Thursday, July 3, 2008

Dowd and Peduto Agree on Something

[Ed. Note: Now with proofreading!]

This week, city council members Bill Peduto and Patrick Dowd both voted NO on tabling Council Bill 308. The controversial measure would have paid attorney's fees in the Lamar Advertising case, which is ripping through City Hall like a tornado or something.

It had been scheduled for final action on Tuesday.

Dowd, an opponent of the legislation, described his opposition to "tabling" the vote thusly for the record:

A vote to table is a vote to prolong.

He wanted to kill the thing already.

was in a different situation. His cohorts in the "Lamar 4," who had hired the attorney (including Council President Doug Shields, the bill's sponsor) evidently agreed with still others on council to set aside the worrisome measure into the future.

Here is what Peduto had to say in dissent of this action:

Because it is painfully obvious that the reasons to vote against the
payment (as outlined in the Specter Memo requested by Mr. Dowd and Mr. Motznik) were flawed and completely inaccurate to the City Code, the Home Rule Charter and the PA Constitution. I believe we should have voted this bill up or down - that is what we are elected to do. The arguments made by the other side that Council would be setting a precedent by VOTING to pay an invoice after a service had been rendered is without merit or any historical analysis. To be certain, as the Fein letter clearly proved (and an attorney, second or third year law student could attest) the precedence had been set in the 1890s and is part of municipal law throughout Pennsylvania - through action and case law. But, we were never given an opportunity to hear any professional alternative or minority opinion - that voice was silenced at the table - now there is some real precedence.

This vote was not about paying a legal bill of $5000 (even the Law Department agreed they were wrong in not paying the defense fund) this vote was a clarion call to councilmembers of the future that they would not be able to be threatened, sued and then silenced when they chose to stand on principle and on law to defend the city. For that reason, and the chilling effect it will have in the future to silence the minority voice, I believe it needed to be voted on and not tabled.

Now, there are other considerations. Some are troubled, for example, that the Lamar 4 seem to be holding the actual invoice from the attorney and its adjoining letter of retention close to their vests.

Separate issues in the public realm are also exacerbating the tone of conflict. For example, Dowd's shot at Peduto in regards to the Schenley situation hit pay dirt, at least in the form of a Brian O'Neill column and an otherwise brilliant Chris Potter column. (We say "otherwise" brilliant only because we think the voice of the Allegheny Institute put Dowd's salvo in a proper perspective.)

COMET CALL: This really is trivium from here on out, but in the philosophical abstract, for the sake of argument, we are still finding ourselves coming down with Shields, Kraus and Peduto.

It can be risky to challenge higher authorities in court, and even more so in a politically charged situation. If it might only be in hindsight safe for a majority of council members, armed with a demonstration in the legal arena, to defend the public need for legal wrangling and risks endured already by a legislative minority (or for that matter by public servants of any kind).

Council is properly empowered as a legislative body to underwrite said risk-taking for any reason, using any criteria they might please. It's not like they don't require a public majority at the end of the day.

Just because a process is different or new, that does not make it automatically immoral, illegal or fattening. By contrast, "the process" of zoning and city planning is also The Law of the Land. It is the only process available to us for these functions. Analogizing a need to revere the two different kinds of public "processes" equally is a terrible oversimplification of life.

We approve of this new process for paying city legal bills in extraordinary civic circumstances, and would approve of it in the future -- for it only kicks in should merit ultimately be found by a majority in such cases.

It did not, after all, take much time in this case.

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