and employer. They tend to be less loyal to a company and more likely to hop from one job to the next in search of opportunity.

  • Even in the Pittsburgh MSA, where the population is expected to drop 5 percent between 1995 and 2020, older workers will comprise a larger proportion of the labor pool. Your recruitment and retention strategies will have to change to meet your needs.

  • If your retiring boomer employee starts his or her own business, there’s an even chance that it’s going to be in the same field that you’re in. Offering an ownership stake in your company might be one way to satisfy that entrepreneurial urge while keeping a valuable worker in your camp.

  • Employers will have to develop strategies to hold onto their most talented workers. Flex time and alternative work schedules, as well as telecommuting, will become more common.

  • Current retirement plans often preclude a retiree from drawing benefits while remaining on a company payroll. The structure of your plan might determine who is permitted to stay on as an employee.

Obviously, the forecast that entrepreneurs would like to see is that they will have a huge supply of young, highly skilled people to draw from to keep their companies growing. Unfortunately, the reality is that you’re going to have to get more creative with your human resources policies. It’s going to get harder, not easier, to staff your offices and your factories.

But look at the bright side: You’ll save a lot of money on gold watches.

For more information on this topic, here are some Web sites that I found useful: www.watsonwyatt.com, www.shepard-assoc.com and www.aarp.org.

Ray Marano is associate editor of SBN, and, as the classic baby boomer, likely will keep working at it for years to come. Why? Because he doesn’t golf.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:51

Working the road

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If you’re an employer looking for a way to get your recruitment effort going, you might want to give it wheels.

Good Partners, an employment recruiting firm, operates the JobMobile, a 25-foot recreational vehicle that functions as a mobile recruiting office for employers. It also serves as an outreach for job seekers, visiting shopping malls and community events in search of job candidates. The JobMobile’s first excursion was to Star Lake Amphitheater in August, during Lilith Fair.

The JobMobile is a complementary service offered by the JobHouse, the downtown office of Good Partners, which launched operations in August.

“The JobMobile takes the atmosphere of the JobHouse on the road,” says Leslie Bonner, co-founder of the agency and a former vice president and manager of employment at PNC Bank. “It will also be used as an adjunct recruiting office at customer work sites. It’s another way of making the task of finding a job less work.”

Even though it’s been in operation only a few months, the fledgling agency has managed to land clients like UPMC Health System, Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance and Servicemaster.

How to reach: Good Partners, (412) 281-9141

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:51

Taming the talker

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I’ve told my sales rep that she talks too much on sales calls. But she responds with: “How will our prospects know what we can do for them if I don’t tell them?” Am I right or wrong?

You are right. A prospect who is listening isn’t a prospect. Most sales reps talk far too much on a sales call. My rule of thumb is that the prospect should be talking 70 percent of the time, and the sales rep should be talking 30 percent of the time.

Most of his or her talking should be in the form of questions. The biggest compliment your rep can pay to prospects is to really listen to what they have to say. Moreover, it helps the rep to understand true buying motives and shape the product or service to meet the prospects’ needs.

Your sales reps’ worth is determined by the information they uncover in a sales call, not the information they give. Their credibility is determined more by the questions they ask than by their answers. You can’t tell prospects anything without getting them defensive.

The sales rep’s job is to ask questions that will help prospects discover for themselves why they need what your company has to offer. I have trained hundreds of sales people over the years and, without a doubt, the number one thing most sales people can do to improve is to talk less and listen more.

As a new sales manager, what should I be doing when I go on joint sales calls with my reps?

The mistake most sales managers make when they accompany their sales reps is they take over the call. Too often, they rationalize this by telling themselves that the sales rep will learn from watching them handle the call. In reality, sales reps don’t usually learn this way.

I liken it to driving someplace you’ve never been before. The only person who remembers how to get there next time is the person who was driving. The person in the passenger seat simply goes to sleep.

When it comes to sales calls, the rep needs to be the driver; the manager should simply be an observant partner. The learning takes place in the pre-call and post-call meetings.

When it comes to making joint sales calls, the amount of time spent planning them is directly proportionate to their successful outcome. The pre-call meeting should be held in a coffee shop (not in the car and certainly not in the elevator on the way to the call) at least an hour before the call. At this meeting, you should review the following items:

History up until now;

Personal information that has been uncovered about the prospect;

The elements of what the prospect has agreed to do at this meeting;

The pain and pain indicators uncovered thus far;

What information is missing;

What needs to be accomplished at this meeting.

The manager and rep must define their roles. You must determine who will ask what questions or what each person will do on the call. In particular, choose who will be the team captain or quarterback. Here are the basic rules:

The team captain calls all the plays.

Only one person can speak at a time.

No rescuing. Both parties must keep their egos in check and resist the temptation to jump in when the other party is struggling.

Agree on how you will pass the ball — your silent communication strategy.

The next step is to rehearse. The team captain should rehearse the introduction, and the partner should rehearse the first three questions he or she will be asking the prospect.

Next in the learning process is the post-call debriefing. Do it immediately after the call. We typically tend to forget about 50 percent of what is said within 48 hours. Review your notes and look for holes. Determine your next step and identify who is responsible for whatever follow-up is necessary.

Be willing to let the sales rep fail. Sales people learn more from failure than they do from their successes. If you always rescue them, you will prolong the learning curve.

Larry Lewis is president of Total Development Inc., a Pittsburgh-based consulting firm specializing in sales development and training. Send comments and questions via fax at (724) 933-9224 or e-mail him at LTLewis@totaldevelopment.com. Reach him by phone at (724) 933-9110.

