Friday, January 10, 2014

Farcical Friday: How Do We Fix Problems?

Texas Watchdog (fixed)

Downtown there are tragedies woven with mock:

[US bankruptcy judge and August Wilson Center conservator Judith Fitzgerald] has also been talking to public entities and private foundations about releasing previously allocated funds or contributing new money to the center. 
So far they have refused to do so, "based upon asserted past failures of AWC to carry out promises with transparency," Ms. Fitzgerald said in a Dec. 27 interim report to the court. (P-G, Mark Belko)

The reaction to debt accumulation has been reasonable and on-key, until this note:

"Nonetheless, ultimately if there is a complete refusal of the foundations to provide funds and no public agency or governmental financial support sufficient to determine the viability of AWC, it will be unlikely that AWC can survive," she wrote. (ibid)

Perhaps it is time to get bold and creative.

If the overhead and other challenges of inhabiting the glimmering Downtown facility are too steep, and the debt profile is so stubbornly implacable, then might not the August Wilson Center's own cultural and logistical assets be protected, the present facility be sold or foreclosed upon and thence repurposed, and the AWC be relocated to a sufficient and sustainable new or refurbished venue? One where it can hew to advancing its missions, perhaps even in the neighborhood which provided that playwright with legendary material, yet still near enough to Downtown and its expansion energies?

The Comet regrets the inescapable impertinence of this suggestion. We are aware of various blind spots in our levels of knowledge and perception about the proper "missions" of the Wilson Center, and its present stakeholders, and what the Downtown "Cultural District" facility and presence means. But shedding an ill-fit structure and adapting to new circumstances might get public entities and private foundations back on board supporting the necessary enterprise.


Meanwhile, news in the federal probe into City corruption is hard to come by:

“We have acknowledged that we are doing an investigation of the city of Pittsburgh that has arisen as a result of investigations of” the Bureau of Police and former police Chief Nate Harper, who was indicted and pleaded guilty, [US Attorney David] Hickton said. “I am acknowledging that it is ongoing.” (P-G, Rich Lord)


AP, Telegraph
Look. We can either be gormless and stare at the fountains at the Bellagio until our legs buckle, or we can trust that the US Justice Department before making any further decisions will keep a weather eye on how various parties respond to the transition of power and their own legal calendars. The Comet votes trust. Let's take wink for an answer.

UPDATE: Indeed, there should be little hindrance.

Moving forward, in terms of triage assessment:

[Public Safety Director Michael] Huss acknowledged taking on responsibilities beyond his job title for much of the past year, such as personnel matters, collective bargaining and policy decisions. 
“You make the decisions that you have to, and you do what you have to do until someone tells you, ‘Don't do that anymore,' ” Huss said. “I didn't think that was going to happen.” (Trib; Harding, Prine & Conte)

To wit:

"As a principle matter, the lack of guiding policies in this instance is I think what was most shocking." 
"The City of Pittsburgh had virtually no policies, regulations, concerning the management of outside employment by Bureau officers. To me, that was frankly shocking." 
"In this type of instance, when police officers can use types of tactics, equipment, confidential means, records, data, to assist in the conduct of a private industry, there is a real potential for a conflict of interest to exist. Our courts have addressed it, Pennsylvania law has addressed it, the answer is clear. That active police officers should not be involved in that type of conduct."
(WESA, Steve Toprani, former Washington County DA and City consultant)

The implications of such statements being stated will continue to develop. There may be all sorts of management tools converging upon the troublesome spots.


  1. ...the AWC be relocated to a sufficient but sustainable new or refurbished venue.

    If so, let me be the first to suggest a building that looks less phallic.

  2. Reference police officers working outside employment (essentially as private detectives as addressed in the report).

    No changes will be made to the culture until the District Attorney investigates, prosecutes and/or orders the businesses shut down as he did in the Harper case.

