Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Rev. Burgess: Pretty Much Running Things

Every night, 60 city of Pittsburgh employees drive home cars bought with taxpayer dollars. Legislation proposed yesterday by Councilman Ricky Burgess would compel all but seven of those employees to prove they need the city cars for legitimate work functions, or turn them in.

Mr. Burgess presented a list of employees, from the mayor to the facilities maintenance supervisor, who take Chevy Impalas, Dodge Intrepids, Ford Explorers and other city vehicles home.

"Some of the people on the list were not necessarily on call 24 hours," he said. If cars are sometimes just perks, he suggested, they should be reassigned.

"We have a shortage of police vehicles. We need to put the emphasis on public safety first." (P-G, Rich Lord)

This is certain to upset X number of city employees; we do not yet know how much they will be upset. (RELATED UPDATE: WPXI, Rick Earle.)

Meanwhile, in a city that seems to have difficulty getting its hands on enough police and emergency vehicles, this seems like a good idea.


This is more controversial.

Pittsburgh City Council gave final approval yesterday to an ordinance launching a new effort to ensure that some city contracts go to minority- and women-owned businesses.

The legislation, by Councilman Ricky Burgess, requires that the city update an 8-year-old study on fairness in contracting and produce quarterly and annual reports on the success of efforts to get work to a diverse set of firms.

The study update, to be done this year, would cost as much as $150,000 and is necessary to provide legal justification for minority contracting measures, Mr. Burgess said. He wants the city to request proposals from researchers to conduct the updated study, but said he expects California-based Mason Tillman Associates would likely have the lowest bid, since it performed the 2000 study. (P-G, Team Effort)

Councilman Burgess questioned the strength of the legal underpinning of the city's current "sheltered market"-style program and other programs to benefit women and minority-owned contracting businesses.

He said that without updated studies demonstrating continued significant disparities, providing a compelling case for a municipal interest in remediation, all such programs are left vulnerable to inevitable legal challenges. Furthermore, he asserted that current city efforts are grossly underfunded and under-performing.

Meanwhile, Councilwoman Tonya Payne and others argued that further studies would be no more than a waste of time and money. She defended the current program -- and on the issue of its legality, went so far as to ask, "Who cares about the Constitution?"

Rev. Burgess is expected also to have a hand in forthcoming legislation.


The Comet recently had an opportunity to ask the Councilman whether there is any legitimate Councilmatic role in managing a harmonious settlement in the Hill District.

"No, I really don't," he said.

He precisely echoed the thinking of Councilman Motznik -- that this is properly an issue for Tonya Payne. He went on to express grief that on the question of this development, everybody seems to be "piling on and piling on" one another.

We attempted to make our case to the Rev., expressed best here and here, on a compelling city-wide interest in restoring some portion of a street grid between the Hill and Downtown, on the Mellon Arena and / or Melody Tent site.

We repeated our assertion that such an organic connection would provide a much-needed lifeline to the Hill District -- and would in turn benefit Downtown by providing a nurturing residential partnership.

We floated the idea of a temporary "penumbra of protection" around some of the land at issue, only involving those processes and approvals which ultimately must come before Council -- for the purposes of fully reaching out to the Penguins and arranging mutually beneficial civic design accommodations.

At the words "penumbra of protection," Burgess gave a start, and his eyes flashed in keen interest -- but it passed quickly.

Although he did not correct his previous statement on the necessity of deference to Councilwoman Payne, he did begin framing the locus of civic responsibility at a different source.

"This is City Planning issue."


  1. Is it normal for a freshman councilman to be so active in the drafting of legislation? Isn't there supposed to be some sort of a learning curve, especially for one with virtually no prior political experience?

  2. Offhand I cannot think of a more active freshman member of council, but then again I am a poor student of history.

    The whole lot of them seem pretty forthright in nature.

  3. O'Connor was a very active legislator in his first year. We owe thanks to the people of dist 9 who elected a competent, mature and knowledgeable person to represent them and the best iterest of the city. His transition, notsurprisingly, from private to public realm is seamless. Why? because he KNOWS what to do based upon a solid education and a lifetime of experience. Something some elected officials here in the Pittsburgh area lack no matter their age.

  4. What a uplifting pat on the back. It inspires me to know that one thinks so highly of himself.