Friday, October 5, 2007

Two Tots of Rum All Around!

Who knew playing the role of an attack-dog campaign surrogate can take so much out of a person -- and make one feel so like one needs a shower?

Then again, we like showering.

What a great time to hop aboard a jet airplane and play groomsman at a best friend's wedding in Cape Cod. All of our dear esteemed Comet readers are strenuously encouraged also to go have as wonderful a weekend as you can possibly manage!

KDKA Must Really be on the Warpath ....

.... because they're letting us on the air.

KDKA radio personality Kevin Miller invited the Burr Reporr onto his program to discuss, oh we don't know, federal reserve interest rates or something. In turn, the secretive Burgher dispatched us as the "public face" of the Burgh Report.

Which we can do. Because we are. Or something. When we find out more, we'll tell you.

At any rate: 1:05 PM today, KDKA 1020 AM.

We've spent the morning immersing ourselves in the data and the history, and repeating the phrase "How Now Brown Cow" into a mirror. So no news. Please avail yourselves of the Comet Blogroll, or if you desire, some actual Mainstream Media outlets. The Comet will come roaring back on Monday afternoon.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

North Side Revolution Sputters, Stalls

North Siders speak up about casino (Trib, Justin Vellucci)

North Side faces rift over casino (P-G, Diana Nelson Jones)

There were a lot of political heavies lurking around the edges of this second community meeting, indicating either a high degree of nervousness, or just curiosity.

Alan Perry (black!) opened the meeting by warning everybody to think about the children, think about what message we're sending our children, the children.

Mark Fatla, executive director of the North Side Leadership Conference and star of the last video, dove into a PowerPoint presentation, but not before assuring the audience there will be many opportunities to ask questions, after each section, the first of which being "jobs." The first dozen slides were all titled "Jobs!", "Jobs!", and "Jobs!"

(One of these days, we're going to write a post critiquing everyone in the City of Pittsburgh for their comical under-utilization of PowerPoint's capabilities, but that's another subject.)

Twenty minutes of sonorous droning later, two microphones were opened up for questions. The first two were identical -- would the NSLC join with Northside United? Would they start listening to them and invite them to join the process?

NSLC board chair Joe Ferguson, in a measured tone but clearly fed up, pointed out, "You're standing in the middle of that process, right now."

A voice rang out, "Alright, let's go!" and everyone in Northside United t-shirts obediently stood up and staged a WALKOUT!!!

The Trib says about 50 people walked out, the P-G calls it about 30, the Comet would have guessed only 25. Whatever it was, it looked pretty pathetic, as well over 150 residents remained seated and attentive.

Twenty minutes later, with all the rowdies absent, the coast was clear for this moment described by the P-G:

One attendee addressed the panel -- Mr. Fatla, Mr. Ferguson and emcee Alan Perry, a resident of Manchester -- saying, "You are dealing with powerful people. I take it on good faith you have worked hard on this, but, no offense, I don't see powerful people here."

As if on cue, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and County Chief Executive Dan Onorato entered the theater to both laughter and cheers.

They both said a few words, with Luke in particular apologizing for the "miscommunication" of last week. They sat for the remainder of the meeting, in front of the cameras, turning to favor each questioner with their best Bill Clinton "I'm Listening" faces.

The only time Northside United came up again was during another, milder question about access to the process -- which continued to crop up. Ferguson made a note of insisting that "staff members of Pittsburgh United" were present at the table during negotiations, suggesting that some P.U. leaders are being disingenuous.

Sources indicate that Mark Fatla in particular is frustrated that race is being made an issue. However, he is having a bit of trouble allaying those fears.

For example, when asked how information was and will be disseminated, he kept breezily assuring us that it'll be up on the website -- hello, digital divide?

He also placed a lot of onus on the 14 member organizations of the NSLC, representing the 14 neighborhoods comprising the Conference. However, he doesn't seem in touch with the idea that although some people may have lived in, say, East Allegheny for years, they may have never actually encountered evidence of an East Allegheny Community Council.

