Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Pat Ford Post Agenda Series, Part V: Pat Ford


Mr. Ford: Councilwoman, I'm very actually refreshed that you actually are allowing me to do this, and I have prepared some comments, fairly lengthy, to go over the history of this, because sitting in the audience and listening to this, it's unfair to the public, it's unfair to the new councilmen, and it's unfair to Susan and Noor to try to respond to all of the questions, and they did so admirably, when one question, when you get to the meat of it, might be based in a precedence in 2004 or a decision that was made in 2007 or a discussion that was made in 2006 to arrive at the decision that Ms. Tymoczko made to approve the LED at the Grant Street Transportation Center evolved from a history of events.

"A decision that Ms. Tymoczko made."

And I will be the first to tell you as a zoning expert, qualified as an expert in the court of law, that you never look at the zoning ordinance as a snapshot in time. It's a dynamic piece of work. Interpretations will evolve. Interpretations become precedence, and you will find a case history and not being an attorney, you will find that to be true.

That is an assertion. "Interpretations will evolve" is a passive-voice construction.

Being involved in this case, Councilwoman, in the twenty years that I have been in this business of development, this issue regarding the evolution of LEDs in the City of Pittsburgh has been the most highly researched, scrutinized, studied, reviewed, negotiated, argued, debated and approved case I have ever been involved in in the twenty years I've been in the development business.

Hyperbole is always a red flag.

A little later:

But involved in the decision in the discussion that started out with 2003 with Murphy and evolved to the approval of this Grant Street Transportation we have had attorneys, elected officials, councilmen, mayors, authorities, community groups, residents, school boards and special interest groups all participate in the original interpretation, and it's been a very dynamic interpretation, but a determination that has legal basis, and I would be more than happy to go into that, and in fact, since you've given me the opportunity, Councilwoman, I will, to lay the groundwork for that.

Note also the phrase "participate in the interpretation". It should mean that not everyone who inadvertently played some small part in the evolutionary kabuki would know anything about what was going on at the level of operations and policy.

And not being an attorney, you will find that to be true.


Mr. Ford: In an overview to provide context to this, LEDs came to the forefront in the City of Pittsburgh I will argue, and again my history only goes back to when I came here to Pittsburgh in 2002, with the approval of the CAPA school sign.

Here is Pat Ford's story:

1. The CAPA school installed a large LED sign Downtown without a permit.

2. Zoning Administrator Pat Ford issued a stop-work order, and issue of the sign was referred to the Zoning Board of Adjustment.

3. When CAPA did a test run of the sign, it had a Coca-Cola advertisement on it, so it was considered an advertising sign at the ZBA.

4. "Ultimately, this was not called a sign, and I don't believe a permit was ever issued for the CAPA School sign, and I would have to have my zoning administrator clarify that for me, because I think the ultimate decision was we classified that sign as a work of art, because it is not showing advertising on it, and, in fact, they are showing what is being conducted in the facility."

5. Lamar sees this unfolding at CAPA and applies for 55 LEDs: "Summarily, the public doesn't know this, nor does council probably realize this, but summarily Lamar actually applied in the first round for 55 LEDs. They paid their fees and they came to me with their attorneys in tow, and they plopped fifty-five applications for LED billboards all across the city and demanded that I give them administrative approval. I'm no idiot. I knew this was an issue that I had to take to my supervisors."

6. Tom Cox of the Murphy administration directs Pat Ford to "negotiate the best deal possible" to avoid litigation, desiring to allow no more than six Lamar LEDs to be approved.

7. Pat Ford negotiated the "6 for 36 deal."

Mr. Motznik: (out of turn): What is that?

Mr. Ford: The 6 for 36. That means that the most I could negotiate, and this is, in fact, what I negotiated in that first agreement and approval, was that an average of six billboards would be taken down for every one LED that would be put up. So we could put up -- I would allow them to install one LED.

