Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Wed 1/30: How Do You Solve A Problem Like Brinmeieeire?

Village Voice, Michael Musto

"Pitch Perfect" starring Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Brittany Snow and Anna Camp is Glee times Bring It On plus American Pie, and with all the fun of possibly mocking Twilight. If it gets you in the mood for all-female a capella stylings, check out the Sounds of Pittsburgh Women's Barbershop Chorus for weekly auditions or to procure a Telephone Singing Valentine for just $10.

Our Penguins of Ice Hockey are 3-3 after six games, and Penguins blogger Finesse finds the team stale, disinterested, mediocre, top-heavy, goaltender-deficient, and the horn too loud. Don't worry, gang, it's a long season... er, well, it's a season. It's definitely winter.

As muttered first at the Comet, it looks like Joseph Brimmeier is County ACE Fitzgerald's choice to head the Port Authority in place of Steve Bland. As an award-winning member of the semi-notorious Turnpike Commission and as a political-end specialist, first his lack of public transit chops came into question by transit advocates and budget hawks alike, then explanations of a contract sought by a family member failed to achieve an exemplary score on the smell test, now he's getting the Eric Heyl treatment.

In a perfect world, Fitzgerald would simply make a forthright case for whatever important skill sets Brimmeier brings to the table (surely if he's "politically connected" he might be able to better hit up Harrisburg for dedicated funding, right?) then the Port Authority board would vote, and Brimmeier would either be approved sans any suggestions of arm-twisting, or be routinely and dispassionately rejected without any need for loss-of-face or triumphal rancor; on to evaluate Fitzgerald's next candidate would be all.

But of course in this world there are ramifications, man. Varying ramifications. And it does not seem as though anybody is yet in possession of that rough outline of key skill sets. I do not doubt such an outline exists, but if by its nature it is not fit for broad circulation, maybe it deserves a second look. I'm not sure anyone would be content even with a temporary CEO without such bona fides.

More on fracking: Some readers may have trouble rectifying my recent piece excoriating Mayor Ravenstahl for huckstering directly on behalf of the gas industry with this:

[A] note on gas drilling on County land for County profit: This Region Be Fracking. There is no ignoring that. If we can identify and vet an Allegheny County site and get involved in pursuing a pilot project, the public oversight employed might turn the whole thing into an excellent laboratory experiment. That is, in addition to the revenue, which, once again, we seem to require in an awful way. (Comet 9/10/12)

Turns out we are learning more from that experiment faster than we thought. In a relative sense I think Airport lands are less-bad, due to the availability of pre-existing infrastructure and its remoteness from residences. But this I never expected:

Federal rules prevent the county from directly getting any of the airport's drilling money. So if Fitzgerald can't get the state's help, he and airport leaders plan to invest drilling money to lower fees to draw more flights to the airport, and add roads and water pipes to draw more commercial development to its 9,000-acre property. (Trib, Timothy Puko)

Man... see, I was sold on the project because I thought it could help close the County budget gap and keep taxes down, preserve or expand County health services, maybe even safeguard public transit. But now if the state doesn't play ball, which it should, but it probably won't -- why are we drilling public land again? Growth, again? Lower gate fees at a spinster airport? Mm.

And finally in property taxes:

This is where it gets tricky, but I'll tell you right now the county has to cut its rate about 10 percent further. That's exactly what county Controller Chelsa Wagner said last week, and she's right. We both know that because we -- and you -- can go to an online property tax estimator provided by Carnegie Mellon University economist Robert Strauss and his scary smart team of number crunchers. (P-G, Brian O'Neill)

Oh now, see, now this is just piling up.

The Fitzy & Chelsa Show generally is a boon to Allegheny County so long as one is not seated in the front rows or at least has plastic. But if O'Neill and the software have it correct, this is a rout on a hot-button issue.

Now me, personally? I wouldn't expect or desire everyone who endorses me to be a saint floating around on progressive rose petals. However I'd prefer that if anyone start seeming "foolish" or "redolent," they should take a backseat -- and nobody can afford to take a backseat these days. I do harbor this fantasy of the County Controller and the County Executive, bitter differences aside, endorsing the same person in the Democratic Party primary -- primary!, primary -- what a strong statement that would make, for everybody! But meanwhile and more to the point, it's almost as though Fitz needs to get back on the scoreboard with Joe Sixpack. On at least one of these issues.


