Friday, June 5, 2009

County Hires Sustainability Manager

Meet Jeaneen Zappa:

Ms. Zappa, 43, an accredited professional with the national environmental building standards program known as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design or LEED standards, was most recently the green business development director for the Green Building Alliance. (P-G, Karamagi Rujumba)


Ms. Zappa, whose first day of work is Monday, will be paid $85,000 a year. (ibid)

Holy solar panels! That demands lots of sustaining to take place. Remember the City's sustainability coordinator?

Ms. Baxter will be paid $45,347. (P-G, Rich Lord)

How did Ms. Zappa make out so much better at the County than Ms. Baxter did at the City? One reason may be that Zappa literally wrote the book article on the subject:

How to Ask for Money 9/28/2006
By Jeaneen Zappa, owner of Zappa Consulting, a strategic and tactical marketing firm in Pittsburgh, PA.

What’s the difference between a $70,000 and a $75,000 starting salary? Answer: $381,000. According to author and economist Linda Babcock, Ph.D., keynote speaker at the 2006 Pittsburgh Athena Awards, that’s how much a woman who declines to negotiate the $5,000 increase in her starting salary would leave on the table over a 30-year career.

“The younger the age at which you start negotiating, the bigger the financial impact,” said Babcock, whose 2003 book, “Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide,” was named by Fortune Magazine to its list of the “75 smartest business books of all time.” (Jeaneen Zappa, WEDO)

Good for her.

But that caused me to notice that Zappa once managed "a strategic and tactical marketing firm"; that her academic degrees are in magazine journalism and marketing; that her job at the Green Building Alliance was to manage "the Green Building Products Initiative, which seeks to spur economic development in Pennsylvania through the manufacture of green building products and development of related technologies."

Lindsay Baxter on the other hand is earning her Masters in Environmental Science; she was the lead writer and researcher for a Pittsburgh Climate Action Plan that includes such things as turning hot water heaters down to 120 degrees.

So should real environmentalists be leery that by going with Jeaneen Zappa, Allegheny County is headed in a direction of style, marketing and economic development -- with little substance?

On the workbench in her basement, Jeaneen Zappa keeps color-coordinated caulking guns, white for the kitchen, brown for the windows and clear for other parts of the house. For five years she has been using them to fill the gap and holes in her 100-year-old house in Crafton. But she knew it wasn't enough.

So when a friend suggested she get an energy audit from Conservation Consultants Inc., she put down her caulk and reached for the phone. (P-G, Bette McDevitt, 2004)

I'm not sure how that little tableau evolved into mammoth-length story in the Post-Gazette, but she seems very environmentally mindful.

[The GBA's new headquarters in the Terminal Building] really has a lot of important features for us,” said Jeaneen A. Zappa, deputy director of the Alliance. “It’s a historic building and it allows us to show that green building can be done in an existing space and not just a new building, which is a common misconception.” (Trib, Ron DaParma)

Can't fault her for not apprehending important symbolism. It will be interesting to see how Allegheny County's ecological footprint shrinks while the County Executive's political footprint grows.

State Sen. Jim Ferlo: In On The Action

What's that guy been up to?

So, he's readying a proposal for a free speech zone -- an area for protesters [of the G-20 Summit] with a stage and a public address system -- near Liberty Avenue, perhaps between the Doubletree Hotel and 10th Street. (P-G, Mackenzie Carpenter)

That's your news.

Suggested Discussion Question: In addition to thank you -- those are some nice amenities, the least Pittsburgh could do -- how about the right, within reason, to protest peacefully wherever one has a legal right to be? May I walk around with a sandwich board elsewhere? What if I'm carrying puppets, but I'm not loitering?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Independent Kevin Acklin Gets It Started On Massive Scale (VIDEO)

Last night, before a festive crowd of well over 300 at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, local attorney Kevin Acklin began his Independent crusade for the city's top job.

A fifteen-minute "convention style" biographical video introduced Acklin as the progeny of South Oakland fire fighters, public workers and nurses; as a Central Catholic student-athlete who in football played both offensive and defensive tackle, and in ice hockey also played like a tackle; and as an attorney who ran off to pursue a big job in Boston only to grow homesick for Pittsburgh, return eventually and start a nonprofit dedicated to executing odd but difficult jobs for local communities.

It was this work with Renew Pittsburgh that formed the foundation of his public service bona-fides. Community leaders testified during the video of Acklin's refreshing generosity with his time and energy and his willingness to "get his hands dirty". Paul Ellis -- the serious and self-reserved sibling of Dr. Kimberly Ellis AKA Dr. Goddess -- spoke highly of Acklin's determination to help restore the area around the historic August Wilson home.

