Thursday, April 5, 2012

Thursday: Success!

Allegheny County is sucking in residents like it hasn't in a generation: P-G, Gary Rotstein

The vacant row houses Rachel Maddow toured are finally coming down: Trib, Bob Bauder

Millcraft's crown jewels found odious to some, may eclipse sun: P-G Mark Belko

Every elected official in Harrisburg except Mayor Linda Thompson and one member of Council is calling for an investigation into why the city's angered financial Receiver suddenly resigned: CBS21, Chris Papst; meanwhile, the Mayor is suing to get Controller Dan Miller removed for different reasons: CBS, Group Effort.

Mitt Romney now leads Rick Santorum in PA: PA Politics; trails President Obama by about 5: Real Clear Politics

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

District Seeks to Fill Role at Westinghouse

And they're holding out for a hero...

Pittsburgh Public Schools is advertising for a "visionary leader" to become the new principal for the troubled Pittsburgh Westinghouse 6-12 in Homewood this fall.

On its website, the district is advertising for a candidate -- from inside or outside the district -- who "is a bold and dedicated educator who can help us to reshape our future."

"Clearly, we're going to be looking for someone who has a passion for working in an urban school district, working in an urban high school, a passion for meeting the needs of kids whose needs have not been adequately met in the past," Superintendent Linda Lane said. (P-G, Eleanor Schute; see also Trib, Tony LaRussa)

It looks a bit confusing whether the incumbent principal desired or expected to retain that position or not -- communications may have pulled the trigger early.

Since both Superintendent Lane and the policy-setting School Board had to issue apologies for the roles they played in the debacle of a year at Westinghouse, one wonders whether the school's principal is the most crucial place to desosit the visionary leadership, and whether he or she can deliver the resources, programing, and institutional design such a school might require to thrive.

As one blog commenter put it:

Does this really mean that a new principal will have the autonomy, free of central office control, to actually assume leadership for a "vision"?

If so, how will this be ensured; AND, will other struggling schools be afforded the same opportunity? (Anonymous 7:10 on PURE Reform)

At least it's a step in an unavoidable direction. One hopes there will be a lot more positive news about Westinghouse and the School District during the off-season. There are a lot of visionaries encircling the District already.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Tuesday: ISO Tenable Positions

Contrast the state retirement fund for Pennsylvania with that of Georgia:

The $26.3 billion Pennsylvania State Employees’ Retirement System has more than 46 percent of its assets in riskier alternatives, including nearly 400 private equity, venture capital and real estate funds. (NYT, Julie Creswell)

Meanwhile, Georgia prohibits itself by law from pursuing "risky" or especially fee-laden investments, and has been doing about 2% better. Food for thought, possibly on any level of government.

Now. Much closer to home:

[Councilman Daniel] Lavelle wants the 37.5 percent city parking tax on [Penguins development] spaces -- he estimates there would be about 800 of them -- to benefit the Hill District.

Under his bill, half of the parking tax generated by the "interim parking" would go to the Sports and Exhibition Authority, and the other half would go to the Urban Redevelopment Authority. The two entities own the 28-acre arena site, across Centre Avenue from Consol Energy Center, the Penguins' new home that is leased from the SEA. (P-G, Joe Smydo)

While there is some small room for debating the relative efficiency of money sent to the URA versus that of a community panel benefiting a given neighborhood, there certainly must be less doubt as to which mechanism would be more empowering, and more conceptually in line with "avoiding the mistakes of the past." Some neighborhood groups and some in community development understandably would share access to determining slices of pie outright, rather than have it portioned out by a hoary government institution with its own bureaucracy and priorities. Of course, I'm unaware whether a broadly representative Greater Hill District stakeholders round table ever got together to make what would have to be fair internal dispersal of funds feasible -- but then again I'm not sure whether the URA keeps one of those either.

A better issue, perhaps: parking tax, eh? Hasn't that already been spoken for? Regardless of who "gets" any funds generated, I wonder if Redwood's dollar-a-car off-the-top proposal isn't more advantageous, since taxpayers as a general set aren't the ones who have reaped benefit from a legacy of imperialism. Although the $1 bills would come out of parkers' wallets, wouldn't pricing and the market lead to this being more likely to be culled from the private share?

