Friday, January 25, 2013

Friday, 1/25: Buckwild and Out of Control

Movieweb, Alan Orange

Pittsburgh lies only 221 miles from Sissonville, WV, site of MTV's new reality show Buckwild. New stars like Shae Bradlee and Shane "Redneck McGyver" Gandee say they are not happy about comparisons to Jersey Shore stars, nor about their own Senator's concerns over "rednecksploitation".

Meanwhile the Pittsburgh Penguins' 2-0 start got slashed down to size at home at the Iceburgh against the Toronto Maple Leafs, who took advantage of Penguins miscues and penalties.

“I was really mad,” [Evgeni] Malkin said. “But it was my fault.” (MD, Will Graves)

Showing how it's done, on and off the ice.

The biggest news is that Police Chief Nate Harper will remain off duty until Monday, it today being 10 days since the death of a family member and one day since a city employee who plead guilty for taking bribes appeared before a grand jury investigating the Chief's own possible involvement. Harper denies that the Police Bureau had any role in any payments or decisions related to bribes and awarding contracts.

"The Police Bureau," he says. The Police Bureau. Who was acting as the Director of Public Safety around the summer and autumn of 2006? What kinds of things were going on in city government, during the sad, unfolding transition from one mayor to the next? Did anyone ever perform any extensive accounting or audits of city business during that painful period -- or did we figure there are some things better left untouched?

Since 2005, meanwhile, Pittsburgh had been instructed that we need more police sergeants on the streets supervising the force, so that incidents such as failing to consult a 911 complainant and discharging weapons in an ill-advised manner can be minimized.

ICA Executive Director Henry Sciortino said the body can’t tell the city how to run its police force.

“We rely heavily on our partnership with the city to focus on the execution of good police tactics and strategies and the things that surround law enforcement,” Sciortino said. (Trib, Harding & Bauder)

Where I Went & How I Got There
However, is it fair to expect Mayor Ravenstahl to have acted within the past 6 years upon practical recommendations and warnings issued by the ICA, without first having state legislators and governors take time off to wage a protracted political and legal spectacle? Even if the police union has been in agreement with the findings? No wonder the mayor's office doesn't have any comment -- forcing a mayor to do things isn't the mayor's job.

The board of the Port Authority postponed an expected decision on whether or not to part ways with its CEO Steve Bland at the behest of ACE Rich Fitzgerald, who finds himself strained in some way with the progress of public transit. I am not hearing any defense of the Bland era at PAT yet, but of course people feel sorry for him over the coverage and the possible departure. It's a competitive field, being a CEO -- investors demand value-added leadership and dynamism. The Port Authority gig is a rough hand to be dealt, no doubt, but the cards have seemed crummy for a while now. Is it strategy? Is it a bad fit? Who knows.

Justice Jane Orie Melvin, charged with using her public office for political gain, better hope she has a winner in the "I didn't do it" defense. Because the "I was too busy to do it" defense is just the unfortunate, laughable kind of thing one's attorneys need to say when one is hauled in front of a jury.


  1. more of the same from Fitz. When will these politicians realize that they don't get to hire and fire people at independent boards? They are so brazen about it now. Seriously, it is very wrong for Fitz to interfere with the day to day management of the board. Sigh, same old same old democratic party in ye olde Allegheny.

  2. Anon 7:46 - Let's try once more. It is good and appropriate for a political executive to intervene with an authority whenever doing so is IN SERVICE TO A GOOD IDEA, or at least one that can be rationally considered in the public interest. That is the litmus test.

    Bland invested too much time and energy beating up on the workers, is all. Not appropriate to a climate of reactionary austerity and coercive maneuvering towards privatization.

  3. Yes, there are good reasons for labor bitterness that also most directly affect the public interest:

  4. The ACE appoints PAT's board, which gets to choose PAT's management. I think Bland has done a very good job and I am concerned if he is replaced his successor will not be as good, but I would hope people would understand that this is one of the issues at stake when electing the ACE.

  5. BrainTH - What in your opinion has been very good? I'm not trying to argue your point, I just don't know enough background.

  6. At Anon 5:08 AM

    That article is backed up by my own observations of driver overwork and exhaustion that I witness out in "the field" of the buses all the time.

    What I often tell myself is that without dedicated, sustainable state funding, Bland was expected by those who hired and pressured him to make the Port Authority work more like a private-public partnership and less like public infrastructure that is crucial to the health of not only our urban economies of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, but also to the state budgets which depend on those urban tax bases. Those urban tax bases also fund rural roads and bridges.

    And the most successful, highest quality infrastructure systems are staffed by decently paid professionals with incentives to remain in a difficult job by guarantees of decent working conditions and health benefits. Studies from across the country suggest that private-public partnerships often fail workers, riders, and the larger multimodal economies that they connect.

