Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Liveblogging the Wednesday at City Council

As we entered at 10:00 AM, Tonya Payne was addressing a room full of 3rd graders from Allegheny Traditional Academy about what's involved in working in city government. Jim Motznik popped in to ham it up for the kids as well.

10:42 Okay here comes the billboard investigation. Kraus motions to approve. Didn't catch who seconded.

10:45 - Peduto: "We are in violation of five different parts of the city code." The importance of swearing in those who will speak before council. "Those three inches are what separate us from Soviet-era Russia."

10:48 - Peduto: "We can't close our eyes tight enough to make this go away." We must protect the home rule charter. This is problematic of a much larger problem. (Pat Ford's deputy is sitting in the back of the room.)

10:51 - Shields: "It is about recognizing the standing of the representatives of the City of Pittsburgh to carry out the law." He clearly sees this as the latest step of a continuum. Shields and Peduto did not like hearing about this first in the P-G.

10:53 - "I think we have come to a point where the administration must recognize the authority of Council." He wants the administration to "rescind what they have done." Seems to think an investigation is "serious and weighty"; would like to offer the admin. a way to get this right.

10:55 - Shields: "We have larger issues" ie why has the ED of the URA taken on such powers, including City Planning? What is the thinking of the administration about a merger? "If Mr. Ford is going to be defacto planning director, we might as well let the mayor of Wilkinsburg be our planning director."

10:57 - Dowd: "I think this is incredibly weighty piece of legislation." It's also important to view this in terms of development, which Council agreed to look at. "I think that before we escalate..." Not investigation, but conversation. Concerned about deep structural questions.

11:00 - Harris: Would prefer to call for an agenda review and a public hearing.

11:00 - Kraus: "It's very clear this sign was denied [in 2004], and it's very clear there were strong reaons." Process set aside. Also goes after the 3 inches of rules comment. "Concerns me greatly. That is the law. That is the code, and it is a standard of conduct that we've all agreed to hold ourselves by." Doesn't know who is running City Planning.

11:04 - Kraus: "The conversation today is more about what is the process of the investigation, rather than whether there is an investigation." (Confuses us.)

11:05 - Motznik: Doesn't approve of the bill as is written. In favor of a post-agenda. "I don't personally believe you just jump in to Council conducting an investigation. I think there has to be a process to get to an investigation, and this is part of that process." Not sure Council is set up to conduct an investigation. We referred the Carlisle thing to the district attorney, who is trained and staffed.

11:09 - Motznik: "I'm not going to support an investigation that's not going to be full, and thorough." Reiterates that he's concerned about process issues.

11:10 - Deasy: "Are there problems with what happened? It looks that way, BUT..." would prefer a post-agenda and a public hearing. "Possibly the 3rd step is an investigation." Again, says Council shouldn't do it.

11:11 - Burgess: "First I'd like to thank Councilman Peduto for his leadership on this matter."

11:12 - Burgess: "It seems to almost any objective person that the process behind how this sign was approved is broken." "I believe Council has authority and is a co-equal part of government." His interests are the institution and its rights, and will never concede responsibility and authority.

11:13 - Burgess: Agrees with both Motznik and Kraus. We need to exhaust the other options; post-agenda and council is in order. Disagrees with Motznik that Council does not "have the authority or the wherewithal to conduct a professional investigation of matters that rise to that level."

11:15 - Payne: "Councilman Motznik is right." Argues, what if we investigated Councilwoman Carlisle, then she could have lobbied her colleagues to affect that investigation? "We may be getting too far out there. We may need to reign this first."

11:17 - Payne: Council investigations would become to political. It's incumbent on us to do the right process ourselves. Spoke out against URA - Planning merger during election. "Everybody was abuzz" about it last year. "I hope this kills that idea." Wants to hold post-agenda and hear from people in our districts.

11:20 - Payne: "I respect the work that you do Mr. Peduto, and staying on top of the issues." But you don't want to "jump into a political battle..." You don't want to start getting political with your colleagues.

11:21 - Peduto: Doesn't want to use position as a bully pulpit; wants to be stopped if he starts doing it. It's not about Luke Ravenstahl, it's not about yada yada.

11:23 - Peduto: We are not a weak council government. We are actually a strong council government. We just don't use it. (News!) Tells a story about a hockey fight. Council is the hockey player that won.

11:25 - Peduto: It wasn't just me who put this together. "It was city employees that called me. It was PAST city employees that called me." Ties it in to the importance of council members.

11:26 - Peduto: Will hold bill. Will ask for post-agenda on Wednesday of next week. Warns that a 27-day clock is ticking. "I still don't think we have to go this route if the administration withdraws its permit." Warns if we keep going down this road, we will inevitably lose a lawsuit and lose money; still thinks an investigation is the best way to go.

