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).

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Unnecessary Complication in Off-duty Police Assignments

Back in April, when the off-duty police assignment system was proposed, there was a great deal of discussion about this topic and I offered my perspective. I linked four parts of The Admiral's work on contracting and calculations. As expected, this issue has demonstrated itself to be unnecessary complicated and, most importantly, compromises the accountability of the police bureau. Bram and Ed offer a perspective on the current situtation when Rich Lord reports, "City making money on police officers' side jobs".

In the April post, I wondered where the money from the surcharge fee was going and what proportion would go to the police union's legal defense fund.

Assistant Chief Regina McDonald said much of it is instead covering overtime stemming from court dates. "If an officer makes an arrest while working a secondary detail, the court time is paid for by the secondary employment payments," she said.

Money from the side job fee also is going for uniforms, training and equipment, she said, with some left over to defray injury claims or lawsuits.

"I'd hate to see that money end up in asphalt or something," said union President James Malloy, calling the decision not to squirrel it away "a damn shame."
I don't remember reading anything in the MSM about the fee covering court dates, training and equipment. In fact, Jeremy Boren had reported that "The fee will feed the police union's legal defense fund and cover medical liability costs if an officer is hurt while working off duty." Now, only "some" is left over to defray injury claims or lawsuits. Might those fees end up contributing to the Ravenstahl administration's surplus budget? What, in fact, is the system on where this pot of money should go? I thought the first priority of the project was to prevent bankrupting the city coffers from suits against abusive police officers.

I had wondered about why private schedulers were still allowed to schedule officers and the fidelity of those schedulers to report off-duty assignments and secure the surcharge fee for city revenue. Yet:
The administration considered eliminating the practice of allowing officers to run small businesses scheduling their colleagues for private security work. In a concession to the union, though, the mayor allowed a two-pronged system, in which employers can ask the Police Bureau to assign officers on a rotating basis, or use a scheduler.

That concerns attorney Tim O'Brien, who represented Mr. Werling and has handled numerous cases stemming from police side jobs. He said better monitoring of the side work is a step forward, but private schedulers undermine that.

"If individual schedulers means less supervision, that is not desirable," he said. All side jobs should be "regulated from within [the bureau], in all respects."

As a result, the scheduling business, viewed by some as the Wild West aspect of the side job industry, is alive and well.

Of some 830 active officers, 80 are registered with the bureau as side-job schedulers, Chief McDonald said.
Of 640 employers approved to hire off-duty police, 203 have chosen to use private schedulers.
Now, about one-tenth of the officers are registered as side-job schedulers and about one-third of employers have chosen to use private schedulers. Those numbers don't tell us if big contracting businesses for off-duty assignments account for a majority of the scheduled hours. What is absent from this report is if there is a accountability check on the schedulers to report (and collect the surcharge) for every single hour of off-duty service. The scheduling business is 'wild west' because something is in it for schedulers. What is that motivating factor of being a scheduler? Are these schedulers skimming off surcharge fees? Is there a separate fee for providing desired officers for contracting businesses such as the Pirates who want the same officers they have used in the past?
"I won't use the city [rotation] system, because I don't know who I'll get," said Station Square Security Director Paul M. Wolak. The $3.85 charge cost him $900 last month, he said -- money he would rather have used to add 30 more hours of police protection.

"All it is, is a tax on the business," he said.
Well, yes sir, you could frame it as a tax on business. You could also frame it like James Malloy, police union president:
Whether the fee drops or not, business won't dry up, Mr. Malloy predicted. That's because businesses want something private security firms can't provide.

"They're buying the psychological appearance of a uniformed officer," he said, "who has the power to point a finger at someone and say, 'You're under arrest.' "
That ability is the police bureau's comparitive advantage. If you don't want to pay the fee than you are free to hire private security firms.

This whole piloting of a system to regulate and secure fees from off-duty police assignments has resulted in a display of unnecessary complication. What is clear is that this program should be revisited and ensure that ALL contracting for off-duty assignment goes through the bureau. Since Malloy has thrown a few fireballs at Ravenstahl in recent weeks, perhaps the mayor would use this as an opportunity to go against the union and remove the opportunity for private schedulers to exist. Perhaps, like Bram stated, "likely dates to watch for the "pilot program" to end would be just prior to the start of football season -- or just after the election".

