Friday, January 25, 2008

The Role of Justice Bloggers

That is the title of the 5-minute presentation we will be giving tomorrow morning at the 10th Annual Summit Against Racism, AKA the Black & White Reunion.

Glad to have the title. Otherwise, who knows what we might have started talking about.

The talk will be held during the Racial Equity Morning Workshop from 9:45 - 11:45 AM, along with a ton of other presentations and panelizing including Celeste Taylor, Richard Adams, Tim Stevens, Genie Beckham, Bernadette Turner, Odell Richardson, Will Thompkins, and Rodnie Jamison.

That's just the one workshop. This is a day-long affair tomorrow (8 AM to 4 PM), January 26th, 2008 at East Liberty Presbyterian Church, 116 S. Highland Ave., Pittsburgh 15206.

Friday: Here's the Windup...

The Pittsburgh Public Schools yesterday said the firing of its facilities chief had nothing to do with his allegations that the district mismanaged a construction project at a Squirrel Hill school. (P-G, Joe Smydo)

We think Joe is trying to tell us something!

"This is not a 'whistleblower' case," district Solicitor Ira Weiss said, adding that school board members who suggested otherwise were "misleading" and "inflammatory."

We really think Joe is trying to tell us something.

Mr. Brentley called Mr. Nabas a "wonderful employee." Mr. Taylor urged the board to tread carefully because of laws protecting whistleblowers, but Mr. Weiss said "this termination has nothing at all to do" with Mr. Nabas' allegations about mismanagement.

Well, if Mark Brentley says he's alright.....


Residential developers are poised to develop Downtown, but are just waiting out the storm that is the U.S. credit crisis.

"Anybody who hasn't started will be stalled," said Kevin Keane, executive vice president of Lincoln Property Co., which owns three major residential complexes Downtown, on the North Side and South Side.

"The winds are changing." (P-G, Dan Fitzpatrick)

Boy, howdy.

Mr. Keane, who in 2006 opened a 151-unit apartment tower Downtown called the Encore on 7th, disagrees with that assessment, arguing that there is not enough space Downtown for people making $30,000 to $45,000 a year.

"I certainly think the high end of the market has been satisfied," he said.

If we keep building amenities for the young and the fabulous, they will come. Right?


Officials said that to stay within budget, the authority will have to continue a 2-year-old freeze on vouchers, probably cutting the number of families receiving the rent subsidy from 5,425 to about 4,700 by year's end. (P-G, Rich Lord)

Is this entirely attributable to federal program cuts? Or are there ways of buttressing these efforts with grant monies and other revenue streams that are currently being diverted to other projects?

"I don't even mention Section 8" to homeless families seeking shelter, said Mac McMahon, director of homeless assistance programs at Community Human Services in South Oakland. "Why even give them the hope?"



"Just because I disagree with them doesn't mean I don't recognize that," Drozd said. "I recognize they care as much as I do, but they also need to show it by action." (Trib, Justin Vellucci)

Very informative article on County Councilman Matt Drozd, R-Ross. Yes it's clearly also a puff piece, but a nutritious one.

"He certainly has strong opinions on some things ... but he's willing to stand up for them," said County Councilman Charles Martoni, D-Swissvale.

"He's a character, and I think we've lost a lot of that in government and business. I think that's a good thing. We probably need more characters."

We probably need more bipartisan magnanimity such as this as well.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Assorted Notes from the CoS

Every time we take the Pittsburgh Pist-Gazette down off the top shelf, its editrix gets all productive.

In Leaving Town Just In Time, Dan Onorato is accused of running a tidy and efficient shell game on his taxpaying constituents.
Too bad Dan’s desire to hold the line on property taxes isn’t rooted in a concern for the betterment and success of the county he governs. Too bad Onorato apparently views Allegheny County as a handy vehicle he can ride to Harrisburg and nothing more.

In Jane Orie: Another Straw (Wo)Man to Knock Down, cases are made for policies the Comet does not necessarily favor -- but some rank scapegoating by that same present Democratic party establishment is exposed.

