Friday, October 23, 2009

Issue #2: What This Means for the Rest Of Us

In the words of Kevin Acklin (or whoever is putting words in his mouth) yesterday:

When you look at the decisions this administration has made in the last three years — closing down city planning, firing Ron Graziano and almost totally gutting BBI, moving all of the city’s economic development policy into the URA — there’s a clear move toward crafting policies that are favorable to corporate developers. And John Verbanac is driving that move. (YouTube)

That fact is demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt. You can use buzz words like "streamlining" and "vibrancy", or you can talk about "moving in the right direction", but the policy has always been about making boatloads of money for a very few individuals.

Now we all know how it came to be.

People on Brookline Boulevard have been waiting two decades for redevelopment. Pittsburghers on the North Side have been screaming at the top of their lungs for a meeting with the Mayor. People in Beechview have been waiting for years for action and development in their business district. People all across the city have been waiting for months for leadership on our library issues. None of these people get their questions answered. But John Verbanac makes one call, or sends one email, and he gets instant access to, and influence over, everything that’s happening in the Mayor’s office. This administration is focused on personal and corporate favoritism, and it’s hurting our neighborhoods as a result. (ibid)

That is why our Mayor's extreme reliance on investor / developer / political consultant John Verbanac, or if you prefer the few Verbanacs of the world -- legal though it might conceivably be -- is very very bad news for Pittsburgh. Every day, they're moving the city in harmful, heartless, irresponsible directions. And they know it.

That's why they try so hard to cover their tracks.

Issue #1: Lying

Has Luke Ravenstahl at last utterly exhausted our capacity to require truthfulness from him?

KA: Who are John Verbanac and Ed Grattan, and what role do they play in your administration?

LR: John Verbanac and Ed Grattan are friends of mine, and they play no formal role in my administration.

As we now know for a fact, the frank answer would have been, "They are advisers," or "Two of my closest advisers on politics and strategy," or "People who I call on to do things like negotiate my position with the State Legislature," or "People who run my high-level strategy meetings."

Answering on television, before the people of Pittsburgh, that two persons as crucial to his government as this are "friends" was disgustingly coy.

It proved beyond a doubt that he didn't want to be open and honest about them. If the relationship were as innocuous as today we are being led to believe, he would have told us who they are and the fine work they do for Pittsburgh.

A week later Acklin stated during another debate that he had obtained:

KA: ...very specific documents and e-mails that prove that Mr. Verbanac has had a very intimate relationship with your administration He's written your speeches, he literally puts words into your mouth. He's called the shots on who you hire and fire. He advises you on city policies and developments, including developing your strategic plan. He advised you on the firing of BBI (Bureau of Building Inspection) Director Ron Graziano and also called for the purging of your staff.

All of which, you should note, was true. 100% true. Later:

KA: What business interests does John Verbanac have before your city administration or with any of these authorities?

LR: First of all, he has none, I answered the question last week that he is a friend of mine, your accusations are wrong...

First of all, Vebanac has some business interests before the City. Period. Whether they have been advantaged by the Mayor or not is still an open question, but it's inarguable that Verbanac has had and will continue to have interests before the City and its authorities (particularly, maybe, the Parking Authority soon). So that was not "wrong".

Second of all, everything Acklin said in the televised debate up to that point about Verbanac's role, duties and strategic advice given to the Mayor was CORRECT. Every word of it. So neither was that "wrong".

Luke is lying, and everyone is giving him a pass because they'd rather see him prosecuted than bother calling him a liar again. For goodness sakes, people, he said he wasn't Mayor when the casino license was awarded! He was up to his nostrils in kaka!

Ravenstahl later repeated again that Verbanac is only a "private citizen" (that wasn't the question) and that Acklin's accusations are "false". It was not until the end of the following day and concern about Verbanac's possibly inappropriate role had continued to build that the Mayor would even approach truthfulness.

He confirmed that the former political consultant advises him on campaign matters, and probably has some role in fundraising.

"He has been consulted there and talked to there and advised me there, just as he has on other issues," the mayor said. "He's never written me a check. Has he raised money? Yeah, I would assume that he's asked folks to contribute." (P-G, Rich Lord)

Der, gosh, I uh pfffft whooo weeeee yeah maybe, I dunno.