  1. Regarding the airfield drilling, and the very interesting meeting for County Council happening at Robt Morris on Feb.7th iirc, a few things.

    My understanding (IANAL) is the Feds think the funds have to be spent on airport improvements. Here's what's funny; the airport is in the real estate development business these days, every bit as much as the airport business. (and that's probably a wise thing)

    There's money-legal-political questions. Will using Airport-Frack funds to build the Clinton FEZ pass muster with the fed bean counters? Will using those funds to pay off legacy debts count as airport improvements?

    There's risk-probability operational questions. Let's pick a number, say there's a 1% chance of a major well fire or hazmat event that closes the airport for three days. Is that acceptable? Is there a guarantee to prevent that? ( So there is a probability bet.

    Can't have anything nice around here.

  2. Great. We have a hothead who made (makes) his money bleeding governments like he now leads vs. a person of the the right gender with no accounting experience and the correct last name.

  3. For those of us not as familiar with Brmmeier, what would cause politicians to put him in the head of the Turnpike Commission where he led the charge for SPRAWL inducing, 1950's style Mon Fayette and now as the regions mass transit advocate??? I dont get it ;(

  4. Brimmiere is a political parasite.If Fitzgerald hires him he is just another hack. Is the rand jury still investigating patronage during his rein of spending at
    The turnpike?

  5. Anon 10:26 - You're not kidding. If you google Brimmiere and "Mon Fayette Expressway," you sure get a lot of hits. Now, I don't know that advocating for sprawl in one job is *incompatible* with taking on a role for transit... but today's newspaper editions are rolling in grim as death for JB.

    Vannevar - I actually feel like 1% is probably way-overestimating the chances of a well fire at any given pad... but hm, a 3-day closure of the Airport? Yikes. Ahem. Maybe start at the airport we hardly use anymore...

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. @Bram - how did you arrive at your 1% probability figure? I've just started my google searches, but have not yet found basis for projections of any sort.

    The first two links below carry only the weight of confirmed anecdote.

    The second two links, well evidently the power of such anecdote has led to proactive preparation. They also suggest that secondary costs of emergency preparedness training and response may not be yet fully counted in cost-benefit considerations of fracking.

  8. It is both amusing and tragic to see old-school PA politics being played with the PAT CEO job. It is similarly both amusing and tragic to see Bram still trying to put some lipstick on this pig (yes, I think Brimmeier's main qualification is his potential to help get something on a statewide level, but not funding for PAT, but rather funding for Fitz's personal ambitions).

    Anyway, on the airport and drilling revenues--that is a matter of statutory interpretation, and the FAA actually reversed itself on that interpretation (originally the FAA had ruled airports didn't need to get mineral revenues and such). So I personally would hope Congress would step in and change the rule back, and there are lots of other places which would benefit from such a change.

    Barring that, I would like to see a deal where casino money (which is not subject to this FAA rule) is redirected from the airport to the County, at least to the extent drilling revenues can make up the difference. Of course that would take state action, but maybe they would see the political wisdom in that. Heck, it could even be used to pay some of the new 20% (up from 15%) transit funding match that Corbett is proposing, although I don't know if drilling to transit fits with his political gameplan or not.

    1. Correct joe B is known for his ability to raise cash for his boss, not his managerial prowess. I know Harrisburg based turnpike administrators,
      He was wholly disliked and known for looking for the silver lining in anything he promoted.SCOUNDREL!!

  9. @BrianTH

    You wrote "Heck, it could even be used to pay some of the new 20% (up from 15%) transit funding match that Corbett is proposing."

    Do you have a link to news on that Corbett proposal? My initial google searches have not yet found that increase in what little has been released about his transportation plan.

    The Port Authority report on Operating and Capital Improvement Budgets of 2013 only discusses a required 15% county match on page six.

    I'll really appreciate if you point out any relevant news on this matter that I missed.

    Thanks very much.

  10. Sure:

    "Mr. Corbett will propose that counties make a 20 percent matching contribution to their state transit funding, up from the current 15 percent, Mr. Costa said."

    Read more:

  11. Helen - I arrived at my 1% probably figure by noticing Vannevar suggest it in the first comment and saying of it, "I doubt it's that high." I know there are at least a few hundred wells in operation at any given time, and you hardly see news about well fires but once every couple months.

