Saturday, July 14, 2007

Ethics Investigation Underway

CORRECTION: A more accurate title would have read "Ethics Inquiry Undertaken"

Jon Delano took a stroll with Sister Patrice Hughes, who was chosen by Bob O'Connor to lead the city's Ethics Hearing Board. She said:

Our preference would be to have him appear before us. I think the possibility of greater credibility with the general public would be enhanced by his response to us personally.

She is drafting a letter to the Mayor to make that preference clear.

It will surely tick off the board if Ravenstahl declines to attend next month's meeting, and sends lawyers in his stead. Video of such a meeting will show an ethics panel expressing disappointment and frustration, and the accusations of impropriety will only be made more explicit.

On the other hand, if Luke does show up -- video will show that. It is a question of self-assurance, more than anything.

Hughes also said:

We have to be non-political: only investigating, looking for truth, making wise judgements that can't ... that are based on fact, not by political persuasion.

We do not know what Delano asked to elicit this comment -- but the fact that "political persuasion" was already on Hughes' mind, might be telling.


WTAE's Bob Mayo focused more on what was said at the hearing, particularly by Rabbi Danny Schiff.

Although the Comet recalls that Schiff sat silently throughout the entire first board meeting, he was considerably more exercised this time:

It seems to me that the Mayor is certainly in violation of the codes in front of us -- not only the Pittsburgh city code, but perhaps even more particularly the State Ethics Act.

Acting city solicitor George Specter insisted that all charitable events are excluded from the code, regardless of cost or extenuating circumstance, and so Mayor Ravenstahl is in the clear.

Assistant city solicitor Kate DeSimone attempted to buttress this point:

Nobody in their right mind is going to pay $9,000 for a golf game. And the actual value of the game had to have been much lower than that.

Editorial Comments: Yet people in their right minds do. That's why they hold celebrity tournaments. The value lies not in the greens fee and the meal, but in the intimate exposure to big stars -- not to mention the very, very wealthy.

The fact that UPMC arranged for Luke to golf with Sidney Crosby, together with two UPMC lobbyists, shows that they knew exactly what they were up to.

The fact that Luke was proud that he was conducting city business in these circumstances, and that it was somehow "just like a meeting in his office," is alarming -- and confusing.

Ordinary taxpayers, who each bear a considerable share of the city's massive financial burdens, do not have such favors to pass around.

Residents who can see the U.S. Steel Tower from their own front porches, and who would prefer not to think of UPMC every time they glance toward Downtown, do not get to show our public officials such a good time.

The Ethics Board is to be commended for taking such initiative. Someone needed to bring serious concerns to Mr. Ravenstahl's attention, in a manner befitting those concerns.


  1. We should push to make the ethics hearings on cable TV.

  2. We really need to step back and talk about what the notion of charity is. The assistant city solicitor who attended the ethics board meeting stated that the actual value of the event was less than the 27,000 (or 9,000) paid. Absolutely, but the 27,000 may well show up on the tax return of one of Luke’s UPMC Troika (minus a reasonable accounting of the *actual* value of the event). Someone will gain the tax value of the event, or UPMC will present it to the state insurance commissioner as proof of its community work, or something. Here’s the thing, the Mayor was granted access to an event with celebrities and well-heeled Pittsburghers (and out of towners), that he could not have possibly afforded. Maybe the Mayor can just call up Sidney Crosby and say, come golf with me, but maybe not. The value the Mayor has gotten is the intangible value of being at a celebrity golf tourney minus the value of having a big write off on his taxes, plus the value of a few meals and a couple of days of golfing.

  3. The acting solicitor's defense would be more palatable if not for the fact that it wasn't the charity that allowed Luke free admission, i.e. the point of the charity exception is to encourage public officials to show up at such events to give them greater attention - (1) Luke hid the fact that he was at the event, thus violating the spirit of the exception; (2) the Lemieux Foundation didn't grant Luke free admission for a charitable purpose, UPMC gave Luke $9,000 to provide him access; (3) Luke admits he was there for "business" (lets pretend that we believe that Luke every really conducts any business outside of negotiations over how he can get more freebies). A nice try by Mr. Specter, but a seriously flawed defense given these facts. Maybe Luke should've learned long ago that you need to talk to the lawyers (real ones, not Yarone Zober) BEFORE the event, not afterward. But Kudos to the Ethics Board - at least those who attended the meeting!

  4. Right now I'm feeling that Sister Patrice Hughes was THE BEST appointment made by Bob O'Connor. You go Sister!!!!!! You, too, Rabbi! And good analysis Anon 10:11.

  5. Bram,

    You are always slamming young Luke. Will you be one that crosses party lines to support Desantis this fall?

  6. Firstly, we would consider our "support" to be a mixed blessing, and we would not inflict it upon anyone.

    Secondly, since we are not a Democratic officeholder, committee member or operative, "crossing party lines" for us would not entail the kind of Shawshank Redemption / P.O.W. Camp style escape scenarios to which others are routinely subjected.

    That all having been said, it is fair to say that we are "leaning DeSantis." It is by no means impossible for Luke to earn our vote back in the coming months, but he would have to exhibit some respect for (and fear of) ordinary taxpayers and rank & file voters.

    Jim Malloy, who has a way with words, described his situation with the Mayor as "I'm working my side of the street, and he's working his." That made us stop to think, *is* Luke working his side of the street -- our side of the street -- really?

    Sometimes we think that the best favor we can do for Luke is to deal him some adversity, and force him to learn who he is, who his friends are, and who Pittsburghers really are.