Thursday, July 5, 2007

HB 1631 and Hill District Community Benefits Agreement

Last week, the PA House passed a bill that seems to provide casino-generated funding that could be used for development projects in the Hill. According to the PG's report:

House Bill 1631, which still lacks Senate approval, authorizes an additional $500,000 per year for up to 30 years for a "community development fund for infrastructure, construction and redevelopment projects" near the proposed arena.
That money could go for development in the lower Hill District, adjacent to the new arena. Hill officials, including state Rep. Jake Wheatley, have insisted on being involved in the overall development of the lower Hill, including the land where Mellon Arena is.
Calling up the bill, the wording is somewhat vague:
(D) Payments related to the construction of a facility designated for use by a professional hockey franchise, including $500,000 $15,000,000 to a nonprofit community development fund to fund infrastructure, construction and redevelopment projects
(Base Project Allocation - $8,000,000)
This is to be $500,000 for 30 yrs yielding $15 million total to this development fund. That accounts for half a million of the base project allocation but does the rest of the $7.5 million go towards state grants to Allegheny County and city of Pittsburgh for infrastructure (new plumbing/electric/roads in and out of arena) improvements for the arena? Is that a reserve for overage costs that the state and the Penguins will share (up to $10 million to each)?

Secondly, did anyone check with community members about how it might be publicly interpreted that activists, many Hill District residents, refused to have a casino in their neighborhood but will be given casino-generated funds?

Thirdly, the Hill District is left with a 'good faith' arrangement with the Penguins for their share of a community benefits agreement. No master plan on development in the Hill has been coordinated with arena construction plans.

At least this is a start, but of what is the question.

LCB is a Barrier to PA Businesses

Buy fresh. Buy local. Wouldn't you like to sample and maybe purchase reasonably priced wines that are produced within a 1 or 2 hour drive from your home in Pittsburgh? Wouldn't it be nice to purchase some fresh locally grown produce, locally smoked salmon, but not locally caught, (and bacon!), fresh bread and then find a nice Riesling or a Cab to go with it? And right in your neighborhood? Well, if the LCB (Liquor Control Board) had its way you wouldn't.

A spokesperson for the LCB said:

Approval of special permits should be limited to wine and food expositions, where the focus was on educating participants about the availability, nature and quality of Pennsylvania wines. Events like fairs, arts festivals, flea markets and farmers' markets do not qualify for permits under current law.
Legislation permitting PA wines to be sold at Farmer's Markets was recently introduced by State Rep. Tim Solobay (D-Canonsburg) and was easily passed in the House and the Senate's Law and Justice Committee. The full Senate should vote on this legislation within a month or so.

And we wonder why we have such non-adaptive and silly alcohol laws in this state? Like Pittsburgh's Department of Public Works (think Quigley), the LCB is a public entity that often serves as a repository for hacks.

Check here for a Farmer's Market close to you. Maybe by the fall (likely next year) you'll be able to buy a bottle.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Ravenflop; Flippinstahl; FlipFloppin like fish

Thursday June 21:

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, who approved the promotions, could not be reached for comment. His spokeswoman, Joanna Doven, said the mayor would not discuss the promotions or their effects on women.
"He's not going to talk about that," Doven said.
Friday June 29:
The promotion of these police officers and the resulting controversy has provided us all an opportunity to see how flawed the City's long-standing system is for officer promotion.
Today I will start implementing several reforms to address this situation in the future. I am announcing a new policy that will set a standard of zero tolerance for domestic abuse.
The Pittsburgh Bureau of Police will institute revisions to their current Domestic Violence policy to incorporate the best practices recommendations of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP).
Mandatory Domestic Violence training is currently provided to all Pittsburgh Bureau of Police Officers. They will work in conjunction with the in the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office and the Women's Center and Shelter to supplement the mandatory Domestic Violence training.
A review of each candidate will be conducted by an internal panel of senior supervisors to examine all data contained in the candidate's PARS and OMS files along with any OMI and Citizens Police Review Board complaints. A written recommendation by the review panel will be submitted to the Chief.
The Pittsburgh Bureau of Police will initiate a list of disqualifiers for cause that could eliminate a candidate from consideration for promotion.
The Pittsburgh Bureau of Police will implement new procedures to more closely track all Police Officer involved Domestic Violence related incidents.
The Pittsburgh Bureau of Police will take a holistic approach to the overall well-being of its Officers and their families. They will encourage, or mandate when necessary, Officers to avail themselves to counseling and/or other social service resources, especially in Domestic Violence related situations.
These steps are just the beginning of the reform, not an end.
With regard to George Trosky, I have stated previously that I was aware of his decade-old issues. I was also aware of his decades of exemplary service. While promoting him was a hard decision, it is one that I stand by.
With regard to Charles Rodriguez and Eugene F. Hlavac, as I have said, I was unaware of there being any issues in their background prior to public reports last week. That is a result of the Police Department not reporting to me that information. Had I known of that history, I would have urged that extraordinary steps be taken to further look into their respective issues, just as I had done with Detective Trosky. I have reprimanded Chief Harper for not sharing that information with me.
The problem that we face today is a legal one. The City's obsolete and flawed system for promoting officers has bitten us today. While I would like nothing better than to hold back these promotions pending further scrutiny, the law is not on our side. Legally, these men have already been promoted and the only action that could now be taken by Chief Harper would be to demote the two officers. I have been told by counsel that such an act would violate the current rules and the City would be on thin ice legally; therefore, the officers will not be demoted at this time.
I am upset and frustrated by the existing obsolete City rules that allowed for these promotions to take place in this way. It won't stand. It must change. We must make those changes necessary to restore faith in City Government. That is the good that has come this day. Today, we'll begin to change a practice and a process that has been going on for decades. It's time this City embraced a zero tolerance policy on domestic violence.
"The problem we face today is a legal one". While that might be true, literally. Kind of like a, "that depends what your definition of". Really, the problem we have faced since last summer is LEADERSHIP.

