Thursday, September 18, 2008

Thursday: More Mundane Mud

"I will be sitting down to provide [Ms. Buchanan] with information I have been made aware of," Mr. Shields said, adding that he did not have a date for the meeting. (P-G, Rich Lord)

That's great, but a watched pot never boils. The Comet is hereby rendering any chatter about pending investigations to be effectively inoperative.


The legislation by Councilman Bruce Kraus would have given City Council a vote on all new electronic billboards, and was sent in March to the Planning Department for a required planning commission review and vote. That vote never occurred, and without commission approval it takes the votes of seven of the nine council members to pass the legislation.

Effectively, city staff vetoed the legislation, said Council President Doug Shields. He accused Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's administration of "dumping our bill in a drawer somewhere. ... There was a deliberate attempt to interfere with a legal process here."

Planning Director Noor Ismail said the failure to get a planning commission vote on the legislation was "an oversight on our part." (P-G, Rich Lord)

Shades of the August Wilson house fiasco.

It's strange how this administration is constantly going hard to the mat for billboards. Our Mayor has put himself on record on how many occasions professing his great admiration for them? Even when the issue is the legality of a specific application under the code, the conversation always steers back to his grand opinion of outdoor advertising in general.

It's strange because A) no one in their heart of hearts actually likes billboards that much [we will not argue this point], B) it's not as though the "vibrancy" argument is so effective that he's scoring major points with the electorate, C) the outdoor advertising industry is hardly the only industry that contributes significantly to his campaigns; i.e. he could afford to deal them a setback once in a while, and D) it's not as though he hasn't taken his hardest hits on this very issue. We even know that E) one of his closest political allies on the URA board has been an outspoken foe of the billboard industry.

Yet ever still, it's Cheney : Oil :: Ravenstahl : Billboards. Why?

Last week Councilman Ricky Burgess introduced legislation that would give the Zoning Board of Adjustment -- rather than council -- the job of approving or denying electronic billboard permits.

"To bring [every permit] before council would be an undue burden on both council and the applicants," he said. There are more than 100 billboard permits on hold due to the moratorium.

We wonder if this is prudent. The ZBA is subject to the mayor exclusively, and under most circumstances is so obscure as to merit very little scrutiny.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Monday: The Face of Hope

UPDATE: Emboldened by this uncharacteristic support from the Comet, Dan Onorato bursts into the Post-Gazette Editorial Sanctum to demand retribution from ATU Local 85 (P-G, Jonathan Silver, plus video).

The labor contract turned down by Port Authority's drivers union would not have produced the multimillion-dollar savings sought by the transit agency.

The three-year contract recommended by a state-appointed fact finder would have saved the county's transit agency just an average of $325,000 a year. (Trib, Jim Ritchie)

Although Port Authority management for its part accepted the proposal, it would not have come close to the $10 million in savings called for in the new budget, let alone $20 million required to fully balance the books.

(Or so it would seem. See NoComLefBehi. KZ's analogy is eluding us, or perhaps it's the calculus -- we're slow to apprehend how 3 x $325K can = $90M)

Anyway. The message we want to relay is that we're starting to suspect that maybe, just maybe, both sides are hyping up the conflict (and fears of a looming work stoppage) out of convictions that a minor panic will help their own respective bargaining positions -- when they are actually just haggling over the margins of a relatively routine contract renewal.

Maybe the change most opposed by union officials was having workers nearing the current retirement age of 55 to work longer to secure the highest level of post-retirement medical benefits.

We're not loving every aspect of management's approach to negotiations -- in fact, it's high time some meaningful shared sacrifice was offered -- but a retirement age of 55? Followed by free healthcare for life? These don't sound like things that organizations can offer in this day and age, not outside of Sweden.

Yet at the end of the day, no one seems to have the cajones to attempt fundamental reform of the organization and its culture: up, down and across the board. Each side is trying to face down the other and earn its attaboys. Tinkering at the margins.


