Thursday, April 17, 2008

BestFriendsgate: "I Didn't Broker the Deal"

UPDATE: WTAE lays a lot of this out for us, with some very interesting new details involving would-be subpoenas. Also KDKA, who has a Lamar exec saying "the rules changed in the middle".

Councilman Kraus held a press conference at 2:30 today to "assure the public that proper legal process will not be overlooked for Lamar Advertising."

In the statement, he says he speaks on behalf of Council members Peduto, Shields, and Burgess.

So that's four.

Today it appears the rule of law is prevailing. We are pleased that Lamar and the administration have acknowledged that the process was ignored, and is now taking steps toward compliance.

Our hope is that today's actions will allow for a legal and transparent process to take place, as required by the City Code.

So based on appearances, today those four characterize themselves as hopeful.


"This is a tremendous victory for process," said city Councilman Patrick Dowd, who had filed suit as a private citizen to challenge the issuance of the permit by city administrators without the project going through hearings before planning and zoning boards. (Post-Gazette, R. Lord)

That was this morning.

In the agreement, Mr. Dowd pledged not to "protest" the sign in subsequent public hearings, but the other members have not.

The agreement:

A new permit application for a digital sign on the new Grant Street Transportation Center will go before the Zoning Board of Adjustment and the city Planning Commission, each of which would hold hearings and votes. Mr. Specter said he did not believe it would require a vote of City Council.

This still appears to run afoul of Sec. 910.01.D.2, which says that electronic sign messages in the Golden Triangle district shall be permitted as a Conditional Use. Conditional Uses must be approved by Council, after the Planning Commission makes its recommendation.

Why is this important? It is a matter of considerable speculation whether or not members of the Planning Commission will be liberated to vote their consciences on this issue.

Some city watchers are telling us that the massive scrutiny surrounding Lamar Advertising and Pat Ford will force the mayor's administration to take a step back. Others tell us that monkeys are more likely to come flying out of George Specter's butt.


Also, in that same P-G update:

[Ravenstahl] said he stopped by the meeting "to say hello ... Pat mentioned that [billboard executives] were in town and I went over to say hello.

"They contributed [to his campaign] based on the fact, I'd imagine, that they thought I was the best candidate for the office of mayor," he said. "I didn't broker the deal."

Deal? Did somebody say, 'deal'?


  1. The Planning Commission's 9 members are appointed by the Mayor, they are:

    Wrenna L. Watson, Chairwoman
    Barbara Ernsberger, Secretary
    E. Paul Dick
    Lynne Garfinkel
    Barbara K. Mistick
    Monte Rabner
    Todd E. Reidbord (of Walnut Capital fame)
    Mary Lou Simon

    Let the drawing of conclusions begin!

  2. This is NOT a victory, in my view, until the 'no bid contract' is put up for competitive bid.

    After the zoning officials determine that the sign is well suited for the side of the public building, then the city / authority officials should put together a bid package.

    How much is monthly rent? How much is guaranteed? When do the terms of the first lease expire? Is there an optional period? Who owns the equipment? Who pays for upkeep? What about utilities? All the details. All in the open.

    Are other properties blended into the mix (removal of other billboards)? Where? What sq. foot? What neighborhoods?

    This isn't about the billboard / sign. It is about no-bid-contracts.

    And, is the no-bid contract going to be a thing of the past for all operations in the city and all autorities?

  3. I am pretty sure I read somewhere that George Specter said if the part of the sign that has been put up so far has to come down, the city would probably be forced to compensate Lamar for their costs.

  4. Ed ... I don't see how the City could be held liable, if it could be established that Lamar was complicit in improperly obtaining the original permit. Which is something the City would owe it to itself to argue, if it was being sued for $2M+.

  5. One other point about ordinance 910 - it specifically states that electronic sign messages in the Golden Triangle B (GT-B) zoning district shall only be permitted as a Conditional Use provided that they are limited in size to 300 square feet. The Lamar sign is 1200 square feet, so the ordinance does not technically even allow it as a Conditional Use.

  6. Hey Dowd wake up you fool. This is no victory at all and you know it.

    Lamar could always pull the plug oon this if it got to hot and they did.

    Lamar, Your buddy Luke, Zober and more would have all faced some embarasing and possibly criminal emails and what not.

    And you, the great statesman, pledged to not bring any action against lamar's application for a use exception. Thank god the other 4 decided not to sign on to that deal. Why take yourself out of the game? But, you did and thank goodness you did. Let the other ones do the heavy lifting you idiot. You did nothing in this mess but bail out Mayor Opie.

    As if lamar was going to put them in that situation. I hear the lamar Corporate lawyers came into town and took control of the situation and< Dowd, fell right into their lap. Go back to the school board.

  7. It's not clear that Councilman Dowd didn't leave himself some options. Filing as a private citizen may have changed the game somewhat. He should at least be given credit for having been first out of the gate with an appeal, no?

  8. A few things to consider:

    1) Since Dowd filed by himself as a private citizen and the other 4 filed as a group of city councilmen, it would be harder for Lamar to prove that FIVE concilmen conspired together breaking Sunshine Laws.

    2) I oddly agree with Lamar in that LAMAR did not break the law, the CITY did. Lamar did not put a gun to Susan Tymoczko's head forcing her to run the sign by Ford instead of her real supervisor. And wasn't it FORD who approached LAMAR with the 6-for-1 swap in the first place?

    3) Should the city pay for the removal of a sign that the city illegally ALLOWED up in the first place? Yea. Lamar is responsible for all the construction after the point where the city said "stop" and Lamar chose to ignore. But stuff prior to that was done with the city's blessings.

  9. I would think that depends, Char. If, during the process of discovery, video is discovered of of JV sitting down with PF, who, twirling his mustaches, says, "Thanks to this bag of money you just offered me, I shall make sure you get your billboard no matter what! Do you want a receipt?" Then it could be said that PF *did* pressure ST and NI into granting the permit, which is a service that JV solicited on behalf of Lamar.

  10. Check out the deer in the headlights look the Mayor give the camera on the KDKA video when asked that it seems petty unusual that some won from Seattle would care who the mayor of Pittsburgh is.