    According to Lynn Scholl's “Privatization of Public Transit: A Review of the Research on Contracting of Bus Services in the
    United States, “turning over transit systems to for- profit companies “often results in under-insurance; substandard vehicle maintenance; higher levels of pollution, congestion, and accident rates; as well as inadequate coordination and integration of routes and fares…private transit operators may leave the less profitable routes under-served. The lower wages and benefits paid by private bus companies has often resulted in higher labor turnover, less qualified drivers, and lower productivity, leading in turn to declines in the safety and quality of service, prompting critics to charge that cost savings are resource transfers rather than true efficiency gain.”

    Bland was expected to run the Port Authority "efficiently," squeezing transit workers to prevent further cuts in service, rather than being given the support and funds to manage a high quality vital public service that could vitalize our interdependent region, both economically and socially.

  7. Bram, I'm sorry but you are way out in left field with this. No, the ACE does not get to interfere if it is for a "good" cause. That flies in the face of good government and transparency. You know full well that anyone can rationalize what constitutes a "good" cause. The "progressives" show their true colors. They could care less about transparency, process and procedure and only care about protecting their guy. These authorities were set up as independent entities with their own management boards for a reason. They are NOT under the direct control of the ACE. This is really very dangerous ground for Fitz. Just wait until the bond issuers and insurance companies start weighing in. He is on dangerous ground with making the authority and the county one and the same.

  8. Anon 8:48 - What would the bond issuers and insurance companies have to weigh in on on the subject of Bland / Not Bland?

    (And I've seen at least a couple executive interventions into boards that cannot be rationalized, and then more that might conceivably be rationalized but were so politically unpopular the executive's role was denied.)

  9. I mean Anon 8:48, would you have us believe the entire global financial market (credit ratings agencies and all) is presently in on the plan to pull the "ripcord" in ATU's new contract with Port Authority by letting the state and county off the hook in providing the necessary routine annual (and presently agreed upon) $30 million in funding support? So the entire financial world is ALL going to become political bond vigilantes to oppose installing a transit CEO who is going to advocate for the necessity of more state funding instead of blaming workers?

    Capitalists may have their political preferences as individuals, but at the end of the day they base their investment decisions on much sounder financial fundamentals than that. Interest rates are low, the region is growing, gas prices are set to keep climbing, and governance of the Port Authority is strong on an institutional level. If any transit board members are wavering because of these politically concocted ghost stories about invisible bond vigilantes, take a breath and please don't make yourself out to be a chump.

  10. I gather Bland may be best known for participating in getting concessions from labor, which in turn are controversial. But I was particularly impressed by two other things: the creation and phased implementation of the Transit Development Plan (TDP) (which is still ongoing), and the completion and opening of the North Shore Connector (NSC). Of course there were some problems in these areas, but they were usually quickly remedied.

    Generally, all this has led to PAT becoming much more efficient, which means it has been able to preserve a lot more ridership than it otherwise would have as a result of recent austerity caused by rising costs and public funding cuts. I also believe those efficiency gains were crucial to PAT getting a large chunk of its state funding restored, because they were used to counter the "same old PAT" attitude that was giving the state political cover (it was all too easy for them to get people to believe PAT was entirely responsible for the austerity caused in part by the state funding cuts).

    This editorial is representative--the Allegheny Conference has been a frequent critic of PAT's management in the past, but it supported restoring PAT's funding during a key period, citing in part the aforementioned efficiency gains:

    Of course Bland is not the only competent transit official in the world, so he is potentially replacable with someone as competent or more so. But I don't think there is any guarantee that will happen, and in general I don't if Fitzgerald will even allow that to happen, so I am concerned the era of relatively good management at PAT is coming to an end.

  11. Here is a link to that same article by Gregory B. Jordan of the ACCD and of Reed Smith on the newer P-G website. Why on earth would they disable commenting on that, by the way?

    Great discussion. To me that op-ed reads like, "We've squeezed them as much as we can this year, hold out any longer and we'll have a full-blown political and human crisis on our hands." And maybe that's fine. I'd like to hear more about this "Transit Development Plan," because our region still lacks a grown-up transit system. If the TDP really is the kind of thing that can organize political willpower to make significant regional investments, that will be super. I believe we need a transit CEO that can work with and has credibility on all sides. Not sure if Bland marched too far down the Conference road retain that. I trust the ACE and the Board together well enough to pick a CEO that is competent and dynamic, that isn't ideologically railroaded, that has has some of the skills of a politician.

  12. The Transit Development Plan was in part what I believe is usually called a "system redesign". PAT hired consultants (Nelson/Nygaard) to study the entire system and collect data on each component, then propose possible changes to improve its allocation of resources. That process is what was behind many of the consolidations and changes in routes over the last few years, although those changes often got confused with service cuts forced by the funding cuts. The TDP also incorporated proposals for future changes, such as the smartcard system they are rolling out, the Rapid Bus network that is still in planning, and so forth. Along the way they also provided a lot of great information to the public, including what I believe was the first ever comprehensive online system map. Unfortunately, though, a lot of that information appears to have been taken down in subsequent years.

    "I think we need a transit CEO that can work with and has credibility on all sides."

