Friday, September 14, 2007

Mayor Announces Leadership, Structural Changes

Luke Ravenstahl announced sweeping changes as part of an ongoing process to improve, enhance, and create further efficiencies in his administration. (PGH, Joanna Doven)

"I've had a year to evaluate the City's management structure and personnel," Ravenstahl said. "I've not been satisfied with the performance of the City either historically or today. The status quo is unacceptable. Changes need to be made and I'm making them."

The moves include two newly created positions. Arthur O. Victor Jr. will be Director of Operations, and Michael Huss will be Director of Public Safety.

The mayor says that Mr. Victor will "enhance what we do while also creating efficiencies," whereas "residents should sleep better knowing Chief Huss is in place."

In other news, Patrick Ford will take over as URA Director, because "he knows all the facets inside and out."

"With Mr. Ford at the helm we will have strong continuity between my Administration and the URA. Expect to see further structural changes taking place under our leadership to increase efficiency and further streamline permitting in the City. Stay tuned."

Finally, Alecia Sirk will take over as Press Secretary.

"We interviewed people from as far away as Washington, DC and Philadelphia," Ravenstahl said. "We found the right person here at home working for the URA."

She should not expect the Comet to be quite so faithful and attentive to her press releases as we are being for this one today.

"Change is never easy," said Ravenstahl. "But it's necessary to improve City government for the taxpayers. I will accept nothing less than the best for Pittsburgh."

Friday: News of the Day

Carol Pascuzzi works behind the cheese counter at the Pittsburgh Macaroni Company, in the Strip District. She calls everybody who walks in "Dear Heart," and she knows a great deal about cheese. (PC, Heidi Price)


CMU and Caterpillar Inc. are teaming up to establish a Center of Excellence for Field Robotics and Automation. It will yield five to ten new engineering jobs in Lawreceville or Oakland. (PC, Deb Smit)

The region should look at this as a good opportunity with a great company for the future of robotics,” Bares says. “This is a field that is in its early childhood and Caterpillar feels the time is right to begin developing these products. We’re confident that it also will provide Caterpillar with access to some of the best minds in the business.”


Summerset at Frick Park has cottages available starting at $297,000, or estates that reach upwards of $600,000. The development is accessible from Forward Avenue in Squirrel Hill. (PC, Team Effort)

Editorial Comment: This sounds like a great place to live.

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Thursday, September 13, 2007


The Pittsburgh Comet has discovered three recent reporting errors, all at the expense of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.

#1) We erroneously reported that the Mayor continues to be tardy in his appointment of an Assistant EEO Officer.

That position has in fact been filled by Tamiko Stanley, a Hill District native who was previously involved in human resources for the Pittsburgh Pirates. (Courier, Christian Morrow)

#2) We correctly reported that Ravenstahl appointed Pat Ford to the SPC Board, but we neglected to report that Mr. Ford had already been appointed to a first term on that board, by Mayor Bob O'Connor.

#3) On August 31st, we asserted that only Dan Onorato had pledged to work towards a Community Benefits Agreement, whereas Luke Ravenstahl "has not yet uttered the three magic words publicly."

This was apparently false. In reviewing the Hill District saga, we discovered this in a Post-Gazette article dated April 6:

The end product should be a written "community benefits agreement," the mayor said.


In all seriousness, the Comet regrets these errors, and promises to step up our game.

In less-than-total seriousness, and in order to atone for these lapses of diligence, we will spend all day tomorrow reporting only positive, flattering news about our city and its leaders. Enjoy it while it lasts.

The Meteoric Rise of Patrick Ford

So Pat Ford gets named URA Director, and Alecia Sirk gets tapped for Press Secretary. (P-G, Rich Lord)

The latter is a great move. Obsessive readers of the Burr Reporr will surely recall Sirk's chipper, blog-savvy approach toward defusing the URA / Streetface / Edelstein uproar.

In a follow-up comment, Sirk made a point of noting this:

mr. ford (my first husband, if anyone is keeping score) wanted me to note for y'all that he is not the mayor's chief advisor, but instead the mayor's advisor on economic development issues.

Pshaw, there's no call for modesty!

2002-2004: Zoning adminisator
February '06: appointed City Planning Director
November '06: appointed Director of Community & Econ. Development
Sometime around then: appointed to Southwestern PA Commission
June '07: moonlights for Law Deptartment, misleads Planning Commission
September '07: appointed URA Director

Considering our Mayor's very short tenure, the rapid ascension of Pat Ford should offer an excellent window into both Ravenstahl's policy preferences and personal administrative style. We also think it merits exploration of what the Ford Doctrine is all about.