Isn't this still insufferably coy? Do you know if he raises money for you or not?

There is another issue I'll be touching on later today: that the press is grading inappropriateness on a curve. Don't you know this is how politics works, boys, when it comes to people like Verbanac. Welcome to the world! If Acklin can't prove beyond a reasonable doubt that actual laws were broken like some kind of prosecutor, then these cozy exchanges of influence by titanic private investors is just how it works and it'll never change. It doesn't impact Pittsburgh in ways that Pittsburghers will ever notice or care about. Have a cigar already.

But the issue of this post is simple:

Ravenstahl has been lying and dissembling through his teeth. Again. And somehow, we're grading that on a curve!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Ravenstahl: "Yeah, I would assume that he's asked folks to contribute."

"Mr. Acklin has failed to connect the dots," Mr. Ravenstahl said. "He knows it."
(P-G, Rich Lord)

12 days left. Or actually, there's no time limit...

Parking Authority Solicits Special Guidance

Just call it a hunch.

The Pittsburgh Parking Authority yesterday invited around 20 firms to send in proposals to serve as advisors on the planned lease of public garages and metered spaces in the city.

The winning firm would guide the authority through selection of, and negotiation with, a firm that would pay a lump sum in return for a decades-long lease and control of parking revenues. (P-G, Rich Lord)


Interested firms have until Nov. 4 to respond. (ibid)


Mayor Luke Ravenstahl hopes that a lease would net at least $200 million, which would be used to stabilize the city's ailing pension fund. (ibid)

My understanding is that there is little out there to support that conjecture and quite a bit to refute it.

Thursday: Sorting Through the Deception

The Busman pulled additional information and audio:

KA: "What business interest does John Verbanac have before your administration or with any of these city authorities?"

LR: ""First of all, he has none..." (Busman's Holiday)

No business interests? Summa Development, Forest City Enterprises and the IdeaMill for starters represent no business interests that affect the City?

(Yes, the IdeaMill in Lawrenceville -- I discovered that linkage on several websites, including a 2007 County press release for a new Transportation Action Team, listing John Verbanac of the IdeaMill as the City of Pittsburgh appointee.)

Let's make one thing clear -- John Verbanac is all about business interests before governments. That's what. He does. For a living.

Ravenstahl can conceivably argue that he turns a blind eye to all the pro bono political consulting work* that Verbanac performs for him, while as Mayor he makes rulings that affect Verbanac's bottom line -- but to claim that Verbanac has no business before the City is laughable. Laughable! And indicative of the fact that Ravenstahl knows, deep down inside, something's wrong and something needs to be denied.

LR: "I wasn't even the Mayor when the Gaming License was awarded." (WTAE)



Let's explore that. Yesterday:

And Mr. Ravenstahl pointed out that, contrary to Mr. Verbanac's wishes, he had supported yet another unsuccessful casino applicant, Isle of Capri. (P-G, James O'Toole)

Did he? As Mayor?

The state Gaming Control Board is expected to decide, by year's end, who gets to build Pittsburgh's lone slots casino.

In January, Mr. Ravenstahl endorsed the Isle of Capri's bid to build the casino and new arena on the edge of Downtown. In May, Mr. O'Connor's Planning Department released a report favorable to Forest City's competing plan for a Station Square complex.

The pressure is on Mr. Ravenstahl to weigh in as mayor.

The Penguins, who are working with Isle of Capri, said they hope for a repeat endorsement from Mr. Ravenstahl. "I think all of the elected officials have a role in voicing their support for the plan they believe is best for Pittsburgh," and the mayor's voice wasn't likely to be ignored by the gaming board, said Penguins consultant David Morehouse.

Don Barden, who wants to build a casino on the North Shore, said he plans to call Mr. Ravenstahl this week and talk up his proposal. Forest City's spokesman had no comment.

"I don't foresee myself doing anything further at this point," Mr. Ravenstahl said. "I think [Planning] Director [Pat] Ford is a very capable man, who completed [the city's] report, and I see no reason for me to do anything or change anything.

