Thursday, April 3, 2008

Thursday: V-C Day

Pittsburgh City Council yesterday tentatively rejected proposals to cut its own staff and surrender leftover funds, capping eight days of turmoil... (P-G, Rich Lord)


All right. How about we all take a five minute break?

Smoke 'em if you got 'em!

On Tuesday, council approved new rules that require written descriptions of any spending not covered by contracts. Previously, lists of invoices under $1,000 from all city departments were routinely approved with little documentation or discussion.

Also, all legislation -- whether crafted by the mayor or a council member -- must now be accompanied by a statement of its budgetary impact. Council committees have been reshuffled, and chairmen overseeing each city function will be announced next week, said Council President Doug Shields.

Expect Councilman Motznik to chair the prestigious new Puppet Shows, Origami and Light Beer Committee.


Solicitor George Specter sent an opinion to City Council yesterday saying that the city should no longer "swap" approvals for digital billboards for agreements to remove older billboards. (P-G, Team Effort)

Had we known that earlier, we might have avoided the cluster..

Mr. Specter's opinion found that city Zoning Administrator Susan Tymoczko "acted appropriately" in her December decision to permit Lamar Advertising to place a 1,200-square-foot digital sign on the Grant Street Transportation Center. That permit, granted without public votes or hearings, was consistent with a 4-year-old city practice of trading one digital sign approval for removal of six traditional billboards.

So that swap was appropriate, due to a 4-year old practice which the city should now cease.

However, he also wrote that a Downtown billboard "would require the grant of a variance by the Zoning Board of Adjustment." That did not occur in the case of the Grant Street Transportation Center permit.

So Tymoczko acted appropriately, except that she did not follow the required procedure. Somebody unpack this for us.



As you know, Patrick Dowd requested of the URA that it refrain from utilizing Urban Development Action Grant (UDAG) money being returned to the city, without first having those expenditures approved by the city, of which City Council is a part.

The URA's administrative expenses are up 25% over the last year. According to the budget Dowd managed to wrangle from the URA, most of that increase is funded by "revenue" from the UDAG money.

The Comet has no idea what would necessitate a 25% spike in administrative costs -- salaries, leather furniture, gearing up for the assemblage of the Comprehensive City-Wide Development Plan (AKA the Death Star) -- but it seems clear that Councilman Dowd feels he is obligated to exercise some oversight over these funds.

URA director Pat Ford responded to Council concerning Dowd's inquiries. The Comet has obtained a copy.

The staff of the URA is revisiting the documentation, available to us, relating to the long-established retention of UDAG proceeds, by the URA, for purposes of supporting redevelopment activity within the City. I will also add that the URA has been acting in good faith in the administration of the program proceeds and disbursements over the past 30 years.

Long-established retention of UDAG proceeds by the URA. So we are acting on precedent again, rather than legalese.

I hope you can appreciate that the effort that is required by my CFO. Ms. Eads is reconstructing a 30 year old transaction that goes back to, I believe, the Caligiuri administration. We look forward to sharing our reconstruction of these understandings, face to face, in the near future.

Our reconstruction of these understandings. That's hot.


  1. Okay … here’s my translation…

    Specter was trying to say that bureaucrat Tymoczko’s job is to act in accord with either city code or “prevailing practices” precedent if code is lacking. He asserts this is exactly what she did. Specter reasons that, yes, unfortunately the prevailing practice she followed was illegal, but its legal status was neither her fault nor her responsibility. Tymoczko is not paid to think or judge. Her responsibility is to approve permits to pave over the homeless if precedent has been established to do so.

    And since all cogs in the machine are greased by the same flywheel……

    Ford is saying the URA’s money grab may or may not be illegal. They are dutifully looking into the situation. (God help us if a timely legal opinion is needed from Specter) If the practice is found to be illegal, Ford says neither he nor anyone else living can be held responsible for misappropriation of funds because there appears to be a 30-YEAR precedent for doing so!

    Other long-standing, possibly illegal precedents on the verge of discovery:

    o Deceased voters being allowed to vote.
    o The right to assault whoever moves your parking chair.
    o Street paving and plowing schedules developed from campaign contribution lists.

  2. Additional long-standing and possibly illegal precedents:

    * Slush funds within city budgets of past years (as in 2003, 04, 05, 06, 07) that are just sitting for spending later.

    * Neighborhood Needs Money (WAMs for Council Critters)

  3. Mark, let's say you made $X last year. You put 20% of it away in the bank. Is that a 'slush fund', or in some sense inappropriate of you?

  4. Char,

    Are you saying I should have some sympathy for Pat Ford here? Are you saying he's probably in the right, and if it's anyone's fault it's the fault of past mayors and councils?

  5. Good one on The Pittsburgh Comet and it helps a lot.

    I have used the AV Planners Inc for all "digital sign" and their serivice is the best.
    You can know more about them in "".

    mark - digital sign