Tuesday, December 3, 2013

#TransitionWatch: Person your Stations!

National Geographic

A few items merit some attention:

Mayor-elect Peduto's employee retirements jubilee legislation advanced in committee.

Four members voted for the bill, three abstained, and one was absent. Darlene Harris, Corey O'Connor and R. Daniel Lavelle said they needed more time to consider the bill. 
Ricky Burgess was absent but said later that he opposes it. A final vote is scheduled for next week. Burgess called the offer unfair because it's being offered to employees who “did not earn and did not deserve” it. (Trib, Bob Bauder)

Well, they do not otherwise qualify for it. It is precisely the question before the Council, whether or not they will have "earned" or "deserve" it.

Peduto argues that the total budget impact of his retrofits on city government are likely to be minimal due to other budget moves, and the fact that only roughly half of the small pool of eligible nonunion employees are expected to participate in this.

As we stated last time in a post and some comments, it should be immediately clear that hitting the ground running and without distraction will bring considerable efficiencies. And it can be construed as unfair that employees who built their lives and families' lives around the proposition that the City would operate as it always had, must now see their retirement plans exploded because all of a sudden it will operate some other way.

A specific consideration is litigiousness. If the Mayor-elect essentially proclaims for all to hear, "Sorry, I don't think you're good enough to work for me and you must go," why should a dismissed employee not respond with, "You are only getting rid of me for very bad reasons, such as prejudice or a political vendetta. Cities cannot do that. I am suing, and I am subpoenaing all sorts of things!"

Those cases might rarely be of any merit, but they would certainly satisfy the cheering throngs, and we could not prejudge a single one of them.  That makes for an annoying, time-consuming, distracting and ultimately costly slog -- especially for the city's Law Dept.

The Mayor-elect's legislation is not only an investment in a smooth transition, it seems to be measured and right-sized. The Comet very much appreciates the seeming incongruity of seeking new predictable revenue streams while making unexpected investments, but this one is a money saver in the long run.

Near the Housing Authority, things are looking a little rough:

"It sounds to me just like the pure greed of money," said Larry Blair Jr., 46, a car salesman who is president of the Oak Hill Residents Council. (P-G, Lord & Zullo)

It's a long story. Oak Hill in 2009 was quite the thing, but it sounds like the developer has been getting the short end of the stick on upkeep.

Kevin Acklin, who is heading the transition and will be Mr. Peduto's chief of staff, called the housing authority "really the only authority that we haven't found any significant cooperation with." (ibid)

Cactus McCoy
Hard to say whether this is a function of changed administrative priorities towards socioeconomic integration in certain parts of the Hill, or of a certain developer being on the political outs, or of Councilman Burgess just happening to be the Mayor-elect's nemesis, or of a personality clash within the transition and the Authority provoking increased scrutiny. But it's a messy indicator and indicative of a need to break out the scrubbing bubbles.

Elsewhere in the city center, rumor had had it that the Planning Commission would formally introduce the Penguins' plans for the Lower Hill, early next week at its final meeting of the year. While an introduction is followed later by presentations, a hearing and perhaps other measures before a vote, this might have been one case where the Mayor-elect's ability to wrangle the direction and appointment of a new Board in real time would be tested. It begins to appear however that the reality of the impasses between the Pens, the community and the next mayor have become so significant, the Penguins might be taking a quick hustle back to the drawing board. We hope it is a pivotally constructive session.

*-UPDATE: Hill groups have composed a letter to the Dept. of City Planning asking that it conduct a fair market housing study for any plan submitted for the 28 controversial acres, and are inviting other interested groups across Pittsburgh to cosign it.

Finally, the Pittsburgh Comet is humbled to disclose that we are working on the Mayor-Elect's City Ethics Hearing Board subcommittee of the Law and Ethics transition team. It should go without saying that this is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.

After inspirational introductions by the Mayor-elect and his apostles, roughly fifteen of us were ushered into a spacious college classroom for more specific guidance and instruction from Solicitor-designate Lourdes Sanchez Ridge. Then we were left to it. Our subcommittee has a couple of past members of the Ethics Board to provide insiders' perspectives, and more than enough attorneys besides.