During his speech, Acklin promised to work hard as Mayor and to demand excellence.

I'll make decisions based not on what's best for my administration, but on what's best for all of our neighborhoods. I'll create policies based not on what's best for a few donors and dignitaries, but what's best for all our citizens. I'll support legislation that helps not just the powerful and the politically connected, but the powerless and the politically forgotten.

In an interview with the Comet, Acklin identified his biggest adversaries in the coming race as fear and complacency -- fear regarding political blowback for supporting him, and complacency over the fact that the City is "getting it done good enough", a sentiment he described as "kind of un-Pittsburgh".

When asked what are the two greatest challenges awaiting him as mayor, Acklin first said that Pittsburgh "needs to become more competitive -- how do we grow?" He listed factors inhibiting Pittsburgh's growth as its schools, its "perception of unsafety", and its high taxes. He also grumbled over the ability of businesspeople to get their permits processed correctly "if they don't make out checks to the right people."

When asked a follow-up about crime and public safety, he clarified that his second biggest challenge would be "our neighborhoods", and finding a way to reinvest in their smaller business districts. He says there are 88 neighborhoods in the City of Pittsburgh and there are 88 separate plans -- and that cynics might observe this is a way to play neighborhoods off each other.

"You need to invest in City Planning; it's been gutted."

Regarding politics, Acklin declared during his speech that he would like to join forces with all the people "that liked Bill, and Mark, and Patrick and Carmen". During our interview he said that he didn't think Democratic primary rival Patrick Dowd went too negative during his campaign.

"On election night, the Mayor had an opportunity to be a Mayor -- and he didn't."

Acklin called this an "exciting" time to run for government office in Pittsburgh, with encouraging faces arriving on the scene like Natalia Rudiak, "Who I supported fairly heavily", and Daniel Lavelle, "who I didn't have the opportunity to support financially" but sounded enthused about.

When asked about the other independent candidate likely to run, Franco "Dok" Harris, Acklin pointed out, "I am the Independent," having collected his ballot signatures and filed as the Independent candidate already.

"I mean, that's state law," he clarified. "He'd have to run as, you know, the Immaculate Reception whatever kind of party."

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Peduto: New Act 47 Will Raise Taxes, Fix Little

Pittsburghers might easily see hikes in their property, wage and real estate transfer taxes under the new Act 47 Five-Year Plan if it is approved -- and even then the City would merely be financially "treading water" while "our infrastructure continues to crumble".

That is one message Councilman Bill Peduto imparted to the Comet yesterday during a 40-minute interview that covered his proposed stimulus oversight legislation, the new Act 47 Plan and the city's unfolding pensions crisis.

Peduto ran for Mayor in 2005, finishing second behind the late mayor Bob O'Connor and ahead of present City Controller Michael Lamb. Thereafter Peduto became a sharp critic of Mayor Ravenstahl, who succeeded Mayor O'Connor. Peduto briefly ran an insurgent campaign against Ravenstahl in the 2007 Special Election before withdrawing from that race, citing the new Mayor's popularity and a lack of interest in the city at that time for divisive politics.

When Peduto's close ally Doug Shields was reelected unanimously as Council President in early 2008, he appointed Mr. Peduto as that body's Finance Chair, in what many considered to be a provocative maneuver.

The following is an unedited 9-minute excerpt from our interview with Peduto.


0:39 - Pittsburgh's three pension funds, Peduto says, are "sort of pooled together" through the Comprehensive Municipal Pension Trust Fund, which mitigates some of the immediate danger.

0:45 - However, he says the pensions will need "an infusion of cash" in the next two years.

1:48 - Describes "the frustrating part" -- when "there's no money".

3:30 - "We could probably squeeze out" five years under the proposed Act 47 plan.

4:14 - Mr. Peduto's own financial plan, on the desk before him, he describes as containing the "structural changes" he kept talking about continually. (PDF) These include such measures as a statewide single-payer health care system for municipal employees, altering the state sales tax such that a percentage of the proceeds remains in the locality from which it is generated, and specific intergovernmental service consolidations. All that would be in addition to locking-in the commuter and non-profit payroll tax opportunities alluded to in the Act 47 Plan. "This solves a 20 year problem for the next 20 years."

5:10 - Predicts that even if the State Legislature fails to come through with any changes or support, Mayor Ravenstahl will eventually "muster five votes" in support of the present Act 47 5-Year Plan. "The Governor will be calling."

