Monday, March 9, 2009

Game on!

The PG reports today on Mr. Ravenstahl's campaign, "Ravenstahl kicks off re-election bid with 11-point plan" .

"I know that not everybody will agree with my plan," the mayor said. "There will be those among us who differ. Some will do so altruistically. Others will do so with ill motive. Yet others will do so because they are contrarians, still others because they can't see the good of our city, and simply believe the grass is always grener elsewhere.

"We can't let those voices among us compomise our hopes, dreams and aspirations for this place we call home."

Some also don't agree because they don't trust this mayor and are, therefore, chronically skeptical of his intentions.

Franco "Dok" Harris for Mayor of Pittsburgh

Oh yes!

Friday, August 3, 2007

Another blow to the intergrity of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee

There's a saying that company is like fish - after 3 days it stinks. Well, applying that to the integrity of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee and you have - after 3 scandals, something stinks.

Of all the good things Howard Dean, Chair of the Democratic National Committee, had to say about what the Democrats are doing and how it is essential to "get involved with the people whose votes you're looking for" (thanks for the report Dayvoe!), he may be uninformed about the struggling integrity of the ACDC. Remember the hoopla about DPW's Democratic committee members caught up in 'campaigning on the city's dime' and 'politicizing street paving' scandals? (If not, check here). From the PG and much discussion in the burgosphere that:

  1. The manager of the Redd Up crew wearing "Re-elect" Jeff Koch t-shirts was Kevin Quigley, Democratic Committee member from Brighton Heights.
  2. Quigley's sup (cool nickname for supervisor) was Robert Kaczorowski, a ward chairman from Crafton Heights.
  3. Three of DPW's six streets maintenance supervisors were committee members, as were the department's deputy director, operation manager and one assistant director. The result was that 46 members of the Democratic Committee were slated to get fresh asphalt on the roads in front of or right next to their homes, and three of nine council members have parts of their streets, or streets very close to their homes, on the paving list.
Now another scandal that should raise some skepticism about ACDC's integrity, particularly committee members from Brighton Heights, involves stolen vehicle inspection stickers and a stockpile of guns. From the PG:
Paul J. Grguras, 47, of Brighton Heights, was arrested July 23 after police identified him as a suspect in the theft of state inspection stickers from Sullivan Chevrolet in Etna. Mr. Grguras is also a Democratic committee member from the 26th Ward, Brighton Heights.
Among the 43 firearms seized by police were vintage machine guns, various styles of rifles and shotguns. Some bore no serial numbers. Police also found ammunition for all of the guns.Police checked his criminal record and learned that he had been convicted in 1980 in two separate felony cases, and convicted in a third felony case in 1983. State law prohibits convicted felons from possessing firearms.
So dude had 43 guns, some bearing no serial numbers, and ammo for all of them. And we've got a problem with AK47's on the North Side and guns in the hands of idiot thugs killing people around town? And now a Democratic Committee member from Brighton Heights (now that's Mayor Ravenstahl's part of town - a quiet, friendly, and family-oriented neighborhood, right?), a DPW heavy-equipment operator who used to work with City Council Member Jeff Koch, is busted for a pile of unregistered guns he isn't legally allowed to possess because he's a convicted felon and is a suspect of a robbery of a car dealership in Etna?

Whereas convicted felons, as a shameful legacy of the 'Old South', lose their voting rights for the rest of their lives in some states, in Pennsylvania, one only loses his right to vote while incarcerated or completing sentencing (through probation, halfway house, etc). In Allegheny County, however, convicted felons 3 times over are functional mechanisms within the Democratic machine. While the ACDC did not grow up with the mob history that the Chicago political machine did, there is growing evidence that local committee members are stinking up its image and integrity. At minimum, there seems to be a cabal in Brighton Heights. I suggest Jim Burn re-evaluate the merits of current Democratic Committee members and think longterm about what the ACDC represents both locally and nationally.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

All About Govt Efficiency....but shhh, it's a secret.

The editorial board of the PG writes today, "Stick to it: Ravenstahl and Onorato need to pursue efficiency". It mentions the Advisory Committee to Enhance Efficiency and Effectiveness of City and County Government headed by Univ of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark Nordenberg.

While we're not sure ourselves whether the Louisville model [see this for a little background] is good for Pittsburgh, both leaders should wait to hear from the Advisory Committee to Enhance Efficiency and Effectiveness of County and City Government, the latest bipartisan group of civic leaders to study the operations. The committee, headed by University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg, has completed its fact-finding and is ready to start working on recommendations. Five meetings are scheduled between now and the end of October, which means the answers won't be known anytime soon.
While I'm glad to see that civic leaders are engaging local source of academic wealth (since public officials are rarely informed on evidence-based delivery of public services) I am a bit confused of the secrecy surrounding these recommendations. The advisory committee has completed it's report and 5 meetings will be held behind closed doors prior to a mayoral election? The contrary seems more reasonable to me in a democracy; candidates would hold a series of public debates on a non-partisan report produced with academic oversight on recommendations to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of government. We've been hearing about this committee for quite some time and each time I read about it I am confused about the justification for keeping its findings from the public.

Is the assumption that the public is too stupid to understand the findings? Why not institutionalize an advisory committee like this and allow it to release independent reports which the public can access? Stretch this idea--why doesn't a staff person handling administrative tasks (such as editing, printing the printing the report, etc.) for the advisory committee anonymously leak some of its findings to the press.

Political scientists Weir and Skocpol in 1983 wrote (start p. 359):
Our analysis of the responses of Sweden and the United States to the Great Depression emphasizes the political effects of their sharply different state structures rather than primarily focusing on class interests or balances of class power.
They analyzed social policy outputs and argued that because Sweden had university economists as part of formal state structure, that institution had a stronger influence on public policy whereas, in the US, industry had a stronger influence (think Michael Moore's 'Sicko' here and why 40million Americans don't have health insurance).

