Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Wednesday: Stay On Those Stories

There are eight of them. Their job is to make sure businesses are paying taxes. That's critical -- city officials say more than $10 million a year goes uncollected. But we saw six of the eight employees making little effort to find any of that missing money. What we did see was so alarming the mayor already is promising a tough response. (WTAE, Paul Van Osdol)

The last time a television news reporter alarmed Our Mayor with apparent malfeasance in city government, it was Marty Griffin and dubious spending at the Housing Authority. Pat Ford was swiftly dispatched to conduct a thorough investigation, and then um ... um ... ah ...

Has anyone yet reported that Councilman Ricky Burgess has been appointed to the Housing Authority board, and made its new chairman? He would be the one to ask about the status of that inquiry into alleged wrongdoing, most likely.

But back to today's story at the Finance Department...

"We expect our employees to give us a day's work for a day's pay," Finance Director Scott Kunka said yesterday. "We take it very seriously. We have [the Office of Municipal Investigations] and we have the Law Department involved."

If the allegations prove true, the employees will be disciplined, he said. (P-G, Team Effort)

Disciplined? Maybe I don't understand the public sector. If I clock in for three or four hours in a function that is supposed to profit my employer, and I go home and play video games instead, I will thereafter be considered a liability and a slacker and be fired. Then some eager beaver who rightfully lusts after jobs which provide generous benefits will come along to take my place.

If, however, six out of eight of these folks are found to be slacking at the same time -- who is it that requires discipline?


Neil deMause, co-author of "Field of Schemes," a book that examines the public financing of stadiums and arenas, said he has never heard of development credits being awarded as part of a deal. He said they definitely qualify as a perk.

"Free land is as good as free money," he said. (P-G, Mark Belko)

There's no reason to get worked up about this again -- for once this is exactly what was delineated on Day One of the arena deal in Spring 2007. It's just that there was so much tough talk about "no local tax dollars" being given away -- and only now it's a headline that "development credits" actually mean something? That land is indeed of value?

The real game will be for how much we sell that parcel of land, and what the Penguins will seek to accomplish with the remainder. Remember that in accordance with the Community Benefits Agreement, a Steering Committee is supposed to be Master Planning that land in a Community Oriented way, which will Drive Development -- except it is on a Strict Timetable before it turns into a Pumpkin at Midnight, leaving the Penguins with Carte Blanche.

Under the arena agreement, if the Penguins don't develop at least 2.8 acres of the Mellon Arena site each year, they forfeit the rights to the land.

Do you mean, they really will be made to forfeit the rights? Or, as with the Steelers on the North Shore, is this to be regarded as set-in-stone either way?

Hey -- don't blame us for being cynical. You've conditioned us this way.


However. This Thanksgiving we have something for which to be thankful.

Parties in the bitter Port Authority labor dispute last night reached a tentative agreement on a new contract at International AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington, D.C., after four days of special talks unprecedented in their 44-year history. (P-G, Joe Grata)

We don't yet know the details, but as long as management and labor are in agreement, we don't care. I can't fathom what kind of black magic Dan Onorato employed in order to bring these two belligerent parties to a bargaining table in our nation's capital, but if Legacy Costs are actually brought to heel under these new terms, this will be quite the resume enhancer.

If football is a game of inches, political football is a game of oh, about six days.


  1. Onorato was not part of the solution to this at all.

  2. Can we get a little more detail on that? Until then I'm inclined to think he deserves at least a little credit.

  3. Great pic Bram....very fitting.

    Re: The "investigators"

    I've got to believe that this type of thing has gone on for years. What other explanation is there for the number of people they caught red handed? I could understand if they took a long lunch every now and then, but to just go home...and then stay home?!? Wow.

    Three questions:
    Who is the supervisor of this department?
    How much do these "investigators" get paid?
    How much tax revenue does our city lose due to their poor productivity?

    If you get all three questions right, you win this

  4. At first blush, IMHO, Fire the one's that lied on the pay forms / cheated at work hours/time -- and were caught. Then, at the least, suspend the boss. Then the boss can fill one of the roles of the fired employees.

    I'd also suggest the holding extensive exit interviews with all of them.

  5. I got called "anti-worker" on my blog because I levied an opinion on that WTAE story.

  6. Truth - The investigator's penultimate supervisor would have to be the Kunka. More immediately, however, they reside in the Collections and Compliance division, which I assume has an Assistant Director. I can't find that person's name, but I assume you are going to tell me he or she is a ward chair.

    The reports give a figure of $10M, but it would be hard to say how much of that is attributable to shiftless investigators.

    And that is one sweet ride.

    Matt -- Some strange people read your blog.

    Now, in fairness (or at least balance) to Scott Kunka (I may post formally about this), I read this in a Trib article about Council members complaining about "funding woes" for the several hundredth time:

    "I hear a lot from Councilman Peduto and Councilman Shields about structural changes that need to be made. ... But I have yet to hear any solutions coming from them that we could accomplish."

    Scott's absolutely right. We hear constantly about how the administration should be doing "more". But has anyone ever suggested cutting into a specific department? Eliminating any management positions? No -- and that's why these complaints are chronically ineffective. Everybody's obviously terrified of offending city workers, and then presumably being branded "anti-worker". Not even the Republican candidate would offer a specific.

    Someone's got to break that cycle of futility and bring an actual suggestion to the table.

  7. Matt - Be lucky you got off that easy.