Saturday, July 21, 2007

Unusually Good Saturday

This sounds like a wonderful meeting on Monday. (P-G, Team Effort). The City Paper ran a cover story on this effort some time ago.

East Liberty residents score a NIMBY. (Kacie Axsom, Trib)

We continue to stand around and watch ourselves pour concrete down a bottomless hole. (Jim Ritchie, Trib)

Dan Onorato is set to participate in an urban summit in Milan, Italy. The Brookings Institution and The Rockefeller Foundation are not known to be engaging in pressing Allegheny County business. (Justin Vellucci, Trib)

Which reminds us, Rich Lord tells us what's going on. (Rich Lord, P-G)


Students formerly of the now-disbanded Duquesne School District have finally been sorted out into different neighboring districts, though few seem happy with the process, or the results. (Tim Puko, Trib)

Why is the Duquesne School District on the radar all of a sudden? Because Mike Madison said the magic words over at Pittsblog.

Here is the mind-altering portion:

Second World Pittsburgh and Third World Pittsburgh, the closing of Duquesne High School and the condition of the African-American community, are symptoms of a single problem. Describing it fully would take volumes ...

... First World Pittsburgh largely takes care of First World Pittsburgh.

We suspect that Mike's problem will not take "volumes" to describe at all -- but it will require a careful and very collaborative editing process, and then chutzpah.


Anyway, and in this new light, let us also consider the efforts of the One Hill Coalition. (Ann Belser, P-G)

Friday, July 20, 2007

Eat Your Heart Out, Agent Ska

Another work-week behind him, Mayor Ravenstahl steps out of the office and heads off to the pub for a quick pint -- but not before running afoul of a Pittsburgh Comet stake-out.

After reading yesterday's Rich Lord article, our first thought was, "Wow! This is the kind of yellow journalism one might expect out of Jeremy Boren!"

"This mayor goes from sometimes 6 in the morning to 1 or 2 [a.m.]," explained Chief Harper.

Our next thought was that perhaps establishing the high cost to taxpayers of overtime dignitary-protection is an attempt to deter the growing insistence on secrecy concerning our Mayor's whereabouts.

Then we were called [redacted] nuts. Maybe we are.


Upon his triumphant return to the Marty Griffin program on KDKA radio, Luke turned down an invitation by Marty to say whtether this kind of reporting "grates on him." Later, when asked if the story was "more political than reality," Luke said:

You know, I'm getting thicker skin, Marty. I am, and I think that's important: you understand that these stories are going to be written, and ... it's part of what we do as leaders and mayors of cities, and I'm comfortable with that.

This has been a test of the Emergency Thick-Skin System.

Had this been an actual emergency, the satire you just viewed would have been followed by a brilliant display of news analysis, editorial polemic and/or other instructions.

This was only a test.

Tribune-Review gets Golfing Story Straight

CORRECTION: Earlier headline once read Story Changes. That was unfair and inaccurate. See the Busman for discussion. We can only speculate as to how this all looks from the Trib's perspective.


From the Trib's Jeremy Boren:

The team paid $27,000 for a two-day golf package that allowed three golfers to play during the tournament June 27 and 28 at the prestigious Laurel Valley Golf Club. Ravenstahl played with the Penguins group only on the first day.


On June 28, the second day of the tournament, Ravenstahl played on the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's dime with two of the hospital system's executives.

The story may have changed, but Mayor Ravenstahl's tune has not.

"I don't think there's much difference between the UPMC event and the Penguins event," Ravenstahl said yesterday. "When you're the mayor, you have to have discussions with those individuals, and that's sometimes how business gets done."


By the way, when did the One Hill CBA Coalition get to take Mayor Ravenstahl out golfing at a "high end" event, in order to present city residents' concerns about arena development? Or is that equally important side of the coin still in the planning stages?

Because Luke is right about how business gets done -- waiting patiently in a government office has not done the trick in the past.

Ethics Board Chair Patrice Hughes:

"The Penguins don't have a contract with the city," Hughes said. "I don't think it's the same thing as UPMC. There's a nuance there."
With respect, we feel any nuance is tissue-thin. The Penguins are also deep in negotiation with City of Pittsburgh over a very large-scale and controversial development.

The conflict of interest may be even more apparent in this case.


FWIW, the P-G Editorial Board this morning took a dim view of Ravenstahl's acceptance of the golf outing.