Since Sarah Palin was unable as mayor or governor to sidestep the "actual responsibilities" of decision-making
[groan], she ought to tackle an issue like, say, "The Bridge to Nowhere" forthrightly by explaining the difference between the giving and receiving ends of the federal "pork" pipeline. A politician's record can withstand a change in responsibilities, her thinking on an issue, or both. (P-G, Ruth Ann Daily)

Yes, but instead she haughtily boasted of having said "Thanks but no thanks" to said bridge. That's not tackling an issue, that's facemasking it -- a flagrant, 15-yard-plus-loss-of-down facemask, not a 5-yard "unintentional" slip-up.

And Mr. McCain? He long ago staked out an unpopular position on the Iraq war, and it nearly ended his campaign. Now that the surge has succeeded, his unwavering stand has attracted gratitude -- and voters.

Has succeeded? Ruth Ann breaks major news in today's paper! When we pass the house in Deutschtown with the lovely garden and the "Mission Accomplished" banner, we must stop in to inquire further.


A cautious reaction today on the part of the P-G Edit Board, which seems confused and bewildered by the array of data points before it -- and as yet ill-equipped to offer much guidance.

A long ordeal at Pittsburgh's Urban Redevelopment Authority has come to a costly, unsatisfying conclusion. Let's hope cleaner operations lie ahead.


We can only hope Mr. Stephany, now that he is officially in charge, will steer this agency of 100 employees and $100 million a year in city developments in a different direction.


Let's hope they mean it and that Mr. Stephany is up to his new task. It's time to bring good-government practices back to the URA.

Update: Do you think Our Edit Board is being coy and suggestive? Could they really be that mischievous? That would be very blogger of them.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Public: Alarmed

Is the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh a corrupt criminal enterprise? Is the administration of Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl? (Trib, Edit Board)

YE GADS! I'm I mean -- WHOA! Okay. On to the next one...

Democratic nominee Barack Obama may have had his spirits lifted by Sarah Palin's interview with ABC-TV's Charlie Gibson... (P-G, Edit Board)

AND THERE IS NO next one. Got to wait for a little more DATA to come in. Got to weigh the PROs and the CONs, what? Be a little more CIRCUMSPECT about it. May be a bit to SOON to be weighing the Shields versus the Ravenstahl versus the Lamb versus the Ford against one another, even for the poor lambs been getting it raw on the doorstep. Aye. There's reason enough in that.

Meanwhilst, some words of advice...


One thing we don't want to see is the bar of civic leadership lowered so far it's subterranean.

"And yet all this time, although my political enemies have lobbed irresponsible and ultimately unproven attacks and accusations upon me ... here I stand before you. I have withstood it all."

There is the very real possibility that Luke Ravenstahl's mere attendance in public, and in office come the spring, will be perceived as some species of victory and vindication. That would be a low and very sorry bar for public leadership indeed.

It could be (we would not prejudge or suggest anything, but it could be) that whatever malfeasance might have occurred under Our Mayor's watch ought properly fall to the realm of political remedy, i.e. the voters. No one should be contented with inefficient government, selfish government or unethical government, but that does not mean that we must rely on judicial authorities to provide for superior government.

We the people must stand, sooner or later, in a judicial capacity, and we must prepare for it regardless.

A lack of literal criminality would be no kind of vindication in itself. To brazenly and repeatedly reward political supporters with precious public resources and extraordinary public privileges -- let's say just as an example -- would be in no sense "right" or "proper" or "competent" or "sensible" or "defensible". Nor would Our Mayor's fully conscious decision to entrust more than half the city to a common petty blaggard opportunist. Yet all this may not fall into the realm of the "prosecutable", let alone the "conveniently prosecutable".

We must make ready to shoulder this burden on our own. Whatever entreaties ought be facilitated to higher authorities have been facilitated already. There's no profit in waiting on avenging angels to do our dirty work.

We should all conduct ourselves as though We the People are the sole arbiters of justice. That should be more than sufficient to throw off this yoke of infantile and self-serving gall.

Woe betide any clique, or Committee, or Conference that dares run interference on behalf of the sordid old status quo in Pittsburgh. Change is inevitable -- fundamental change. The occasion for it is the stale and increasingly ludicrous sameness championed by the callow functionaries presently inhabiting our City Hall.

The levees of machine politics are topping, and they will break soon or sooner still. It only remains to be seen who will be on the leading edge of this change -- who will be scrambling to catch up to it -- and who will be left behind.