Friday, January 7, 2011

And Where Is our Money for The Libraries??

Is it on its way?

But Mr. Ravenstahl returned unsigned a bill council passed June 1 allocating the system another $640,000 -- money the system says it needs to keep all branches open through December. The bill now becomes law without his signature. (P-G, Joe Smydo, 6/16/10)

So Pittsburgh has officially decided.

In recent weeks, mayoral spokeswoman Joanna Doven has said another $640,000 would amount to a "blank check" for the library system and come at a time when the city has its own financial worries. Besides, she said, there's nothing to prevent the library from returning next year and demanding yet another grant to keep branches open. (ibid)

Ah, good points. So how about the fact that we took that all into consideration and Pittsburgh had decided?

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's office didn't respond to a request for comment Monday. (P-G, Joe Smydo, 11/02/10)

Can anyone find anything? There have been no major pronouncements -- and the natives are getting restless.

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh's funding situation took us all a little by surprise. Council representatives overwhelmingly desired that those facilities and those programs stay online until a solution might be found, and forked over enough money to get through midway next year. The mayor aired grievances about how the Libraries are run, and these were considered and examined (some of it interesting). The mayor did not veto the rescue funding allocation, and he and the City wrote a reasonably balanced several hundred million dollar 2011 budget notwithstanding the measly $640,000 it cost. Pittsburgh had decided.

Pittsburgh's in for another weird result soon.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Obama Tied to Wall Street Investment Bankers

Small world:

WASHINGTON -- President Obama has chosen William Daley to serve as his new chief of staff, press secretary Robert Gibbs said Thursday morning. (LA Times, Parsons & Nicholas)

This William Daley, Sr. is an executive with JPMorgan Chase, the banking firm which would have partnered with LAZ Parking in leasing Pittsburgh's public parking infrastructure for 40-50 years under Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's thwarted proposal. Mr. Daley chairs JPMorgans executive committee on "corporate responsibility".

Daley's son, Bill Daley Jr., also personally worked on the Pittsburgh deal, but with another investment firm: Morgan Stanley, the city Parking Authority's sales-side consultant:

Morgan Stanley managing director Perry Offutt -- joined by Bill Daley Jr., the nephew of Chicago's mayor -- warned council against approving the study, saying it would possibly scare off investors and cost the city money. (P-G, Timothy McNulty)

And, of course, Daley Sr.'s brother is Mayor Richard M. Daley of Chicago and its Cautionary Parking Lease experience. And Obama's former chief-of-staff, Rahm Emmanuel, is now running for Mayor of Chicago, so now we have a revolving door.

So who are we running against JPObamastahl in the primaries?


How about that! Cropping done separately by Comet.

The Cleveland-Pittsburgh TechBelt Initiative

I told you Cleveland sucked. Look at this Ralph Della Ratta character, wishing justifiably he were just about anyplace else on Earth. There are six parts to this, featuring Congressional representatives Tim Ryan (D-OH-17, above) and Jason Altmire (D-PA-4, Pts. 3-6). Fwiw, I think "tech" might be an off-center tail if we're really looking to wag this dog; everybody and their mother wants to be America's Next Top Technology Corridor, nothing unique there. Even still, it looks like TechBelt is converting some federal and state grants into an energy-sciences enterprises incubator in Warren, OH.

So if you ever need to bum lab time with a small-to-medium Hadron Collider, they're your guys.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

UPDATE to Tuesday(;) Siiix Gooolden Liiinks

0. Alright, okay? Alright, alright, alright, ALRIGHT.


What is the big idea?

Pittsburgh and Cleveland, along with Akron, Canton, Youngstown, Weirton and Steubenville, could all fit within the area that currently makes up the Chicago Metropolitan Statistical Area. (P-G, Chris Briem)


The metropolitan statistical areas of Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Akron, Canton, Steubenville, Weirton and Youngtown, along with adjacent counties, add up to a population of more than 6 million and a labor force of more than 4 million. (ibid)

Okay. That's just great.

In many ways Cleveburgh already exists. (ibid)

Fine then. Will there be anything else?

If Pittsburgh and Cleveland can greatly expand the cooperation that has only just begun, then maybe we can lose the inward-looking... (ibid)

AH AH AH AH AH losing interest. If you had only just wanted us to take advantage of all those dumb idiot Clevelanders sadly being there, and use them economically and socially to our advantage -- and get folks from "Youngstown" and the such to help us do it -- then fine.

It is our mental map of who we are that will have the most to do with who we become. (ibid)

Ah, so it is Sun Tzu!! Namaste. (MORE: Look at it.)


1. City Council today declared 2011 to be A. Leo Weil Year in the City of Pittsburgh. On the Internet there seems to exist nothing comprehensive about this figure from turn-of-the-century Pittsburgh, for whom an elementary school in the Hill District is now named. In slices he is described variously as an attorney, a "graft-hunter", a prominent member of the Voters' Civic League, and by then-Mayor William Magee as "a human bloodhound."

2. This is not encouraging:

The natural gas boom gripping parts of the United States has a nasty byproduct: wastewater so salty, and so polluted with metals like barium and strontium, that most states require drillers to get rid of the stuff by injecting it down shafts thousands of feet deep.

