Friday, October 22, 2010


Lots to discuss (and probably more shrapnel yet to fly) and little time to help get you started, but essentially Mayor Ravenstahl is proposing that everybody just have it out already this coming Monday.

COVERAGE: P-G, Rich Lord; Trib, Jeremy Boren; WDUQ, Larkin Page-Jacobs; KDKA-TV, Harold Hayes.

GUT INSTINCT: Yes! Time is a factor, the mayor is fundamentally not comfortable with the new hottness, let's do this.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Bondage gets Council's Immediate Thumbs Up

The plan was unveiled just yesterday. That was swift.

Where is the outside, independent and expert analysis of the 30-year plan's figures and assertions? Where are the 4,726 community public hearings? Who was advising Mr. Lamb and the bill's sponsors on this matter? Won't somebody please think of the children? (Post-Gazette)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Liveblogging the Death of the Lease Deal

As I tune in, it is still the public comment period. Tons of fire fighters and police officers are yelling at the Council not to play politics with their pensions and not to kill the Mayor's deal, at least not yet. The last public commenter is...

Alan Lazowski, LAZ - He was surprised over these last two weeks that Council wasn't happy about the deal. "The infrastructure world was surprised." He says he met with Council members, named each one individually, and understands their concerns. Maybe there needs to be some changes or modifications. Maybe look at a revenue-sharing arrangement. We need time. We need you to table this plan.

Then we get to the meeting, and the vote to reject or table for later the 50 year LAZ / JPMorgan parking facilities lease:

Patrick Dowd - We've had a lot of testimony on this issue in many formats. [On your alternative?] "The city would be lucky to have a partner like Alan Lazowski" ... who is passionate about his business and earnest about his desire to help the city. Mayor deserves credit for getting us here. My vote today is a decisive rejection of false choices and Chicken Little approaches. Believes in city's ability to control its destiny and solve its problems. A loss of control for 50 years is too long; he'll have grandchildren watching it. Some have said in the media it's a choice between the lease, a loss of control; and a state takeover, a loss of control. Those are two lousy options. The Mayor has said up until yesterday that he'd consider options. Still, over all this time, Mayor and his team dismissed "out of hand" his alternatives. One time the Mayor even sent three law firms to do that. His asset transfer / bond idea now is exactly the same as Mayor Tom Murphy's sale of city water assets to the Water Authority, which was bemoaned at the time. He's looked at engineering reports for our Parking Garages and ... yeah, they need maintenance, but we shouldn't sell our house or soul over it -- certainly not to JPMorgan, who is awful. This can only work if the Mayor joins with this Council. This vote will be a vote to maintain the city's control [the more you tighten your grip, Tarkin...].

Theresa Smith - We need to wait until the facts come back from the state and until all the plans are all on the table. Doing anything less would be irresponsible. Everyone here talks about making data-based decisions, what is this then? Ms. Harris I know you've been a big union supporter so I guess this is directed toward you.

Darlene Harris - I've been a union supporter for 35 years. One thing I've learned is not to privatize. Doesn't believe the state takeover's an option either.

No further discussion! Hm! (Very disappointing!)

Ayes 1 (Burgess); Nays 7; Abstentions 1 (Smith). Pittsburgh's $452 million payday has been successfully, resoundingly vanquished.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Monday: The CPRB; the CELDF; & the PMRS

The Citizens Police Review Board has suffered a rash of conclusive indignities recently. Whether it was the matter of once-controversial new board appointees winding up mundanely and anti-climatically confirmed, or the universally respected Judge Wettick neutering it by invoking the Criminal History Record Information Act in the city's and the Chief's defense, or the outright unfortunate situation of its legal counsel being handcuffed by executive red tape (that one guy just has the worst luck getting his invoices approved!), it is being shown to be even more powerless than we have grown accustomed to seeing it -- and that's saying much.

Add to that the frustrations surrounding officers who now stand accused of excessive force, assault and battery in the Jordan Miles affair in Homewood remaining in paid limbo now for a tenth month with no investigatory conclusions forthcoming, and of the city being unable to enforce disciplinary policies on its cops even when it would clearly like to do so, and one has to start wondering wherein our problems lie.

Somewhere between Pittsburgh's consenting to host the world with all its tensions and anxieties as part of the G-20 Summit, and our purchase of an insurance policy to cover blithely anticipated legal liabilities connected with seeing that project through, Pittsburgh lost the conceit of having a homey, independent, meaningful review process to which its police are in some way subject. Now even for more humdrum, everyday instances of alleged misconduct, that conceit may not return. Having reached what is hopefully the nadir of our confidence in our current institutional and legal frameworks, it is perhaps a good time for our leaders to take a few sizable steps back and retool our approaches to the general difficulty.