8. Between mid 2004 and early 2006, under Mayor Murphy and Mayor O'Connor, a second batch of six LEDs were allowed by city zoning administrators without review.


Questions about this story:

1. A Cola-Cola advertisement? Really? This actually happened? The entire city was okay with this electronic sign going up, until the city Zoning Administrator happened upon it and noticed a Coca-Cola advertisement during a test run? And this will somehow become critical to the deconstruction of why a Zoning Administrator is now entitled to approve certain LEDs on his or her own?

2. Between Pat Ford, Tom Cox, and Mayor Murphy, was there no one who suggested, "Hey! Do we have anything to fear from this Lamar lawsuit? Let's ask our solicitor!"

3. Could Pat Ford's handling of this early situation with Lamar have played a role in the circumstances under which he resigned from the Murphy Administration?


Skipping ahead to Q&A with Bruce Kraus:

Mr. Kraus: The zoning administrator, according to your words today, made the call, but, according to information -- to approve the sign, but according to the information that I have, they were being directed by the director of the URA, I'm only saying from what I have here, who was previously the chairman of the board of the Parking Authority whose board never heard or approved of this sign, and it never went before the board, and then the license and the permit was then signed and notarized by Ms. Tymoczko. Would you call that a vetted public process?

Mr. Ford: I have no idea what you are talking about, because that is just hearsay. I don't know who -- who is telling you this?

Mr. Kraus: You said that this sign was approved by the zoning administrator.

Mr. Ford: Correct.

Mr. Kraus: These are your words. So they made the call to approve the sign, and under information that I have from Art Victor, who's the operations manager of the administration, he's telling me that planning and zoning -- or planning and permitting answer directly to you, and you are the director of the URA and previously the chair of the board of the Parking Authority, and this never went for their board for approval, and then it came back to Ms. Tymoczko, who she then signed the permit for the occupancy and building and notarized the agreement. Would you call that a publically vetted process?

Mr. Ford: Mr. Kraus, I have no idea what conversation you had with Art Victor, and I don't want to comment on hearsay between you and Art Victor.

Mr. Kraus: It wasn't hearsay. It was his words written.

Mr. Ford: Is that recorded?

Mr. Kraus: It's in an e-mail.

Mr. Ford: It's hearsay.

Mr. Kraus: Well, then I guess your records could be hearsay too.

Mr. Ford: Absolutely. Those are just my recollections of meetings, absolutely.


On another subject to Councilman Kraus:

Mr. Ford: I want to answer your question fully. So if I may, going back to your first question, the plan is necessary, and that's why Mayor Ravenstahl has gotten $350,000 from DCED to lay the groundwork to prepare a city-wide comprehensive plan. So we are well on that track. Where we are still up in the air, and we are grappling with this is how we are going to prepare a comprehensive plan and move forward in the future and how are we going to administer our development services.

Do we use the existing department structure that we have in place which is a Department of City Planning that has a zoning and community development? Do we do it with the URA? Over the past twenty years the Department of City Planning has been completely emasculated.

Mr. Kraus: By whom?

Mr. Ford: Under Act 47, and I would go back during the Murphy administration...


Mr. Ford: So what's happening is, Mayor Ravensthal wants to prepare a comprehensive plan. He wants a vision, and at the same time he wants to streamline development administration. So how do we do this with the infrastructure we have in place?

Do we move some of the zoning into BBI? Do we move some of the finance here? Do we move planning into the URA?

These are conversations we are having internally, and the mayor has even said as much, and at the time when I think that, quite frankly, we have a plan in place, this council is going to be the first person we are going to come to to get your take on that.

Mr. Kraus: That hasn't always been the history, and I hope that is the history we will now build...


Mr. Kraus: South Side Works, an incredible development but shattered it by a consortium of people that were openly and publicly invited to the table to participate in that process. Every community group was at that table. And I'm asking how we would then fold the Department of Planning into an authority that we have no oversight on, limited oversight, I should say, and still protect that planning -- the people of the City of Pittsburgh and the planning process?