11:28 - Dowd: Would like formally amend the motion to hold to make two specific request. Wants the post-agenda to be held through Planning Zoning & Land Use (Burgess), also wants discussion not narrowly tailored to the sign issue, but to broader URA / Planning issues.

11:29 - Deasy: Wants it televised.

11:30 - Pat Ford enters and sits next to Solicitor Specter in front of room.

11:32 - Specter steps up to podium as Peduto is talking. Peduto finishes his sentence, then clarifies that persons and officials are only able to approach the table when they are invited, and if they need legal advice they will ask for it. Specter returns to his seat.

11:33 - Kraus: First says he's proud to sit on a council that can have such civil convestaions. Then compliments Payne in particular on her "common sense." Then clarifies that this is never about politics, and City Council is not a "comfort zone" and should not become one - we need to deal with issues.

11:35 - Kraus: Supports holding bill until post-agenda, but reiterates his urging of the adminstration.

11:37 - Harris: Agrees with Kraus on process, with Payne on URA / Planning distinction. Wants to know what is going on. Will vote to hold.

11:39 - Shields: Points out this is a civil matter, not criminal. Likens it to firehouse closings under Maslof, and Ferlo taking it to court of common pleas. Administration had to go back and change what it did. Administration must withdraw, or do the same thing. Civil, civil, civil investigation.

11:41 - Shields: "Biggest fear is that people will have to be put under oath. And I think that scares the HECK out of some people in this building." Again, this is a civil matter, and there will be civil remedies to anything uncovered. Carlisle investigation was criminal, so there's a distinction.

11:45 - Peduto: Okay, so a hold on the investigation and a post-agenda next week? Ayes all around. 9-0.

UPDATE: There is now a discussion proceeding regarding a ten-year old Disparity Study, and the lack of follow-through on any initiatives like a "Sheltered Market" system when it comes to minority contracting.

After grilling the administration's Mr. Petite of the Equal Opportunity Review commission as to why no new studies have been published for so long, and why so few of their recommendations from ten years ago have been implemented, Councilman Burgess recommended holding new legislation until we have an updated Disparity Study; otherwise we could get sued and possibly be working with bad data.

Councilwoman Payne wants to act on the legislation, because we've done nothing for too long. It's getting pretty heated, but since we're not that familiar with the issue we'll cease liveblogging for now and catch up later.


  1. Thanks, Bram! Had to take my Mom to the doctors this morning so missed even the televised meeting.

  2. Bram thank you for this.

    Were Dowd's requests (see below) incorporated into the post agenda next week?

    Dowd: "... Wants the post-agenda to be held through Planning Zoning & Land Use (Burgess), also wants discussion not narrowly tailored to the sign issue, but to broader URA / Planning issues..."

  3. Embarrassed to admit it, but what exactly is "a post-agenda"?

  4. Good job but very confusing. And I have no time to watch a telvised version even if I could find it (argh). By the way, I share the admiral's embarresment. I did a quick search on the PG website, and found this:(
    By the way, I'm disappointed that no one brought up the disfference between Carlisle and this, that Carlisle was a council member when investigated.

  5. Post-agenda: Not a technical answer, but it's an issue-specific follow-up meeting among Council Members. Maybe a better answer will surface later in the week. Remember, after the police promotions hearing, they held an investigatory Post-Agenda session?

    Gloria: I believe Dowd's request to go through zoning & land use was approved. I'm not sure what happened to his other request because I think I was having technical issues at that moment. I think possibly they were not, because when I picked up my ears again Peduto was talking about "we have four or five specific violations of the code here", perhaps meaning their hands would be full on the given situation.

  6. Summary for the confused: although Council is retaining the right to launch the investigation (holding the bill), they agreed first to hold a post-agenda meeting on the subject next week, and it seemed like there was a lot of agreement that a public hearing after that would be called for. Most everyone hoped openly that the adminstration would rescind the order.

    In other news, additional funding for the Equal Opportunity Review Commission was tabled until a thorough disparity study was undertaken, to prevent the city from lawsuits. Burgess went so far as to call the program a "phony program", underfunded and a photo-op for developers and the city.

    Also, August Wilson house historic designation passed 9-0, with further apologies from Councilwoman Payne and much obtuse language by the other council persons. Turns out that State Rep. Jake Wheatley is calling for an ethics investigation.

  7. I thought she said it was Joe preston calling for an investigation....?

  8. Oh crud did I get that wrong? I think I got that wrong. Apologies. She kept saying "a state representative" and that should have been enough for me but I got my layers of government and enemies of Tonya Payne confused.

  9. Dowd submarined the bill's sponsor, Bill Peduto, by requesting that the Zoning/land use chair, Rev. Burgess, be the one to preside (gavel) the post agenda.

    The post agenda is a keep the citizens out meeting. Hate that. What could be done at a post agenda can also be done at a public hearing -- except the public has no standing to talk.