    BrianTH - You call that lipstick? A hint of rouge, maybe. But you really think it rises to the level of tragedy? I think this mayor's race must have soured our relationship Brian, I was pretty hard on the ACE in this post. Maybe not quite as hard as the Trib and P-G today, but it seems like they just know more. I get the feeling everyone knows more about this cat than they're reporting. John L. Micek called him Capo di Tutti Cappi, that's out of control.

  12. Bram and Helen - the point of the probability-risk discussion is, there is a risk. The risk is low-probability, high-impact.

    My objective is to point out that sustained fracking operations is not necessarily consistent with ongoing airport operations. It probably will be, which means: we'll probably get away with it.

    But we should explicitly recognize and communicate that we're taking a bet with the airport. That's high-stakes poker. Here's my money shot:

    There's a non-trivial likelihood of a three-day airport shutdown over a five-year timespan due to airport fracking.
    Question: Is that acceptable?
    Meta-Question: Is anybody discussing this?

    Respectfully, V.

  13. OK, "liptsick on a pig" might have been a bit of a mischaracterization. However, I wasn't motivated by our friendly discussions of mayoral political dynamics, but rather by me believing that who is PAT CEO actually matters a lot, and that it is critically important at this juncture that everyone with any sort of public voice put the maximum amount of pressure on the PAT Board to conduct a professional search for a well-qualified replacement for Bland.

    In that context, even what was described as a "perfect world" in this post is by my standards far from perfect, because it appears to adopt a model of the ACE appointing the PAT CEO with the advice and consent of the PAT Board (ala the federal system with the ACE playing President and the PAT Board playing Senate). However, as I understand it, while the PAT Board itself is appointed in that way (with the County Council playing Senate), the ACE has no formal direct role in appointing the PAT CEO.

    I've previously defended the notion that notwithstanding that system, it is in fact a legitimate question for the PAT Board whether or not the PAT CEO and ACE can have a healthy working relationship. But I also believe that this system gives the public the right to demand that the Board's search for a new CEO not be limited to the ACE's short list of preferred political cronies.

    So that is why I viewed this post as evocative of tragedy: sitting in the audience, I can foresee the human suffering that may come from a poorly-chosen PAT CEO, and I also see the characters on the stage, including Bram, failing to avoid that outcome because of their blindness to the flaws in the way they view the world. And that would be tragedy, except this is not a play, and the suffering will be real, and hence the dramatic term is metaphor.

  14. @Vannevar

    Yes, my point is basically an agreement that all such "percentage chance projections" end up being somewhat spurious no matter what data or algorithms of calculus you use to estimate the risks when the substantive public costs could be so grave - my argument is in fact that is should be a qualitative rather than a quantitative judgment.

    I don't think any of the three of us are really arguing our basic messaage here.

    I am very concerned at the ways in which information about costs and consequences have been regularly suppressed, so that we don't have good information to make good judgments with - see "Halliburton Loophole" engineered by Dick Cheney.

    More on that later - I'll post links after work is done.

  15. As for the risk to an interruption of airport operations from some sort of drilling-related accident: that is certainly a question worth asking, but I think it is at least possible the ultimate answer to the question will be that any such risk is either already negligible, or easily reduced to a negligible level with the application of certain rules. So I think it is premature to claim that allowing drilling is necessarily a risky bet for this reason, but again, it is certainly a question worth asking, and then answering in a serious, independent, manner.

  16. @BrianTH

    Thank you for expressing your concerns so eloquently and reasonably.

    I could say much, much more, but I'll leave it at this for now - this type of fractious drama is not well-timed when we need a unified advocacy front to be focusing on the state legislative challenges to achieve state dedicated funding.

  17. @BrianTH

    My last comment regarded the Port Authority and state dedicated funding for public transit. As regards your position on the fracking matter, by own bias and research leads me to feel you are perhaps being too "reasonable" in your assessment of risk in light of potential costs.

    More later...

  18. I'm only being reasonable in the sense of knowing what I don't know, and I personally don't have the knowledge necessary to evaluate the magnitude of the hypothesized risk. Note there are several different aspects to the question: what sort of events at what probabilities can happen with drilling operations; which (if any) of those events would cause an interruption in airport operations; what (if anything) could be done to mitigate the risk of such events occurring and/or the risk of such events interrupting airport operations; and so forth.

