As you know, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl nominated State Rep. Adam Ravenstahl to the board of the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority (ALCOSAN), a move which has raised hackles among good government watchdogs and the Mayor's political foes.
City Council will eventually vote on whether or not to confirm the nomination. It almost always confirm nominations. (Anyone remember them rejecting a nomination?)
Councilor Doug Shields asked for an advisory opinion from the State Ethics Commission (LMAO), which has already gotten back to him to indicate most likely that no, sorry, we don't issue ethics advisories on things which have already taken place, among the many other things we do not do. File a complaint instead, and we'll be sure to not act on that for a different reason.
Councilor Bill Peduto had better luck with the City Ethics Hearing Board, which will consider the matter on Friday 6/11 at 10:00 AM in City Council Chambers. It is not known yet whether any high-profile players will be in attendance.
Now, in addition to the vagaries of the City Code and how lawyers will sell interpretations to it, here is something else the watchdogs / foes would be well-advised to consider:
ALCOSAN - State Rep. Harry Readshaw
Equipment Leasing Authority - State Rep. Dan Deasy
Parking Authority - Dan Deasy
Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission - State Rep. Jake Wheatley
Sports & Exhibition Authority - State Sen. Sean Logan
SEA - State Sen. Wayne Fontana
Stadium Authority - Jake Wheatley
Urban Redevelopment Authority - State Sen. Jim Ferlo
Based on a quick review of the websites of our more important commissions and authorities, that is the list of politicians that have been appointed to boards that one could argue they have no particular business upon. The list is incomplete as I don't know the names of all the political chiefs of staff and others who answer directly to a political officeholder. I didn't include the Comprehensive Municipal Trust Fund because you don't even want to know.
So this kind of thing has been a trend. Why?
A seat on the Alcosan board is widely considered a political plum because members have contact with engineering and construction firms that tend to be campaign contributors. (P-G, Lord)
Politicians frequently desire to protect and strengthen other politicians -- sometimes because political deals have been made, sometimes to extend goodwill, sometimes to encourage political stability, and sometimes to help somebody to which they are particularly close.
Is there any harm done? That depends on what you think of the performance and decision-making of our boards and authorities. And on how seriously you take this:
A "mad as hell" grand jury that investigated the Bonusgate scandal issued a list of recommendations improving a state Legislature they condemned as "broken," but was skeptical that any of the proposals would ever occur in a system so rife with corruption.
"The current operational structure and ingrained procedures of the Pennsylvania House Democratic and Republican caucuses are irretrievably broken and in desperate need of systemic change," the grand jurors wrote.
The self-serving culture of the Legislature's caucus system and patronage is so entrenched, the grand jury wrote, that the only way any change might take place is through a constitutional convention. (P-G, Mauriello)
It could be argued that chipping away at the political privilege of state legislators on the local level is one way to begin having a direct effect on "entrenched" webs of incumbents, whom some consider far too important to Pennsylvania to risk facing the voters on a level playing field and to even consider replacing with nonpartisans.
Adam Ravenstahl campaigned more than anything else on a promise to "fix Harrisburg" -- the problem with which, he contended, is too many "self-interested politicians". Withdrawing his name from consideration for this board appointment and declining to take advantage of the big sewers cherry would be a meaningful first step.
In the event that does not occur, the Council could make reference to the many deep frustrations voters are nursing against the culture of Harrisburg and its imperious, out-of-touch incumbents -- not limited to "Bonusgate" matters -- and actually begin taking upon itself the task of cleansing rank and obvious political backscratching from Pittsburgh's own boards and commissions. This would be a long-term process that, if taken seriously, would make reform-minded Councilors appear less as though they themselves are reacting out of petty political jealousy.
Having made that policy decision, there will still be this:
"Rep. Ravenstahl represents the people who are affected by Alcosan's location the most," said mayoral spokeswoman Joanna Doven in an e-mail. "There has always been a meaningful effort to have representation from the North Side on Alcosan's board as quality-of-life issues such as odor and traffic affect residents near the operation." (ibid)
There are lots of community-minded North Siders who have no particular use for campaign contributions or political favors. Some of them probably even have useful experience or qualifications when it comes to managing sewer systems. Finding one shouldn't be a problem.