6:45 - Predicts that passage of the plan will result in "keeping our heads above the water" as "infrastructure crumbles further".

8:00 - Points that Pittsburgh's problem is common to Erie, Meadville, Wilkes-Barre, Johnstown, York, Washington, Duquesne, Braddock and others -- which will "all die" if nothing gets done -- and what that will mean for him.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Tuesday: What Would Benson and Stabler Do?

We've been obsessed with our money woes, but as others have pointed out, one thing we cannot fail to address is crime.

Pittsburgh's homicide rate rose 38 percent in 2008 compared to the year prior, even though homicides decreased nationwide and property crimes and violent crime overall were down in the city.

Statistics released Monday by the FBI show that violent crime dropped 2.5 percent nationwide and 2.8 percent in Pittsburgh. Violent crimes are homicide, aggravated assault, rape and robbery. (Trib, Jill King Greenwood)

An indelicate question: since the city has seen a significant spike in homicides which have been concentrated in relatively few neighborhoods -- suggesting a sort of mob rule -- should we be assuming that instances of assault, rape and robbery in those areas are being under-reported?

City police Cmdr. Thomas Stangrecki said disputes between gangs over drugs played a part in driving up the homicide rate.

"There is a high availability of guns, and people are not afraid to use them to settle even the smallest dispute," Stangrecki said. (ibid)

Instead of reporting a robbery, for example, under those circumstances one might meekly stand pat and count one's blessings. So I wonder if things are at least a little worse than they appear. See also P-G, Jerome Sherman.


Which is not to say we don't have serious money issues. (Null Space)

One popular solution to the airport's chronic money woes may be leasing the parking lots. (P-G Edit Board, PGH is a City)

Dan "The Tax Man" "The Outsider" Onorato gets set to take on Tom Knox, Don Cunningham and Jack Wagner for the Democratic nomination for Governor in this deceptively excellent article. (Trib, Brad Bumstead)

A grassroots community group is organizing IN FAVOR of a development. Now I've seen everything. (OneFiveTwoOneOne)

Prodigious great-great-grandmother and probable Comet reader Flossie Carter celebrates her 109th birthday today. She doesn't look a day over 70. (Trib, Chris Togneri)


BREAKINGish: US Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan drops the long-running Cyril Wecht case like it's hot and slippery, following an adverse ruling several weeks ago.

The judge wrote in his opinion that had a supporting affidavit of probable cause been attached to the warrant applications, the problem would have been resolved.

Ms. Buchanan admitted that a mistake was made by not attaching the paperwork, but she continued, it was left out so as not to reveal too much information about the ongoing investigation. (P-G, Paula Reed Ward)

An object lesson on the importance of paperwork.

"We have a lot of other criminals we can go after," she said. (Trib, Jason Cato)

Boogity boogity!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Long-Awaited Authority Audit to be Released in Days

15 months ago, allegations of "reckless" and "wasteful" spending at the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh (HACP) were brought to the attention of KDKA news by a former employee.

Mayor Ravenstahl at the time called some of the documented spending "questionable at best", expressing concern but pointedly not "jumping to any conclusions". After immediately demanding an internal review of HACP spending, Ravenstahl later upped the ante by asking for a formal audit by the City Controller.

That audit was completed at least two months ago, says Controller Michael Lamb -- but it has yet to be released to the public.

"I'm not sure why that's being held up," said Lamb. "You'd have to ask the Reverend about that."

Rev. Ricky Burgess, a Pittsburgh City Councilman, chairs the city Housing Authority. He was appointed by Mayor Ravenstahl to replace ousted URA director Patrick Ford in that role months after the allegations of HACP misspending surfaced and instigated reviews.

"It should be out in one day, two days at the latest," Burgess told the Comet in response to inquiries. "In fact, [the Controller's office] should have that back by now."

All Controller's office audits must ultimately be made public -- but all government bodies which are audited are given the opportunity to "respond" to the findings before they are released.

Annabelle Kinney, an attorney at the Controller's office, says that there is no legal deadline for submitting responses, but the eleven weeks it has so far taken HACP verges on "ridiculous".

"It's important that audits be timely," said Kinney. "The information needs to be relevant."

Burgess referred the work of considering the Housing Authority's response to a special internal audit committee, which resulted in part of the delay.

"I can't answer that," Burgess said regarding concerns over the time lag. "All I can say is, I'm new at this, and I've made sure I've done my due diligence."

