Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A new Advisory Board: Who will be invited to the Table?

By Helen Gerhardt

On Wednesday, June 5th, 2013 at 1:00 pm, at the request of Pittsburgh City Council Member Theresa Kail-Smith, there will be a Council public post agenda hearing for discussion of legislation introduced by City Council Member, Rev. Burgess, Bill No. 2013-1482, entitled, Establishment of Pittsburgh Domestic Violence Advisory Board.

This post is an invitation to begin a preliminary discussion of questions like these:

  • In light of the past few years, what roles and powers would such a panel usually have? How should this panel function differently?
  • What main questions and concerns should this Advisory Panel address? 
  • What do you think the short, medium and long term outcome goals of such a panel should be?
  • What organizations, stakeholders and interest groups should be represented on the advisory panel? 
  • How will the invitation and selection process to the panel be managed and communicated to the public? 
  • How might such a panel work to engage, learn from and educate a wider range of communities and stakeholders?
  • How should such a panel function? 
  • Should all meetings be open to the public? 
  • How should ongoing Advisory Panel functions, meetings and findings be communicated with greater Pittsburgh and stakeholders? 
  • How might such a panel function most effectively in advising Council members in the crafting of legislation and policy?
  • How might such a panel engage the FOP to build better grounds for more effective community policing in neighborhoods most in need of more effective domestic violence response?
I may add links in this space to information which is suggested during our discussions and during interviews with various officials and experts over the next few days. Next week I will be writing a new post after I digest whatever Stone Soup we cook up together.


  1. Getting advice is great. But, having gatekeepers is bad policy.

    Furthermore, we have a legit government already. We elected certain people to do the heavy lifting of governing. To create new structures is counter-productive, often. I don't enjoy seeing those on City Council and in the Administration (and even the school board) hiring consultants. They should do the work themselves as that's what they get paid to do. Hold the meetings. Chair sub-committee presentations. Facilitate research. Make the calls. Craft the solutions. As things come together, take preliminary votes on sections.

    We already have blasted OVERLORDS who do the final approval of the budgets.

    If the ones on city council can't do the work that needs to be done, then get a job in the private sector. We have some capable people there. I'm just saying that they shouldn't be quick to pass the buck to some other group.

    In an ideal world, if one hits a spouse and wears a badge, then it is time to find a new line of work. So, the plan would be to embolden the mayor or police chief to terminate such an employee following a swift investigation while on suspension.

    Those in PUBLIC SAFETY need to have pristine behavior and can't on one hand act poorly yet on the other hand uphold decency and civility.

    1. Mark, others have suggested that this proposed advisory panel is not really necessary, that the expertise and experience represented by the staff and board members of the CPRB would be fully sufficient to make such deliberations and recommendations as would be necessary to the City as it works to develop better policies and practices. I hope to hear more from all who have such concerns, but wonder about some potential opportunity for engaging a wider range of stakeholders during an important transition of mayoral administrations.

      I've formed some preliminary biases concerning the necessity of higher standards of accountability for the misuse of force for both police officers and military, based on my own experience as a veteran, but will be listening carefully to all sides on this matter.

      Evidently, holding police officers to a higher standard is indeed Constitutional in PA, and I agree with Bram that if the City does establish an advisory panel, it should include at least one or two members with expertise in state law in the relevant areas.

  2. To hear, to listen, to ask, to research, to float drafts and to interview -- and all those other flow chart making pow-wow thingies that can occur without an advisory board.

    Crafting interactions makes for some hard work.

    In the end, there needs to be a "vote." We've got 9 people for that. Plus, we've got city wards and such for picking those 9.

    In this case, in the end there will be termination papers too. Who is going to suspend, investigate, and FIRE employees? Those that hire? Those at higher pay grades? The mayor?

    All the board in the world -- (not talking about judges) -- could advise for TERMINATION -- but, the one in charge gets to make those calls. Right?

    So, if the board can't vote. And, if they can't hire nor fire, what good is it?


    Often, IMHO, boards and commissions are created to build political will. Let's get cheerleaders for that.

    1. Mark, like your point about who ultimately does the hiring and firing. Leads directly to the point that all these folks that keep saying that it is constitutional in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to hold law enforcement to a higher standard always ignore: The arbitrators have the final decision making power in retention of police officers.

      These arbitrators have shown through their actions and decisions that they could care less about this higher standard concept and always state that all employees should be treated the same.

      So, those for the higher standard really have two options: 1) change the arbitration system or 2) make the standards the same to take the crutch away from the arbitrators.

      A panel is not the answer to this --- the legislative branch (both at the local and state levels) can only address it properly.

      A first step in the process would be to provide a copy of the actual results of ALL arbitrations to the CPRB so that they can a true understanding of the joke that the arbitration system is.

    2. I think the building of public political awareness and will is very important. Such a panel might be able to help engage the public to build pressure on elected officials to do their jobs better and more openly.

    3. Arbitrators are unelected officials who answer to no one.

      They (arbitrators) operate completely under the secrecy of "This is a personnel issue so it is not open to the public."

      It will never be open to the public unless there is a change in Act 111 (one of Peduto's policy initiatives).

      This is an open sore that is desperately screaming for attention.

  3. Higher standards for all then. That is a way to get fewer government workers.

  4. Mark, regarding your last statement - yes, we can certainly save money by deleting abusive public employees, but more importantly we can also save lives by implementing the other portions of those ordinances that deal with assistance and intervention.

    And to the questions at hand generally. I truly believe that we do not need another group of individuals empaneled to consider broad issues about domestic violence. We already have two domestic violence boards within the City.

    And since two Councilpersons have mentioned that an early part of this new potential group's mandate would be to look at deconstructing the fine Ordinance that the City has concerning Police who commit domestic violence (as greatly differing from Police who respond to domestic violence), I will be leery of empowering any old ragtag group with little direction.

    The two already legislated domestic violence boards are:

    The Employee DV Review Board is to meet once per quarter to review all City-wide DV incidents in a way prescribed in the ordinance. They give recommendations to the Department Director or Bureau Chief.

    The Police Domestic Violence Review Board is to meet after each case of an officer involved in DV, and also once per quarter, similar to the Employee DV Review Board.

    That is enough involvement!

    And we have not yet heard what those groups have accomplished.

    All that said, it might be nice to have a group overseeing and reporting on the implementation of the Maryland Lethality Assessment Protocol, which will be employed to help officers respond appropriately to potentially harmful situations. The group must be specifically for that, and for nothing else, until that Protocol would have been completely implemented. And then the group is done.

    One more thing - I wish everyone who is talking about changing the 2007 Ordinance concerning police who commit domestic violence would watch the 2007 Post-Agenda Hearing (September 10, 2007) on the subject before making rash decisions.

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  6. Board should addresss Child Abuse? Fact is women are 3x as likely to abuse kids...than males. Unspoken Domestic Violence....