    A wise man once said, “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time." If never having anyone get angry at him is our criterion for PAT CEO, we are doomed to never be satisfied. And in fact I suspect even trying to achieve that goal is likely to lead to a CEO who is reluctant to make changes for which he could conceivably be blamed, and that is not what PAT needs.

  13. By the way, though, I agree that if Fitzgerald absolutely refuses to have a decent working relationship with Bland, then regardless of his merits, Bland will have to go, because we are stuck with Fitzgerald. But I would put that in a file marked "Elections Have Consequences," and I would hope people would remember this consequence the next time we are choosing our County Executive.

  14. Also by the way, I'm trying to figure out if anyone really has a problem with Bland besides Fitzgerald. My understanding is Bland has a good working relationship with the current ATU 85 President, the state Secretary of Transportation, the chairman of PAT's board, the Chamber of Commerce types in Allegheny County, and so on. So as far as I can tell, this is really just about Fitzgerald.

    Again, that alone is likely enough to get him fired, but I would hesitate to accept the narrative that Bland has overall been a poor "politician" or offended a lot of "sides", or so on, if this is really just coming from Fitzgerald.

  15. I've definitely heard it was coming from way more than "just Fitzgerald," and it's been so for like a year. Senator Fontana already provided Ftiz some public support. The old hardline ATU president was replaced, for all I know there might have been an understanding we'd be starting fresh on both sides...? Just conjecture there.

  16. Wake up Bram. this is Fitzgerald's move to install Brinmier as head of PAT and the Board is right to reject that move.

  17. This "Brinmier" got a first name, or a reason she is bad news? Cooties?

  18. It's Joe Brimmier that I believe is being talked about here:

  19. Sorry, I misspelled the name.
    Joseph Brimmeier

  20. Says there he was recent Fitzgerald appointment to the Port Authority board. And his name was floated elsewhere today. Wonder if it's for real, or his name is being put out there to peeve the other board members...? How mysterious.

  21. Did he have any sort of transit background prior to being on PAT's board? I'm not seeing it here:

    If not, and if he is in fact Fitzgerald's guy, I wonder if this will shake anyone's faith that Fitzgerald is dedicated to picking a CEO that is "competent and dynamic," as opposed to politically useful to an ambitious ACE.

  22. FYI for Comet readers unfamiliar with the interlocking regional transportation planning systems - the plan for the largest region is for the longest projected period. As plans narrow in on smaller geographic units, they cover less time. Even the longest range plan is subject to regular revision.

    SPC 2040 Transportation and Development Plan for Southwestern Pennsylvania

    Adopted June 2011

    Allegheny County Transportation Improvement Program


    Funding and Twelve Year Program

    And Fitzgerald is one of four Allegheny County Commissioners on the SPC

  23. Brimmier was the CEO of the PA Turnpike in 2003.

  24. @Anonymous

    Yes, but maybe BrianTH is pointing out that experience in transportation vs transit, while perhaps valuable for navigating the common intermodal planning and political terrains, is not a direct equivalent in terms of managerial skill sets or direct knowledge of a complicated system in crisis.

  25. Good government clashes with Authorities. Period.

  26. Helen - I'm struggling with this too. On the one hand somebody steeped in transit would be the clear "best practices" choice.

    On the other hand, the reason our transit system is in crisis isn't because it is poorly managed as a transit system... it's because it's been too underfunded to do anything. IF Brimmeier has the appropriate relationships in Harrisburg to acquire money, and if (in fairness) he has through highway experience acquired the skills of a mutually productive labor negotiator, then that actually might be exactly what the Port Authority lacks.

    Those are two "ifs". I'm waiting and seeing.

  27. Yes, I'm waiting and seeing, and researching.

  28. absolutely laughable how much you guys will go to great lengths of hypocrisy to cover for the progressivestalinists. There is simple no way any good can come out of process where an elected official dictates to a governing board to fire an employee and hire his fundraising buddy. When will you guys learn this is why you can't win. This is the worst of the worst. Pretend to be better but actually be much much darker and worse.


  29. Anon 7:43 -

    The reasons Fitz had for removing Bland sounded solid to me -- and were fairly popular as well among his "progressive base" and acceptable among the center. Good can come out of that shake-up I certainly believe. The reasons Fitz had for trying to install Mr. B. however sure seemed woefully insufficient -- and it probably would have come out atrociously. But the system actually took care of this whole problem swiftly (if a little inefficiently).

    And now we have this Councilman Gastgeb data point. Yes. It appears before I can attempt to mansplain Lamb or Peduto to anybody, I'm really going to have to orient ourselves by addressing the County Exec we've all come to learn about during this exciting week or two. I so dearly wish I had more time on my hands at this exact juncture.

    The best can I put it now is: it sure looks like We The People And Their Servants are dealing with Rich just perfectly when he tries to "pull a Fitzgerald". Here's hoping that checks and balances (authority boards, county council, the Law, the Controller, reporters) continue to operate this expertly, so we can allow our county leader to set direction and a sense of urgency both in reference to a common vision. And if the inefficiencies of that arrangement grow too great and frequent to bare, he's up in another two years.