Can anyone read this article and not come away with the impression that Councilman Patrick Dowd's approach to combating Marcellus Shale drilling impacts in Pittsburgh -- i.e. zoning law -- is more prudent than Councilman Doug Shields's extremely well-intentioned, noble, righteous, valiant and ultimately groundless approach, i.e. a municipal drilling ban, which has been offered endlessly and fruitlessly by CELDF?

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund should really think about becoming the Community Environmental Legal Prosecution Fund; it would probably gain a lot more yardage. It sounds as though individual and aggregate aggrieved parties will have under the state Constitution the right to sue drilling industry companies, and maybe even those governments which negligently enable them, once their water or air is poisoned. Yet not before, at least not quite yet via injunction.

Not encouraging. But at the same time, we just listened to a gubernatorial debate in which the leading candidate proudly boasted not of eschewing a drilling moratorium, not of strengthening the Oil & Gas Act to allow for more local control, but for not even deigning to tax the tumultuous extraction of this precious resource from our earth one penny. Can't even tax it! If the grassroots were ablaze over hindering the gas industry, that would be one thing -- but we are sailing into a bitter political headwind. A senseless one, but bitter and merciless.

Best to protect ourselves, our neighbors, and our most important watersheds as best we can, while science and experience make absolutely clear the depredations that are most definitely going to be inflicted elsewhere.


The city's present Comprehensive Municipal Pension Trust Fund (CMPTF) is run by a board. The Pennsylvania Municipal Retirement System (PMRS) is also run by a board.

One can immediately see some similarities -- CMPTF's Joe King and Rich Ruffalo, for instance, have counterparts in PMRS's William Junkin and Barry Sherman to represent for fire fighters and police officers respectively. However in the CMPTF, four officials represent for the public sphere (interestingly, Controller Michael Lamb and City Council President Darlene Harris count among them) whereas in PMRS there are six seats allocated to township supervisors, county commissioners, municipal authorities, boroughs, township commissioners and finally to cities. Each subset elects their board representative through its own fashion of statewide civic association.

A board representing that much diversity is an advantage to PMRS in terms of stability, and surely also in terms of incentives. Operating a system that large is advantageous in terms of economies of scale and talent. It speaks especially well for PMRS that its secretary, James B. Allen, has survived the job since 1984, spanning five governors and three recessions.

There is precious little reason for the average 'burgher to fear the mere management of our public pension dollars being handled by PMRS instead of CMPTF. Their investment assumptions are more conservative, their operations are sleeker and cheaper, they buffer risk and reward better and they demand mature, realistic pensions funding discipline.

The City of Pittsburgh, however, would rank simply as just one among the cities which together are accorded that one seat on the board. That would be a huge come-down for this town from having seven wholly local characters with smaller and more narrow constituencies in control of hundreds of millions of dollars. It's something to keep in mind no matter what occurs in the super short-term.


On Tuesday, it is looking more likely that City Council will irretrievably reject the parking assets lease deal with LAZ and JPMorgan. Immediately afterwords -- in my mind, ironically so -- it will open serious discussion of a last-ditch effort to deposit into our pension funds only the bare minimum requisite funding to elude an automatic PMRS takeover on January 1.

Firstly, a necessary CORRECTION: while it is true that updated data from Harrisburg will soon tell us whether we need $220 million at the low end or up to $300 million at the high end to achieve to 50% funding, Councilman Dowd made it clear with Secretary Allen during a late round of questioning that as far as State Act 44 is concerned, Pittsburgh only requires $220 million, which was taken to represent 50% funding at the time of Act 44's passage.

So then. In reality, the city will mull taking out debt of some $220 million, and mandate by default that the Parking Authority shall raise rates sufficiently, improve management and operating efficiencies sufficiently, and implement everything well enough, quickly enough to guarantee new revenue to meet the payments on that bonded debt (i.e. assume risk) and also zero-out some annual fund balances besides -- all in an effort to achieve what will actually turn out be roughly 43% total funding. In a system that will continue to have a $30 million negative annual cash flow.

And then we will pray that the state Legislature -- which next year is unlikely to be any better disposed toward cities like Pittsburgh than presently -- will not recognize the very same "train wreck" which provoked them to act initially.

I'm certainly going to head into that discussion of the bonded debt route with an open mind. Of course, my mind is not so closed to a PMRS takeover as are some -- yet all theses deserve a respectful review.

But can you understand why it's supremely irritating that a $452 million deal which erases debt and assumes no new risk -- which was judged to be of fair and even good value by Council's own consultant of choice -- is not being considered alongside this fresh specimen of public-sector brilliance?