This is about all we've been able to find:

"Together we will create an environment that is conducive to development," Ford said in a statement. "I will challenge city staff at all levels to be more accountable in assuming responsibility for their jobs and to improve customer service in their interactions with residents and businesses." (PBT, Tim Schooley)

Pretty boilerplate, so far.

The Mayor is Poised

So claims the headline from the Post-Gazette: Mayor poised to name new department heads.

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said yesterday that he is close to making decisions on the 11 department director and authority director posts and several other administration jobs that are either held by people who submitted resignation letters, or vacant.

The mayor has a press conference scheduled for 11 a.m. today, but the administration would not confirm that the posts are the topic.

The Comet anticipates that Ravenstahl will lead off his personnel moves by appointing a new Equal Employment Opportunity Officer. (CORRECTION: The position has been filled.)

Recall this from the New Pgh Courier:

Though the directorships are in limbo, Ravenstahl said they would not be so for long. Acting Communications Director Joanna Doven said the search for the Assistant Director/EEO Officer is nearly complete.

"We have narrowed it down to two candidates and after their second interviews this week, we'll make our choice. So should be done in about two weeks," she said. "It's been a very rigorous process and we've interviewed a lot of people so we excited about that."

The 10 directorship positions will not be filled until the EEO officer is in place.

That came out roughly eight weeks ago.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Editorial Notes: Two Camps on the Hill

On Friday, April 6, the Comet wrote this blurb about the issue in the Hill District:

The P-G's Rich Lord reports on a perplexing meeting between Hill District leaders, and Ravenstahl, Onorato, Ferlo, Wheatley, and Payne. Marimba Milliones and the Rev. Johnnie Monroe are demanding a lot, but there are considerable questions as to whether they represent a community consensus.

Five months later, our perplexity is lifting. Had we been reading the article with a trained eye, the following passage would have jumped out at us:

The approach, though, didn't sit well with Ms. Payne, who said the terms were developed by a few people without the benefit of neighborhood meetings. She added that putting ambitious terms on the table without full community buy-in likely wouldn't work.

"I really believe that the Penguins want to work with this community and want to be good neighbors," she said. "But you've got to give them a chance to do good in the community, not come in and say, 'Do one, two, three, or I'll knock you out.' "

"It seemed like these groups were trying to position themselves to try to receive any kind of funds that's going to come into the area," said Pearlean Coleman, a Democratic Committee leader from the Lower Hill who attended the meeting.

We can understand how they might have felt threatened by some external power base taking the initiative.


In a related development, 15 Hill residents who represent the Other Other One Hill Very Concerned Citizens Council Corporation, Inc. presented a list of demands to County Executive Dan Onorato insisting that any demolition to take place would happen without destroying any structures and with a 20% cut to the OOOHVCCC, Inc. (The Angry Drunk Bureaucrat)

A group of Hill District ministers says it does not want to divide the community, but seeks instead a "holistic approach" that ensures all profits and benefits fromt eh development of a new arena go "straight into our pockets." (The Carbolic Smoke Ball)

The Comet has nothing but admiration for these two civic treasures -- and we certainly appreciate that when it comes to political humor, nobody should be spared.

However, we feel these two passages illustrate commonly held prejudices about the capability, seriousness and sincerity of this particular band of Hill District ministers.

Many of us are naturally suspicious of leaders who claim "real-world" legitimacy from holy writ and religious trappings; we have seen such figures descend into rank opportunism many times before.

Harder for some to see is the possibility that these ministers might actually derive their legitimacy from decades upon decades of intense engagement with their community, on a whole variety of issues -- involvement of a type most Pittsburghers are unfamiliar with -- and from respect that community developed for them over time.

When the ministers produced a term sheet demanding a share of development funds, it was easy for outsiders to roll their eyes knowingly.

Enter the well-intentioned white liberals, AKA the labor unions.


Why Pittsburgh UNITED did not approach the Hill District Ministers right from the get-go is a matter for speculation.

Perhaps their own political leanings made them hesitant to partner with spiritually-based leadership. Perhaps their model demanded an all-new organization produced virtually from scratch. Perhaps the alienation of Councilwoman Payne was too large and obvious an opportunity to pass up.

Whatever it was, Pittsburgh UNITED brought everything the ministers lacked -- elections, process, planks, stickers, and media-savvy. In a sense, Pittsburgh UNITED brought democracy to the Hill District -- which was very reassuring for most of the Pittsburgh media establishment.