    But I also don't believe this is one of the universe's great imponderables: I strongly suspect if you gave the right sort of independent experts the mandate to fairly evaluate these issues, they (but not me) could come up with an answer to this question worth using in present decision-making. And I do take the issue seriously such that I agree an evaluation along those lines should be done prior to approval.

  19. I concur that it's a question worth pursuing and that the public should get to participate in a discussion that takes risks with public assets.

    And, it must be said, the money has to go to airport improvements, so there's a question as to the utility.

    If they wanted to quantify the risk, they could pay an insurance company to figure out: Insure us against the possibility of (x) for (y) years, how much would that cost? and then experts will do their thing.

    Absent that, it's too often people with agendas making stuff up.

  20. Hey, BrianTH, just popping back in to say thanks for that link to the latest news on Corbett's plan!

  21. I'd probably advise doing at least a preliminary risk assessment before agreeing to buy insurance.

    Reducing landing fees and paying for development-related infrastructure are legitimate public purposes, although again I would like to see the County get a cut for other purposes through the mechanism of reallocating state gaming revenues (I believe those are $12.4 million a year).

  22. As an addendum, I think a preliminary risk assessment is a good idea because of course insurance companies count as "people with an agenda," namely wanting to sell you insurance. With competitive bidding and such they can still be a fairly useful tool to help refine your assessment of the magnitude of a given risk (although sometimes not--ask AIG about how that worked out when it came to assessing financial risks).

    But if the question you want answered is "Do we need to worry about this hypothetical risk at all?," then it is worth remembering that insurance companies are biased in favor of telling you, "Yes, you certainly do."

  23. No amount of money received from shale gas will fix anything. The government will just spend it and then the public will act shocked a few years down the road. Anyone remember how the drink tax was sold to the public as a "dedicated source of funding" for public transit? We got neither and no one really cared much. Get ready for more of the same.

  24. The drink tax was a way for the County to have a dedicated source of funding for its share of PAT's funding. It actually did that so well they were able to cut it back.

    I gather a lot of people don't understand that the County only matches 15% of the State's funding contribution to PAT, such that the County having a dedicated source of funding for its part doesn't protect PAT from large state funding cuts.

  25. Seriously, it is a little annoying how blatantly ignorant lefties are. The drink tax was sold as dedicated funding for PAT, but ended up being anything but that. Seriously, and the lack of even a peep from the so called progressives regarding Fitz's archaic and totally machine style politics to force a board to fire an employee is despicable. Seriously, is this what we should expect from Peduto?

  26. @ 7:38pm of course that's what you'll get with Wall Street Willie , Fitzgerlds hand up the back of willies shirt!!! And the same deal withJean Clark

  27. Anon 7:26, BrianTH - There can be no doubt, the drink tax was a black eye for taxation and for dedications thereof. Ugh.

  28. Wha-wha-what?!?!? Somebody tell me I'm reading this wrong... Fitzgerald makes authority board members sign undated resignation letters he can use to remove them at any time if they displease him?!?! ALL board members at all authorities?!?!? That is a whole new brand of megalomania.... And legal?!?

  29. Bland handed out a bunch of raises, I guess like Presidential pardons, on his way into the chopper?

  30. Anon 7:38,

    Did you read that PG article you linked carefully? It confirms what I noted above: the drink tax did exactly what it was intended to do, and the problem seems to be that many people don't understand what it was actually intended to do (or are deliberately trying to confuse that issue).


    Are you joking or being serious? Because if you are being serious, that is unfortunate, because again, properly understood the drink tax was actually a complete success. And one of the reasons some people keep insisting otherwise, despite debunkings like the one in that PG article, are that they are hoping to discredit the very notion that tax revenues can ever do anything useful.

  31. BrianTh - no, read the first BizJournal article and then any other from the time the tax was implemented. It was sold as putting "$30 million" in dedicated funding into PAT. Then, as in the PG Article from years later, the story changed to a local "match." The articles completely support what i was saying. Now we learn that the library tax will be a windfall. Can't wait for the day that we figure out that the library tax didn't even do what it was sold to do.

  32. Anon 1:41 - I was being fairly serious. Perhaps if you can help me "properly understand" the drink tax so I can see it as a success. I'll grant you it may not be the tax that is the problem, so much as how it was oversold at the time as "saving transit" (and transit slid right back into peril and uncertainty seemingly right after its passage.)