Monday, January 3, 2011

Monday: Early Groundhog Day

It is after the conclusion of policy arcs -- budget cycles, development deadlines, sometimes calendar years -- that a few more people than usual, having gotten roused by the noisome drama sometime before the very end, suddenly realize "Hey, if we had a better functioning government, we wouldn't have so much inefficient, discordant inanity!"

"What we need is some better politicians, man," they'll say, in a voice not unlike that of Tommy Chong. "We need to have a civil society that's going to like, demand real reform from these politicians and like, unlock this town's latent civic-minded passion in a prismatic trans-dimensional lotus-blossom of good government energies, you dig?"

Meanwhile, right about now, most of the actual politicians (who do try pretty hard) are like, "Good government? Again? Already? Look, the only good government I'm interested in right now is this two-by-four into which I'm presently hammering rusty nails -- and how I'm going to storm City Hall with it, swing it good and hard, and somehow come back out with the playground I promised to good old Ozzie and the expanded Senior Center hours I promised to good old Helen. That's all I want to hear from Good Government until like, June. June is open."

Which brings us in the very short-term to the thirty-odd 2011 budget amendments that the Harris majority submitted to Mayor Ravenstahl. Earlier I had predicted that His Honor would honor about half of those, but now, having thought about it with the training in political science, public relations, and moral and political philosophy that I do enjoy (or that my bookshelf tells me I did at one point) I realize that he's only going to let three to five of those survive.

Three to five projects. Few enough such that those he selects will stand out -- letting him take some credit and get some bang for his buck -- and so he can at the same time gesture to all the others and say, "Well, we're having some financial trouble. I have no problem being the responsible one."

In fact, now that he's read this, he's probably only going to pick two. (Allow me to humbly submit that it's probably time to get our arms around the uniquely challenging South Side situation.)

Then comes veto-override time -- and unless some votes switch over because they've been successfully jimmied and finagled with those two-by-fours -- it's on to the new year's business.


And what will this year bring? It's hard to say. If we're looking at the pension problem, there really isn't much to be done on the city level, that is until we run out of money again. We can refinance a bond here and there, maybe. We can lobby the State to deregulate how we might provide for our workers' retirement needs, but we'd have to contend with those who wonder why anybody with any competence would want to work at government salaries without the promise of an old-fashioned pension.

I suppose we could take up the suggestion to piggy-back on the state pension agency's own professional fund management in a way that preserves our baseline local autonomy. That'd be sweet.

There are at least a couple of development projects in the pipeline to look after. The Hill District. The Allegheny Riverfront. Fun, fun, fun as always -- dealing with the Planning Commission and the URA and the SEA shrugging and pointing at one other and the state DCED.

Council should have its own legal officer before too long. That will spice up anything that already happens to be on the table, but shouldn't offer anything new.

There's an election. Although I'm a fan of those, these do not typically focus minds on lasting reform in the near-term.

So I really don't know what we're going to be talking about. Which is weird, because this Harris majority, they have a full year in the open field to run wild (and probably only one full year) and do their best to be change agents. When they can manage it, they can even become the Dowd Super Mecha-majority and absolutely clean house -- that is, clean house of whatever it is that is available to them.

Which is precious little. Authorities are authorities, commissions are commissions, the treasury is the treasury. Even simple funding requests can be ignored about as easily as any old weakly-constructed new law or ordinance.

Maybe the Post-Gazette is on to something with its suggestion to look at the Charter. Not in terms of recall elections -- it is my opinion we get enough elections here, and are not in conspicuous need of any further public attentions paid to job-retention. (It is also my opinion that if Ravenstahl should be faulted for anything in the last cycle, it can only be for not being persuasive and savvy enough to get his infrastructure lease deal passed -- a deal which ultimately will pass in some form in some fast-approaching era. I'm not sold on the notion that Takeover-Avoidance-By-Shenanigans was the best move for the city, nor were any of the other Band-Aids, yet I can understand how he got pressured into allowing the dratted thing to occur only after appropriate stringent objections.)

However, Pittsburgh is structured as a strong-mayor government -- and maybe if society and governance is terribly complex, and the pooling and accumulation of power is what it is, then we should look at becoming a slightly less strong-mayor government? Anyone? I heard one place to start is by looking at requiring votes of Council to approve the removal of city department heads and maybe even some commission and authority board members, for example. We could start by researching best practices.


  1. The P-G doesn't say that there are no grounds for impeaching the mayor. It says that there is no mechanism to do so under the city home rule charter.

    However, the city cannot simply amend the home rule charter to gain the ability to impeach.

    The Pennsylvania Constitution, Art. 6, Sec. 4 gives the power of impeachment solely to the Pennsylvania State legislature.

    Text of Section 4:
    Power of Impeachment
    The House of Representatives shall have the sole power of impeachment.

    The P-G should have consulted with a 1st year law student before writing their editorial, to which you provided a hyperlink on the right.

  2. And what will this year bring? It's hard to say.

    It doesn't seem hard to forecast what to expect from the oven in a year if the recipe's ingredients are a strong-mayor system with a severely substandard mayor, a council without resources, a one-party town with a lamentable Democratic city committee, insolvency, a moribund economy, a lack of civic leaders, a cream-skimming Network, tax-dodging "non-profits," population loss that has drained and will drain the best and brightest from the city and region, and declining clout in state and national politics.

