Saturday, July 19, 2008

Friday, July 18, 2008

Friday: It's Like a Heat Wave!

Michael Lamb jumps to Don Barden's defense, and we find it to be sound. Sound! (P-G, Letters) He's at the bottom of the screen.

At the top of the screen you will find a long Schood District diatribe from Larry Myers. Worth a read.


The P-G Edit Board jumps to the Steelers defense:

Clearly, Mr. Flaherty has seen a political opportunity and has been less than scrupulous in exploiting it. While he assumes a legal authority, the sections of the lease agreement Mr. Flaherty cites between the Steelers franchise and the Sports & Exhibition Authority do not back up his contention that a reimbursement would be required. This is nothing but a bluff and a shakedown.

You could go that route, Mr. Edit Board, but then do you know who you have determining the future of the North Shore, and all that exciting development activity? Attorneys.

Not that there's anything wrong with that! Do we know Mr. Flaherty doesn't have a case? Life needs populists to raise these questions, Mr. Edit Board, and we're not ones to go about cutting them off at the knees.

Especially if its a bluff or a shakedown! That's called "negotiating". Why spoil it? Do you really hate the Trib that bad?



Council President Rich Fitzgerald said the proposals will be considered during a special meeting he has scheduled for Tuesday to propose a referendum question he is sponsoring, which will couple a property tax increase with any reduction or elimination of the drink tax.

Council, currently on its summer break, held a special meeting on Tuesday to grant itself the authority under the county's administrative code to put referendum questions on the ballot. (P-G, Team Effort)

A diligent reader and well-informed malcontent alerted the Comet several days ago to the possibility (likelihood?) that County Council was mistaken in its belief that it could "grant itself the authority" to put these sorts of referendums on the ballot.

Do we have any volunteers to do due dilegence? After all, "grant itself the authority" sounds like it must be either redundant or colonial.

As we understand it, the referendum which the leadership would like to put on the ballot would be an ordinance tying any future reduction of the drink tax to a raise in property taxes. Why do this? Why handcuff the citizens of the future in this way?

If we need to pass a law that says eliminating the drink tax means raises property taxes -- it must not be that way right now! Somebody alert Big Burrito!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Thursday: My So-Called Blog

Controller fears 'unjust' Steelers sale (Trib, Carl Prine)

Don't get excited -- it's about the sale of the team, not the sale of development rights by the Stadium Authority.

The letter warns that any sale that ends the 75-year ownership of the Steelers by the Rooney family would violate a "permitted transfer" of the club spelled out in the 2000 lease agreement between the city-county Sports & Exhibition Authority and the parent company of the team, Pittsburgh Steelers Sports Inc.

Controllers can just go out there and term transactions unjust and/or illegal? Then again, what's stopping them?

The Tribune-Review comes prepared: Flaherty's right and Flaherty's great call.

We admit this strikes a chord with the Comet over what we have been considering "Pittsburgh's even-more-blind spot" when it comes to sports teams.


Barden signs casino transfer (Trib, Mike Wereschagin)

The arrangement must be approved by the state Gaming Control Board...

Momentum is building to block this transfer, and instead go through some semblance of a competitive selection process. If anyone has a problem with that, they'd better start organizing now. We don't imagine that Don Barden has a ton of leverage remaining.


Despite progress, state to still monitor city finances (P-G, Rich Lord)

"There's a lot going on behind the scenes to begin to address those [long-term] issues," [Michael Lamb] said, noting a push for statewide municipal pension reform that might steer more aid to distressed cities.

Really? That would be wonderful news! Tell us more!


Lawyer: URA's Ford not target of Fed's probe (P-G, Rich Lord)

Urban Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Pat Ford, on paid leave while the State Ethics Commission reviews his receipt of gifts, "has received assurances from authorities that his cooperation with them is of 'mutual interest,'" his attorney said yesterday.

Welcome aboard!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


Today there was a fire drill at City Hall, right in the middle of ye olde Knights of Malta conversation. The Comet got to talking to some folks standing around outside of the building:

BRUCE KRAUS: Very relaxed, except that he's wondering if he's ever going to get approached for questioning.

BILL PEDUTO: Thinks that the Continental Real Estate issue at the Stadium Authority could be bigger, badder, and deeper than the Lamar/Liberty/Wylie/HACP issues.

The Authority has not met since March 13, when he was still on that board, and the administration proposed a sweetheart deal on the land that violated the terms of a court settlement reached only in November. The Stadium Authority acted to block that move, and Peduto was promptly removed from the board. The transaction lies in limbo.

