Friday, December 21, 2007

Hill CBA: Alliances, Minions, and Imps

We have a correction and an explanation to make regarding our latest post on the Hill District.

The major constituent elements of the Hill District coalition are the One Hill CBA Coalition, the Hill District Ministers, and the Hill CDC.

There are many other organizations, and the relations amongst them are confusing. But those three units are the important independent units.

Both Marimba Milliones of the Hill CDC and Dr. Kimberly Ellis AKA Dr. Goddess of the Minister's group contacted the Comet to assure us that they are very closely allied with one another.

It would have been more correct to highlight just two constituent elements of the Hill District coalition: the One Hill CBA Coalition, which includes the Tonya Payne apparatus and Pittsburgh United, and the Hill District Ministers, which includes the Hill CDC and Raise Your Hand No Games.

This would explain why Mayor Ravenstahl said (wishfully), "I don't even know if the two groups are going to agree."

We suspect that One Hill is closer to accepting the terms of the CBA proposal as put forth by the Penguins and Ravenstahl than are the Ministers. See below.

Some organizations and individuals are actually a part of both groups. Both factions claim to be larger, and more representative of the Hill. We know that some in the Ministers' group have had their voting privileges formally revoked by One Hill, for having "negotiated" on the outside.

We would be happy to receive a briefing.


Another example of an individual is Dr. Kimberly Ellis, AKA Dr. Goddess, AKA The Ministers' Imp.

Where on earth did we get that?

On Dec. 12, 2007, at exactly 1:10 PM, Dr. Ellis wrote an exhaustively long e-mail to the Hill District CBA distribution list. The subject was, Get Rid of Divisive Elements, so Ujima Can Continue. Ujima is defined as "collective work and responsibility."

Another good title would have been, The Case Against Tonya Payne as an Elected Official.

It starts off slowly, but grows into the Declaration of Independence -- only much more dramatic and specific. Here are some selections:

[EXCISED 12/23 -- Not blog-worthy]


In case those of you who attend One Hill meetings haven't noticed, every time there is any talk of confronting the Pens as developers or the Mayor about the CBA, Tonya and her people fight against it.

She offers many specific, dated incidents as evidence. Contact her at to request your own copy and make your own inquiries.

I have not trusted Tonya Payne because she almost sold the Hill District 'down the river' with her Isle of Capri / Pittsburgh First shenanigans during the slots license application process. BUT, I was willing to give her a chance---and I did---and she knows this. After she stabbed us and our entire community in the back (again!), she lost any amount of faith or trust I had to give to her.

And in conclusion:

If there is still anyone left in One Hill, Pittsburgh United and/or throughout the community who wants to continue to allow her and her minions to do the Pens' dirty work by continuing to try to foment division between those of us who have always stood with you and them, then be my guest---but we aren't going anywhere.

The epic e-mail generated its share of angry responses, including this from somebody who shall remain nameless:

I would rather be Councilwoman Tonya Payne's minion, than the ministers' Imp.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Friday Negativity

Mr. Ravenstahl in his speech pledged to "leave it all on the field. You will get all I have to give. I will listen to, and genuinely care for, the people of Pittsburgh. I will be accessible, thoughtful and open-minded. I will not be the mayor, I will be your mayor." (P-G, Rich Lord)

Then he had better attend every neighborhood meeting, show respect to everybody who attends, and be open-minded toward their initiatives -- even though they come from outside the government infrastructure.

His administration had better be prepared to work with City Council, during meetings of Council, instead of hiding from the meetings and sniping through the media.

We'll start with that.


If the state someday were to allow the city to tax nonprofits on all of their real estate, should UPMC's contributions be eligible for some sort of credit? Yes, but the legal details must be worked out and the credit should be only for the tax years in which the contribution is paid. In other words, if UPMC's real estate is taxed under the law beginning in, say, 2010, then only the Pittsburgh Promise dollars it donates that year should be eligible for credit -- and so on in successive years. (P-G, Edit Board)

Absolutely. Otherwise, it's all a device to make sure we avoid necessary efforts to amend State Act 55. We don't need to be held hostage by a full $100 million in old tax credits, thank you.

