Friday, April 12, 2013

PEDUTO CLARIFIES RACE: It's about Policies, People, and Empowering All Stakeholders

 After weeks upon months of being a policy-enthused Eagle Scout:

“(Wagner's) got the whole Luke team,” [Bill] Peduto said Thursday during a meeting with Tribune-Review editors and reporters. “He has all of Luke's elected officials, all of Luke's labor officials, all of his money people. (Tribune-Review)


Peduto said he would replace some top officials — firing them if necessary — to create transparency and openness in city government. He said city authorities and commissions have become political instruments and promised to replace board members with professionals representative of the city's minority and female populations. (ibid)

His answers spoke nothing personal against his leading rival, Jack Wagner. They spoke only of skepticism that Wagner could possibly do this where necessary -- given the powerful political alliances he has forged throughout his career and the Pittsburgh insider allegiances he has forged much more recently, and Pittsburgh insisting on small-town indulgence.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Policy Idol! Win Big! Any Restaurant in Pittsburgh!

Mercury News

You heard it right! This blogger got to thinking that maybe mayoral candidate Bill Peduto's 50+ policy positions weren't getting enough play, so I decided to hold a contest!

To enter, all you have to do is answer the questions:  What is you most favorite of his ideas? And/or: What is your least favorite? 

Two winners will win $25 gift certificates to the Pittsburgh restaurant of their very own choice! If a contest winner does not choose on their own, the restaurant shall be Verde in Garfield, which is one of my favorites. No, obviously I did not coordinate this with Verde beforehand. You can choose any of our wonderful restaurants. No, I did not coordinate this with Peduto for Pittsburgh. You can choose any of our wonderful mayoral candidates.

I say you choose the one with 100 meaningful and sometimes courageous ideas, but that's besides the point!!! Eat food, think about Pittsburgh, be creative, crack jokes, be serious! WHAT DO YOU THINK?

We like Verde
Limit two official entries per person, for most favorite and one for least favorite. Gift card winners will be chosen randomly. Leave your entry in the comments below, or at my e-mail, on the blog's Facebook, my Twitter, or by raven or other trusted associate. Contest ends May 1, 2013; don't believe what you've heard. All rights reserved.

Get to cheering and trashing those ideas! More and more are promised every day by the Peduto team (which is growing steadily at about 2 pts per week) until party Election Day on May 21st! We're probably just getting to the good ones!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Deadly Conflict around Race Street persists

Google Maps

by Bram Reichbaum

We are aware of some of the challenges common to poverty-stricken and minority city neighborhoods.

We know that Homewood is, among other things, one of Pittsburgh's own.

But we seem to hear in particular about this Race St. an awful lot, both good and bad.

A notoriously "unsafe neighborhood," as my dad would say.

Now more notorious still:

Steven Wise, 60, a Homewood man who lives around the corner from Brushton Avenue, said he heard 25 or 30 shots and saw a man laying in the middle of the street.

He said he has lived in the neighborhood for 50 years and things have "never been this bad."

Another longtime resident asked "Why is this happening?" (P-G, Navratil & Zimmerman)

How do we handle this? Short-, medium- and long-term? What sort of "blitz," what sort of strategy, what sort of components?

Proclamations: Ownership of Public Safety edition

McKee's Economic Forum

WHEREAS Allegheny County Sheriff William Mullen recently went right ahead and completed the process of "tightening up" regulations governing off-duty detail work by deputies, and

WHEREAS working details at certain venues or performing certain jobs are forbidden under the policy, and

WHEREAS the number of hours a deputy may work off-duty is capped, and

WHEREAS the Sheriff's office charges a 10% fee for use of its equipment and cost-recovery, and

WHEREAS Deputy Tom Halaburka, speaking on behalf of the Allegheny County Deputy Sheriff's Association, said the association agreed to the policy because “I think the sheriff has to have some control. We are wearing a uniform, we have a badge, and we are armed. It's common sense.”