DARLENE HARRIS: Is as concerned as can be that laws are either being ignored, or not being followed. She wonders if Council is going to have to do something not simply in terms of oversight, but in terms of enforcement.

TONYA PAYNE and ourselves continued to challenge one another regarding the "minutia" of Hill District politics, following up on a conversation we had months ago.

We asked Payne today whether there was a chance that any individuals from the "other faction" -- the Hill Faith & Justice Alliance, the Milliones or the Udin camp or whatever one calls it -- might be able to secure just one of the four committee seats reserved "for the community" on the nine-member panel outlined in the "Community Benefits Agreement" enjoined by One Hill and the URA.

She said it's up to a majority vote -- it would be inappropriate for her to overrule or unduly influence the community process. Carl Redwood and Evan Frazier would be in a better position to discuss such things.

We then appealed to the Councilwoman that One Hill, in her own words from last time, was started by Carl Redwood and herself with the intention of supplanting the leadership of that other group. We again mentioned our concern that so many One Hill members who sympathize with that rival group have had their voting privileges revoked, making it difficult for them to be heard through this new representational planning and development process.

Payne responded by protesting that the previous leadership was plenty high-handed and not sufficiently representational itself, and there were good reasons for establishing what she defined as a more "democratic process." As to why voting rights were suspended, she again appealed to a requirement that all members were to sign an agreement pledging not to negotiate outside of One Hill's process, and they broke that pledge.

That put us right back on the core of so many of these frustrating issues. In the Comet's opinion, nobody needs to agree to or sign any pledge in order to be counted as a voice in their community, and nobody should be prevented from speaking out on behalf of their community in whatever way they see fit.

We can only wonder how this One Hill qualifications rule came about?

Was it voted upon by the membership?

Did it arise before or after the leadership was elected?

If it was in place before any leadership was elected, what sort of "ad hoc" procedure brought about that requirement and by whom?

Should it be seen to have any democratic or moral legitimacy, moving forward?

The way we see it -- we utilize boards to transact business because boards allow for a variety of points of view around the table. The ability to include one or even two voices from the faction of concerned dissenters to sit among the four available board spots would go a long way toward making the Community Benefits Agreement pretty darn exciting, and a cause for celebration.

Wednesday: The Reckoning

At least two people have met with investigators from the U.S. attorney's office, the FBI and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development about some accusations made against Mr. Ford and some made by him. (P-G, Rich Lord)

That's the news.

Mr. Ravenstahl said yesterday that he does not expect to become involved in the Lamar hearing or the Rolling Rock sign debate.

He said he'll let the process "run its course ... I've been pretty straightforward and clear that I'm not opposed to billboards. In fact, in general I support them and think that they're a good thing if done appropriately."

What does this have to do with anything? Is he or is he not opposed to obeying the law? Because it is the law that determines how, when and where billboards, electronic signs and other structures may go up, not the whim of a Mayor.

Mr. Reichbaum, 32, of East Allegheny, authors The Pittsburgh Comet, at He could not think of a local precedent for a representative of the new media being interviewed by federal investigators.

Minor clarification: We were asked by Mr. Lord whether we could think of a local precedent for a representative of the new media being interviewed by federal investigators, and we answered truthfully, "No."

We did not go in there like, "We're the first! Wooooo!"

Update: Our Partner in Crime, the Burgher, expounds. (Burgh Report)


The state Ethics Commission is expected to rule Friday whether it will undertake a full investigation into Pittsburgh's suspended development chief.

Pat Ford's chances of returning to work as the Urban Redevelopment Authority's executive director largely depend on whether the commission's preliminary inquiry shows that Ford violated the state's ethics act, city and authority officials said this week. (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

Well. In part.

By the way:

"[Doug Shields] just told members of my staff this week that he's running for mayor next year. So I think you need to filter all of his comments through a political filter right now," Ravenstahl said. (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

Mr. Ravenstahl will be running for Mayor as well. Do we need to filter all of his comments through a political filter also?

Let's do that...

As building inspectors made a sweep of property conditions in Central and South Oakland yesterday, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and University of Pittsburgh officials reviewed some of the successes of previous sweeps and said the program would soon expand to other neighborhoods. (P-G, Diana Nelson Jones)

It sure looks like he's campaigning to us.

By the afternoon, Mr. Ravenstahl had talked with the gaming board's executive staff, his office said in a statement.