Some pro-active outreach, especially to "the other side of the tracks" in each neighborhood, may be long overdue.

Nonetheless, the bulk of the meeting can accurately be described as a love-fest. Residents who dislike gambling suggested ways to limit the casino's deleterious effects, whereas others asked how gaming revenue could be used to provide property tax relief.

Everyone who remained praised the NSLC and their government officials for providing the opportunity.

Another Scandal Totally Rocks Mayor's World, From Which He Will Never Recover

So the mayor, he um, he's been using a GMC Yukon assigned to the Intelligence Unit for personal stuff like family outings ...

"From time to time, I guess there were either issues with [the Impala], or from time to time if we would travel in groups to Harrisburg, for example, we would use that vehicle," he said yesterday, standing next to the Impala. "I know it was brought to my attention at a later date that it was an Intel vehicle bought with Homeland Security dollars. Once that was brought to my attention, we haven't used it since." (P-G, Rich Lord)

Our favorite part is that he and Police Chief Nate Harper attempted to discipline the sergeant that sounded the alarm, because that always ends well. Public Safety Director Michael Huss overturned the disciplinary measures -- he who would not be Public Safety Director were it not for the last police whistle-blower.

Our other favorite part was that the SUV was reportedly returned from a Toby Keith concert in "messy condition."

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The DeSantis Plan for Financial Recovery

Setting aside the public safety plan, this one is the Big Kahuna.

This one is supposed to explain how Pittsburgh will save oodles of cash, without letting garbage pile up on the streets.

Let's take a look at some provisions, and make some snap judgements.

DeSantis Will Reduce Spending by 1% Annually.

“I want to instill a culture of efficiency and lead a new age of innovation in City government. Some will say it cannot be done, but any Mayor who cannot streamline 1% of fat annually out of a city budget should not be your Mayor,” added DeSantis.

That all depends on what is fat, what is gristle, what is savory tenderloin, and what is bone. Will we be finding out below?

DeSantis will seek to amend the Home Rule Charter to impose a cap on the growth of spending. Under this cap City spending could not grow more than the annual increase in the Consumer Price Index for the Pittsburgh region, plus/minus the percentage change in Pittsburgh’s population.

We love the seriousness. We love the urgency. But even still, amending the Home Rule Charter seems a little dramatic. Why not just promise to submit budgets that are under that threshold?

Mr. DeSantis also pledges no layoffs while he is Mayor. However, he does recognize that 21st Century City government does need to get leaner, and he will reduce the size of City government through attrition. He will implement an across-the-board hiring freeze for all non-essential City personnel.

You would think this would set some city employees' minds at ease.

In addition, Mr. DeSantis will aggressively tackle excessive workers’ compensation and overtime costs ... In his first two years as Mayor, Mr. DeSantis will take action to reduce these expenses in half, saving the City more than $23 million a year. This is the same amount of money that DeSantis previously pledged to add to the City’s pension plans.

That's your issue, gents.

This would offset the money DeSantis wants to funnel from the nonprofits and the casino, directly to our pension debt -- which Ravenstahl maintains will jeopardize city services. Now DeSantis would plug this gap through reducing certain employee benefits.

We knew we weren't going to get out of this with some pain. From everything we've heard it's workers comp and overtime that really is the culprit when it comes to the city budget.

Implicit in this is that he intends to take on ... dun dun DUN ... the UNIONS. Pittsburgh's public-sector unions are said to be the toughest and most demanding in the country. As much as it pains the Comet to sound anti-labor chords -- well, it's not anti-labor at all. It's pro-City.

“It makes absolutely no sense for the City and County to both maintain their own Law, Information Technology, Parks and many other Departments,” said DeSantis.

The consolidation of these, and many other, duplicate functions would conservatively save the City taxpayers $10 million a year, when fully carried out.

No objection. No objections from most people, actually. We're not talking about dissolving Pittsburgh, here. Turf wars and special relationships be damned.

The DeSantis administration will immediately begin to auction all properties that are not being used to provide government services.