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the week of April 14 through April 20 is Allegheny County Deputy Sheriff's Association Week at the Pittsburgh Comet, and all throughout Pittsburghtown.


WHEREAS on January 10th 2013, Karen Palmer of City of the Pittsburgh Police Bureau's personnel and finance office voiced concerns to Officer Christie A. Gasiorowski of the bureau's special events office regarding the diversion of checks, about misspending, and about private business encroachment by some of the bureau's employees, and

WHEREAS on January 18th, Officer Gasiorowski authored a memo documenting these concerns to Sgt. Carol Ehlinger, following proper procedure and chain-of-command, and in so documenting explicitly invoked the Federal Whistle Blower Act, and

WHEREAS these appropriate, straightforward and courageous actions prompted Pittsburgh police Deputy Chief Paul Donaldson to shut down an unauthorized and secret credit union account, and

WHEREAS these same actions may have contributed to the successful intervention of federal law enforcement authorities curtailing what they have described as "the worst kind of public corruption", and

WHEREAS this series of events has informally launched and is inspiring others to join the professional and civic work of questioning, revealing, disrespecting and disarming the culture of political coersion and corruption sadly permitted to pervade several aspects of this City government,

NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the month of April, 2013 is Karen Palmer, Officer Christie Gasiorowski and Sgt. Carol Ehlinger Month at the Pittsburgh Comet, and all throughout Pittsburghtown.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Band: Talking Heads

Lead vocals: David Byrne.

3:32 "Trouble in Transit," lol. Transportation and education, both important, both popular in this election cycle, both currently tangential from a City official's portfolio of command. Do we want to work towards changing that, is an issue worth discussing.

A Pay to Play Police Force

By Helen Gerhardt

Part II of a series on Security Culture, Public-Private Partnerships and Corruption. Click here for Part I.

Let's Play Ball
It is not clear whether youth or intent explains our Chief Executive's leadership role (or absentee lack thereof) in the long-time demolition of many arenas of accountability in our police force. It is clear that according to the law, an important power and duty of the Mayor of the City of Pittsburgh should be "to take such action as may be necessary to ensure that no inequities exist in any unit of city government and that each unit operates in a manner which provides every citizens full and equal access to government..."

Along with plenty of other fresh evidence of neglect over the past months, fulfillment of that duty to ensure equity of service also seems to be cast into doubt by primary documents recently posted by City Councilman Patrick Dowd at his District 7 website, the still-fragmentary accounting of payments for the private use of Pittsburgh's public police forces. Dowd has noted that the largest proportion of such security services were paid for by bars, strip clubs and sporting events.

Going through the 2012 reports and adding up what receipts we do have, I note just a few of the literal "pay for play" sums from enormously wealthy customers turning enormous profits for their investments in sporting events and attendant infrastructure such as parking.

Total from ALCO parking: $223,340
Total from CONSOL Energy Center: $274,882
Total from the Pittsburgh Pirates: $534,002

The grand total for just those three private companies out of many other customers listed adds up to over a million dollars out of the nearly six million dollars for secondary details that we have accounts for. (Yes, all those zeroes on those documents surely add up to plenty of weight in uncounted cash, but I'll consider that gravity in my next post, along with other costs of moonlighting.) As Dowd has noted, such sports events were often crowded with Pittsburgh police even as the City zones most in need of policing were repeatedly left drastically short-staffed. Just considering such inequitable distribution of official secondary details, our police force could be characterized as a public-private partnership that is not serving the public interest. And the current system seems to be encouraging motivations for police service that could be described as mercenary.

Sporting Traditions (h/t Infinonymous)
Too often, it seems We the People are left far short of what it takes to pay the political machine not to "play," but just to survive, unable to come up with the bottom line for the most basic necessities: clean air, health care, transportation, sewers that function reliably. And yes, for police forces that serve all of our communities while remaining accountable to our democratic institutions as they "keep the peace."