Whether it is her intention or not, Jane Orie is already acting in Pittsburgh’s best interest by smacking down Ravenstahl/Shields/Motznik every time they try to wiggle out of the “spending constraints” of Act 47. Go Jane! as she also guards the county by calling Onorato on the carpet for his outlandish Port Authority ponzi game.

Finally, in Couldn't We Just Trade Places For A While, the inaugural sentiments expressed by Philadelphia's Mayor Nutter are contrasted with those of mayors closer to home.

- Crime rate can be reduced by providing jobs for ex-offenders. Government can help businesses create those much needed jobs by making it easier for companies to function. Philly’s zoning code needs to be reformed, taxes must be reduced and the tax code must be simplified.

- Philly must control their costs, stabilize their pension fund and come to grips with health care cost increases. Wages for public employees must be fair and reasonable, but also fair and reasonable to the taxpayer who picks up the tab.

- Government must lead by example. And that means ethics and transparency.


Jack Piatt of Milcraft, Others Get a Great Deal

City Council approved the sale of some land by our URA, at a significant loss, to a nebulous group of people.

UPDATE: The aforementioned Piatt contributed $10,000 to Ravenstahl for Mayor, and his company Milcraft was a Gold Sponsor of his inaugural. Does someone have time to research the other buyers?

The URA bought the parcels, bounded by Forbes Avenue, Market Place, Fifth Avenue and McMasters Way, for $6.48 million from 2002 through 2006. URA general counsel Don Kortlandt said the agency has "historically invested more in redevelopment properties than the market can." (P-G, Rich Lord)

It looks like people are content to take a pass on this*. Council voted 5-0 with three abstentions.

Lessons learned. For example, we now know the URA is fond of out-investing the market with publicly held assets -- at least on behalf of the right sorts of people.

"That's the cost of taking a bad situation and turning it into a good situation," he said. "You've got a cluster of things that are going to come to Fifth Avenue and turn it from a boarded-up, depressing place" into a vital marketplace.

Let's hope for the best. Something needs to happen in that corridor. We don't want another Tom Murphy situation. Do we?

Hey, what all is going in there? What kind of painstaking, exhaustive research went into determining what it's going to be?
*Actually, I Luv Luke provides some related prose.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

What up, Wolf Blitzer.

Did Todd Reidbord ever end up answering any of those questions? Seriously. By all means, arrange something through the proper dignified process.

Wednesday: Last-Minute Fares

Allegheny County officials face an uphill battle when they travel to Amsterdam this week to convince Northwest and KLM Royal Dutch airlines to offer direct flights between Southwestern Pennsylvania and Europe.

Pittsburgh was on the short list of airports the two airlines were eyeing for nonstop service to Amsterdam, the Regional Air Service Partnership, a group lobbying for international service, said last month. (Trib, Justin Vellucci)

As the Comet has been saying all week, this is a hugely important business venture for the future of our region. It requires nothing less than the full personal attentions of both our mayor and county executive. They should stay in Amsterdam until the mission is complete.


"When you make a 15 percent cut and you only lose 3.5 percent of your riders, that's not too bad -- although any rider loss is not good," said authority spokeswoman Judi McNeil. Authority officials hope to know late next month whether the Jan. 1 fare hike will lead to further erosion in its client base, she said. (Trib, Jim Ritchie)

Would it be fair to assert that Port Authority public transportation, not great five years ago, has only gotten worse?


City school board member Mark Brentley Sr., who represents the Hill and supports neighborhood demands, said he wants to postpone a vote set for tonight's board meeting on a Penguins' plan to have team officials and staff talk with students about career choices.

"My concern is the timing," Mr. Brentley said yesterday. He said he didn't want to create the impression "that we're aiding one party or another party" in the contentious talks. (P-G, Rich Lord)

Mark Brentley for City Council. Mark Brentley for Mayor. Mark Brentley for State Senate.

The move comes as negotiations toward a community benefits agreement, or CBA, appear to have slowed. The One Hill Community Benefits Coalition wants development funding, first dibs on jobs for Hill residents, a grocery store and community center, more park space and input into a neighborhoodwide plan as conditions for building the arena there.