Good luck finding buyers for most of them. We're all for getting the city out of the business of real-estate speculation -- and kudos to DeSantis for suggesting it -- but we imagine there is a more deliberate manner of easing out of the market than this.

New City employees will be placed in a defined contribution plan.

This is another biggie. In other words, although nothing will change for current employees, new employees won't get health care and pension benefits without kicking back something from their payroll (like many of us).

Again -- how do you feel about sacrifice? It seems like DeSantis is rounding down all the rough edges he possibly can -- but he is serious about finding savings and scaling back.

Which is interesting. In national politics, it is George W. Bush that insists we can meet our national challenges without calling upon us to make any sacrifices. Without commenting on the DeSantis Plan, what "tough choices" has Ravenstahl made to steel us for the coming budget crunch?

Beginning in the fourth year of his plan, Mr. DeSantis plans to reduce the real estate, wage and payroll preparation taxes to attract new residents and businesses.

Hahahahaha. Even we don't think we're gonna get four years out of this bloke.

Our Knee-Jerk Recommendation: Let's take the savings, accept the sacrifice, enjoy two years of tough love from DeSantis, and then see where we stand.

Tuesday Follies

The Pittsburgh Public Service Fund voted to bequeath some money to the City of Pittsburgh over another three years, in payments in lieu of payments in lieu of taxes -- but they'll figure out how much later. (P-G, Rich Lord)

"We can't operate government out of a tin cup," said Council President Doug Shields, arguing that the state should set rules requiring contributions by tax-exempt groups.

We think that's new news.


Allegheny County Council will hear public statements tonight on the proposed new taxes to help shore up public transit. (P-G, Ann Belser)

[Council President Rich Fitzgerald, D-Squirrel Hill] said the county has not raised taxes since it went to an assessment system in which values were tied to 2002 values. Additionally, he said the property taxes for homeowners have gone down because of the increase in the homestead exemption, from $10,000 to $15,000.

"People have really gotten a break on county taxes," he said.

Someone should tell talk radio.


After running in the Great Race, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said he is generally in favor of bringing back the Pittsburgh Marathon -- and perhaps participating. (Trib, JoAnne Klimovich Harrop)

"This was a great workout," he said. "It kind of got the competitive juices flowing. I finished in under 50 (minutes), which was my goal. Now, running a marathon would be much more difficult. But I would love to do a marathon. We'll see."

Training for a marathon can't be that time-consuming.

Monday, October 1, 2007

"Live" Blogging that North Side Meeting

8:00 - "You've seen me facilitate community meetings, and all I can say is, I'm glad I'm not doing this one." You stay classy, Mark Fatla.

7:30 - So that must have been the trouble! Somebody got upset that they didn't get a handout!

6:30 - Next week -- that's Tuesday (tomorrow!) at 6:30 at the New Hazlett Theater -- there's a session to talk about "all the social and economic issues." That all for one meeting, folks. Tick tock, tick tock.

6:10 - Composed Woman: "Excuse me. There's an organization Pittsburgh United that has been working to -- come work through the community and come out -- why do you want to tell us when we're gonna meet to talk about this for? You didn't even --{inaudible due to applause}"

5:55 - Composed Woman: "You're talking about this like this is something you guys have been doing --{inaudible due to...}


5:25 - Emotional Woman sort of starts to exit, but continues yelling as she walks backwards.

5:20 - Emotional Woman: "We don't know them! Who are these people? We don't know them! I've been in this community all my life. All my life. I've paid taxes, I'm a homeowner. And you don't come up in here."


5:00 - A solid minute of mostly inaudible hollering from the crowd. Jennifer Watson from the Mayor's office tries to calm the waters, but Composed Woman kind of shuts her down.

4:15 - Emotional Woman: "Our kids are lying on their back because of the crack dealers! The drug dealers! Now you {inaudible} about a casino! Where was Ravenstahl when our kids were being shot down in the streets? He didn't call no community meeting! You ought to be ashamed!"