Using the "I Will Make Sure Everybody Gets To Talk" gambit, I ruthlessly seized the chairmanship and proceeded to do pretty much only that. Here is what the team came up with in terms of goals, preliminarily:

For Dec. 2013:
1) Mission statement
2) Identify best criteria mix for Board Members
3) Provide justifications, specifications of funding / support needs

For Peduto's first 100 days:
1) Have that board operational
2) ID opportunities for improvement in the code
3) Have given top City employees (executives, directors, asst. dirs) updated training
4) Clarify Ethics Board reporting duties

For the first 6 months:
1) All City employees trained up.
2) Adequate public reporting of routine Ethics Board business online
3) Be funded through legitimate budget lines or foundation boost

One year:
1) All City / City-County Authority personnel as well as Contractors trained & addressed.

What do you think? What did your transition team do?


  1. Good move on grabbing the chair. PWSA Manager of External Affairs Brendan Schubert assumed the chair of Guy Costa's Operations & Infrastructure Transition Team's Infrastructure and Intergovernmental Relations subcommittee, by asking if anybody would volunteer to be the chair, and then ruefully observing that since he opened his mouth first, he might as well volunteer to be the chair. I'll have to remember that one. Some concerns were expressed about where the subcommittee will come down with respect to green infrastructure and stormwater management, given Schubert's role and the subcommittee membership of a woman who was identified as ALCOSAN's compliance person for the EPA federal consent decree.

    1. Grey, green and purple infra perspectives all need to be represented. But if you're worried, I doubt anything any transition team facilitator could pull would countermand the new admin's broad and popularly mandated commitment to green. A cool subcommittee to keep an eye on, though, because they're charged with "paving the way" (haha) smoothly.

    2. Mr. Schubert's job as Outreach Manager for the PWSA is "to promote a positive image of PWSA," as well as to manage media relations. So, a PWSA paid marketing staff person who wields official power and influence chose himself without discussion or vote as infrastructure subcommittee chair (the term used by Transition Team organizers to describe his role, rather than the facilitator role you chose to exercise, Bram).

      Yes, that uncontested decision certainly concerns me that Schubert has already used his participation in this Transition in a way that subverts a bottom-up, volunteer-centric process for public scrutiny of our current infrastructure systems and for making recommendations for change that are not directed by City paid staff who have vested professional interests in making the PWSA smell like roses.

      Certainly, Rahm Emanuel's model of a Transition process and report ended up being used as slick window-dressingfor notablytop-down planning, to the detriment of truly inclusive process for those most affected by City systems and decisions.

      I believe Peduto intends that Pittsburgh's Transition Team process to exemplify equitable, substantive democratic engagement, but I think it's up to the members of the Transition Teams to speak up during meetings and, if necessary, in public forums, to make sure that our own work is not manipulated by current power structures, networks, or opportunists that are all too capable of "green-washing" good intentions all the way down the road to the sewers.

    3. Helen - It's helpful that we've belled the cat. But I'm comfortable waiting to see if anything untoward actually develops before raking a fellow Pittsburgher over the coals for working for an Authority, for being pro-active and for having once gotten swept up in some epic and all-consuming silliness.

  2. Like the ethics sub-committees first effort

    Positive step

    On the retirement enhancement, feel that it was wasted first effort by M.E.

    Instead of rewarding some of the folks that have been the source of many of the City's problems (both actual and perceived), it would have been better used to clean out the police command structure. The M.E. will soon find that will be one of his biggest challenges.

    Small thing ---not Soliicitor Elect---Solicitor Designate

    Thanks for helping with the transition

  3. The most important part of the ethics hearing board should be the ability to make anonymous complaints to the board. That might sound crazy, but the reality is that the vast majority of people, no matter how many any mayor says otherwise, will believe that the board is an instrumentality of the Mayor's office. That will cause most people to think twice before reporting unethical behavior that might ruffle the wrong person's feathers. The second most important thing is for the board to actually have teeth. For example, the ability to appeal a determination of the board to a higher power, i.e., a judge or panel of judges. If the person wins they should be entitled to costs and expenses and attorneys' fees, just like if they win an appeal of a denial of open records act request. Without independence and teeth the board is useless.