"I endorsed the Isle of Capri plan. ... Now we have a Plan B there," he said, referring to a blueprint for building an arena with slots funding and private money.

"I think the main thing and the important thing is that we keep the Penguins in Pittsburgh. The Isle of Capri plan does just that. Plan B, in a different way, does that." (P-G, Rich Lord, 9/10/06)

By the reckoning Ravenstahl provided, once he became Mayor -- and by logical extension, John Verbanac's new best friend -- his only concern was keeping the Penguins in town. Now with "Plan B", either Forest City or PITG Gaming could just as easily accomplish that, he argued -- before it was fashionable to do so. (Indeed, Plan B would turn out to be far more costly.)

Ravenstahl then publicly declined even "under pressure" to express any further support for Isle of Capri. The report that Ford (also we now know an inner-circle friend of Verbanac) had just issued favoring the Forest City casino bid was allowed to stand in Harrisburg at the Gaming Control Board as the City's position.

Which conforms to everything all of us remember.

If John Verbanac's partners at Forest City didn't get the business in this instance, it's because former Mayor Tom Murphy shined a laser on the political connections early on by making public that "the fix is in", turning the bid too hot to handle. An exception rather than the rule.

Was the fix in? Any answer would be a matter of degrees. Did Luke Ravenstahl's enthusiasm for Isle of Capri diminish drastically upon inheriting John Verbanac?

LR: "I wasn't even the Mayor when the Gaming License was awarded." (WTAE)

Again, why even attempt to deny something like that in this context? It even sounded as though his enthusiasm for saying it dried up halfway through the utterance -- but he resignedly soldiered through with the lie anyway.


Now, there's another element to all of this.

Kevin Ackin's "sheaf" of e-mails and news articles was topped with a few pages worth of exposition. The information presented in the fourth paragraph of the cover page has yet to make its way into any news reports:

In addition, several former high ranking officials from the Ravenstahl administration have approached the campaign about their being interviewed by federal investigators in relation to the unethical conduct of the Mayor's office. These interviews took place between October 2008 and April 2009. The individuals who cooperated with federal authorities have given us permission to release their contact information to the press so they can confirm the existence of a federal investigation.

No comment.

Why has there been no mention of that portion of the explosive allegations? Could it be that the memory of these conversations left an impression?

The evening before, City Solicitor George Specter made a series of phone calls to top media company executives around town, expressing concern about potential news coverage of rumors about the Ravenstahl administration. (Busman's Holiday, 9/4/2008)

It's curious that according to the Acklin report, the interviews began to take place about a month after previous rumors of forthcoming indictments spilled wide open.

LR: I would just advise Mr. Acklin to be very, very careful.

KA: Is that a threat? (WTAE)

Yes. That sounded like a threat. For sure. Anyone else getting threatened?

*- I received an anonymous tip this morning identifying John Verbanac as the "official/unofficial Campaign Chairman" for Mayor Ravenstahl. I don't know what that would mean literally, but considering the extent of Verbanac's pro bono political consulting for Ravenstahl, it seems like a very apt description.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

John Verbanac: A Friend With Benefits?

Kevin Acklin presented 19 pages worth of e-mails today seeking to illustrate that John Verbanac, CEO of Summa Development, has played an integral role in the Ravenstahl administration since its inception.

The e-mails were circulated among very small groups of individuals, usually comprising only Luke Ravenstahl, Yarone Zober, Pat Ford, Ed Grattan and Verbanac himself. It should be noted however that their authenticity has not yet been verified! What will follow are only excerpts from some of them.

If genuine, they are enough to establish that 1) Ravenstahl was effectively lying on Saturday when he flatly denied that Verbanac has a role in his administration; that role appears to be one including senior communications director and city staffing sergeant, and 2) That Verbanac plays this role is troubling considering the way his business interests, at least in regards to Forest City Enterprises, intertwine with that of the City.

And if genuine, the mayor was certainly lying again tonight when he claimed Kevin's more specific allegations about Verbanac "putting words in his mouth" and influencing decisions regarding "strategic planning" and "firing staff" were wrong.