No one elected official can challenge these problems alone. Our own choices for Chief Executive and Council leadership, their choices for the next Chief of Police, but even more importantly, our own steady insistence that those we elect tackle crucial systemic reform all will be crucial.

Three bills up for final approval in City Council this week seem to be attempts to directly address this need for systemic reform. Council President Darlene Harris has introduced a bill that would increase the percentage that the City of Pittsburgh receives per hour of officer secondary detail wages. A second bill proposed by Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith would ensure greater financial accountability by requiring deposit of secondary detail income into a trust fund to be overseen by the City Controller. A third bill proposes an intensive study of current City policy and practice regarding secondary details. Councilman Dowd has strongly urged that Council wait to explore the need for potentially far deeper surgery to our fundamental systems of policing, before applying what might be perceived as band-aids. He said:

"I, for one, do not want to privatize the police force...That's what this is. This is a vote to privatize the police force and send them out to protect some, and it's at the expense of the all, of the majority."

Even beyond the crucial issues of accounting and equitable distribution of services, we must also consider the fragmented rules of engagement for the use of semi-official, often deadly force in our communities. My next post will address the non-monetary costs to our city and our civil liberties when we allow use of "mercenary," increasingly paramilitary City forces, for private benefit of the Powers that Be filling campaign coffers.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Hey! You Can't Spend That... Okay, You Can Spend That!

By Shawn Carter

By now, many of you have heard the news...  

So now I'll tell you the story.

Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Judge Joseph James denied Councilman William Peduto's petition for emergency injunctive relief for alleged violations of Chapter 198 of the Pittsburgh Code of Ordinances, "Campaign Finance Regulations."

You can read the Councilman's Petition here.

There was some confusion about the outcome due to the bifurcated nature of the Court proceedings.

Former Auditor General Jack Wagner's first argument was a limited attempt to get Judge James to allow him to spend the money he had left over from his gubernatorial run while keeping the individual and committee contribution limits in place.

That's simply a sound strategic play.  Try to free your cash, leave the limits in place.

Judge James was having none of it.  He initially ruled that under the Ordinance's contribution limits, the use of those dollars would constitute a "prohibited contribution."

Mr. Wagner's lawyers then said, "Well, we tried that, guess we'll have to blow up the Ordinance after all", and went with Plans B and C.

Plan B involved attacking the applicability of the individual and committee contribution limits on a different basis.  Mr. Wagner's attorneys argued that the contribution limits don't apply to Mayoral campaigns because of the wording of the Ordinance.

Both lead attorneys and even the Judge himself remarked that they would have written the Ordinance differently.  The judge was being kind.

See for yourself:

§198.02 Contribution Limitations

(1) No person shall make political contributions to a candidate per covered election that exceeds the following limitation:

Candidates for City Elected Office: $1,000

Candidates for Citywide Elected Office: $2,000

(2) No political committee shall make political contributions to a candidate per covered election  that exceed the following limitations:

Candidates for City Elected Office: $2,000

Candidates for Citywide Elected Office: $4,000

I highlighted the phrase "covered election" for a reason, see below...

§198.01 Definitions

COVERED ELECTION - Every primary, general or special election for City Elected Office.

And the definition for "City Elected Office" --

CITY ELECTED OFFICE - The offices of City Council.

Mr. Wagner's attorneys made a simple argument:  Since the contribution limits, based on the wording of §198.02(1) and (2) only apply contribution limitations to "covered elections", defined by the Ordinance at issue as elections for City Council, they do not apply to elections for Mayor or Controller.

Mr. Peduto's attorney neither disputed that argument, nor was he given the opportunity.

Because before Attorney Chuck Pascal could get a word in edgewise, Attorney Friedman unleashed a second salvo, which we'll call Plan C.

Plan C was a bit more guerilla warfare-like, in that Mr. Friedman introduced, as evidence, Mr. Peduto's own words.

You can read those words here.