"Slowed" may be an understatement. Things may not have moved any further than the original proposal handed down by Ravenstahl and Onorato, with the exception of the specified grocery store. We have heard nothing else about the use of seed money, for example, or any other form of economic stimulus.

The article fails to mention the other Hill District group, the newly named Hill Faith & Justice Alliance.

One Hill didn't strenuously oppose a Jan. 14 city planning commission vote on the arena master plan, which passed 5-3. The coalition, though, will "oppose all arena construction activity until we have an agreement," said Mr. Redwood.

Comet readers are encouraged to take a serious second look at the Hill Faith & Justice Alliance.

"I see [an agreement] happening," said Councilwoman Tonya Payne, who represents the Hill. "There's no turning back."

Our spider-senses are tingling.


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Pat Ford at the Planning Commission

Pat Ford did not speak to the Planning Commission on behalf of the mayor, nor on behalf of the URA. In fact, you probably will not find his name on any official record of that hearing.

Pat Ford's role was to sit just behind Chairwoman Wrenna Watson, whisper instructions in her ear, and basically run the room.

Before we go any further, we should remind everybody that the hearing was captured on video by no less than three television news cameras and two documentary filmmakers. If our impressions and recollections are in error, surely there will be a way to check our account against the facts.

As stated, Ford was seated just behind Chair Watson. Throughout the hearing, he would lean forward to initiate whispered conversation with her -- most frequently on the occasion of any confusion as to procedure, or when any objections were raised that were not easily dispatched.

The most obvious example of this was when the Commission finally considered whether or not to admit public comment by thirty or so residents who had not signed up at the first session three weeks prior.

Since the microphones around the table were broken that day (a separate issue we hope), commissioners passed around a cordless microphone. When the commission finally opted to discuss whether or not to allow new speakers, Ford himself "ruled" that the microphone be shut off.

Chairwoman Watson complied, setting the microphone almost ceremonially in the center of the table. When objections rose from the crowd, causing some of the commissioners to look unsure, Ford hissed at them twice to quickly go ahead and talk -- whereupon the board leaned in close to each other, and held a minute-long whisper session.

All of this was conducted without any indication from the Chair that the panel was doing so, or justified in doing so; the whole episode probably is not reflected in the public record.

Once again, Ford was seated just behind Wrenna Watson. To his immediate left was commission member and Walnut capitalist Todd Reidbord, to whom he would also lean and hold occasional discussions. When Reidbord got up to go to the basketball game, Ford followed him outside for a time before returning.

On Ford's immediate right stood a very polite, very imposing police officer. When Ford decided the public was getting too ornery or asking too many questions, he took the responsibility of goosing the officer forward to demand order and quiet.


That is the portrait of Patrick Ford at the Planning Commission -- sitting behind the Chair, whispering, making rulings, leaning left to confer with Reidbord and leaning right to exert a police presence on the assemblage.

A powerful and active presence that officially did not exist.

There is reason to infer that Ford had even more influence on the meeting behind the scenes -- and not only in the congruity between the legal argument he offered at the USX Tower hearing, and the scripted exchange between a commissioner and the City Solicitor at this Hill District hearing (both of which neutered the commission in precisely the same way).

For example, after public commentary, Sidney Kaikai stepped forward to introduce and explain 16 amendments to the Master Plan having to do with parking. On every other occasion, it has been customary to make these presentations beforehand, precisely so the public can understand the amendments and comment upon them if warranted.

Instead, the late-night presentation served to drain all the energy and many of the people out of the room before the controversial vote.

There is also the issue of how the hearing came to be split up into two sessions to begin with -- how the first session had to end promptly at 5:00 PM, and how the second session came to start only at 4:40 PM but rolled on through the night. This is to say nothing of the effect of scheduling so much other business -- the casino included -- prior to this Hill District matter on both occasions.

The neighborhood opposition to the master plan was thereby divided, diffused, and thrown into considerable confusion. More time was spent arguing about procedure and propriety than examining the Master Plan.


How can we infer that these scheduling machinations were also the result of Pat Ford's influence? The administration has been hinting for months that the URA and City Planning are going to work closer and closer, if not merge outright.

