Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Onorato at the Parking Authority: Trying His Best

David Onorato, brother to Dan Onorato, is Executive Director of the Pittsburgh Parking Authority. The Parking Authority is preparing to do a whole lot of stuff.

Over and above the executive director sits a board. All of its board members are mayoral appointees, confirmed by the council. However, pursuant to § 220, one of those must be a member of Pittsburgh City Council itself. A good idea, in my opinion.

Probable mayoral candidate Patrick Dowd pointed this out, and said essentially, hey! Before you sell the parking lots, let's get a council member on this body!

A Parking Authority board seat "was offered to Patrick Dowd some time ago, and he turned it down," said Parking Authority Executive Director David Onorato. "I don't think there's merit" to Mr. Dowd's concern that decisions of the current board could be challenged in court. (P-G, Rich Lord)

Now, if Rich Lord sneaks up on you and asks you a question about some random celebrity complaining about your organization and your bosses, this is a nice effort. Good thinking.

Unfortunately, the argument is totally specious and a distraction. How about we just run the government rightways already?

Mr. Ravenstahl nominated Mr. Dowd to the board April 3, to replace Dan Deasy, formerly a council member and now a state representative. At the time, though, Mr. Dowd was part of a legal challenge to a Lamar Advertising billboard on the Grant Street Transportation Center, which is owned by the authority. Mr. Dowd asked that the mayor hold the seat open "until such time as the appeal is resolved."

He and Lamar reached an agreement on April 17 requiring a public process for the billboard.

The desire to avoid being seated on the Parking Authority in mid-April of '08 was conspicuously understandable, because Pittsburgh was freaking out about a Parking Authority issue with which Dowd had intimately involved himself.

Mayor Ravensahl initially sounded approval of Dowd's approach to his particular concerns. But as other members of council joined Dowd's appeal, and as Lamar Advertising sued all five members on conspiracy-related charges, and as Dowd's colleagues counter-sued Lamar, it all became very unfortunate for the Mayor.

My point is: That was in April! It's been nine months.

Has the Parking Authority seat been offered to anyone? There are three other council members -- Bruce Kraus, Bill Peduto, and Douglas Shields -- available to be called up for active duty. I would think Kraus in particular has made himself less politically radioactive.

If a billboard can cause this much waste and distraction, how much more havoc can a massive garages-for-pensions swap wreak?

Pittsburghers can now reasonably ask of their government whether their own direct influence over decisions at the Parking Authority is oddly out of sync with that of the County Chief Executive. That should be ludicrous and unnecessary. Every citizen, every politician, every city worker now has good reason to lobby the Ravenstahl administration in favor of filling that board vacancy.


  1. Think there's anything to the fact that the mayor nominated Dowd in the midst of the billboard legal battle, knowing full well that Dowd was a major player in said battle?

    An attempt to create a conflict of interest, perhaps, in the hopes of deflating Dowd's legal challenge? Or am I being too cynical and paranoid?

  2. P & K - Not at all. At that time, in fact, there were already rumors swirling about Pat Dowd's legal approach -- some said he was handling the case in such a way as to protect the Mayor, and sort of intentionally fail. It was plausible, too. Had he taken a seat on the Parking Authority at the time, the public outcry would have been immense -- not to mention, yes, it would have created a legitimate conflict.