Mr. Peduto, in his petition to the Board of Elections for relief earlier this year, posed several questions about deficiencies in Michael Lamb's 2012 Annual Report in addition to raising the possibility that Mr. Lamb, in making $52,000 in contributions to himself during the election cycle, may have triggered yet another provision under the Ordinance:

§198.02 Contribution Limitations

(6) The limitations imposed in this Chapter shall not apply to political contributions from a candidate’s personal resources to his or her own candidate political committee.  Candidates for City Elected Office or Citywide Elected Office shall declare their intention to contribute personal resources in an amount that exceeds $50,000 per election cycle upon becoming a candidate for a covered election.

(a) If a candidate for City Elected Office or Citywide Elected Office declares her or his intention to contribute personal resources in excess of $50,000 during the election cycle, the limitations imposed by this Chapter shall not apply to  be doubled for any candidate for that specific City Elected Office or Citywide Elected Office in that specific covered election, and all campaign finance in that specific City Elected Office or Citywide Elected Office in that specific covered election shall be governed by State Law.

(b) If a candidate for City Elected Office or Citywide Elected Office does not declare her or his intention to contribute personal resources in excess $50,000 during the election cycle, but actually does, at any time during the election cycle, contribute personal resources in excess of $50,000, the limitations imposed by this Chapter shall not apply to any candidate for that specific City Elected Office or Citywide Elected Office in that specific covered election, and all campaign finance in that specific City Elected Office or Citywide Elected Office in that specific covered election shall be governed by State Law.

It is currently referred to as the "millionaire's clause."  This clause is necessary to protect candidates who cannot and/or choose not to use their own personal resources to finance their campaigns from candidates who can and/or choose to spend their own money to finance their campaigns, placing their less-affluent counterparts at a significant disadvantage.

Mr. Friedman, having presented evidence to the Court of the existence of the "millionaire's clause" and evidence of Mr. Lamb's contributions in excess of the statutory limit, in Judge James' words, "obfuscated Petitioner's clear right to relief", the first prong of the five-part test.

Yes, Mr. Wagner beat Mr. Peduto by using Mr. Peduto's own document.

At that point, Judge James was left with little choice but to deny the requested relief and rule that the millionaire's clause had been triggered, and therefore all of the limits for all Mayoral candidates were eliminated for the primary election.

Questions certainly remain about the Ordinance's true validity.  Certainly one would not have expected Mr. Peduto to raise that issue, nor should he have.  Mr. Wagner chose to raise his attack on the Ordinance's language, not its validity, so questions about the validity of the Ordinance will have to remain for another day.
The one question that has been answered is that the limits do not apply for the 2013 Mayoral Primary.

The other very strong likelihood is, because of the way the Ordinance was worded, that the contribution limits do not apply to Mayor or Controller candidates, PERIOD.

The latter would be disturbing, particularly if I were a Member of Council or a candidate for the same.  The limits only apply to City Council.  And City Council voted for it.

And since having met Chuck Pascal, I have every confidence that he is an extremely competent lawyer, he almost certainly explained to Mr. Peduto that the most likely outcome of this Court date, in any case, was the voiding of the limits for the Mayoral election, I have to believe that the Judge's ruling came as no surprise.

Although, I must admit, for all their talk about laws and rules and the need to follow them, it almost always seems to be the rules and the law that trip progressives (or "so-called" progressives) up -- when forced to follow them in lieu of their convenient interpretations of them.

And do you now understand why Mayor Ravenstahl opted NOT to challenge the validity of the law himself?  Because he was the only candidate who, while following the limits as written, was STILL able to raise almost a million dollars, with 4 months left before the Primary.

Would you have?

And, by the way, were I a candidate for City Council at this point, I might explore §198.02(3).  

***UPDATE***  I forgot to mention that Judge James' ruling last week went down EXACTLY as Chris Potter, Editor of the Pittsburgh City Paper, said it would back in February.