Let's start with the recollection that Ravenstahl supported the Isle of Capri casino bid for the Hill District as a Council person, later to move his support as Mayor to the Forest City / Harrah's bid in Station Square:

From John Verbanac, 12/16/06, Subject: Your Attention Please
To: Luke Ravenstahl, Yarone Zober, Ed Grattan and Charlie Zappala

Question: With all the buyers and the certainty of the two arena plans, why are the Pens saying the future is now uncertain and only the IOC answers the question?

Answer: Because IOC is the one plan that makes the most money for Ron Burkle. Ron Burkle is willing play Russian Roullete with the francises's future to make the most money. It's a gun to the head of Pittsburgh strategy that benefits few, hurts many and inproperly politicizes the gaming decision in an effort for Ron Burkle to simply make more money.

Verbanac was a lobbyist for Forest City / Harrah's. Charlie Zapalla was to be an investor in the Forest city casino. He was and is Verbanac's significant business partner. After Mayor Ravenstahl switched his support to Forest City, and former mayor Tom Murphy opined that "the fix was in", the casino license was awarded to Don Barden of PITG gaming.


The relationship continued into 2007:

From Verbnac, 4/11/07, Subject: Team
To: Luke Ravenstahl and Yarone Zober

When we confront the real issues, we'll need a strong team. A loyal team. A team that reflects the heart and minds of the RAVENSTAHL Administration.

When new leaders come in, the ranks are always turned over. A few make it through, but only a few. It's not because they are ill motivated and political. It's because they need their own team around them. That is the message around the moves you make. Ravenstahl is building his own team. Not trying to win over someone elses.

Tom Murphy left office with a 17 percent approval rating. Bob O'Connor left office before his numbers fell as the real performance of his administration became visible. I have 2009 and beyond on my mind guys. The future. Yours, mine and ours.

We need a team and we need it now. Not after May 15th. Not after the next crisis or artificial date we come up with that holds us back. Not waiting for the day that Rich Lord might give us a pass and take it easy on us. We're at war now. We need our troops.

We? Our? Mine?



From Verbanac, 4/17/07, subject: High Level Issues!
To: Luke Ravenstahl, Yarone Zober

Issue Three: Strategic Planning I have talked with Yarone about this already as well. I would strongly suggest that you, Yarone, Pat and maybe a chosen "FEW" others hold a bit of a retreat to get together your strategic plan.

We have a great blessing not facing the voters until 2009. That's a lot of time to do some things. It's also ample time to fuck up if you don't have a clear strategy and measurements for what you want to achieve. 4 or 5 hours of unfettered, facilitated time with some of your key decision makers would be well spent.

I offered to facilitate the discussion and to take notes and summarize the plan discussion.

Response from Ravenstahl:

The suggestion for us all to sit down is a great one -- I would include no more than me, John, YZ, Ford, and Ed. Don't see the need for anyone else. We can establish a clear plan and agenda and most importantly a way to implement it. Maybe a whole day-off location would work best.

Response from Verbanac:

Maybe Yarone can have missy schedule a day's retreat? Maybe we should take a run down to nemacolin...

This e-mail may deserve a post of its own. The other three "High Level Issues!" detailed in this e-mail were State Rep. Jake Wheatley agitating for a CBA for the Penguins development, the Steeelers' interests regarding the casino master plan (then owned by Don Barden), and yet again "staffing", with special mention of the URA.


Verbanac's involvement in high-level staffing continued:

From: John Verbanac, 9/19/07, Subject: Last point
To: Yarone Zober, Pat Ford and Ed Grattan


Give the mayor 3 examples of fuck ups at BBI that hurt progress. Make Graziano and example of red tapke, bad communication and bureacracy. To support him is to stifle progress. Then you'll bridge driectly to a response city open to progress.

Pat - if you don't have examples I do. Like the 26 art students in a hotel right now because BBI changed their static air pressure requirement on a developer that has done 4 downtown conversions for students and just got crushed by the beloved Ron Graziano.