    1. That sounds sensible to me. The process in reacting to anonymous complaints might have to be less than ideal and less efficient, but Pittsburgh's experience with the Internet has borne out that anonymity, while certainly troublesome, can also be a necessary and vital tool for fostering transparency and reform.

      An anonymous suggestion for anonymous complaining! I'll pass it along. ;)

    2. Thanks. It doesn't even have to be "totally anonymous." the other suggestion is to get rid of the idea that you need a nun, a priest and a rabbi. I suggest asking around in the legal world and banking world and other professionals that have strict ethics codes. You find out pretty quickly who everyone says are the people that play by the rules. Get a few of them on the board. Nuns don't deal with real world ethical problems that aren't always cut and dry.

    3. Sister Hughes and Rabbi Schiff as I recall did about as well as anyone could on that Board given its circumstances -- but yes, the subcommittee is aware that we may not need FOUR religious leaders on our 5-member Ethics panel.

    4. That is why you need real world people who deal with real world ethics issues and have the backbone to do something about it. I would also suggest setting a up a process that allows for someone to prosecute and defend the case and then a decision.

  4. I recall Burgess voting against a personnel policy to require employee's to provide proof of there dependents for health care coverage. Always the same thing, people are too downtrodden to be able to comply with the paper work.
    Turns out that over 700 people were removed from city healthcare for being ineligible. The savings of $300,000 for the city. Even the head of personnel conceded that we could have done this much sooner.
    It's this kind of poor oversight and judgment from Burgess that makes me not trust a word that he says.

    1. Burgess is a very shallow thinker and always pandering rather than doing snything really substantive or originsl.

      He is lucky to have a very good chieg of staff.

    2. I have the same feeling toward Burgess but it turns out he was right about the Peduto buy-out being invalid. With all those smart people around Bill, how did they miss this? I want to retire!

    3. In yesterday's Council meeting, Burgess kept using the word illegal in reference to the proposed retirement enhancements. Wrong choice of words --- your description as being invalid is more apt.

      For a person who is supposed to be a communications and word use expert, he woefully displays an ignorance in the use of words on a routine basis.

      There is nothing that says the that the City, ICA and Act 47 cannot work together to make the proposal valid.

      I think that it is too close to the end of the year for the proposal to be negotiated, hold public hearings, be voted on twice, be vetoed by the current Mayor and survive a vote by Council to override the veto.

      Bottom line is that I think the current initiative dies on the vine this year.

      This may not be a bad thing as some of the people who would be currently eligible but have badly served the public for the past 8 years will be gone come January. The new Mayor can then resubmit the legislation (after proper coordination) and offer it again if he chooses.

      Councilwoman Smith is correct in that job opportunities are being lost for these folks; but, Burgess is correct in essentially saying that council members are there to guard the public assets (monies and other resources) and not there to provide a soft landing for political appointees who lose the jobs they knew were "at will" when they took them.

      It is not fair to the citizens who pay taxes and to other employees who have met the full requirements of the pension systems for a person to come in at a more experienced age, work for 7 years for the City and get a full pension.

      Council should also require the Mayor Elect's financial adviser (whom he should have consulted for an opinion outside of a the current finance director who will directly benefit from this proposal) to testify to the merits and shortfalls of this proposal. I would surely hope that Mayor Elect Peduto would have consulted financial advisers other than current City employees prior to submitting this proposal.

    4. That either didn't happen or his financial advisers are clueless. I can't believe this is the first Peduto initiative. It seems like the kind of thing he would be against and it is so poorly put together.

    5. It can be difficult to get rid of City Employees. I hope no one has forgotten the story of Public Works Operations Coordinator John Barley - who got a DUI after a city-sponsored event. Said DUI was explicitly prohibited under the man's job description, and he was terminated...six months later the courts brought him back, gave him back pay for the time he spent on his couch drinking beers. It would seem to this observer that many others who will soon be terminated will have much more compelling cases to be made than Mr. Barley.