Mr. Ford: That's a very valid concern, sir, which is why the administration, the mayor has not been in any rush to do that. We've been talking to other department heads. We've been talking to finance people. We have been talking to everybody you can possibly imagine.

You will learn as you work with me, just like these councilmen have and these councilmen have, you guys' game is tight, Mr. Shields' game is tight, I'm not going to come here and unload a proposal that I can't defend. I'm not going to do it which is why you haven't seen anything, because my game is not tight there. I want to make sure that I have every single question that all the state and city laws are vetted before I come to you with a proposal.

Mr. Kraus: Are offices being moved or any structural changes taking place?

Mr. Ford: Yes, but those are strictly administrative...


All that work. All that vision.

One inquiry from a blogger about a Christmas gift from a Lamar executive, and the next day, Pat Ford requests and is granted a paid leave of absence from his job at the URA, and relinquishes his roles elsewhere in city government. By all accounts, the big plans come screeching to a halt.

We didn't even write the article yet.

Is the State Ethics commission actually in the practice of awarding Good Housekeeping Seals of Ethics to city development czars with vast, unprecedented responsibilities? Are we just cooling things off?


Mr. Ford: Summarily -- and again I want to take full responsibility for this, having been involved in this since 2003. It was the advice and the counsel that I have given three mayors as to why we have gone down this path, mine solely. I proceeded to negotiate the best deal as possible. I only thought I was doing my job trying to get as many billboards taken down, reducing visual blight and creating opportunities to bring cool new technology to the City of Pittsburgh, and at the same time when the opportunity arose to get some money for our authorities who desperately need it to maintain our infrastructure and our cost and/or maintenance, and unsightly billboards need to be removed or surrendered in order to access that technology.

The City never lacked access to the technology. It lacked interest.

If Pat Ford or the Mayor ever wanted to assist Lamar Advertising in earning a permit for a particular LED advertising display, all they had to do was be represented at public hearings before the mayor's own Planning Commission to state their case, and manage the political consequences.


  1. Wow, Council proceedings are even more tedious when read than they are when listened to. I haven't seen such a low period-to-word ratio since Finnegan's Wake. Many blessings upon you for transcribing this.

    The overall impression I get from this is that Ford was being part bully, part confidence man, part shithouse lawyer. (I counted three uses of "summarily" in his speech, and I'm sure this is not the entire transcript. Nobody does that except someone who's trying to impress people with big words.) Seems like there are at least 5 people on Council now who are irascible and smart enough not to fall for it.

  2. Summarily, You guys' game is tight.

  3. will someone please send him out of pittsburgh

  4. "Between Pat Ford, Tom Cox, and Mayor Murphy, was there no one who suggested, "Hey!
    Do we have anything to fear from this Lamar lawsuit? Let's ask our solicitor!"'

    Has there ever been three more corrupt,self interested individuals plotting against the people of Pittsburgh???

  5. yeah add Luke Ravenstahl, Kyra Straussman

  6. And all of the current Council, while you're counting.

  7. "I haven't seen such a low period-to-word ratio since Finnegan's Wake."

    That's the official transcription. The live video makes everyone sound much better -- including Tonya Payne, to whom I did some disservice in collapsing her whole speech at the end of Act I into one block of text. But hey, I've got to have some fun.

    What this really needs is to be fully adapted for the stage.

  8. Love the pic of Ford.....this is the one in which he looks like Daddy Warbucks....make that "Daddy URA Bucks".

    Anyone know if his other "best friend" tore down his building that burned down over a year ago??? or has he stopped scratching that back???

  9. Wylie Holdings? (Wile E. Holdings?) I don't know what they've been up to. I think this had something to do with a URA internal investigation. Wonder if that one will ever see sunlight also. Maybe another Post Agenda?