Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Liveblogging the Ethics Hearing

10:10 Pledge of allegiance. (Yes, really.) All five Ethics Board members present. No mayor yet.

10:12 Request that the media be respectful and non-intrusive.

10:13 Hail to the Chief!

10:14 Sister Hughes wants a constructive and positive conversation that can clarify how we can interpret the codes. We are committed to advancing high ethical standards that are practical and workable. Today is not a formal hearing. It is not a trial. It is an opportunity for dialogue.

10:16 Hughes opening statement. Concern is section 197.07 "Offering gifts or awards" A key question -- whether the invitees were an interested party. Public perceptions are important to consider, even if technically there may have been no law broken.

10:19 Luke: Committed to rigorous enforcement of city's code of conduct. He was determined to see this board become a vital watchdog of city ethics. It is not only your right, but your duty, to fully explore any matter of concern.

10:21 Luke: Cancer research. Organ development. Hodgkins disease. The event is awesome. (Man, it's empty in here. There can not possibly be eight non-media folks in attendance.)

10:23 Luke: Proud to have been a participant, and to have accepted UPMC's invitation. (No mention of the Penguins, again.) "One's honor is the master of his fate."

10:24: Buechel: What criteria do you use to evaluate charitable events? Luke: I get invited to so many. Charity is great. When I get invited, I go. (Buechel looks slightly concerned)

10:25: Schiff: You're quoted as saying you have business conversations on the golf course. Are you concerned about the public perceptions of influence? Luke: No. In no way did I directly benefit. I was happy to be there to support the charity. Schiff: But UPMC provided you the benefit of being at this rather exclusive event, right? Luke: Code doesn't mention amounts for charity. $4,400 was raised for Animal Friends by auctioning off a dinner with himself and his wife -- was that "worth it" to the recipients?

10:28: Reverend: Couldn't the Mario Lemieux Foundation have just given you an invitation to be present? Also, exception six: something about persons doing business with the city. So why did UPMC get involved? Luke: "Perhaps". But the Foundation did not; UPMC did. Reverend: Do you not see the inconsistency with exception six? Luke: I'm not a lawyer, but I'm proud to support charity. (The brows we can see from our side of the table are furrowing.)

10:31 Buechel: City is delighted you like to play an active part of city life. But ... public could construe ... looks like privileged access. Shouldn't we maybe make some guidelines? Luke: More than willing to entertain that. But I want to caution you ... I'm pretty much going to do what I want anyway.

10:33 Schiff: Everyone would agree the Mayor's presence is important. But when it comes from a major corporation ... 197.07 Section F ... I suspect those dollar amounts were put in there to convey the message that larger benefits would raise flags. Luke: I'm not receiving monetary value. Mentions Yeshiva Dinner. "I would caution that if there was a limit, perhaps I would not have been able to attend that event." (Schiff is the rabbi)

10:36 Schiff: Follows up on that. Luke: Under no circumstances have I, or will I, influence planning commissions or other board and commissions that make city decisions. [Insert PittGirl's photo of Calvin & Hobbes laughing hysterically here]

10:37 Hughes: We'll make some recommendations. We hope you'll look 'em over. Luke: Kthxbai. Zacharias: Never spoke. Gang: We'll sort of follow up on this based on research and best practices, and maybe at the next meeting we'll talk about more stuff in response to however Luke responds. Adjourned.

10:42 Media gaggle around Sister Hughes including Mayo, Delano, Gastmeyer, Boren, and others.

Q: Your reaction? A: Mayor was very clear about how he interprets the code. Q: Does his differ from yours? A: We might have some suggestions to make. The rabbi had some good ideas about dollar amounts that suggest exclusivity. Q: $9,000 makes real bad perception? A: No, he did not receive $9,000. Q: What about UPMC? A: Code does not make that distinction clear. We've done research on other states, we'll make it part of the dialogue.

Q: Do you share Rabbi Schiff's concerns? A: Difficult for me to answer. Q: Can ethics panel make more than recommendations? Can you get things in the code? A: Oh yes, definitely. Check out the code. "Adopt rules and regulations." We definitely can offer that. Q: So this can go beyond dialogue? A: Yes, definitely.

Q: Newspaper account had a city legal adviser questioning your ability to do anything. A: NO, DESIMONE WAS CORRECT. WE NEEDED A FORMAL COMPLAINT, WHICH WE DID NOT HAVE. I TAKE FULL RESPONSIBILITY. Mayo: Um, what? A: Making distinction the Comet does not quite understand. Boren: Pressure from law department? A: No way.

Q: Is this ongoing? A: No. From here on out, it'll probably be with the mayor informally and/or in executive session. Delano: charity exemption is confusing. A: It sure is. Mayo: If you have a quorum present, it's covered under sunshine law. A: [Long pause] I'll have to seek some advice on it.

The big three or four were sticking around for the Mayor to come out and subject himself to the press gaggle. The Comet looks forward to that footage.


  1. GREAT WORK, Bram.

    I am green with envy.

  2. Yeah, good job. The Mayor actually said: (regardless of guidelines) "I want to caution you ... I'm pretty much going to do what I want anyway"? He was talking about defying new ethical guidelines set by the Ethics Board? Which, by the way, already exist in the current Ethics Code.

    What expletive would you permit here?

  3. Ed, no ... I was paraphrasing, or at least condensing, when you do not see quotes.

    He said "I want to caution you that..." and then something far more tactful -- which I am nonetheless positive, if a transcript emerges, is precisely equivalent to "If I don't like it, I'm pretty much going to do what I want anyway."

    Thanks, all. I was amazed to be receiving a regular WiFi signal inside the City-County Bldg. Big ups to Bob O'Connor.

  4. Thank you Bram, I wonder if this'll be repeated on the city channel.

    What a spoiled, pretentious brat this Ravenstahl is. Sister H should've, at the very least, rapped his knuckles with a ruler & ordered him to visit every polling place in the city on election day wearing a dunce cap.

    People of Pittsburgh - WAKE UP!

  5. Bram,

    I heard a KDKA news report where they paraphrased Luke's flip comment EXACTLY as you did. I think it was on that Kevin guy's show and he stopped the reporter mid-sentence and said, "Did Luke really say that???"

    The news woman kinda fumbled around a bit and finally said, "Yea, pretty much."

    Where upon Kevin broke into laughter and called upon God to help our foolish city.

  6. better than dolby surround sound.

    great stuff.

  7. Bram,

    Very nice. Thank you very much.