But not in Pennsylvania... (P-G, David B. Caruso)

3. Particularly intriguing ruminations over at Pittsblog 2.0:

People who live in the city's handful of hipster neighborhoods and in its better-known gentrified neighborhoods have the political will and economic clout to attract more residents and more local businesses; people who live in the region's more successful suburbs are gradually building better walls and moats to ensure that the rich stay rich. The many, many neighborhoods and towns in the middle, places with retirees, public school systems, fire departments, public libraries, and need for public transit, depend on transfers of wealth to balance their metaphoric books. Pittsburgh's tech sector, higher education sector, and medical services sector are fiddling -- sweet notes, to be sure -- while the rest of the region largely burns. (Pittsblog 2.0)

4. Councilman Ricky Burgess this morning introduced to City Council for its consideration a ballot question that would amend the city's Home Rule Charter to disallow any future increase in property tax rates, unless said increase itself is agreed to by voter referendum. In a news release he reasons that this will give voters the chance "to protect themselves from public policy decisions that will force massive property tax increases."

Coincidentally, the Rev was in the news just last night regarding a different property tax-related issue.

5. This bit of satire has been making the rounds:

You just don’t understand the complexity of political realities. Stakeholders, filibuster, center right nation, starter home to be build on latter, median voters, electability, big tent, blah blah blah. (FDL Action, Jon Walker)

In case you didn't notice, I highlighted the vulnerable part of the satire.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Monday: Early Groundhog Day

It is after the conclusion of policy arcs -- budget cycles, development deadlines, sometimes calendar years -- that a few more people than usual, having gotten roused by the noisome drama sometime before the very end, suddenly realize "Hey, if we had a better functioning government, we wouldn't have so much inefficient, discordant inanity!"

"What we need is some better politicians, man," they'll say, in a voice not unlike that of Tommy Chong. "We need to have a civil society that's going to like, demand real reform from these politicians and like, unlock this town's latent civic-minded passion in a prismatic trans-dimensional lotus-blossom of good government energies, you dig?"

Meanwhile, right about now, most of the actual politicians (who do try pretty hard) are like, "Good government? Again? Already? Look, the only good government I'm interested in right now is this two-by-four into which I'm presently hammering rusty nails -- and how I'm going to storm City Hall with it, swing it good and hard, and somehow come back out with the playground I promised to good old Ozzie and the expanded Senior Center hours I promised to good old Helen. That's all I want to hear from Good Government until like, June. June is open."

Which brings us in the very short-term to the thirty-odd 2011 budget amendments that the Harris majority submitted to Mayor Ravenstahl. Earlier I had predicted that His Honor would honor about half of those, but now, having thought about it with the training in political science, public relations, and moral and political philosophy that I do enjoy (or that my bookshelf tells me I did at one point) I realize that he's only going to let three to five of those survive.

Three to five projects. Few enough such that those he selects will stand out -- letting him take some credit and get some bang for his buck -- and so he can at the same time gesture to all the others and say, "Well, we're having some financial trouble. I have no problem being the responsible one."

In fact, now that he's read this, he's probably only going to pick two. (Allow me to humbly submit that it's probably time to get our arms around the uniquely challenging South Side situation.)

Then comes veto-override time -- and unless some votes switch over because they've been successfully jimmied and finagled with those two-by-fours -- it's on to the new year's business.


And what will this year bring? It's hard to say. If we're looking at the pension problem, there really isn't much to be done on the city level, that is until we run out of money again. We can refinance a bond here and there, maybe. We can lobby the State to deregulate how we might provide for our workers' retirement needs, but we'd have to contend with those who wonder why anybody with any competence would want to work at government salaries without the promise of an old-fashioned pension.

I suppose we could take up the suggestion to piggy-back on the state pension agency's own professional fund management in a way that preserves our baseline local autonomy. That'd be sweet.

There are at least a couple of development projects in the pipeline to look after. The Hill District. The Allegheny Riverfront. Fun, fun, fun as always -- dealing with the Planning Commission and the URA and the SEA shrugging and pointing at one other and the state DCED.

Council should have its own legal officer before too long. That will spice up anything that already happens to be on the table, but shouldn't offer anything new.

There's an election. Although I'm a fan of those, these do not typically focus minds on lasting reform in the near-term.

So I really don't know what we're going to be talking about. Which is weird, because this Harris majority, they have a full year in the open field to run wild (and probably only one full year) and do their best to be change agents. When they can manage it, they can even become the Dowd Super Mecha-majority and absolutely clean house -- that is, clean house of whatever it is that is available to them.

Which is precious little. Authorities are authorities, commissions are commissions, the treasury is the treasury. Even simple funding requests can be ignored about as easily as any old weakly-constructed new law or ordinance.

Maybe the Post-Gazette is on to something with its suggestion to look at the Charter. Not in terms of recall elections -- it is my opinion we get enough elections here, and are not in conspicuous need of any further public attentions paid to job-retention. (It is also my opinion that if Ravenstahl should be faulted for anything in the last cycle, it can only be for not being persuasive and savvy enough to get his infrastructure lease deal passed -- a deal which ultimately will pass in some form in some fast-approaching era. I'm not sold on the notion that Takeover-Avoidance-By-Shenanigans was the best move for the city, nor were any of the other Band-Aids, yet I can understand how he got pressured into allowing the dratted thing to occur only after appropriate stringent objections.)

However, Pittsburgh is structured as a strong-mayor government -- and maybe if society and governance is terribly complex, and the pooling and accumulation of power is what it is, then we should look at becoming a slightly less strong-mayor government? Anyone? I heard one place to start is by looking at requiring votes of Council to approve the removal of city department heads and maybe even some commission and authority board members, for example. We could start by researching best practices.