With Mr. Ravenstahl (and Onorato) kicking it and doing 'official business' on golf courses with interested parties but meeting behind closed doors on what the hell to do about improving govt efficiency, I think they owe the public prompt access to the Advisory Committee's work. They also might want to consider institutionalizing such an Advisory Committee to maintain a consistent source of well-reasoned recommendations for the city and county for administrations to come.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Tunesmith and Anthony

Just when we all need a dose of humor, Tunesmith and Anthony deliver. Introducing Lou Cravenstahl. Brilliant. Just brilliant!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

DeSantis Begins to Bring Ravenstahl's 'Surplus' Budget Into Focus

When you fish, there's a really easy way to make a picture of your catch look huge. Hold it out in front of you and the fish (in that perspective) appears much larger than it is actually. This is a little trick that adds to the storytelling of fisherman. When Ravenstahl claimed his budget 'surplus' he demonstrated that he can tell the tall tales that us fishermen take as our recreative liberty. Well, DeSantis is bringing the picture of the fish back into focus. Trib reporters Brown and Boren sat down with DeSantis and wrote, "Pittsburgh mayoral hopeful urges frank talk".

DeSantis boldly pokes holes in Ravenstahl's budget:

"So fudging numbers or coming up with phony or phantom numbers, or giving extraordinary estimates on revenue from gambling, and all those other fun things, all the tricks you can play -- let's stop doing that," he said. "Let's give people ground truth to what our situation really is and work off that."
I'm glad that he is doing so. I wrote on the fallacies of the budget 'surplus' in a previous post and I'm happy to see DeSantis taking public the difficult issues our city faces. And that is a demonstration of the type of transparency he would bring to the office. Making information public.
"As a private citizen, I cannot get good numbers, and I know how to get good numbers, and I can't get them, so right away there's a problem. Informed speculation: probably bad numbers."
In the previous post, I had to do some acrobatics to estimate how much Ravenstahl overstated his surplus and the problems that came with it. Numbers aren't readily and publicly available. One point he raises that is very interesting:
Consolidation of the budgets of the city's major authorities such as the Urban Redevelopment Authority, Water & Sewer Authority and Housing Authority under the city's annual operating budget to demonstrate the city's "true debt" and spending.
Now that is a point I never considered. The city's debt is considerably larger when one includes the financial health of the city's authorities.

The trick here is if DeSantis can whip public sentiment over the city's debt into a frenzied froth, and make Burghers listen. This would be his strength as a candidate. However, with the Peduto campaign we learned that the public didn't want to hear about issues, the CP offering an interpretation that the city was still grieving over O'Connor and tired of thinking about mayors for two straight years. With his several crashes, Ravenstahl may have re-interested the public in who is serving them as mayor. At minimum, I don't think they are buying the picture of the kid with a huge fish anymore.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

County Controller finally exercises rightful authority

In a previous post, I commented on the role of the controller and why this county position had never provided oversight to the approximately $25 million the county turns over to the Port Authority each year. We learned how the 'crisis' in the Port Authority's budget was years in the making and how Onorato, during his years as controller, said the authority had 'resisted' efforts to scrutinize what happens to that $25 million. When news of routes cuts went public he passed this hot potato to Flaherty, who would be the first controller actively involved in the authority. Ed Heath had commented then, "Now if the Authority raises rates or cuts routes, or even just has a mini-scandal, people will say “Where was the county in all this?” Well, were learning were the county stands on the authority.

State budget approval on Tues as reported in the Trib:

The bill, passed by the state House on Tuesday, would add about $55 million to the state's $135 million annual share of the chronically cash-strapped Port Authority budget. The state money, however, is contingent on Allegheny County coming up with about $30 million to $35 million in matching funds, which Chief Executive Dan Onorato has said he'll release only if the Port Authority cuts costs in the next labor contract.
So, the move by Rendell, seeming to be the theme of his budget proposal across the board, is to put more responsibility on the municipalities to attend to municipal problems, taking public pressure off the state.
"No more coming back each year and saying, 'We have a crisis.' No more living hand-to-mouth, month-to-month," Rendell said, adding that the bill provides enough resources to keep the transit agency afloat for at least 10 years.
What this has done is give municipalities a legislative option (alcohol tax or rental car tax) to levy taxes to solve their budget probems. Consequently, the burden moves from the state to the municipality (from Rendell to Onorato to Flaherty) and the Controller's role is forced to exercise its responsibility and account for expenditures, thereby assuring better delivery of services (in theory, of course). And Onorato shouldn't release that money until the Port Authority Board produces a plan marrying efficiency and good service.

Today we learn the result of the audit the controller began back in April.

Among other inefficiencies, Flaherty said:
"We recommend that the board of directors and management of the Port Authority set a near-term goal of improving operational performance to at least meet, if not exceed, the average performance of benchmarked agencies."
From WPXI:
- Over the last five years, Port Authority's budget exceeded its revenue.
- Current rider-to-bus ratios show that 46 percent fewer buses would be needed if the trend continues.
-Pension contributions significantly increased between 2005 and 2006.
-Forty-three percent of the Port Authority's health care costs go towards retirees.
Hopefully, whatever suggestions proposed for the Port Authority's ills will include consultation with the employees' union this time. In the spring, a union rep had mentioned how the service and employee benefit cuts were news to him since the Board had never consulted the union.

It's a shame that it took so long to get the Port Authority to consider meeting benchmark performance standards - and responsibility for past failures rests with the Board alone. Perhaps we can consider what role a one-party rule in this region has contributed to the problem (that would take some investigation to make that argument).