A group of state representatives, mostly Democrat, delivered a coup-de-grace to a possible City-County merger any time in the foreseeable future.
The Allegheny Institute called it. Time of death: 8/07/08 9:51 AM.
Chief Executive Onorato and Mayor Ravenstahl have been handed a major political defeat. Onorato because he has been shown not to be invincible politically and Ravenstahl for demonstrating a willingness to go against his own better judgment in hopes of currying favor with powerful groups and individuals.
Now the two gentlemen can get back to what they should have been doing all along; putting together plans to have the City contract with the County to provide services such as public works and parks management and maintenance.
Looking at some of the recent comments by our local state reps, it's reasonable to come to that conclusion.
The P-G, however, is not so eager to dance of Consolidation 09's grave:
SUMMER, THE SEASON of fresh peaches, also is the time of stale reruns, and not all of them are on television. The evidence comes from a variety of sources, starting with politicians who are skeptical of the plan for consolidation of regional services boldly set forth four months ago by a task force under University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark Nordenberg. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato quickly got on board, but state Rep. Dan Frankel, the Squirrel Hill Democrat, said last week that state legislators from the county consider it "way too premature" for them to start working on legislation that would allow voters to decide if Pittsburgh and the county should merge their governments. We've certainly heard the brakes applied to forward-thinking efforts before. (P-G, Edit Board)
1) Plan? There was a plan?
2) A plan for consolidation of regional services? Surely, such a thing would not require state legislation or any referendum.
We sympathize with the idea that change is needed and that knee-jerk resistance to necessary change is unfortunate, but was what was being presented to legislators in this round really "forward-thinking"? And is thinking forwardly enough?
The Nordenberg Report itself cautioned for slow-going deliberation, and highlighted four real challenges to true governmental consolidation that must be addressed:
1. Meeting the continuing needs of the urban center
2. Ensuring adequate minority representation
3. Dealing equitably with current city and county employees
4. Segregating legacy costs
Whether or not anyone had read the report, these concerns were felt in the bones of city residents. Without benefit from the outset of a robust public dialogue as to how we might conquer these challenges -- especially numbers 2 and 3 -- it was folly to believe anyone would sign off on dissolving anything into anything else.
Mayor Ravenstahl and County Exec Onorato are still to be congratulated for embracing the broad concepts of an ultimately necessary merger -- but are to be duly chided for not entrusting us with a serious public conversation about its nuts and bolts, and for seeming to act with a haste that was cautioned against in their own report.
Let's start talking about 2010, 2011 and beyond. It's more important to get this right than completed on any artificial timetable.