It would be easy to argue that a nonprofit with a $618 million surplus in its last fiscal year, rising health care charges and growing dominance of the region's hospital market could easily afford to do both. But since UPMC's contribution to the Promise -- $10 million next year and up to $90 million through a 10-year challenge grant -- will exceed the $8.3 million it could be forced to pay, conceivably, in yearly taxes on its $773 million in real estate, the institution should be applauded, not scorned.

At most, UPMC's contribution, coming as it does with a new lexicon of tortured English, an array of last-minute hitches, and a pathetic degree of institutional neediness, should be accepted -- neither applauded nor scorned. We taxpayers should then applaud ourselves for taking a small hit now, and insuring the scholarship well into the future.

If you want to be treated like a benefactor, start acting like a benefactor. If you want to be treated like an unscrupulous business colleague, keep up the good work.


What's all the ruckus over closing Schenley High School? The place is filled with asbestos and the school district doesn't have a dime, let alone $65 million, to fix up this nostalgia palace. Only in Pittsburgh would parents rally for the right to poison their kids, and impoverish the rest of the school system. (P-G, Tony Norman)

What, are you asking for it? Fine -- only give us a breather, will you? Maybe put us on a deadline? That way, we're bound to come up with something.

A Very Special Day for Pittsburgh

For one thing, Luke Ravenstahl is to be inaugurated as Mayor, having won election to the citywide office in his own right for the first time.

It won't feature a lot of pomp, circumstance, or bold, new visions, he said. In part because it's not being held in the City-County Building, there won't be any tours of the Mayor's Office, as there were when the late Mayor Bob O'Connor was inaugurated in January 2006. (P-G, Rich Lord)

Pirates broadcaster Lanny Frattare will serve as master of ceremonies. The Rev. Terrence O'Connor, son of the late mayor, will conduct the benediction. Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato will speak.

Is that customary?

Pittsburgh's youngest mayor will be inaugurated as the city is poised to begin a yearlong celebration of its 250th anniversary and as Ravenstahl must show voters he won't repeat missteps that have plagued him and hurt his support on City Council, said council members and political experts. (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

Ravenstahl's time in office also has been marked by staff shakeups.

The most recent was June 14, when he asked 11 city and authority directors to resign and reapply for their jobs. One director left; two others were fired.

The move hurt morale among city employees, but the city is running more efficiently now and morale has improved, said Arthur O. Victor Jr., Ravenstahl's director of operations since September.

Victor said Pittsburgh must become a more competitive employer. He intends to analyze the salaries and duties of all city employees in hopes of attracting more talent.

"In 2008, a lot of what we want to do is about increasing efficiencies," Victor said.

Is that right. We were wondering what that guy did.


Also today, the Pittsburgh Comet turns one year old.

Do us just this one honor, wherever you may find yourselves this evening -- raise a glass of scotch or whatever you prefer with your compatriots, and offer a short toast to the coming tyranny of the bloggers.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Three Items of Some Interest

Petty theft and corruption is justified, on the basis of thrift and desperate circumstances. When you listen to him it becomes obvious ... the humanity, the nobility, the harmlessness. We do hope he never stole from the collection plate, but the question is: with a vast and static working-class elderly population, does Pittsburgh practice relaxed ethics as a cultural heritage? (Null Space)

PittGirl writes an article on UPMC, and gets five comments. PittGirl writes an article on race, and gets fifty-one comments. This should tell us some things. 1) Race is more easily understood than UPMC 2) Race is more important than UPMC 3) Tying your subject matter into the Steelers is very good for engaging Pittsburghers. (That was Mike's brilliance.)

So the Pittsburgh Organizing Group is organizing a protest of the Ravenstahl Inauguration. It will begin Thursday at 4:30 at 235 Atwood Street, and it will march to Carnegie Music Hall. They plan to attend the ceremony at 5:30.

We're sick of back room deals, political machines, racist development projects, and corporate interests.

The coalition they are seeking probably will not coalesce by Thursday afternoon, but what a concept! If you see them, you should cheer them on. If they do anything illegal, alert the proper authorities.

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh Promise

1. When was the tax credit condition of UPMC's gift to the scholarship struck, and why does the Mayor think it's a good idea?

2. Why was it not mentioned on Dec 5th, when the gift was announced?

3. Why are we rushing this through Council at the end of the year, and on 24 hours notice?

4. Why is nobody from the administration present to answer any of these questions?

These are the questions Doug Shields kept asking, and they are good ones.