The Housing Authority is likely once again to fall under the microscope for its expenditures. An estimated $28 million in federal stimulus money is coming its way, a sum expected to dwarf other city authorities and departments. Approximately $4.54 million of that has already been dispersed by its board on construction-related contracts, including widening entryways and easing accessibility.

Meanwhile, new legislation authored by Councilman Bill Peduto would set up a local stimulus oversight panel, charged with ensuring that all of Pittsburgh's governmental instruments are spending federal public dollars wisely.

"I have no confidence that the Housing Authority is going to spend that money wisely," says Matt Hogue, the former HACP employee who originally brought forward the allegations of wasteful spending -- including reports of $2000 laptop computers, monogrammed umbrellas and windbreakers, and costly live performances for charity events. "I guess you could say I have no confidence in the leaders at 200 Ross St."

"It's long, long overdue," Hogue said of the audit.

Monday: Another Day in Paradise!

As you know, state legislation foreshadowed last week by the Post-Gazette signalled that certain um -- fiscal matters -- are due for an um -- resolution -- probably this year at the latest.

As you also know, what would ordinarily be considered "oodles" of money is about to be delivered to Pittsburgh in the form of federal spendulus porkulus.

Therefore, it makes every bit of sense for the political world this week to be focused on a discussion of how Pittsburgh should Oversee the federal stimulus so we get the most bang for our buck. Councilman Peduto will introduce the legislation this week, and there will be wrangling and haggling and theater and spectacle.

Which will also be very nice for everybody, because who really wants to deal with the um -- other set of fiscal matters -- publicly before we absolutely must.

Now, on an almost unrelated note:

The Post-Gazette's editorial board applauds the new Act 47 plan, applauds the Mayor's efforts to pursue outside-the-box taxation options within the plan, and isn't exercised one iota about the consequences if the Mayor et al fails to deliver those outside-the-box taxing options: LINK.


Now, let's hear what some of those loony-tunes G20 protesters are going to be upset about:

"I think right now it stands for chaos and it stands for economic destruction," said Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers of America, the region's most prominent industrial union and a harsh critic of what he sees as a widening economic imbalance growing out of the global policies put forward by many of the G-20's leaders. (P-G, Roddey & Sherman)

Reservations for space in the Free Speech Zone may fill up quickly!


This city's aggressive demolitions policy is being opposed by some in Manchester. The City's Number Two Official is frustrated by the "piecemeal" approach that the residents seem intent upon foisting: P-G, Diana Nelson Jones.


It's official -- Joe Mistick is turning into one of those Luke-haters:

In the wake of a campaign for mayor of a major-league city, Ravenstahl could muster little more than a bush-league response. Squandering the chance to do what was in the best interest of Pittsburgh, Ravenstahl showed the fortitude of a middle-schooler and mouthed what might be wise advice from his mother under other circumstances. (Trib, Joseph Sabino Mistick)

I mean, one of THOSE Luke-haters:

And it begs the following suggestion: If this one government oversight agency has managed to keep the city afloat, perhaps the scrutiny of other government agencies could really put the city on the right path. This prospect has tantalized Grant Street wags for some time and could have future political implications. (ibid)

Boogity boogity.


In case anyone else missed what that Jane Orie / Furry story was all about that had popped up in our comments, here it is: LINK. Sen. Orie was "shocked and appalled."

The Kevin Acklin Experience will be kicking off this WEDNESDAY, JUNE 3rd at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts on the corner of Shady and Fifth Avenues, at 5:30 if you are a regular human or as early as 3:30 if you'd like to call yourself "media".


Sunday, May 31, 2009

McNickle: "Come Clean for G-20"

Tribune Review editorial page editor Colin McNickle (right, off-camera left) thinks Pittsburgh is riding dirty.

Pittsburgh has been in state receivership since 2003. That's much like a Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization. (Trib, Colin McNickle)

Hmm. Really? That is certainly repeated often enough.

And then there's this myth of "green" technology as an engine of economic recovery. A Spanish study that liberal apologians for the faux stasis of statism just love to hate suggests just the opposite and quite dramatically. More jobs are lost than created. So compelling is the empirical evidence that even former President Bill Clinton has acknowledged green technology's dirty little secret. (ibid)

Whoa! Them is fighin' words!

How about using the G-20 gathering not so much as a public relations tool to sell Pittsburgh for what it is not but as a perhaps once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to expose our post-steel warts and open a dialogue to seek real solutions from some of the top financial brains the globe has to offer? (ibid)

And what do we all think about that?