"During our brief telephone conversation, I expressed the need for an immediate face-to-face meeting on this very serious matter concerning the future of our city. These issues need to be addressed in person and as part of a larger discussion on what is right for Pittsburgh residents." (P-G, Toland and Lord)

It sure sounds like he's grandstanding.

Don Barden's Majestic Star Casino was a bad bet and it's time to walk away from his table. (P-G, Edit Board)

The only thing certain is uncertainty.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Burgess to Push District-Wide Crime Plan

"Comprehensive Community Violence Reduction Strategy" for District 9 is Modeled After Boston Crime Plan, Intended for Replication Throughout City

A cohesive and engaged community, a network of faith-based and community-based resources in that community, several police departments, several probations and parole departments, several attorney's offices, city and county leaders and a School Board.

These are the many ingredients that must work in concert as part of Councilman Ricky Burgess' public safety plan, which he still terms "a work in progress," but expects to be ready for passage by the August recess.

"It has been completed with significant support," said Burgess. "From the County Executive, the County District Attorney, and tacit agreement from the Mayor's office -- already we have some funding to seed it."

The Rev (as he is called) released details of the "Community First Initiative" to the Comet upon being asked about a campaign pledge he made to provide a "Comprehensive Public Safety Capacity Plan" for District 9 within his first 100 days in office. Council has been at work roughly 150 working days.

"We've had it ready to go since maybe February," said Burgess. "The delay -- the two things I've been dealing with is either dealing with being a new council member myself, or dealing with what we've sometimes called 'minutia'."

He allows that the "minutia" can be very important in its own right, but that "my strategy is to get things accomplished."


"What we are doing is consistent with research," attests Burgess. "Everywhere they've tried it, it's worked."

His own Council District 9 (which includes East Liberty, Homewood, Lincoln Lemington, Larimer, and parts of North Point Breeze and Friendship) serves as a good venue for the pilot program not only due to a perniciously high crime rate, but because "all the pieces are in place," including the Homewood / Brushton ministers and others.

"You have to put a strategy committee together," Burgess explained, "with a strong clergy, probation and parole, juvenile probation and parole, policing people, human services. The goal of this is to have a coordinating strategy in the community."

That strategy committee is to be wholly representative of that community and meet at least once a month, to coordinate broad efforts and to provide needed follow-up support.

Time and again, Burgess emphasized the indispensability of strong churches and church leaders in making the plan work.

"Churches begin to own the violence," he insisted. "We're gonna hold both sides accountable."

Pastors would be called upon to buy into the plan to the point of encouraging support for the police straight from the pulpit. This has a somewhat better effect than a cop making the same pitch, he indicates -- the idea is to provide law enforcement with an "umbrella of legitimacy."

At the same time, Burgess says we can't afford to have "tanks" or similar heavily armed police presences and activities "traumatizing the community."

Much can be gained through seemingly simple measures like analyzing data -- plotting stabbing violence against gunshot violence, for example, or coordinating community events and services so as not to conflict with one another.

"I'm guessing $150K to do this," answered Burgess, when asked about the total cost of the pilot program.

Funders on board or nearing commitment include the Youth Crime Prevention Council, a program called Ceasefire Pennsylvania, and the District Attorney's office.

"The Twanda money," he explained. "That's what it's there for."

Councilman Burgess provided us with a 12-page outline of the Community First Initiative strategy to reduce violence. It provides startling research data on the Boston plan, including a 47.1% decline in gunshot violence between 1994 and 1996 and an approximate 70% reduction in violent crime between 1990 and 1997, as well as voluminous data about the specific situation of Pittsburgh's East End.

The Comet intends to circulate and further review the details of this emerging neighborhood crime plan in the days and weeks ahead.

Photo credit: Pittsburgh City Paper.

Tuesday: More Tiresome Bourgeois News

Mr. Kunka said the city is sending requests for qualifications to 14 law firms and 13 underwriting firms to try to forge the right team to handle the debt refinancing. He stopped short of pledging a competitive process for choosing the team, which would be paid out of the proceeds. (P-G, Rich Lord)

If we're not up against the wall on time, why not go through a competitive process? Be assured of getting competitive rates, and maybe take a look at a few innovative strategies.

Let's test whether or not our assumptions about those which we consider the most "prestigious" firms are truly warranted.


Two Pittsburgh-area legislators are urging state gaming regulators to revoke Don Barden's slots license and award a new Pittsburgh casino license based on "a competitive process that will include new applicants," who would complete what's already been started on the North Shore. (P-G, Barnes and Toland)

The Comet is agnostic on that issue, but it is wonderful to see Sen. Orie and Sen. Ferlo being all bipartisan! This could be the start of a beautiful friendship.