It's one thing to be an invited guest by a charity to extend support for its mission and purpose. It's something quite different to show up as an invited participant by a corporate contractor that has paid your substantial price of admission -- in this case $27,000 to sponsor the mayor and two other golfers.

The Comet will have more on the various counter-arguments we've heard cropping up on the blurghosphere next week.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Cat-Licensing is the new Immigration Reform, and other Editorial Heckling

Council splits 4-4 on legislation to require pet owners to secure $7-$12 licenses for cats. Jeff Koch will spend the next week parlaying his abstention into benefits for South Side residents.

From the P-G's Rich Lord:

Council President Shields countered that there's "a much lower level of concern" about cats than dogs, because the latter can cause injury.

Ms. Carlisle said that's an outdated perception. "That was yesteryear," she said. "In 2007, cats are more aggressive than they used to be."

Councilwoman Twanda Carlisle is, first and foremost, a scientist.


Bad news from the P-G's Linda Wilson Fuoco:

Allegheny County and federal officials last weekend rounded up and killed 272 of the Canada geese that live and breed in North Park where they enchant some picnic-goers and outrage others, largely because they produce a lot of droppings.

The geese were loaded into the back of a truck calmly and humanely (using a laser). County Parks Director Andy Baechle was unaware what methods were employed to exterminate the geese, but assures us it was also humane.

The Comet fears we have awoken a sleeping giant.


Also from Rich Lord, slid underneath a story about some golfing non-issue:

Just back from a trip to Louisville, Ky., with Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato and members of a city-county committee on efficiency, Mr. Ravenstahl wouldn't cite any measures taken by that region that he would like to implement here.

"There's no quick fix, or no blueprint" in Louisville that would apply to Pittsburgh, he said.

Then why did you go? Didn't you already feel that way? Did Dan Onorato make you go? Did you have another bitter row with him over consolidation, like the ones we've heard about in Newsweek?

UPDATE: In a conversation with KDKA's Fred Honsberger [much rejoicing], Luke said he "learned a lot" in Louisville, alluding to Dan-O having his opinions on mergers, and Luke having his own. He also said that he did not limit the number of mayoral debates to be scheduled, and that he is waiting on a phone call from the DeSantis campaign.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Old-School Tuesday News Wrap

Luke Ravenstahl is "happy to participate in the Ethics Board's request," will address concerns about UPMC financed outing in person. (P-G, Rich Lord)

(also, WTAE's Gus Rosendale, who happened upon the Mayor as he was shaking hands with people sweeping up city streets.)

Editorial Aside: The Mayor is to be complemented for taking these concerns so seriously. Now, if we can just get him back talking to Marty Griffin, or some other talk-radio host ...


PA House and Senate pass different smoking bans -- resolving them for to put a bill on the Governor's desk will be difficult. (P-G, Tom Barnes)

The House would have permitted smoking only in private homes, in private rooms at nursing homes, at large-scale cigar expositions, in tobacco stores and at private clubs in existence for at least 10 years. It would have banned smoking at restaurants, bars and casinos entirely, which some casino officials objected to.

The Senate would have permitted smoking on 25 percent of casino floors, in smaller bars where food sales didn't exceed 20 percent of total revenue, in cigar bars and other places.

Editorial Aside: Here we go, How-owse, Here we go! -clap- -clap- Here we go, How-owse, Here we go! -clap- -clap-


Mayor Ravenstahl has yet to hire an Assistant Director / EEO Officer to work in the Personnel Department. (Courier, Christian Morrow)

However, Acting Communications Director Joanna Doven says the search will be complete in about two weeks, and the 10 directorship positions currently "in limbo" will not be filled until an EEO Officer is in place.

Editorial Aside: Perhaps the Courier would care to investigate the state of the ongoing campaign to secure community benefits related to new arena construction? Because no one else seems to care, any longer.

What's the Plan, Stan?

Tell us that the juxtaposition of these last lines from today's P-G Rich Lord piece is not artful.

Mr. DeSantis said that by Oct. 1, he will issue a plan to prevent city bankruptcy. He focused on the city's $800 million debt, its pension fund which is $484 million short of its ideal level, and the money owed by its authorities, calling that situation "unprecedented in the United States."

Mr. Ravenstahl's campaign shot back that he's "the first mayor in years" to submit a truly balanced budget.

Mr. DeSantis also pledged a campaign that treats voters "with respect."