    6. Agree with Anon 9:41. The entire point of any Plan is that it's adaptable to new conditions (like undertaking an unexpected and significant administrative transition) if agreement can be reached with interested and overseeing parties, and that certainly can be done. It's dispiriting that state officials have not already been won over and their most significant concerns addressed, and that indeed means this might turn out to be a "wasted first effort" (Anon 7:32) which puts employees and the City in an awkward position with the calendar.

      I hope the state's concerns are practical in nature and that their consideration is comprehensive. The fear in a Democrat with any Republican administration is that their concerns will be more ideological / religious in nature: that despite any longer-term budget impact or other considerations Pittsburgh might bring as evidence, their ears will be totally closed to anything that involves loosening purse strings because such a thing can NEVER EVER be seen to be advisable or fiscally advisable long-term, for fear that spectators might get it in their heads budget allocations can be a good thing. But that wasn't what I got from Akers' statement in Council - sounds like they're all willing to examine our issue and work with us.

      I just want to add, it's nice at the very least that Peduto didn't fire back calling Act 47, the Governor and Councilman Burgess a bunch of political doody-heads who hate Pittsburgh. That sort of engagement should reap subtle dividends.

    7. At will employees do not have the John Barley protections. Just ask Dick Skringar who told told the media that the O'Connor administration wanted to take the Police Bureau "in another direction" when they fired Robert McNeilly as one of their first acts.

    8. Anon 4:37 you are absolutely correct.
      At will employees do not have protections.
      Everyone one of them knew it when they took their positions.
      Bram, the hypothetical you mentioned about employees possibly "suing and subpoenaing records" evidently for things they witnessed and did not report? If so why didn't they?
      Sounds like blackmail. "Give us a early pension and we won't tell."
      Let them.
      We want a clean start don't we?
      I really don't think anything is owed to these people. They got paid didn't they ?
      Every other Friday (payday for the City), they, and we who pay them with our taxes, were even.

    9. As it happens, there is news:


      Not a bold statement since Peduto and the State agreed yesterday on the necessity of taking it back to the lab, but there it is.

    10. A bolder statement than you suggest given that Mr. Act 47 Peduto is now saying the Act 47 plan is just a recommendation.

    11. There's got to be several views between "Etched in Marble Suicide-Pact" and "Let's Not Have One Altogether."

      What if somebody stole all of Pittsburgh's money? Like, a cat burglar? Would we still need to follow the Recovery Plan to the letter anyway?

    12. Exactly why the veto notice is meaningful

    13. If the veto threat applies to all possible permutations (and even Burgess stated, "I believe some version of this will pass") it would have been super helpful to hear it a month or two ago.

  5. "It begins to appear however that the reality of the impasses between the Pens, the community and the next mayor have become so significant, the Penguins might be taking a quick hustle back to the drawing board."

    That sounds like a positive development to me, but of course that is because I believe a win-win-win scenario is possible with a redesign that increases the residential density of the project (the three winners being affordable housing advocates, the Penguins, and general public interest in the City and region).

  6. I would love to talk with you about the history if the Ethics Board as I filed few of the earliest ethics complaints to that lame board. I think mine were #2, 3 and 4.

    One ethical complaint was that the ethics board was un ethical itself. They didn't know what to do except nod.

    There are a number of fatal flaws with that board.

  7. Statement from the Mayor-elect's office:

    "The early retirement plan Mayor-elect Peduto introduced was first suggested to us by Mayor Ravenstahl’s Director of Operations, Duane Ashley. Our work on the legislation was assited by Mayor Ravenstahl’s Budget and Finance Director, Scott Kunka.

    As the Mayor-elect’s incoming Chief of Staff, I have been working with Mayor Ravenstahl's staff, the Act 47 coordinators, and the ICA for several weeks to make sure this proposal is financially viable and in the best interest of the city.

    As recently as this morning, we made substantial progress with Harrisburg in addressing the concerns raised by the Act 47 team, and we have been in numerous discussions toward that end yesterday and today.

    This proposal would help many people who Mayor Ravenstahl has hired and promoted over the past seven years, and was a good faith effort by Mayor-elect Peduto and the new administration to help with a smooth transition.

