Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Way Too Much Wednesday!

Overseers approve city's budget (P-G, Rich Lord)

Council President Doug Shields noted that the city has fixed its finances largely by leaving positions empty, freezing salaries and cutting benefits. Now it must fill posts, and it faces new contract negotiations with several unions in the next two years, which could alter the picture.

The city's revised budget includes money to hire outside legal help for labor talks.

We hope he means ninjas.


New county tax plan put on hold
(P-G, Karamagi Rujumba)

"This is probably the biggest test this council has had," [Committee chairman Bill Robinson] said. "I'm suggesting that we don't give too much nefarious intention to what the administration has done."

Nefarious? Who said anything about Dan-O being nefarious?


Alcosan to raise rates 10% in new year (P-G, Don Hopey)

But a summer budget review determined the rate increase was needed to do flow studies and planning required by Alcosan's May consent agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to control wet weather sewage overflows by 2026.

Studies and planning -- imagine when the actual work starts. Thus begins the Great Water Wars of the 21st century.


Pittsburgh considers gender wage gap study (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

"We know that as a city we have one of the worst wage gaps in the country" among women and minorities, said Heather Arnet, president of the Women and Girls Foundation of Western Pennsylvania.

Doug Shields: the first female Council President?


Peduto: Take politics out of road paving plan (P-G, Rich Lord)

A computerized system "makes it easier for me to be able to go home at night and look my neighbors in the face and say, 'You have to wait,' " if paving their streets isn't warranted, he said.

His timing was never stellar. Still, why would anyone vote against this?


The P-G's Dan Simpson: Ruling Pittsburgh

President Mobutu Sese Seku of Zaire used to requisition the planes of the national airline, Air Zaire, for personal trips to his vacation homes around the world. For him there was no distinction between public and private property -- what was his because of his position and what was his personally. No party but the ruling party in a one-party state would dare put up for election such a candidate.

This is the argument that too often gets lost in the shuffle. He doesn't quite extend it to the deeper issue of colossal hereditary cronyism. UPDATE: Actually, he sort of does. Not quite sure where we were at.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Manchester UNITED

The meeting was organized by Pittsburgh UNITED and by Northside United; it was held in the basement of a church in Manchester. About forty residents and organizers were in attendance.

It was the first of what will be a series of meetings in North Side neighborhoods explaining the concept of community benefits agreements, and gathering input from residents as to how a C.B.A. might capitalize upon casino development, and mitigate against its negative consequences.

Khari Mosley of Pgh UNITED facilitated the meeting -- although most questions were fielded by Edward D. Pugh, employed by the state Auditor General (though taking part wholly as a private community resident), and in some cases Michael Aaron Glass, Executive Director of Northside Common Ministries.

When the Comet arrived, the rules were posted front and center:

1. Assume Good Faith.

2. Speak in Turn.

3. Every question is a good question, but some questions need to be tabled.

Mosley defined a legitimate C.B.A. as not a demand for money, but demands concerning how a site will be developed, how the jobs scene will play out, and additional programs that would benefit the larger community.

Although it is appropriate for Hill District residents to ask for money, explained the presenters, considering the massive public subsidy to the Penguins, little of that can apply to the North Side. Although PITG Gaming was the recipient of a valuable public license, its responsibility for the well-known deleterious effects of gambling was the paramount issue.

Nonetheless, Don Barden garnered a lot of respect throughout the room. Credit was given for how he pursued Pittsburgh's slots license, for how he bested the Steelers and Pirates on traffic concerns, and even for the deal he inked with the North Side Leadership Conference.

"He's from Detroit," said one resident. "We can't run no game on him."


Further comments from Manchester residents were diverse and illuminating, when they were asked to offer ideas on how a C.B.A. might benefit their community.

"Focus on Manchester, instead of ... [the three corridors where the NSLC has earmarked half of the $3 million]."

"We don't need a community center in Manchester. We don't need a community center in Northview Heights, in this place and that place. We need a North Side community center."

"What about programs for educational opportunities?"

"We should have done this long ago ... we didn't need to wait around for a casino. We don't stand up around here. Somebody said a Pittsburgh protest is crying on each other."

"When we talk about kids in our community, our kids aren't in unions." (This was said clearly to indicate she would like her kids in unions.)

"I don't see why you're limiting yourselves, and putting yourselves in a box." ("We're not doing that.") "Once you're trained, if you don't get a job in the casino, they can get a job somewhere else!"