Fasting forward to 2008, and more staffing:

From John Verbanac, 2/25/08, Subject: URA Personnel
To: Yarone Zober, Pat Ford


You guys had mentioned, as part of your URA right sizing, ARt Fidel's kid, Bob. Please be advised, this is Bill Rudolph's brother in law. I recognize that he is less than an exemplary performer; however, this is Bill's family and I think I speak of us all when I say he is a friend. Let's just leave it there.


Robert Fidel is still listed as the "Business Liaison" in the URA's Business Development dept.


Many of the e-mails involve speech writing, talking points and advice for how to handle the press. In terms of city business however -- leaving aside the casino sweepstakes, the Penguins arena and "strategic planning" -- the kicker involves the LTV Coke Works site in Hazelwood.

The site is owned by a consortium of non-profits and other foundations called Almono LP.

Forest City Enterprises had been on the list of developers that had submitted bids for the site since 2003.

In August of 2004, Governor Rendell announced $6 million in RACP funds would be going towards the LTV Coke Works project. In March of 2005, when City Council officially requested these funds, it was reported that Forest City was the "preferred developer" according to a spokesman of the Heinz Foundation.

Years later:

From John Verbanac, 1/09/07, Subject unknown
To Pat Ford


Heads up. I wanted you to know that I'm a joint development partner with Forest City for the LTV site. I understand you're meeting with some of the folks tomorrow.


We know Verbanac had already been with Forest City since at least 2006, and that this was not a mystery to the City. The occasion of Verbanac's declaration to Ford seems to have been the forthcoming meeting with "the folks".

Bear in mind this was during the period we now know that Verbanac was sending out strategy and communications memos to the Ravenstahl administration on a regular basis.

From John Verbanac, 2/21/2008, Subject: The Truth
To Yarone Zober


I need to know the truth regarding what you are doing relative to the 6 million in RCAP that has been granted to Almono for the LTV site? Are you attempting to transfer these dollars to Piatt?

When I asked you about this yesterday, you indicated that the City was not doing this. I now learn that you specifically directed the URA to do this. I sincerely hope that is not the case.

You know very well of our interest in the site. To be involved in this issue and not have a conversation with me, is very hurtful to me personally and from a business perspective. It cuts my legs totally out from underneath me with my business partners, RIDC and a host of others. Further, it is highly troubling to me on a personal level

I hope that my understanding of this issue is wrong. To be prudent, I'm going to stop short of saying anything else pending a conversation with you.


Verbanac certainly seems irate that the City leaders which he works so hard to support would do something contrary to his business interests. Five days later, Pat Ford sends Verbanac a response which seems to mollify him.

From John Verbanac, 2/26/08
Subject: Re: CONFIDENTIAL: Brief on meeting with Don Smith
To: Pat Ford

Thank you. That jives with everything I've been told. Each and every point. That's very good to know. Gives me further confidence. We were shortlisted by Almono on Friday. Stephenson informs that he feels we're far out in front. Last cut by almono will be made April 15.


That Mayor and you and Yarone will need to get oaklanf focused. I'm not sure that it's LTV or portal yet. It may not be either or. It will take further dialogue with pitt, upmc and cmu to arrive at a conclusion. It seems the pieces are in place and moving forward. The City must be the beneficiary in the end and oakland must get their act together. I'll talk with you tomorrow.

Considering the "We / Me / Our" talk above, the frequent agonizing over Ravenstahl's speeches, press releases and preparation for television interviews, and the dogged insistence on replacing so much city staff, I started to wonder whether Verbanac considers "The City" to be synonymous with himself.

The LTV contract remains unawarded, and the site remains undeveloped. One of the sticking points according to the Acklin campaign is the fact that a long-mulled over expansion of the Mon-Fayette Expressway would cut straight through the 178 acre development site. Without a plan for closure on that issue by the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission (SPC), the development must remain in limbo.

In an excellent 2006 article about awarding the casino license, we learned:

Mr. Verbanac said he met Mr. O'Connor in his role as a consultant to the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission. (P-G, Rich Lord)

That is only one front-door example of Verbanac's immense backdoor government influence, employed for private enrichment, which makes me uncomfortable.

Because even back then:

"I have no official role with Bob O'Connor, and never did," Mr. Verbanac said.

"If Bob ever asked me for my advice on something, I offered it to him," Mr. Verbanac said.

"Bob continues to be a friend of mine," Mr. Verbanac said. "I talk with Bob occasionally." (ibid)

What luck, being such a close personal friend to two mayors in a row!

It's understandable why Ravenstahl would want to stay a galaxy away from this subject, claiming that Verbanac is "just a friend" who he "has conversations with".

Yet don't we all deserve to be treated like grownups already? None of us were born yesterday, anymore. Mr. Mayor, you don't see anything questionable about investor John Verbanac's active string-pulling in your administration? Are you going to continue to deny anything that Mr. Acklin said tonight?

And we haven't even discussed the fund raising yet.


Watch that debate -- or just watch Everything.


Wednesday: What's Shakin?

Debate 2 is on WTAE tonight at 7:00.

Nothing against Sally Wiggin, Andrew Stockey and Wendy Bell, but is this not the channel that usually puts Bob Mayo, Jeremy Boren and Jill King Greenwood into the squared circle as well? The addition of local beat reporters was always a singular distinction.

Watch for the URA to come under heavier fire tonight, and for the community benefits issue to be raised already.


Alhough Carnegie Library Executive Director Barbara Mistick and company may not be participating in Mayor Ravenstahl's carnival dunking booth community meeting in Lawrenceville this Saturday, she did meet with public officials today:

Along with Rep. [Chelsa] Wagner, other officials participating were:

State Sen. Jay Costa, state Reps. Dom Costa, Paul Costa, Jake Wheatley and Dan Frankel, City Council President Doug Shields and members Patrick Dowd and Bruce Kraus, council members elect Dan Lavelle and Natalia Rudiak, and staffers for state Reps. Dan Deasy and Don Walko and city council member Theresa Smith. (P-G, Team Effort)

They may or may not seek to tap a portion of the state's forthcoming table game revenue. It's a good thing we elected to bring these casinos to Pennsylvania about five years ago, or I don't see how any part of our civilization could have survived. This is how and why weed is going to become fully legal one day -- we'll need the money. I don't know what we'll have left after that. Prostitution, maybe? Cockfighting? Dogfighting? Bum fighting?


Today I am thankful for the Ohio U chapter of SDS.

Mackenzie Peoples, 19, a student at Ohio University, said she shouldn't have been arrested after police ordered a large gathering in Schenley Plaza to disperse on the night of Sept. 25.

"We had every right to be a part of this," said Ms. Peoples, a member of Students for a Democratic Society.

Ten members of the group came to Pittsburgh from Athens, Ohio, for the summit. Eight were arrested, and all plan to fight the charges. (P-G, Jerome L. Sherman)

I'm not saying they're necessarily innocent of the charges, I'm saying I'm glad there is an organized block of individuals intent on not taking a deal and challenging their arrests. I wonder whether those who saw their charges get dropped already did so not because of circumstances or evidence, but because of who they are.


I feel bad about not having mentioned the UPMC facility closure in Braddock until now.

Dorundo encouraged residents to consider going to other hospitals in the UPMC system, including those in Oakland and another six miles away in McKeesport.

Residents, however, said transportation is a problem for some in the borough of 2,700. Many are senior citizens and don't have vehicles. (Trib, Chris Ramirez)


"Not only are we losing a hospital, we have lost everything," said Jeanette Stanton, who has lived in Braddock her entire 80 years. She pointed out that the hospital's closure means the loss of the borough's only ATM and that the hospital cafeteria is currently the closest thing the community has to a sit-down restaurant. "What are we supposed to do?"

Members of the crowd were particularly agitated by UPMC's plans to build a facility in Monroeville... (P-G, Moriah Balingit)

This is clearly a done deal, and it was apparently done for compelling business reasons. I'm not sure what Braddock or anyone else can do to compensate, but it's definitely another illustration of why there's no reason to treat UPMC like some sort of non-profit or charitable outfit. Braddock doesn't need this right now, it was pregnant with momentum and this is likely to stifle a fair bit of it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Pat Ford: Gaining Credibility

One year after terminating his lingering five-month suspension under an ethics cloud by way of resigning in a fury, calling himself a "scapegoat" for a "failed administration" -- and in so doing securing for himself a generous severance package from that administration -- Pat Ford is now at the helm of a coalescing regional development juggernaut just 25 miles from Pittsburgh.

"My first two charges as the Executive Director of the BDC was to organize the board, and do a strategic plan" Ford said at a workshop meeting of Weirton City Council. "By the end of the year, we're on our way to making things happen." (Vid4, 2:00)

Ford presented to the Council a set of radically revised governing bylaws for the Business Development Corporation (BDC) of the Northern Panhandle of WV-- an organization which had long dissatisfied many of its stakeholders for being listless and politically unwieldy. Weirton officials were anxious to carefully vet and tweak the proposed new bylaws prior to contributing a potential $25,000, which would entitle the city to two seats on its new Board of Directors.

At the end of the meeting, Ford was cajoled by one Council member into making an announcement -- he had "just got off the phone with Congressman [Alan] Mollohan's office" and had received an informal commitment "for the money to do a strategic plan" in the northern panhandle.

"It's not official official, official -- but they say they've ... received confirmation from the Secretary of Commerce."

(Days later, the $200,000 grant would indeed become official.)

Weirton lawmakers, who had shown more enthusiasm for certain bylaws than others, brightened audibly and congratulated Ford on the good news for the region.

"Well you see, that's why we want you to be a paying member of the BDC," Ford pointed out with characteristic panache. "So that we can help you make things happen."


Two months ago, the BDC prepared for these negotiations with local officials from all over the region by putting out a full color magazine-style brochure, replete with advertising. The cover of the literature (above right) prominently features Mr. Ford's image.

Page 3 (left) features a smaller photograph of Ford along with a personal letter entitled Welcome to Brooke and Hancock Counties, detailing the area's existing industrial parks, retail development sites, major road, river and rail access, Bethany College, golf courses, country clubs, and Brooke Hills and Tomlinson Run parks.

Summarily, there are plenty of other reasons to "grow" in West Virginia's Northern Panhandle, with our low cost of doing business, skilled work force, safe communities, excellent schools, competitive housing prices and low real estate taxes.

Page 4 is more politically telling. There is a rather officious declaration of support from the Brooke County Commission, with a formal pledge of $30,000. Then there is a ringing endorsement from the three commissioners of Hancock County, who are also contributing $30,000. They write, "It is important that the BDC receive regional support from the local cities and counties in order to have a budget adequate to perform the tasks necessary to be successful in these economic times."

Finally, starting on Page 4 (right) there is a news-style article spanning two pages entitled, Communities across region supportive of BDC. It describes some of the relationships forged by that time with specific local governments. "I think Pat Ford is on the right track with what he wants to do," offers the president of the Brooke County Economic Development Authority. "I think the future of Brooke County is brighter with Pat at the helm."

The promotional piece was published by the Herald-Star and the Weirton Daily Times. Layout, editing and writing was performed by Business Editor Paul Giannamore. It set the tone for discussions such as this one:

See also videos 2, 3 and 4 from the workshop in Weirton council chambers. The sound isn't great and it's not always very compelling, but many parts of it will evoke memories for those familiar with Ford's work in Pittsburgh.

Issues of deliberation concerning the proposed bylaws centered around the practical difference in powers divided among the organization's general membership, its Board of Directors, the Executive Director and the Chairperson:

Article II - Membership

Section 1 - Eligibility

Any person, association, corporation, partnership or entity having an interest in the objectives of the organization shall be eligible for membership.

Section 3 - Investments

The annual investment (dues) in the corporation shall be fixed by the Board of Directors and shall be payable annually in advance, or in such other installments as the Board may from time to time determine.

This first mention of the Board is found on page 2. Here we also find that "candidates of ex-officio membership shall be nominated by the Board of Directors and elected at any regular meeting of the Corporation" by a 3/4 vote of approval.

The Board of Directors is not explained until page 4:

Article IV - Board of Directors

Section 1: Authority

The governance of the corporation, the direction of its work, and the control of its property shall be vested in the Board of Directors. The Directors shall have power to fill vacancies ... they may adopt rules for conducting the business of the corporation.