3:46 - Suddenly: "CBA! CBA! CBA!" Maybe a fifth of the crowd is chanting.

3:20 - Jennifer Watson: "If we're going to have a discussion here, we need to have a discussion." As schoolmarmish as you can possibly get.

3:10 - Discerning Woman: "... weren't in on the plans. The community had a right to be in at the table from the very beginning. And to bring the design process to my community is a little too late. We want to be in at the very beginning. We want a seat at the table, with the planners. We don't want to talk about the design after the fact."

2:40 - Mark Falta "wholeheartedly agrees ..." with something, but can't get a word in yet. The crowd is now demanding "Where's the Mayor?"

2:07 - Fatla: "I do not want to end this. I want to have this dialogue. She wants to shut this down, I do not want to do that." (Response: "WHO IS SHE?")

1:57 - Fatla: "I encourage you to attend Pittsburgh United's meetings. I encourage you to attend the Mayor's meetings. I encourage you to attend Planning Commission meetings. I stand here to encourage everyone to have every opportunity to participate in every community --{inaudible}. I want your voices..."

1:30 - Awesome Man: "You should have encouraged us before you got three million dollars!"

1:25 - Fatla: "And we -- we want to talk next week about how we do spend, how we spend that three million."

1:15 - Fatla: "Let me talk to you about how this came out. There's a lot been said about the agreement that exists between the [North Side Leadership] Conference and the casino. And rather than rely on what folks say or what Mark says up here, or what the newspapers say, you have it tonight." (Brandishes a copy)

0:45 - Fatla: "We also know that this agreement is not perfect. We never claimed that this was perfect. We also never claimed to be the exclusive organization to negotiate for neighborhoods." (booing, objections) "We never claimed that."

0:25 - Fatla: "We encourage you to participate. We encourage Pittsburgh United. What we do have is, we have a base. The casino has made certain promises to North Side neighborhoods. And you have the right in this paper in front of you. And that's the base."

0:08 - Somebody: "Where's our voice?"

0:04 - Fatla: "And I'm asking to have that voice as much as I can."

(h/t Agent Ska, who indicates a Part 2 is on the way)

Monday: A Healthy Start

The P-G Ed Board supports Doug Shields's police legislation...

The most important thing it does is recommend against hiring police applicants who have engaged in or been investigated for domestic violence.

... but wants it to go even further. It doesn't even address promotions, and "it should."


This is Not how to help a free
Life-loving citizenry to live

In simple, unextorted Peace:

We need to be stewards of a workable Vision, not

To be

Anonymously observed.

How far into the future, 'round the corner, up the street, behind closed doors

Is far enough?

We're really happy that somebody is piping up against video surveillance, but does it absolutely have to be a poet? (P-G, Mark Balobeck)


The TRIBUNE REVIEW's Jeremy Boren seemed to highlight one particular contrast at the Civic Design Coalition debate above others.

DeSantis said Ravenstahl has ignored residents' concerns about two major developments -- the $490 million Majestic Star Casino on the North Shore and the Penguins $290 million arena in Uptown.

"The generally held view of the people that live here is that there is no real dialogue," said DeSantis, 47, of Downtown.


"I think the public process, specifically in the Hill District, has been above and beyond the call of duty," Ravenstahl said, noting he has met regularly with Hill residents seeking economic benefits from the arena, including guaranteed jobs for residents and construction of a grocery store.

He said the Gaming Implementation Task Force he created has fielded advice from residents of the North Side, where he recently held a packed neighborhood meeting.

Can we find anybody on the Hill to corroborate the Mayor's aboveness and beyonditude?

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Sunday, September 30, 2007

If You Read One (1) News Item this Weekend

You'll be wanting to be well-versed in this one before showing up to work on Monday.

Brash change in style for URA
(P-G, Lord & Fitzpatrick)

The most delicious tidbit may simply be this:

"I think he is the kind of guy we need," said Walnut Capital Partners President Todd Reidbord, who also is on the planning commission.