Being a North Side resident ourselves, we raised a concern previously alluded to during the meeting: background checks.

We had heard that all casino employees would be subject by state law to multiple, rigorous, exhaustive criminal background checks. Our concern was that this might keep casino jobs from benefiting those in the casino's own backyard, who need them most.

Michael Glass rose to address this concern. "I guarantee you that if Mr. Barden goes to the state, and asks for a waiver for people who work on the North Side, or they don't deal ..." that Mr. Barden could get what he wants for the residents.

Mosley agreed that "expungements or waivers" could be sought as part of a C.B.A. to mitigate the difficulties of background checks.

Toward the meeting's conclusion, Edward Pugh, who spoke often of the necessity of maintaining a united front, read from the recent Tribune-Review article amplifying criticism from NSLC officials and others.

"An upstart citizens group," he said, pausing for emphasis, "that protested meetings on Pittsburgh's planned casino, is using concerns about community involvement as a disguise to pave the way for union presence at the North Shore gambling venue."

"It's debasing us," Pugh contended. He warned that if meeting attendees went home gossiping and grousing about their meetings, "some snot-nosed kid" is going to write the same thing about Manchester.

We had a good discussion with Pugh after the meeting about the balance between allowing for a necessary and transparent airing of differences on the one hand, and the necessity of displaying unity on the other. He offered that one key is that "nobody should go home from the meetings angry."


We also spoke at length with Tom Hoffman, Pittsburgh UNITED's executive director and former programs director for SEIU Local 3. He had raised concerns during the meeting about environmental impacts -- "What about a big building that's going to have a lot of bathrooms right next to the river?" -- but we asked him about the perception that Pgh UNITED exists to push union organization.

He explained that both on the Hill and in the North Side, Pgh UNITED is conducting extensive and honest research to discover what matters most to community residents -- and good jobs are always a high priority.

We both agreed that during this particular meeting, job training seemed to be the priority subject, and he seemed genuinely enthused about that. He said it reflected much of what they have heard elsewhere.

Yet Hoffman insisted that unionization is the only way to guarantee that the casino jobs will be decent and family-sustaining -- especially the service-sector jobs -- and that residents do recognize that.

He also contended that the of process demanding a union election from scratch is so difficult, and so time consuming, with so many ways for management to corrupt the process, that a "card-check" agreement (in which management agrees to voluntarily recognize the union if a majority of employees sign authorization forms) is a reasonable demand.

As we continued to ask whether or not Pgh UNITED, in its zeal to provide for good-paying jobs, might ever have been guilty of giving short-shrift to other community concerns, Hoffman could find only so many ways to say "no."

"If you want to call me a shill for the unions, go ahead," he said. "It's still the only way to guarantee these jobs will be any good."

Hoffman pointed us in the direction of, a resource highlighting successful examples of C.B.A.'s, many of which have little to do with union organizing. He also emphasized the multiple layers of input-seeking and surveying that Pgh UNITED conducts, in order to ensure that real community concerns are brought to the fore.


Here is the text of the survey that Pittsburgh UNITED distributes at meetings such as the one held in Manchester:

Which are the 4 issues most important to you?

___ Adequate transit to job centers

___ Public Safety/ Safe Streets

___ Services for Seniors

___ Parks and Green Spaces

___ Drug Rehabilitation Programs

___ Good-paying jobs for Northside Residents. (with family-sustaining wages and benefits)

___ Job Training and Adult Education

___ Family Support Services

___ Home Rehabilitation Program

___ Financial Literacy Program (Credit Repair, Homeownership classes, Financial Services)

___ Youth Programs

___ Community and Economic Development, including loans to small businesses

Tuesday: Kickin it Old School

Life gets harder for Councilwoman Twanda Carlisle -- one of her alleged co-conspirators accepts a plea bargain, admitting to theft.