    With that recipe, it seems safe to expect InsolvenCity's continuing decline.

  3. Anon 11:01 - I responded at greater length to this under your comment in the video post below. Suffice to say our Charter has a § 806 and I would be alarmed, as always with our Charter, if it were supposedly rendered inert by State law.

  4. The State Constitution renders local impeachment provisions impotent. Only the state Senate can impeach an elected official in Pennsylvania.

    Every time some pissed off City resident attempts to invoke the impeachment provision, the Court dismisses it.

  5. Not impeach, remove.

    House impeaches, Senate removes, just like Congress.

  6. Does anybody have a link to a City of Pittsburgh home rule charter that only contains the portions we believe to be legal?

  7. good government blog leads to "where are rules for impeachment."

    off with whose heads?

  8. Infinonymous said...a mouthful
    and I say Amen...

  9. Infy is spot on, as usual.

    Section 806 of the city home rule charter is "inert," as you say.

    Other than the U.S. Constitution, the Pennsylvania Constitution is the supreme law of the land. The Pa Const. trumps the city's home rule charter, every time.

  10. There we have it again...the hollow call for "grass-roots opposition" to the political machine in Pittsburgh.

    If half the people who frequently make this call would actually register and vote in primaries, we might have something.

    Unfortunately, though, the "progressive" folks in this city are quiet as mice when they have an opportunity to step forward and support a progressive candidate.

    It doesn't help matters when the closest thing to a recognized progressive leader lacks the testicular fortitude to campaign hard and stay in the fight. Bill Peduto seems quite comfortable in his marginal role. Bill has, wittingly or otherwise, lost his grasp on any true "progressive" spirit and has permanently set up shop in the peanut gallery.

    "Progress" is always a tenuous proposition in Pittsburgh. Let's hope truly progressive, active, intrepid leadership in Pittsburgh is one day possible.

  11. Infinonymous said...a mouthful
    and I say Amen...

    Infy is spot on, as usual.

    Good points.

  12. I always found the City of Pittsburgh Home Rule Charter, Laughable!

    Was written by Philly Lawyers...

    Never was local law invoked that Commonwealth, didn't object to.

    The Home Rule Charter is Fundamentally Flawed....

    Would never have been necessary if we were not considered 2nd Class City.

    It is akin to Black and Tan, High- Jinx…

    You only think you have voice!


  13. Ya, Bloggers...You!

    Is it not time for Constitutional Convention?

    It's been some time now, since delegates, of the people, by the people and for the people, spoke on our City's behalf. (1950's?)

    I do recall that prior to ratification of US Constitution, that States held similar Conventions.

    That our National Constitution could not be ratified with out States' Rights…being incorporated into law.

    Much of Constitutional Law, is based in existing English Law and French Opposition...

    Penn’s Woods, legal quagmire...“hope.. tangled with past, yields: apathy.”

    It was and so it shall be....

    The Pension Promise by Council, can not be fullfilled...


  14. What would happen if Pittsburgh were playing under other rules (3rd class city?)?

  15. MH - Scranton dropped from a second class city to a third class a couple of decades ago. Pennsylvania invented a new class just for them - 2A

    So to answer your question - either Pittsburgh becomes a City of the Second A class or the state invents a new classification (2B?)

    Which isn't necissarily the typical evil state move - a great deal would have to [impossibly?] change overnight to fit the City into a new classification

  16. So, we're in a class of our own.

  17. MH:

    Council has even less power in a city of the third class than of the second class.

    I'm going to say I doubt you want that.

  18. I'm not really a fan of the council either. I was hoping for something that would give both the council and the mayor less latitude. (Frankly, give the state legislature less latitude also if there was more than one city affected by a given piece of legislation.)

  19. Just checking in to see "what condition, my in?"

    2nd Class City Status, needs to be shucked...

    We're better than that....

    What enables 2nd class status is a silent populace.

    Pittsburgh 'IS' First Class City, all the way...

    Know it, rejoice in it and legislate, into being!

    Cause, you care.


  20. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  21. I only get two comments in succession on this blog.

    If someone would yield time I would be grateful!

    Just finished conference call with lawyers unrelated to City Financial Issues....nonetheless, captured reality.

    Basic math and time Quotient...

    Idiot like me can confound, minds educated in law, but are humbled by reason...

    Issue discussed, was subject to Illinois Supreme Court. Present Value of Pension Contributions, mentioned by Controller Lamb, should municipalities choose to switch from defined benefit plan to defined contribution plan.

    Assumptions are mercurial….

    A lesson soon enough learned by Council.


  22. B-R-A-M

    The post deleted above, was mine.

    Please delete all of my posts as a precaution. Would hate to see free speech: ammended!

    PS: Better to delete completely :)


    PS: You run 2nd Class Blog

  23. "PS: You run 2nd Class Blog"

    Almost deleted that one too, before I got it. Nice.

  24. Peace my brother!

    Love you and your Glob!