And finally:

The already-indispensable blog Today's the Day Harrisburg is ready for its closeup. A bit tough to navigate right now through the POP! :) but forage for the good stuff:

As I watched, tweeted, and noted David Unkovic give his statement to a small number of reporters in his office, I knew this was historic. Unkovic delivered blows. He named names. He was frank about his concerns. He talked of “joint venture” and “parties” and referenced a timeline of people, places, and things that have happened to put the City of Harrisburg where it’s at—in trouble. (TTDH, Tara Lee Auchey)

Digging through the older posts, one has to keep reminding oneself: this isn't an anonymous blog.

Anyhow, days later, that Commonwealth Court appointee resigned. This will all merit careful study.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Monday: Release the Cracker!

A historical rumination on the subject of our presumed incoming petrochemical refinery:

It's also an unexpected turn for Horsehead's zinc factory on the banks of the Ohio River, which is currently operating. In September the company announced plans to shut the factory by 2013 and relocate to North Carolina, along with most of its 600 workers. (AP, Kevin Begos)

This led us to peruse Wikipedia's entry on the Horsehead Corporation, formerly the New Jersey Zinc Company. Excerpts:

Because of ambiguous deeds, overlapping claims, and misunderstanding over the nature of the ores at Franklin and Sterling Hill, mining companies in the district were in constant litigation. (Wikipedia)

Despite these difficulties there were about 100 years both of industry and of mergers, buyouts and sell offs. Ultimately:

The passage of environmental protection laws in the 1970s turned New Jersey Zinc's legacy of environmental pollution into a liability ... Saddled with environmental cleanup liabilities, and struggling with cash flow due to record low prices in the early 2000s, Horsehead Industries filed for bankruptcy in 2002. (ibid)

China nowadays produces around 40% of the world's zinc as compared to the US's 5%. Moments like these, it is easy to imagine we are being governed by a giant burning astrolabe in the sky.

Anyway, the plant emerged from bankruptcy and continues to operate, despite difficulties, employing about 600 hearty Monacans. It is unknown how many laid off smelters might be re-trained for the plastics industry, which you should have known to get into.


Also unknown is the true economic impact.

Shell estimated the core plant could employ several hundred people and create up to 10,000 construction jobs. (AP, ibid)

I could waste time trying to riddle out the effects of those numbers -- 800 or 900 permanent jobs seems to be the consensus, plus all those temporary jobs in construction, and yes the "spillover" effect -- against the effects of the special tax breaks that are intended for it ("Zero state and local taxes for 15 years") and every other consideration which probably will be offered. But I know a losing battle when I see one (I've been in a lot of them) and the yay-sayers are out in force like I've never seen them all over the mainstream ideological spectrum.

But. Could we possibly keep really scrupulous track, of what taxpayers contribute? This whole Shell cracker thing (and a goodly chunk of the Pennsylvania play) is destined to be a case study and learning experience anyway. Can we all promise to disclose, review and audit pretty much every conceivable benefit and cost of this public-private partnership? Just to learn.


What else?

There's a slew of new news in the sidebar. Here is what Chris Briem is pondering when it comes to these sliding natural gas prices for example.

I learned watching Nighttalk (Get to the point!) but only discovered online here, State Sen. Wayne Fontana is submitting legislation that would allow Allegheny County, its municipal governments and school boards to scrap property taxes in favor of other things. That surely will never completely obviate the need for doing regular property value reassessments, but there seems to be a consensus there are enough flaws in the property tax to merit experimentation and local initiative.

In relation to property taxes and budget problems in general, City Councilman Corey O'Connor replied to a given question on the same panel something very close to: "First of all, it would be great to start taxing UPMC, but that's a whole 'nother topic!" This despite the fact that he is cooperating with them in other modest respects. Gotta love it though -- he didn't say "contribute" and "nonprofits" or even "health care", he said "tax" and "UPMC". Well, with all the various and new little concerns about the regional monopoly's business policies and procedures, who can blame him? And we get to call it a data point.