    Funny that accident investigations was always filled by a sworn officer in the rank of police officer UNTIL that police officer got promoted to sergeant ---- then all of a sudden, the police had to have a sergeant in that position. The police, by this behavior, enables these folks to continue in their outside employment activities.

    You are supposed to get promoted to fill outstanding shortages not to create new slots to fill your personal needs.

  3. As for the August Wilson Center, I think it is a shame that the leaders of that Trust opted to build that overpriced structure in the 'heart of the Cultural District', while the actual home and neighborhood of August Wilson still sits broken down and in desperate need of just one month's worth of money that went into the downtown center. I can't really speak to it because I am white, but I really got the impression that the place only wanted to cater to a certain kind of African-American...the kind with lots of money. I'd say 'sell it', but I'm not sure who would buy that building.

  4. One middle course of sorts would be for the AWC to occupy a much reduced footprint in the Downtown building, while selling or long-term-leasing most of it to a new user.

    That said, I agree there is an inherent symbolic appeal to the idea of the AWC relocating to the Hill. And maybe positive changes regarding the Hill since the Downtown location was selected (I believe the Downtown site was selected back in 2001, which is quite a while ago now) would make that a more attractive option.

  5. Nice post on AWC Bram. That is exactly the kind of analysis we need (not just with AWC, but elsewhere). AWC is a great idea and should live on, but that doesn't mean it has to live on in one specific location. I often feel like that question is missed. Why does a particular thing have to exist in a particular place. Being in favor of foreclosure of the building, doesn't mean you are against AWC.

  6. Here is a thought for the AWC: Sell the building; (The Cultural Trust could be the landlord in partnership with PPS?). . Make the first floor of the AWC viable for a great restaurant. Do a couple of events really well; expand the audience... The theater is worth using more effectively. Convention Center - Hotel cross-marketing?

    Then create a series of smaller satellite storefronts (one in the Hill at the August Wilson House as an example, which is also struggling just to physically stand and needs hundreds of thousands to just be useable). I assume that selling the building will not result in any significant funds for new projects; so one needs to take care to not be right back in the same situation. The capacity of the community to support any effort needs to drive new approaches. Transparency and honesty is needed. We have two strurctures that will cost millions more to renovate: The Wilson Home and The New Granada. Whew.

    Focus on "pop-up" and "kick-start" approaches to prevent the cost of owning real estate driving the viability of the organization. The problem with any new ideas, even small ones is capacity to creatively make them sustainable.

  7. Nice article in Sunday Trib about the challenges the Mayor faces in fighting police outside employment.

    Good luck in presenting his case to the "neutral" arbitrator.

    1. Looks to me like that article only deals with the compensation "scheduling officers" get for scheduling their colleagues for side-jobs. Not the nature of the side-jobs themselves.

      If we are going to take seriously what Mr. Toprani alleged about "Our courts have addressed it, Pennsylvania law has addressed it, the answer is clear," and it checks out with our own Law Dept., then maybe the move to make is to get rid of it all. If it comes before labor arbitrators, reject their jurisdiction and state your intention to appeal any ruling in arbitration that would force the City to break State law.

    2. Concur

      Hope the Mayor directs his Solicitor to do just that. That will be a positive step.

  8. I recall an article in the NYT a few years ago about African American Museums across the country having these same problems. They appear by nature to be fundamentally unsustainable.
    I don't believe that we should be putting more public money into this venture, and I certainly don't agree with the PPS involving themselves in this financial venture. It's a shame that this subject has such a politically correct undertone but I don't feel that staying silent with public money being discussed is fair either.
    A full accounting of money is necessary for any continuing trust with that institution. $37,000 in arrears just for the light bill, dropping insurance on the building and a staff that never opened the doors are just a few of the issues that warrant extreme caution. I am not in the mood to be taxed again and again.

  9. It's off the topic, but certainly related to local concerns about the extraction industries and water contamination, but did anyone else notice that name of the company that ruined the water supply in West Virgina was "Freedom Industries." Their slogan is "Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel."