Friday, June 18, 2010

Council to Craft Procedures to Devise 6-Year Capital Investment Plan; Also, Fight to Death.

Two members of City Council, Ricky Burgess and Natalia Rudiak, each this week advanced pieces of legislation which would invite community groups from across Pittsburgh into formal and transparent public processes geared toward developing a six-year plan for allocating the City's capital investment resources.

The dueling proposals are on track to be either constructively reconciled with one another prior to formal adoption, or else viciously contested in a scorched-earth battle prior to a mayoral veto.

The two bills share far more similarities than differences, although the differences are not insignificant:

The legality (under the city's Home Rule Charter) of any 6-year plan, under Rudiak's scheme, possessing the force of law is somewhat at issue. Additionally, that facet (among others) makes her bill far more likely to earn a veto from Mayor Ravenstahl upon its passage -- and without support from Burgess and like-mined members of Council, that veto will be upheld.

However, Burgess probably lacks the votes to pass his legislation at all without support from Rudiak and her respective like-minded members of Council.

It appears the only way this seemingly popular legislative push can come to fruition is if the respective sponsors reconcile their two bills. Officially, the two have agreed to place holds on their legislation and are attempting just such a mediated reconciliation. Yet the bitterly combative course the debate has already taken suggests this could be a token gesture by one or by both.


Councilman Burgess was first out of the gate in unveiling his legislation with a news-conference on May 20. As of that date it was reported he had not discussed his proposal with others on the Council.

Accounts differ as to whether Burgess later reached out to colleagues for their input; whether Rudiak instead tried to reach out to Burgess to offer suggestions; and if so whether Burgess was at all receptive to that input. Therefore, characterizations differ as to whether Rudiak's introduction on June 15 of her own legislation was a "complimentary" attempt to add her ideas to the discussion, as her camp suggests, or a "hostile" co-opting of Burgess's issue as suggests his camp.

Be that as it may, the next day on June 16 Councilman Burgess held a second press conference to promote his legislation. This time he was accompanied by the leadership of B-PEP and a host of other community groups, most of whom lauded the CDBG reform element of his proposal in resounding particular. Here is Part 1:

And here is Part 2. After this was done, and after many who attended the press event spoke in favor of Burgess's legislation during Council's public comment period, Burgess took some time out during the Council session out to critique aspects of Rudiak's proposal. That critique was forceful enough to prompt Councilman Bruce Kraus to speak out against the preemptive "firebombing".

As previously stated, the two councilors later agreed to temporarily hold their own measures pending an attempt at reconciliation. Councilman Peduto stepped in to the breach with the intention of mediating, tweeting as much, though politically speaking a wholly neutral party between Rudiak and Burgess is hard to divine.

News ends here.


1. As previously stated, the two bills must be reconciled if either measure is to succeed (or if either party is to be considered a success at legislating).

2. The two principals need to meet face-to-face in order to accomplish this. The ardent representation of lieutenants will only make things worse. Far. Worse.

3. It'd be best for now to strictly limit the number of third parties in that room. Bring in the community representatives once all which does not most directly concern them is settled. Otherwise you're just displaying the size of your uh, political support.

4. However a well-intentioned mediator of some standing is very necessary. Peduto would seem to be a good choice, but if that doesn't work consider maybe Smith, maybe Dowd. I'm sure Dowd is starving for this kind of work and he'd probably do a very earnest job.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

City to Citizen's Police Review Panel: Don't Knock Yourselves Out. ** [DULY UPDATED]

I'm sure there's a logical reason for this.

The resolution, introduced by council President Darlene Harris after discussion with the city law department, asks that the review board "consider aligning" its demand for documents with the "discovery process in pending or to-be-filed lawsuits" or wait until the statute of limitations for G-20 claims has expired. (P-G, Smydo)

Oh, you mean there's something good in there???

*-MORE: CPRB is "still" seeking to hold Chief Harper in contempt of court. (Trib, Brandolph; see also more Smydo)


The yellow text is a link to the story. Peduto abstained from the vote on the resolution.

**-UPDATE: Zing! Mayor Ravenstahl and some on the Council are moving to replace (currently) 5 out of 7 board members (P-G, Smydo; Trib, Brandolph).

Chris Potter alludes to his long-held premise that the practice of allowing so many board and commission members to serve on expired terms opens the door for reactionary reprisals for unwelcome actions.

Tuesday: Political Jujitsu

Dowd tries something:

Mr. Dowd's bill demands that Mr. Ravenstahl release a draft of the proposed lease agreement -- outlining financial terms, parking rate increases and other details -- no later than June 21. (P-G, Smydo)

Or what exactly? Seriously, let's say Council passes the legislation, and let's say the mayor doesn't turn in a draft by June 21st. Do we get to throw him in prison?

"Oh, we're working on it, but this is a very complex deal, and we can't bend it to any artificial deadlines." // "Oh, you're stalling and you're ignoring our legislation, you're a schnook and this proves your deal is bad." // "Oh, I have a Solicitor here that says your legislation is faulty and useless, and you just want to kill pensioners." This program is in syndication already. I also would like the mayor to be more open and collaborative but I'm not clear by what mechanism this legislation will force anything.

Consider also:

The bill also would require that nine public hearings on the lease proposal be held across the city from Aug. 23 to Sept. 13; that legislation on Mr. Ravenstahl's lease proposal be introduced as early as Aug. 23; and that a final vote take place no later than Sept. 28. (ibid)

Nine public hearings? I'm all for public input, but ... nine? I'm guessing nine means one for each Council district. And I'm guessing this is a way to whip the public and media into a lather about probable rate hikes and make opposition appear as big and scary as possible. This legislation does seem designed to create an atmosphere this summer to destroy rather than coolly consider the deal -- which would be fine if we had a workable alternative to tear apart as well.


Didn't Burgess also just introduce a "six-year capital improvement plan"? Is it dead already? Does this bill by Rudiak replace it? Or are they compatible? What's going on? (P-G, Smydo)

Speaking of Burgess, it sounds as though his wife is about to be $4,000 or 4/7 of the way toward having her taxes paid once this deal goes through. Why not just deduct it from her tab? (P-G, Smydo)

I feel like the ADB is sharing an inside joke, and if anyone gets it let me know. (Angry Drunk Bureaucrat)

Have you seen the Toronto Globe and Mail's G20 site? It's filled with issues of global economic and social import, and then a little bit about the coming security complexities. Strangely little about how this is going to put Toronto on the map. Aren't they anxious to tell Toronto's story to the world, to optimize all that free advertising equivalent? Anyway, here is an article about an injunction being filed against the use of the LRAD sound cannon, or at least against its "beaming" function which is said to be clearly a weapon (LINK).

Monday, June 14, 2010

AuthorityLand: Why Be So Content?

Let's use the Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority as a case study. It is led after all by an extremely typical Authority board comprised of two political officeholders, two executive branch employees, one "lifelong friend" of a past mayor, one inscrutable mystery person and one vacancy.

Here is the track record:

After plunging into debt through the ill-advised purchase of variable-rate bond swaps resulting in cuts to necessary capital improvements; after letting a popular brewing company skate on seven-figure debt for years under the pretense of a failed attempt to retain about 100 jobs within the city limits, only to recoup a fraction in an overdue settlement; and after voting to corral all of its customers into purchasing insurance through a surreptitious opt-out program followed by revelations that its executive director has a clear conflict of interest with the insurance provider; now it reveals an inability to bill customers correctly, then overcompensates by spending a whopping $2.7 million on a company which has it own notable problems.

These particular weaknesses do not manifest out of the clear blue sky: the conflicts of interest among vendors and their middlemen growing like mold, a near-structural inability to understand transactions contemplated until too late, a propensity to let politics rather than rationality drive decision making. These are the hallmarks of management by political appointees in an ossified faux-liberal government culture.

AND YET, and yet, and yet...

A few of us are reacting to the prospect of handing off the function of one of these Byzantine relics to the private sector -- in exchange for hundreds of millions of dollars in cold, hard, sorely needed cash, no less -- with knee-jerk indignation.

It's as though we are defending some Aristotelian ideal of how these authorities were originally conceived to serve us -- without taking into any account whatsoever how they have operated for the entire history of Pittsburgh, and how they are likely to continue operating for all time.

Do you think I'm over-relying on the PWSA example? Which authority was it that once upon a time sold us an innovative "multi-modal" transportation center, and instead bequeathed to us a plain old parking garage with a train running through it (though not stopping in it), decked out on all sides with expensive, thoroughly useless electronic gizmos -- a literal Christmas tree for the electronics industry -- including an attempt at a gargantuan digital advertising billboard steeped in still more politics and conflicts of interest?

Was that efficient? Was that either good government or good business management?

Some individuals are leery at the prospect of City government leasing -- or should I say, mercifully shedding -- its parking garages to the private sector, where such things more naturally belong, because it is a proposition forwarded by one Luke Robert Ravenstahl, Esquire. And I can relate.

Yet when you think about it, it's unlikely that our mayor (or any Pittsburgh mayor) would ever dream of doing something like this -- surrendering the City's death grip over a power-and-patronage generator -- were he not actively compelled, indeed checkmated into doing so. There was a reason the state stepped in and threatened to seize control over our pension funds; it was because of decades of this self-same mismanagement of these funds, and by extension everything else having to do with the city. The legislation was specifically (though not delicately) tailored to enforce fiscal discipline and motivate hard decisions before we took all of Pennsylvania down with us; to get us to relinquish that which the private sector can better manage, and to focus in on core public functions of which the parking business is not.

Let's seize this lucky, uncharacteristic opportunity. Let's by all means study the prospective lease agreement -- let's try to make it a good one -- but let us look optimistically forward to living life with one less ridiculous backwards inaccessible government Authority weighing us down. This is as close to manna from heaven as it gets.