Q&A with Tracy Royston, Candidate for Pittsburgh City Controller

The Controller’s main focus is to protect taxpayer dollars. I truly believe that the best way to do that is by really talking to people. You cannot just govern from Grant Street.

This is the next post of our 2023 primary election season series ‘Political Q&A’ with progressive candidates throughout Pennsylvania. Candidates can be anywhere in Pennsylvania running for any level of office. Please note that these are not necessarily endorsements, more of an opportunity for candidates to connect with the LGBTQ community, progressives neighbors, and others with an interest in Western Pennsylvania. If your candidate would like to participate, please contact us pghlesbian at gmail dot com. We welcome candidates at all levels of government across the entire Commonwealth.

By participating, candidates are saying that they

  • must be an LGBTQIA+ ally, specifically supporting equality and dignity for transgender persons
  • identify as pro-choice
  • must affirm that President Joe Biden won the 2020 election and that they accept the certified Pennsylvania’s election results

Tracy Royston is our second Q&A for the office of City Controller. She currently works in the County Controller’s office. I haven’t met her in person, so I do appreciate her taking the time to respond. Her responses confirm a shift I’ve detected over the past few years – candidates who grow up with LGBTQ people so they don’t know when they first met someone. That’s a significant generational shift. I wouldn’t say the question is obsolete yet, but I do think in the next few election cycles it may not be useful as currently stated. And that’s a notable bit of progress.

This is our seventh year of creating and publishing these Q&As – nearly 80 to date. If you value this work, please consider investing in our blog. Become a Patreon. Create a Steel City Snowflake. Venmo @Pghlesbian Or consider other optionsThank you. ~ Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents

Your Name: Tracy Royston 

Your Pronouns: She/Hers 

The Office You Seek: Pittsburgh City Controller 

How do you describe your identity? I am a heterosexual cisgender female 

Tell us about your district. What is a hidden gem most people might not know about? 

My district encompasses the City of Pittsburgh in its entirety. All of Pittsburgh is a true gem because of its friendly and welcoming people. The people of Pittsburgh have an incredible sense of community across all of its 90 neighborhoods. In my own neighborhood, Frick Park shines as a gem to me. While it is not exactly hidden, each person can explore its 650 acres and make it their own. Some particular favorite trails of mine are Bradema, Roller Coaster and 276. 

How has redistricting impacted your district? 

Redistricting has not impacted the City as a whole but City Council and State Representative lines have been redrawn in my neighborhood and many others. I think that the biggest impact will be to educate residents about the changes and what their new districts are and who their new political leadership is. I think this is a very exciting time to do so with so many new leaders and a shift to a democratic majority in the State House. 

Tell us about the first LGBTQ person you met and what impact they had on your life? Using initials or pseudonyms is fine. 

I was privileged to grow up in an environment where people were free to be who they were without judgment. As a child, it was not uncommon for my friends to grow up in households with two moms or two dads or to have family and friends who identified as LGBTQ. It was only later as I gained a deeper understanding of our social and political climate that I was disappointed to learn that some of the people that I loved did not have the same rights that I did. That realization has led me to prioritize equal opportunity for all people in our city. 

How has your familiarity with the LGBTQ community in your district and the region changed since you began working for the City?

When I first began working for the City in 2001, LGBTQ issues were not part of the mainstream conversation. At that time, I worked closely with the Gay and Lesbian Community Center (now the Pittsburgh Equality Center) to help to elevate their issues and bring their voice to the Mayor’s office. I also worked closely in Economic Development with the Minority and Women Business Enterprise office to include LGBTQ businesses as part of their scope. I am glad to see now that partner benefits exist in the City although the County rescinded those benefits and should reinstate them. I am really glad to see so many groups that have evolved since that time with a focus on LGBTQ equality, safety, and rights. 

Based on this, what do you understand to be our top LGBTQ concerns and priorities for the City of Pittsburgh? How will you respond to those priorities? 

The LGBTQ population in the City of Pittsburgh is extremely diverse and as such has a wide range of concerns and priorities. I will prioritize strengthening protections in city contracts to include LGBTQ business enterprises much like we do Minority Owned Business, Women Owned Business, and Disabled Veteran Owned Business Enterprises. Additionally, even though the Controller does not have an explicit role in these matters, by virtue of the Controller’s office being an office of possibility, we can advocate for equity and protection for LGBTQ Owned businesses. 

The LGBTQ task force formed under the previous mayoral administration faced criticism for lack of presence and accountability. The Controller, as the independent office in city government, should have a place on this body or any of the working groups) to ensure that the stated goals and objectives are being carried out in the most efficient and transparent way to best serve the needs and interests of the community. 

Please give an example of how intersectionality has informed your work. 

In my time in the County Controller’s office one of my priorities was to diversify hiring and improve conditions for all employees in our office. It is so crucial, particularly in an office meant to advocate for and protect our citizens tax dollars, that we recognize and acknowledge all of our residents’ various identities. I believe strongly that our government must reflect the citizens it represents, and it will always be a priority of mine to ensure that my administration recognizes all of our neighbors and reflects their identities and needs. 

Help us understand the difference between the City Treasurer and the City Controller. Why are both necessary? Note for readers: in the City the Controller is elected, but the Treasurer is appointed by the Mayor. On the County level, both are elected positions. 

Essentially, the Treasurer in both the City and the County writes the checks and collects the money from taxes and fees. The Controller is an independent watchdog to make sure that those checks and the payments that are made are fiscally sound and follow contract standards and budget priorities. The Controller can also have a significant impact on legislation and policies through audits and reports across different sections of city government and entities receiving public funds.

You have experience as Deputy and then Interim County Controller, an office that is also on the ballot this year. Why did decide to run for City Controller instead of County Controller? 