To back up his claim, Burgess cited a 2003 amendment to the city's historic preservation law sponsored by then-Councilman Bob O'Connor.

The amendment states: "Nomination of a religious structure shall only be made by the owner(s) of record of the religious structure."

A religious structure is defined as a "place of religious worship."

O'Connor fought for the amendment under the belief that some churches can't afford to make repairs or facade improvements to comply with historic preservation standards. (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

Curious that this property was still given affirmative recommendations for historic designation from the Planning Commission and Historic Review Commission. They are the stewards of these regulations.

David McMunn, president of the [Mexican War Street] Society, said the Malta Temple is zoned as a commercial structure, not as a church. Allegheny County assessment records confirm that.

McMunn said tearing down the stately brick building at 100 W. North Ave. and replacing it with a modern building nearby would remove an important thread from the North Side's already frayed historic fabric.

This one is poised to get bigger before it gets smaller.


Dennis Yablonsky, secretary of the state Department of Community and Economic Development, likely will announce this week whether Pittsburgh should be released from state financial oversight. (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

Good. There isn't enough going on this week.


And finally this morning...

The brown Chihuahua mix perched at District Judge Gene Ricciardi's side barks for order when her owner's gavel fails to induce it.

Lucy, Ricciardi's shaggy sidekick in the leather-backed chair, always gets her way when defendants and prosecutors bicker too loudly over trash-strewn yards, broken fire escapes, rowdy neighbors or underage drinking. Sometimes she doubles as a soothing pet therapist for juveniles too choked with rage to tell the judge their side of a scuffle at school. (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

Could have written a whole article just about Lucy!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Monday: Know When to Run

HARRISBURG -- If the grand jury is correct, the 12 people indicted in a sprawling political corruption case aren't just the center of a court battle.

They're the opening shots of a cultural conflict. (Trib, Brad Bumstead)

I can feel it, comin' in the air tonight....


The Pittsburgh Ethics Hearing Board, resuscitated two years ago this week after a decade of dormancy, is now investigating its first case and finalizing its first recommended changes to the city's code.

Board Chairwoman Sister Patrice Hughes said Friday that pace reflects the five-member panel's philosophy: Get it done right, even if that takes a while. (P-G, Rich Lord)

There are no details available at all. Fair warning: a very slow pace plus a lack of information breeds suspicion.

"I think there's confidence in the group, and we're going to do the best job possible for the city," she said.

We would all be pretty poor citizens if statements like that were entirely reassuring.


Dowd astutely retained and paid for his own lawyer in the challenge. Three others have insisted that their lawyer be paid by the city. And Burgess has wisely recused himself. (Trib, Joseph Sabino Mistick)

You've got to hand it to Councilman Dowd. Things turned out largely the way he wanted it -- and though he's showing some battle scars, these will only benefit him.

If city council is going to accomplish anything worthwhile this year, it will almost certainly have to do so in a way that passes muster with Patrick Dowd. That's a fact of life.

Meanwhile, this challenge was so successful that investigators have expanded their focus into certain regulatory matters in Lawrenceville.

Say what now?


Leading community development organizations in five city neighborhoods have joined forces as the East End Partnership.

The Lawrenceville Corp., Bloomfield-Garfield Corp., Bloomfield Business Association, Friendship Development Associates and East Liberty Development Inc. "decided we are going to venture out as a regional group," said Rick Swartz, executive director of the Bloomfield-Garfield Corp., whose focus, despite its name, is on Garfield. (P-G, Diana Nelson Jones)

This is awesome. Now, when the East End Partnership becomes a brilliant success, and inevitably grows somewhat plutocratic and insulated from the travails of common people, Pittsburgh United can sail in to organize Penn Avenue United. Then we'll have a fully functioning, multicellular development organism!


That's good reason to hold our own at the table. If one developer doesn't like our terms, another will show up soon enough.

Over and over again, though, Pittsburgh politicos fail to appreciate what a great hand they've been dealt. I know table games haven't yet hit the banks of the Three Rivers, but really, if they want this to be a world-class city, they're going to have to learn to play world-class poker. (P-G, Ruth Ann Daily)

They are playing more than world-class poker. They and certain developers are giving each other signals under the table, while we the people are getting sandbagged.

It's hard to say at any given time which players are in cahoots and how and why, but we all know Pittsburgh has weaknesses when it comes to anything sports-related. Something to figure out, if we're going to be playing cards with these boys over the long haul.