The papers have been signed. Money has changed hands. The deal is done. But once you sell your business, the work of getting on with your life has just begun.

After years of building and running a successful business, many business owners seem lost when it comes to continuing on with their lives. They may understand the financial issues they face after the sale of their businesses, but many aren’t prepared for the psychological and emotional traumas they may experience. Many experts equate the sale of a business with putting one’s child up for adoption.

This is how many former business owners feel; therefore, it’s not surprising that, when it’s your turn to sell your business, you may have difficulty with some or all of the following:

1) An identity crisis — For many years you were the business and vice versa. Once that business is gone, you may not know how to introduce yourself. The question is, what do you call yourself when you are not the president of XYZ Co.?

2) Loss of control — For years, you have managed employees. Who will you manage once the deal is done?

3) Transition issues — Will you be able to step aside and let others run the company while you gradually ease out of the business?

4) Social adjustments — When the business is sold and there’s a large influx of money, you may find yourself immensely popular with charities and people selling investments. At the same time, you may start to lose your former industry friends. These are the same people who were a big part of your life when you were at the helm of your business.

5) New social circles — With newfound wealth, many will upgrade to a more affluent neighborhood and try to develop friendships with people who may not share the same values. This can be disappointing to someone who is starting a new life.

6) Unrealistic expectations — Many former owners fail to calculate taxes on after-sale proceeds and are shocked when they don’t receive what they thought they would from the sale of their business.

7) No more expense accounts — Once the business is sold, the things that used to be paid through the business, such as health and disability insurance, club memberships, meals, business trips, vacations, etc., must now come from your own pocket.

8) Lack of investment knowledge — Many former owners probably reinvested their money into their own businesses. Now they have to invest in the financial markets, which they frequently don’t understand, to keep their money growing.

Despite such changes, the situation is not as grim as it might seem — and can be viewed as a new opportunity. The following can help former business owners transcend their old lives for something much more exciting:

Rent an outside office and spend time there at least a few days a week. This will give you a chance to tie up loose ends while preserving your family’s sanity.

Postpone any major decisions regarding investing in the securities markets or purchasing another business for the first year after the sale. Sometimes, it is better to research options thoroughly than to rush into something without a great deal of thought behind it.

Take a family vacation. Taking time to play is a reward for many years of hard work.

Consider volunteering in local business organizations that help small businesses or in the businesses themselves. Part-time and full-time opportunities for pay sometimes are available for consultants, boards of directors and advisory boards.

Louis P. Stanasolovich, CFP, is founder and president of Legend Financial Advisors, Inc., a fee-only Securities and Exchange Commission registered investment advisory firm located in the North Hills. Reach him at (412) 635-9210. The firm’s Web site is www.legend-financial.com.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:51

Go West(moreland)

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If you’re looking for a new site for your business, there’s $2.5 million going to Westmoreland County that might help you find it there.

The funding comes through various state programs and will be administered by the Westmoreland County Industrial Development Corporation to develop three economic development projects throughout the county.

1) An estimated $1.25 million in funding from the state’s Infrastructure Development Program has been earmarked for the expansion of the Monessen Riverfront Industrial Park redevelopment project. The first phase, 250,000 square feet of renovated building space, was completed in 1996, and boasts an 82 percent occupancy rate.

The second phase involves the extension of an access road to connect the first two phases, which will provide access to U.S. Route 906. As part of Phase II, there will be immediate access to six parcels of property, totaling approximately 18 acres, along with the development of infrastructure to an additional 29 acres.

2) In the I-70 Industrial Park, the WCIDC will proceed with the construction of an access road and entry road upgrades on behalf of Dick’s Clothing and Sporting Goods Inc., which is constructing a 383,000-square-foot distribution center on the site. The $372,000 grant came from the state’s Infrastructure Development Program.

3) In East Huntingdon Township, $875,000 in State Opportunity Grant Program Funds will be used to help develop the Westmoreland Distribution Park, a facility that will aid the trucking service required by the adjacent Sony Corp.’s operations ,as well as other new or expanding distribution companies.

Ray Marano

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:51

Choosing a supplier

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Although savings opportunities are limited, consultants say business owners should pay close attention when it comes to picking a power supplier. Business owners should:

Do competitive shopping. Talk to more than one company —t here are differences among suppliers’ rates. Compare them but make sure you look at other costs, such as penalties for switching to another supplier. Some contracts will vary according to your usage and rates may vary during the day. Look for a clearly stated cost per kilowatt hour.

Don’t enter a contract that will be costly or difficult to get out of. Tom Gibson of the Gibson Consulting Group says it’s worth taking the time to meet with the supplier. Go over the details of the agreement. Use a lawyer if it is a complex agreement.

Be aware of the consequences of not choosing. If you don’t choose, you will be assigned to a default supplier. You’ll still be able to change suppliers in the future, however, and you don’t have to worry that you’ll be stuck without power. If your supplier goes belly up, your local distribution company will have to supply you with electricity. Sources: Gibson Consulting Group; Energy Savers; SMC Business Councils

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:51

Allegheny County Executive duties

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The Allegheny County executive will be elected to a four-year term at a salary of $90,000 a year. The position’s duties are as follows:

Enforces all county ordinances;

Represents the county in meetings with other elected officials and development organizations;

Approves or rejects county ordinances;

Is accountable for all departments except those under jurisdiction of another officer;

Prepares and submits fiscal plans;

Appoints the county manager (with consent of council);

Makes appointments to county authorities and agencies;

Negotiates and signs contracts;

Calls special meetings of council;

Makes an annual report to council and other reports as council may request. Source: League of Women Voters of Greater Pittsburgh