The full issuance from the Ravenstahl campaign (KDKA, h/t 2PJs) explains Luke's response to the demand for a financial plan like so:

If our opponent does not know, the City of Pittsburgh is required under Act 47 and Act 11, the Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority, to have a five year budget and recovery plan. We have that already.


The Comet had previously understood that these prescriptions serve as financial "triage." They stabilize our vitals and stop the worst of the hemorrhaging -- but do nothing to remedy the underlying imbalances. For that, we still require strong medicine.

We could be wrong about this; it is a good place to start the debate.

The Ravenstahl campaign video Financially Sound Pittsburgh has Luke saying that he...

... led the fight to build that rainy day surplus that we now have. We're going to continue to build on that fund balance at the end of 2007, we will have an excess of $60 million in the bank.

So we're turning the corner, we're moving in the right direction, we're making the difficult decisions necessary to be fiscally responsible, and to ensure that the taxpayers' money is protected.

We have heard from multiple commentators that the $60 million surplus is largely an accounting artifice -- and besides which, it is a drop in the bucket compared to the $800 million debt and the $484 million pensions shortfall.

In other words, the truly tough decisions have yet to be made or even contemplated, and to suggest we're already on the road to recovery is to be borderline irresponsible.

Again, these commentators could be all wet, but this is a fine thing for two candidates to be arguing over.


The P-G article also includes this tidbit:

Investigation "would not be the correct word," said Sister Patrice Hughes, chairwoman of the ethics board. Board members have voted to write the mayor a letter asking him to explain his attendance at the invitational.

The Comet regrets the the error.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Ravenstahl Responds to Ethics Board

The Busman's Holiday has audio of the Ethics Board meeting -- as well as a short statement by Mayor Ravenstahl.

As Mayor, you cannot address matters of City business such as job growth, economic development, and payments in lieu of taxes without talking.


And you can talk without golfing -- or at least while paying your own way.

During the Invitational issues importance to the City were discussed, including my trip to Harrisburg where I lobbied for state budget appropriations relevant to arena funding, and UPMC’s ongoing partnership with us to contribute payments in lieu of taxes.

Okay, in all seriousness, this is comforting.

If the Mayor truly used the occasion to stand up for overburdened taxpayers, and to prevail upon UPMC to improve its conception of corporate responsibility, then his lapse in judgement will be forgiven.

We look forward to the big press conference concerning the new regime in non-profit PILOTs.

UPDATE: Toward the end of the podcast, Board Chair Hughes highlights a distinction between admission to a charitable event -- as an onlooker -- and participation in the spectacle of that event.

We can imagine a parallel scenario, in which a public official attends a charity auction, on the one hand -- and where the purchases of that official during said auction are underwritten, on the other.

DeSantis Seems Serious

The Trib's David M. Brown reports that Mark DeSantis has assembled a star-studded phalanx of political operatives.

Among the notables is Neil Newhouse, a national figure whose highlight reel would include an assist in knocking off Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle in 2004.

Nonetheless, some pundit from W & J says:

"It would take a Herculean effort by an opponent to make any significant challenge to Ravenstahl at this time," DiSarro said. "But politics is volatile. There are all sorts of pitfalls between now and November. DeSantis is positioning himself in case Ravenstahl should commit some kind of irreparable misstep."

Herculean. Not Periclean.

At the press conference we totally missed this morning, DeSantis challenged incumbent Luke Ravenstahl to sign five campaign pledges, and to agree to eight debates.

The Comet considers it unlikely that Luke would consent to anything proposed by someone who has The Relationship with President Bush.

Cost-Recovery Update

The P-G's Rich Lord reports that the new police secondary employment cost-recovery program is ... going ... well.

Over three months, the program has collected around $175,000, which will compensate the city for equipment, administration, and the odd liability incurred as police officers perform private security gigs at bars, other businesses, and sporting events.

Cost-recovery is something of a sacred cow for the blurghosphere community, since it was there that the political will to finally institute the program took hold.

The program represents only half of the recommended reforms in police secondary employment -- "entrepreneurial officers" continue to do most of the scheduling themselves, which may be resulting in weaker oversight.

Nonetheless, Fraternal Order of Police president James Malloy continues to sound not entirely at-peace with the existent program -- nor do the folks at Station Square, nor the Pirates.

Indeed, without saying so, the article seems to illustrate something of a cloud hanging over the program. Perhaps the reporter overheard whispers that it is not long for this world. If that is the case, likely dates to watch for the "pilot program" to end would be just prior to the start of football season -- or just after the election.

Happy Monday