Most of an e-mail exchange between Councilman Patrick Dowd and Dean Kaplan of the Act 47 oversight board was read aloud. You know the type by now -- our councillor was requesting some "clarity" on "process".
The response from Kaplan indicated on one hand that "the 2004 Recovery Plan will remain in effect if the Amended Plan is not approved", which would seem to ameliorate our June 30th problem in regards to labor negotiations and arbitration. Good news.
However, it also indicated / reiterated that only the Act 47 Coordinators can amend the proposed Plan, NOT the City of Pittsburgh or City Council, and that they will "strongly consider" petitioning the state Secretary of Community and Economic Development to impose sanctions that would include the withholding of certain funds. Bad news.
Doug Shields was particularly vehement that Kaplan was mistaken about who gets to amend the plan. Write that on a Post-It and stick it somewhere out-of-the-way for now.
On the agenda was a decision whether or not to preliminarily approve the new Act 47 Plan. Remember Council has to lock-in its final answer during Final Action, which for this would be scheduled on Tuesday: the last possible day to get this done under the wire.
Council's Budget Director read into the record a packet comprising 11 pages worth of "amendments" to the Recovery Plan -- amendments which Council is not literally empowered to enact, but which represent requests of our Act 47 overseers to amend their plan in such a way.
Finance Chair Bill Peduto asserted that during a telephone conversation of yesterday evening, the overseers informally agreed to the unobjectionability of roughly 80 to 85% of these sought-after amendments.
These included things such as a facilities management plan, the institution of best practices in budget presentation, regulation of the city vehicle fleet, the inclusion of a professional risk manager, changes in how Animal Control stores its data as well as training for humane officers, and functional consolidations. All this and regular status reports to City Council on implementation of the Plan's recommendations. To this blogger, it all sounded like enforcing aspects of executive purview of the type that executives tend to guard jealously.
Also there were amendments to petition the State Legislature to levy certain taxes and several other matters. Presumably these would result in joint petitions on behalf of the City and the actual Act 47 coordinators themselves, theoretically providing more oomph to the requests.
Finally, there were loosenings of restrictions on "incentivizing" city employees.
Thereafter occured much discussion about what might occur dependent on how the overseers respond:
PEDUTO: Said he will NOT vote for a Recovery Plan that fails to include a hefty portion of these items (that wasn't his verbiage, but he kept it pretty vague).
MOTZNIK: Supported the amendments -- and seemed actively involved with Finance Chair Peduto -- and took Peduto at his word that most amendments would be adopted by overseers. He did not state a clear position on what he'd do otherwise.
KRAUS: Said he will NOT vote for a Recovery Plan without "these amendments", period, full-stop.
SMITH: "Definitely" can't vote for a plan without "a majority" of the amendments.
HARRIS: Via teleconference, supported amendments, especially those on workforce incentives. I did not catch a clear position on what would happen should they not go through.
SHIELDS: Abstained from taking a firm stance of the what-ifs. Of the opinion that this raft of amendments is too weak any darn way -- and recall our Post-It note. He seemed resolved to bring that, as well as the issue of whether or not Pittsburgh is already constitutionally empowered to levy a commuter tax, into another arena.
BURGESS: Supported proposed amendments, but declared his intention to vote IN FAVOR of Act 47 REGARDLESS of whether or not the overseers incorporate a single one of them. This was justified on multiple occasions with reference to the "unimaginable" "catastrophe" that would befall Pittsburgh without state oversight, which enables the city to "survive".
DOWD: Supported proposed amendments, but declared his intention to vote AGAINST Act 47 REGARDLESS of whether or not Act 47 incorporates every one of them. This was justified with assertions that Act 47 is onerous, has been un- or counter-productive, and most of all prohibits us from levying a commuter tax, and thereby addressing our fundamental issues.
PAYNE: Nothing she said indicated any intention to vote for Act 47 under any circumstance, but she "predicted" for all assembled that the Coordinators would take our 11 pages of amendments, pare it down to "just one" page, and still the rest of Council will end up giving it 8 votes next week.
So if Bill Peduto is correct and a sizable majority of the amendments are accepted, things look really simple and peaceful. If too many of the amendments get rejected (which we should know hopefully by Friday), the calculus gets daunting.
And after all of that ... individual Council members started proposing their own additional amendments to this list of proposed amendments, on the principle that since we're only asking, it would only be polite to allow every Councillor to attempt to adorn the thing with whatever they desire. One of these for example was the wholesale elimination of restrictions on new employee contract enhancements -- something that would be popular among unions but would certainly be very unpopular with state overseers charged with reigning in our expenses.
As the amendments packet was adorned like a Christmas tree, some skeptical members started referring to the packet as "fantasy amendments" and "fantasy legislating".
But in the end, the Act 47 Recovery Plan, now accompanied with a host of "recommendations", was granted preliminary approval mostly for procedure's sake, along with multiple qualifications that implied strongly this approval may be revoked.
Dowd noted that of the sanctions that could potentially befall Pittsburgh should it not timely adopt a Recovery Plan, the vast majority would affect funds slated for the Urban Redevelopment Authority rather than the City's general fund. The implication I guess was who cares about those crumbums anyway. This I found to be a pleasing attitude.