Section 2: Composition

The Board of Directors shall be composed of no less than twelve (12) and no more than twenty (20) dues paying members who are current (not in arrears) in their regularly scheduled investments (dues); a majority of whom shall be bona fide residents of West Virginia. They shall be either members or representatives of members of the Corporation. Provided, however, that some members of the Corporation shall be qualified to serve by virtue of being nominated by governmental units (defined as a municipality or county) and shall be classified as "Government Directors" in the following manner: two (2) nominees per government entity containing populations over 10,000 persons ... one (1) nominee per government entity containing populations of 10,000 persons or less ...

At least four (4) of the members of the Board of Directors shall be elected by the members of the Corporation on an at-large basis. Those elected must be members of the Corporation. In addition, the Chairperson, with the advice and consent of the Board of Directors shall appoint two (2) persons, among the Corporation membership to serve as Directors.

There also appears a mechanism for designating ex-officio Board members.

As you can see, Ford is not designing a boilerplate 501(c)3 -- he is writing something as innovative and complex as the United States Constitution. Only instead of having the all the necessary delegates gathered in a tavern in Philadelphia, he is required to run shuttle diplomacy among many governments, businesses and other interested parties over a matter of months. The workshop in Weirton was just one among many.

Active VIII - Amendments

The Board of Directors shall have the power to make, amend, and repeal the Bylaws of the corporation, by vote of majority of all the Directors, at any regular or special meeting of the Board, provided that notice of the intention to make, amend, or repeal the Bylaws in whole or in part shall have been given at the next preceding meeting; or without any such notice, by a vote of two-thirds (2/3) of all the Directors.

Some Weirton city officials voiced skepticism over the need and advisability of including non-voting "ex officio" officials of any kind, on the twin premises that appointing the president of a major bank for example would allow that person to wield determinative power anyway -- and that meetings of the BDC are said to be open to the public (though this does not appear in the proposed bylaws). Ford clarified upon being asked:

"There's no official notification requirement, no advertisement, but if someone just wanted to just show up they could."

Some Council members were concerned that allowing government officials to sit on or appoint members to the Board would overly politicize the organization -- a problem with the previous BDC which this new organization seeks explicitly to avoid. One however noted dryly that "you can't take politics out of politics."

At various times it was suggested that either the Chairperson or the Executive Director looked to wield too much individual power. "One person can stack that thing," came one objection. "Let's face it, he'd better stack that thing!" came a response, to much laughter.

Some wondered why any interested party should want to become a dues-paying member of the BDC if they didn't get a vote on the more-powerful Board of Directors.

"The idea is, we want them to have skin the game," Ford explained. By having a financial stake in the organization, they should have a better expectation of making it work for them.

At length, Ford was asked the degree of buy-in established so far from other governments.

"Brooke, Hancock: checks in the bank" he answered. "Wellsburg, Follansbee voted to pay, checks not in the bank. I haven't worked with the other [inaudible]." (Vid4, 1:00)

Weirton City Hall would go on to send Ford back on the road with several proposed alterations to his bylaws, lots of encouragement, and praise for having secured the $200,000 state grant for strategic planning -- but no financial support from City of Weirton taxpayers as yet. Ford answered in response to inquiries that he expected to meet his goal of enacting new bylaws, transitioning from the present board to the new one, and securing sufficient monetary buy-in by the beginning of the new year.

(image, That's Church)

In a way, Pat Ford was more transparent, more in proportion than I had ever seen him. Here was a guy trying to squirrel together some money, some authority and some opportunity. He was just being his natural rainmaker self -- a hustler, an agent, even a vendor if you will for governments -- but not a government unto himself. And he seems to be thriving despite everything.

He is no longer running a redevelopment authority while running a city planning department while running a housing authority while running a parking authority while running the enforcement arm of a campaign anymore, all for the same person. He no longer has whatever "role" that was.

Speaking of that role, less is known about former mayoral press secretary Alecia Sirk, wife to Pat Ford, who left city government along with him.

Too bad. She was born to tweet.