Ravenstahl said he has been examining ways to streamline the city's planning and development functions for months, but it's "premature to throw out a number" estimating possible savings. "I think if you look at our history over the past year as an administration, we've been very clear and steadfast in trying to find a more streamlined process for the business community and economic development. We're going to continue along that line very aggressively," Ravenstahl said. (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

Then there was this seeming teaser from a mayoral press release upon Ford's ascension to URA director:

“The URA is the economic and community development arm of the City of Pittsburgh,” Ravenstahl said. “With Mr. Ford at the helm we will have strong continuity between my Administration and the URA. Expect to see further structural changes taking place under our leadership to increase efficiency and further streamline permitting in the City. Stay tuned.”

Just last week, the City received a $200,000 grant from the state (Trib, Jeremy Boren) to hasten the work of dividing the city into 16 sectors, complete SNAPshots of them, and centralize the whole process of City Planning. Sources indicate to us that this funding is essentially going towards folding more City Planning functions into the orbit of Pat Ford's URA.

Last week, we asked mayoral press secretary Alecia Sirk if she would forward to us the latest press materials on a possible merger between the URA and City Planning. She answered that a merger between the two outfits has really been put on the back-burner, if not taken off the stove altogether.

It could be that the URA has found ways to surreptitiously exert the control it has determined it requires over City Planning, without the political risk of overtly encroaching upon what was designed to be a far more public and transparent decision-making process.

Monday, January 21, 2008

MLK Highlights

The P-G's Amy McConnell Schaarsmith covers a celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s 79th birthday at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill.

"Everybody was involved -- there was no big me and little you," said the Rev. Peters, the Henry L. Hillman associate professor of urban ministry at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and a member of the East End Cooperative Ministry, an interfaith social services group. "Dr. King saw it first, how to break down barriers not just of race but any barrier between people."


"The road ahead is not altogether a smooth one," he said, quoting from the speech. "There are no broad highways to lead us easily and inevitably to quick solutions. But we must keep going."


"True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar," the Rev. Downing read from Dr. King's speech "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence." "It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring."

Food for thought.


The P-G also asked people throughout the Pittsburgh area, "What would King do?" Most of the respondents outdid themselves.

Martin Luther King would have had a blog and a dream.

His rallies, his struggles in the community -- you would be able to get up every day and read about his struggles on his blog. He would download his speeches to podcasts.

Okay, we threw that one in there. It was from a certain Donna Baxter of

Rich Fitzgerald, President of Allegheny County Council, is succinct:

He would want people to stop focusing on the color of each other's skin and start dealing with the very real socioeconomic injustices that exist in our society. Bridging that gap is how we will achieve Dr. King's dream.

Similar material from Councilman Ricky Burgess, District 9:

Certainly, Dr. King would continue his consistent concern for social justice. He would also continue with an advocacy for the nation's poor. Toward the end of his life, his concern became more and more for the nation's poor of all races. There are some issues on which he would certainly be on the front lines. One is education. ... The most common grade given to an African-American in America is an F. I think Dr. King would also encourage African-Americans to participate in the political process.

I think that Dr. King would be trying to lead an inter-racial campaign for equity and justice.

African-Americans in Pittsburgh are not only doing badly as a group, they're doing badly in relation to African-Americans in other cities.

Finally, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl:

If Martin Luther King were here today, he would be championing the fight to ensure that our neighborhoods, our leadership and our workforces be more unified and harmonious.

We have to interrupt here. Dr. King was actually a troublemaker, was he not? He wasn't known to lose sleep over legislators doing their jobs.

If I could engage him with us today in the City of Pittsburgh, I would ask him to travel with our DiverseCity 365 Road Show, which focuses on recruiting more minorities for professional city careers, to help us develop a more dynamic and diverse staff that both represents and serves our residents.

In turn, King surely would have been amused all by the political window-dressing.

When Dr. King got around to demanding justice of our mayor regarding public land and public processes, how do you think he would have responded when he and his people were accused of asking for hand-outs?