They even brought their own minister -- the Rev. William Smart, flown in from California, to reassure the rank and file of the Hill District Consensus Group that the Pittsburgh UNITED model was the best model and the most righteous model.

He has not been heard from since.

Although there are many sincere community stakeholders working under the One Hill banner, their efforts continue to be hampered by unclear and malleable rules of governance, and they continue to be overmatched by the politically-motivated interests of others.

Pittsburgh UNITED itself may have grown overmatched; there are rumors that it is finally exploring avenues toward hedging its bets with the Ministers.

Kimberly Ellis AKA Dr. Goddess writes about one of the more significant squabbles in today's City Paper. We have to wonder why some in the Coalition have been so solicitous toward the preferences of "Downtown."


The Comet does not want to leave our readers with the impression that the sun and moon revolve around the Hill District Ministers, who bathe in an angelic glow of purity.

We do want to leave you with the impression that the Ministers' term sheet is no simple demand for an "unspecified development fund," but rather a sophisticated (if aggressive) list of community demands that allow room for negotiation -- including a thorough mark-up of the arena lease.

We do want to leave you with the impression that the Ministers enjoy a very real and significant power base on the Hill, although it does not derive from sources to which we may be accustomed. We suspect the Ministers have a far greater capacity to put "boots on the ground" than One Hill -- and it is clear that Dan Onorato and the rest are acutely aware of this.

Finally, we do wish to suggest that it is no bad thing that opposition to the Ministers has been organized -- organized around the purpose of obtaining community benefits.

For all One Hill's discussion about electing a seven or nine member negotiation team, we recall this from that original Rich Lord article:

Talks on the terms will now move to a smaller group including two representatives of the Hill, two from the mayor's office, two from county government and someone from the Sports & Exhibition Authority and the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

Two reps from the Hill. What do you think is the logical thing to do?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

District 9: To Sweep, or Not To Sweep?

Independent candidate David Adams released this campaign video to YouTube (h/t MR):

Adams says, "We cannot have sweeps and raids as Rev. Ricky Burgess is calling for," and implies that the approach of his Democratic opponent is too disorganized.

In this clip from a candidate forum prior to the May primary, Burgess does call for "targeted police sweeps."

What say you, Burghosphmaniacs?

Editorial Comment: We are having trouble imagining how to confront organized crime without ever having to conduct raids or sweeps, even if we do get community collaboration, economic development, and everything else into place.

Post-Agenda Session: Dispiriting Editorial Rant

"Hopefully, within 45 days we'll have a news conference and we'll let everyone know that everything has taken place," Chief Harper said. (P-G, Lord & Silver)

Whatever they come up with, it won't be good enough.

The women's advocates want automatic, exhaustive and open investigations of every allegation of a domestic disturbance, with any wrongdoing resulting in harsh disqualifiers and penalties.

The police want everything to be handled internally by the Chief, in whom we must put all our faith, who will bear in mind how tough it is to ever really know what happened (maybe she tried to hit him in the head with a frying pan!)

The politicians want to be seen to care.

Yesterday's meeting "is the beginning, not the end," said council President Doug Shields. "Change is in the wind."

Maybe some of them do care, but for now all they can do is be seen to care.

Mark DeSantis was in attendance for most of the meeting. Do you think he'll be able to craft a proposal that is legitimate, popular, and makes Ravenstahl look bad by comparison?

Because it takes a mayor to put real pressure on a police department, and for the next two months, DeSantis is the closest thing we've got.

Otherwise, we just don't like the odds of anything happening for another couple of years.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Say what you Want about Bill Peduto...

He is updating at least twice a week. He is accepting comments. He is adorning his web space with the cheesy rock n' roll anthems of his adolescence.

Holding out for snark? Find me a denizen of the Burghosphere who cannot identify with the exasperation Peduto vents in concocting an excuse to post this YouTube video:

Ladies and gentlemen, Bill Peduto is well and truly blogging.

(By the way, we can see what the Flying Lizards are getting at, and we generally approve.)

In related news, multiple reports leaked from the radical fringe group Progress Pittsburgh indicate that they intend to step up their blogging game over the coming weeks.

Go Away!

What are you doing here? Sue is live-blogging the post-agenda session of Council at the Pittsburgh Women's Blogging Society, which begins at 1:30.

Tune in around 3:00 for the resumption of regular Comet coverage.