In the event that State Act 55 is ever amended, UPMC may be made to pay property taxes like any other profitable corporation.

The Pittsburgh Promise is presently UPMC's way of supporting the commonweal, despite the fact that it does not pay taxes. If it does somehow wind up paying taxes in the future, UPMC would suddenly be on the hook for both payments.

However, UPMC has been doggedly insistent that the Promise is no "payment in lieu of taxes." This is a gift out borne from their own generosity -- generosity for which they would like to be credited -- generosity compelled by a desire not to become taxpayers.

Obviously, this is all about providing UPMC political cover for when it decides to revoke the "gift" upon any amendment to Act 55. It would need no excuse, but is interested in using one anyway.

Ravenstahl would also like political cover for when we find ourselves with an ambitious new government commitment, yet with no especially generous corporate sponsors to rely upon.


This line of rationalization did not sit well with Darlene Harris.

She objected plainly and softly, "When I give to charity, I give from my heart."

Harris kept saying she doesn't understand how UPMC says it is protecting itself from "paying twice." UPMC is free to make a donation to charity, but taxes owed to a city are different entirely.

Shields underscored the distinction as well. "The Pittsburgh Promise is like the Salvation Army. It's like a soup kitchen, it's like Toys for Tots."

By this point, Bill Peduto had gotten up and was pacing around the back of the room. He was clearly too disgusted already with the UPMC rep for playing word games and responding churlishly, and he was probably content to keep this from turning into another Peduto vs. Ravenstahl thing.

Tonya Payne, speaking boldly in the voice of somebody saying something bold, said there were many questions that still needed answers -- so she moved to table the issue for one week.

By this point, two or three versions of a petition calling for a Public Hearing were circulating around the room. Shields said that out of courtesy to those citizens being made to scurry for signatures at 24 hours notice, Council itself should just order a public hearing. They did so unanimously.


Ravenstahl chief of staff Yarone Zober was on hand in council chambers immediately before the meeting.

He was just outside, answering questions of the Trib's Jeremy Boren, immediately afterword.

Besides which, the Mayor's entire office is on that floor of that building.

We are left to assume that nobody was available to answer to Council, because the administration preferred not to answer to Council at that time and in that manner, for the purpose of strategic communications.

Discussion Question: Is this justifiable?

Present Council Displays Moxie

Unless council and the school district approve the tax exemption, UPMC's deal to support The Pittsburgh Promise is off, said UPMC spokesman Frank Raczkiewicz. (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

Why not just announce the full terms of the deal all at once?

[Ravenstahl press secretary] Sirk said she didn't know why UPMC's tax-credit condition wasn't disclosed when the donation was announced with much fanfare on Dec. 5.

Ah. Of course, there's also this from UPMC's Raczkiewicz:

"We are willing to donate $100 million, but we don't want to pay $100 million and also have new taxes of $100 million," Raczkiewicz said.

Still sounding reasonable, we hate to admit.

Some state lawmakers have discussed amending state Act 55, which defines what constitutes a nonprofit and governs what taxes they pay, to let cities impose payments in lieu of taxes.

See, if it helps to engineer this happy outcome -- if it dampens UPMC opposition to such an amendment, while spurring the City to pursue it with vigor -- then we're all for it.

It is "inappropriate" for Ravenstahl to introduce the legislation so close to the end of the year, [Doug Shields] said. City Council will get three new members in early January.

Agreed. Now, apropos of nothing:

In a last-minute move, council approved an amendment creating a $10,000 trust fund for the city's Ethics Hearing Board. The board can draw on the money for legal assistance and other expenses. (P-G, Team Effort)

Woohoo! Trojan horse! Trojan horse!

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Mayor's Position on The Hill

The P-G and Rich Lord tell us just about everything we did not know or care to speculate upon concerning the mayor's neighborhood gathering.

The Hill District should get a grocery store, a community center and jobs as part of the new arena deal, but not a development fund to spend as residents see fit, said Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl yesterday.

His comments during and after the taping of "KD/PG Sunday Edition" mirrored the position Penguins' representatives outlined Tuesday, after some 50 Hill residents and advocates packed a city planning commission hearing on the arena.

Mirrored the position. Check.

Scroll down to the bottom of this very long post for a link to the KD/PG footage.