I am running for City Controller because my heart is in the City of Pittsburgh. I began my political career in Mayor Tom Murphy’s administration in 2001. While there I worked in Economic Development and then as the Youth Policy Manager. Through that experience, I got a birds eye view of the cross-sectionally of our city’s functions, operations, budget, and priorities. I learned all 90 neighborhoods and the uniqueness that each brings. 

Perhaps even more importantly, the City Controller also provides oversight to the Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS). As a graduate of PPS, and a parent of two PPS students, I value our public schools. I know that good schools translate into good communities and a strong economy. I sat on executive visioning committees for PPS, I spearheaded the construction of a new playground at Minadeo, and I understand their complex budgeting issues. We are at a critical point with our public schools where we are hemorrhaging students and facing difficult budgetary decisions. Now more than ever, PPS needs a strong leader and a partner in its next City Controller. 

Consolidations and mergers are significant Controller issues. When the City consolidated its 911 operations with Allegheny County, City employees lost access to domestic partnership benefits because the County did not and no longer offers them. Would you commit publicly to require any potential partner for mergers and consolidations to ensure City employees do not lose benefits? 

I would absolutely commit publicly to requiring that all City employees receive partner benefits. I would go further by using the office’s unique position to apply pressure to other levels of government and to the County to ensure that the loss of benefits is never threatened moving forward. 

Your predecessor at the County Controller had two known domestic violence abusers on staff as analysts, one is LGBTQ and the other is cisgender heterosexual, both with ties to local Democratic committees structures. Did you keep them on staff during your interim tenure? Would you commit to not including domestic violence abusers on your team in the future? 

While legally I cannot discuss specific personnel issues, I will say these types of sensitive situations require thorough investigation. Unfortunately I did not hold the position long enough to complete my evaluations. 

I will commit to treating these personnel issues as they come, and to fully evaluating all employees to ensure that I create a safe workplace for all.

Please give concrete examples of a potential new diversified revenue source and a potential new avenue of fiscal prudence – so the typical voter can follow. 

The City must look at diversified revenue sources as Covid money comes to an end and as we anticipate a loss from real estate property assessment appeals. 

There are a couple of ways that we must forge ahead in obtaining new sources of funding. First, UPMC and other large nonprofits must pay what they owe. Though they are our largest employer and provide a gold standard of healthcare to our region, we should not ignore the ways in which they do not contribute to the economy. They put a heavy demand on our infrastructure and utilize a great deal of local resources. They are distributing payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTs) in Erie County and in other states and we need to look at that model and move that conversation forward into action. It will take the political will of both the City and County Controllers, the Mayor and the County Executive. I am a strong leader who can convene those groups and make this happen because I’ve been working on this issue for years in the County Controller’s office. The other area that could generate revenue is the Pittsburgh Land Bank (PLB). We need to look to our neighboring partners at the TriCOG who have coordinated 25 municipalities to partner together in successfully bringing 65 properties back to the tax rolls while Pittsburgh has had zero. 

Your website mentions that the City is not using the ‘gold standard’ of accreditation for auditing. Do you know why? Are there other upgrades you’ve identified as necessary? 

The City is not accredited for peer review. I am not sure why they are not using this process aside from the fact that there are some additional filing methods and processes that must be met including submission of the comprehensive annual financial report and minimum requirements of certified professional education (CPE) credits. Seeking this accreditation makes the audit process more professional and objective. It also ensures that audits are not “gotcha” moments, they are collaborative efforts for better government. 

How do competitive primary elections benefit the residents of a community? 

Competitive elections allow the residents to have a choice and to select the candidate that they believe will have the greatest impact and aligns most closely with their values and priorities. 

What are three reasons people should vote for you/support your campaign? 

1. Experience: I have not only served in the county controller’s office since 2018, I also governed in the position. I also have extensive experience in city government and Pittsburgh Public Schools.

2. Temperament: I am a strong-willed, independent person who will always stand up for what I believe in and what is right. I will always work for good government and the people that I serve.

3. Priorities: My priorities are partnering to improve public schools, ensuring that large nonprofits pay what they owe, and getting out into the community in order to be responsive to the needs of the people. 

Tell me about your other endorsements and supporters. 

I am in the process of building my community of endorsements and supporters. I have gotten a great reception across all of the city neighborhoods that I have visited and look forward to visiting and hearing from the rest! 

Is there anything you’d like to add? 

People are the most important part of this City and this role. The Controller’s main focus is to protect taxpayer dollars. I truly believe that the best way to do that is by really talking to people. You cannot just govern from Grant Street. During my campaign, I plan to do a listening tour across the City to hear the issues that are most important to the people. I commit to carrying that through when I am in office and I will always be accessible to individuals and to communities.

Where can readers find your campaign on social media?

Thank you, Tracy

Full disclosure: I served on the board of the GLCC during the time period Ms. Royston references and I am currently one co-chair on the City LGBTQIA+ Commission she references with regard to transparency. Finally, the County Controller’s Office has had two known domestic abusers on staff during Ms. Royston’s tenure as Deputy and Interim Controller. I asked her about it. I am unable to confirm if they are still on staff.

Other Q&A’s in this election cycle series. You can read previous cycle Q&A’s here. 

  1. Q&A with Rachael Heisler, Candidate for Pittsburgh City Controller
  2. Q&A with Abigail Salisbury, Candidate for PA State House District 34
  3. Q&A with Erica Rocchi Brusselars, Candidate for Allegheny County Treasurer
  4. Q&A with Bethany Hallam, Incumbent Candidate for Allegheny County Council, At-Large
  5. Q&A with Tracy Royston, Candidate for Pittsburgh City Controller
Tracy Royston


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