Darlene Durham made $150 / hr consulting for Carlisle, and claims that on one occasion, she kicked back $5,000 of city money in cash to her, because her campaign war chest was running low. (Trib, Jeremy Boren; P-G Rich Lord)

UPMC reaches Endgame. "There can be only one." (Trib, Luis Fabregas)

We totally understand this article and are deeply concerned, but just for fun tell us what you think it means in the comments. (P-G, Rich Lord)

Surely you already know that Duquesne University made WDUQ yank public service ads underwritten by Planned Parenthood -- but did you know word of that decision is adversely affecting WDUQ's pledge drive? (P-G, Adrian McCoy)

Would this issue resonate enough to move the needle in the mayor's race, if more Pittsburghers knew that Ravenstahl is pro-life whereas DeSantis is pro-choice? Or would it only be impactful among WDUQ listener-member-types, who for a variety of reasons would never qualify as "real" Pittsburghers according to some?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Forget All Your Cares and Go Downtown

A study by the Urban Land Institute gives Point Park University a bevy of wondrous, practical ideas for expansion and improvement (P-G, Mark Belko)...

.. BUT warns against the University getting too involved in retail (P-G, Mark Belko).

The reason is that the panel concluded there's just too much retail space Downtown right now. It found that the gross leasable area of retail space was oversupplied by 298,000 square feet.

"What we're looking at is too much retail space for what appears to be the current demand," he said.

This is discouraging news to those entities already excited about developing Downtown for retail. Then again, the ULI might have missed some indigenous nuance:

"We have a lot of retail but it's all junk," such as discount stores, convenience stores and nail salons, said Mr. Sullivan [a broker with Pennsylvania Commercial Real Estate Inc.]

Until the city is able to clean out the "bad" retail, he said, it is going to have trouble attracting high-quality retail.

Lucas Piatt, vice president of real estate for Washington County-based Millcraft Industries, is clear on why we need to keep cutting them checks for the development of big-box Downtown retail.

He said Millcraft is looking to add the kind of destination retail Mr. Ferguson [of the ULI] believes could be successful. Capital Grille steak house already has opened in the Lazarus building. A McCormick & Schmick's seafood restaurant will be opening later this fall.

The developer's own studies have shown that Downtown is a "good place for retail," Mr. Piatt said.

Fillet Mignon and crab legs are a "destination" that is presently impossible to experience elsewhere in the ten-country region -- it easily warrants a long drive, parking hassles, and taxpayer subsidies. We continue to be excited for the economic boom that is presently occurring.

UPDATE: AntiRust, the 4th pillar of the Burghosphere according to Daily Kos, does this post better and deeper than we just did.

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Weekend Warriors

Mayoral challenger Mark F. DeSantis, Ph.D., gets a long critical examination from the P-G's Timothy McNulty.

"This is the most responsible job in local government. You perform or you do not. This is not a development program, this is not a training program, this is not a resume builder. This is a real job where people's lives are affected by the quality of this CEO," he tells the receptive Fox Chapel crowd.

All exquisite, save for the location.

Mr. DeSantis voted for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004 and supported former Sen. Rick Santorum in his failed re-election bid last year.

GAAAH! Icky icky icky!

The Comet is clear that this has nothing whatsoever to do with the price of tea in China. As to the rest of Pittsburgh, we have less confidence.


The Ethics Hearing Board would like to bar public officials from accepting admissions to exclusive charity events from the likes of UPMC and the Penguins. (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl would like to continue accepting any such admissions, so long as he reports it (although he markedly refused to do so on the last occasion).

Challenger Mark DeSantis says "I oppose any gratuity of any amount ... public service is not about the perks, it's about the job."

In a press release (h/t TWM), DeSantis highlights the contrast like so: "When I’m Mayor, I’ll work to strengthen the City’s ethics code, not weaken it for my own benefit."

That should play. Really.


By accusing Luke Ravenstahl of "telling some transparent whoppers," claiming he has "run out of strategies, excuses, and explanations," and repeatedly likening him to a habitually lying marionette, Trib columnist Joseph Sabino Mistick reveals an increasingly savage edge to his opposition.


Trib columnist Bill Steigerwald writes the surest thing one can write to get a mention in the Comet: Let's end failed & dogmatic drug war.

Why not? Because, says Nadelmann, "the drug war, and the prohibitionist ideology which fuels it, is not about rational policy." It's not "about science, compassion, health or human rights," it's "a sort of dogma -- a secular fundamentalism that sees itself immune from critical examination."


If you think those 829,627 Americans [arrested for marijuana last year] were all out selling weed to 10-year-olds at the local strip mall until they were heroically brought to justice, you've had way too many Bush administration cocktails.

We all know how Pittsburgh feels about the Bush administration. Unfortunately, we also know how it feels about cocktails.