    If Mayor Ravenstahl is planning to veto this legislation, without the votes to override that veto, Mayor-elect Peduto will have to consider taking it off the table.

    We simply will not tolerate games being played with the lives of city workers.

    1. So Bill and Kevin are now relying on Kunka and Ashley for financial advice. Great!

  8. Ethics Hearing Board trouble point...,

    EB ignores candidates for city posts.

    EB had a gag order on all who make a complaint. Free speech zapped.

    EB had / has no ability to investigate.

  9. It seems to me that the proper thing to do right now is take any pension enhancement off the table.
    Discussions should begin for a FAIR severance package for the personnel that are "at will " .
    Some weeks of extra pay in lieu of possibly 10 years of pension payments and there's a good bet that the ICA wouldn't have to get involved.
    Maybe 3 months pay with an extra month of Medical Coverage.

    1. These people deserve no severance. They should get the same courtesy at the door that they showed their predecessors --- NONE.

  10. What is funny about the comments section is that almost everyone think that they know the solution to the problem but have never been there themselves. Reminds me of back seat car-drivers who do not know how to drive and lack the skills to - but want to tell others how to drive - and think that they have the solution to it all.
    There are some pretty decent folks in the city, though not many, and I hesitate to stereotype or generalize like some have done here.

  11. Bram, Did you happen to catch the city council budget meeting on Monday? Harris and Burgess were very obstinate towards Bills reorganization changes. The thing that stands out to me was Bill nearly losing his cool with Burgess by stating that Burgess was grandstanding to angle for 5 votes and council prez position. Burgess was flabbergasted at the accusation. To me it was Burgess's typical "passive-aggressive" reaction, the whole "who me". How do you think the whole prez race is going? Burgess could not muster any votes. Is that indicative of the big picture?

    1. I only caught the 2nd half of that meeting, twice. I'm guessing it's another indication that that Presidency vote is looking alright for Kraus and company but that's a sideshow. Burgess may have had a constructive point on the employees covered under 180.03e, but he obviously shifted his complaint enough to make sure there was always something he could be assailing in broad strokes at any given moment. Gives lie to the fact that his issue is partially political and deeply entrenched. I would get extraordinarily irritated were I Peduto, but it's the kind of strategic, multifaceted adversity he'd better be prepared to face every day. Fighting fire with fire is for suckers; flood the room with water.

    2. I think Burgess makes a point. The final vote on these measures will, in effect, fire people. Why should council wear that? Shouldn't that be the responsibility of the new administration. Spoke to someone this effects yesterday and they are convinced that Council just fired them.

    3. My impression is that if the City has a bunch of positions open at the start of the year that its about to eliminate (to make room for new positions in planning and performance management), that wastes a lot of money. So, are the taxpayers supposed to take a hit because a former Assistant Director who is going to be upset in any event, will be a upset also at Council members for having said "Okay" to cooperating with the new mayor's plan instead of boycotting it and making him do it a more painful way? Asked another way, how quickly can City leaders stop thinking like that forever?

    4. I'm sure some of the city's most caustic folks at the director level - who are going to have to look at their career plans with energy they haven't felt probably in years - are going to call Council, 911, and everyone else to complain about their removal. And? Are Harris and Burgess really and truly concerned about that? As if these people are going to exempt them because of this vote? Wow.

  12. Huh? They must be pretty isolated if they thought they were going to hang on to a non-protected position with a new mayor coming in. If they are this out-to-lunch, then does the City really need them in a position of importance anyway?

  13. Ok, so, Tuesday's meeting was more fuel for the fire. Burgess made accusations about Peduto. You know what, I can't even put into words the passive-aggressive inferences that Burgess was suggesting. I'll have to try to catch the 7pm repeat, but I do know that Peduto did take the high road and inferred that he gets Burgesses bait and switch. He did state clearly that the Authorities are fair game for reappointment (specifically Housing) and I'm loving Bill more each day!
    OMG, this is working out great. I can't wait to see Gilman join in.
    Please Luke, take Ricky with you.