We will now examine everything Mayor Ravenstahl says he supports in the Hill District.


One is that he supports the master plan.

Since the master plan was conceived, designed, and presented to the Planning Commission by the Pittsburgh Penguins organization, it is easy to suggest that he is not going above and beyond on this one.

Two is that he supports a Resource Center, with information about job opportunities and community resources that are available.

So there will be a place to pick up pamphlets. It would be nice if there were some computers and maybe some computer literacy classes -- but at the end of the day, this sounds like an underwhelming concept in terms of rejuvenating a whole community.

Third is the "concept" of a grocery store. What kind of a grinch do you have to be to oppose the very concept of a grocery store in a neighborhood?

Fourth is the YMCA -- presumably a different YMCA than the one planned for UPMC Tower -- and it seems to be contingent upon outside funding.

Fifth is some talk about "the block on Center Avenue" that seems contingent upon going back to Harrisburg for more cash.

In conclusion, the mayor says he opposes investment in any organizations or projects that emanate from the Hill District itself. Everything else has been or will be worked out amongst major developers.

Ravenstahl then gestures to Marimba Milliones, mentioning her by first name, and cites her as an example of someone whose initiative is unworthy of consideration for public funding related to this project.


Suddenly, Ravenstahl veers into the Pittsburgh Promise, now a mechanism to aid minority neighborhoods.

The Pittsburgh Promise was conceived of in some measure to generate political capital for both Mayor Ravenstahl and for UPMC, given some of the negative chatter that is out there about the both of them.

We all knew the Pittsburgh Promise would be used as a shield -- just not this reflexively.


We need to define some terms.

A community benefits agreement is an agreement between a developer and a community. When Milliones questions Ravenstahl on "joint sign off," we presume that a CBA does not become a CBA until agreement is reached ... hence the "A", and hence "joint" sign-off.

The "CBA" that Ravenstahl is willing to sign appears to be just what he discussed -- the Pens' version of a master plan, the resource center, the grocery store, the YMCA and/or the block on Center Avenue -- complete with all the verbiage about "concepts" and "contingent upons".

More terminology.

The Comet will hereafter define the Hill District coalition as that coalition presently taking shape among Hill District leaders -- self-appointed and otherwise (are there any other kind?).

The major constituent elements of the Hill District coalition are the One Hill CBA Coalition, the Hill District Ministers, and the Hill CDC.

There are many other organizations, and the relations amongst them are confusing. But those three units are the important independent units. There are also individuals.

One individual is Tonya Payne -- City Councilwoman, ACDC Ward Chair and URA Board Member. She vowed once at a contentious meeting of the URA in June to support only the One Hill CBA Coalition.

Another example of an individual is Dr. Kimberly Ellis, AKA Dr. Goddess, AKA The Ministers' Imp.


I do not support any funding going to any organizations in the Hill District, whether that's a CDC, whether that's a creative organization -- I don't support that. I think the government infrastructure on all those initiatives that we talked about should be the mechanism.

If the government infrastructure was all it was ever cracked up to be, we would not be having this discussion.

Read Luke's examples. He does not support funding to a CDC, or to a "creative organization." Marimba Milliones, of the Granada Theater and of the arts movement and of the Hill Community Development Corporation, is again being called out.

The One Hill CBA Coalition has Tonya Payne, and it also has Big Labor. So it has many friends.

The Hill District Ministers have each other, and their imp.

The Hill CDC is relatively isolated. While Marimba's great concern on that day was getting in on the Master Plan that will guide the whole process, she is better known for arts and culture initiatives.

Not so high a priority for some.

By singling out Milliones, suggesting she requested "cash payments", Mayor Ravenstahl seems to be villifying the whole idea of community members requesting support for their own initiatives and organizations ... even though a portion of the public subsidy et cetera was earmarked for economic and community development.

He is also stirring up trouble within the coalition.


You mean --
to do the master plan? I'm sure you could, but I don't know that you'd be -- usually they're done by engineering firms and professionals that -- sure you could submit it, I don't know that you'd be selected.

That part speaks for itself.

KD/PG Sunday Edition Part I: Reflections, Public Safety Vehicles, Casino Groundbreaking

KD/PG Sunday Edition Part II
: The Pittsburgh Promise, the Hill District and the New Arena