We should all pay attention to 'incorporating the best practices recommendations of the IACP". "Incorporating" may mean, like in other depts around the country who have used this policy, using a 3-hole puncher and place it in the personnel manual.

City Contracts and M/WBEs

A previous post, presented a United States Commission on Civil Rights report entitled, "Barriers Facing Minority- and Woman-Owned Businesses in Pennsylvania". Charlie Deitch wrote a piece in the CP this week on a new pitch to increase M/WBE contracting regarding all of the casinarena construction:

Phil Petite, manager of the city's Equal Opportunity Review Commission, came to Pittsburgh City Council June 20 looking for authorization to implement a "sheltered markets" program. The program takes large contracts that would normally be won by large contractors -- most of which are not owned by women and minorities -- and breaks them down into smaller contracts that minority-owned firms can manage.
In addition to the hundreds of millions in contracts available to registered M/WBEs, perhaps Mr. Petite wants to apply this to non-bonanza contracts, like with Pittsburgh Public Schools.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Police Dept Best Practices

The PG reports, "Women's groups, Ravenstahl meet amid uproar on police promotions". One aspect of the article is disturbing.

The city Police Bureau has a handful of policies dealing with domestic violence involving police officers.
Regulations call for a supervisor to respond to the scene if an officer is involved in suspected domestic violence. Officers are obligated to notify their supervisor if they are named in a civil suit involving allegations of domestic violence.
If an officer is served with a protection from abuse order, the city's Office of Municipal Investigations must be notified.
So, the police bureau's policy regarding domestic violence involving officers is basically for the bureau to be made aware of it. So long as the bureau knows about it, bureau regs are being met. Now, that's crap. When you read the transcript of the OMI interview with former Chief of Police Costa it becomes clear that one reason Officer Frank Rende was not suspended from the bureau for calling off sick numerous times to work side jobs was because of a technicality. Bureau regs called for 'counseling' about the infraction within 120 days for the officer receiving a disciplinary action report.

But for an officer who breaks his wife's nose or leaves marks on his child (while OCYF cleared the officer in this case, generally, leaving marks on a child qualifies for a 'childline' and an investigation into whether it qualifies as child abuse) just notify the officer's supervisor? No 'counseling' on what is going on at home and how this cannot happen again, etc. Maybe leave it to the discretion of each supervisor on how best to handle each individual case. That is not really a policy of remedying a serious behavioral problem among police officers. Whoever it was that said recently (was it Deputy Chief Paul Donaldson?) that domestic violence rates in the Pittsburgh Police Bureau weren't any different than the population at large. Hmmm.

The National Center for Women and Policing produced a "Police Family Violence Fact Sheet" which relays the following:
Two studies have found that at least 40% of police officer families experience domestic violence, in contrast to 10% of families in the general population. A third study of older and more experienced officers found a rate of 24%, indicating that domestic violence is 2-4 times more common among police families than American families in general.
And then the mayor was quoted in the article.
More important may be "a long-term policy and plan to deal with domestic violence and domestic abuse," the mayor said, starting with police, but extending throughout the city workforce.
Mayor, and Chief Harper, if you would care enough to take 5 minutes to search the web on best practices for officers committing domestic violence you would find a pre-made comprehensive policy to tailor to your needs that was put out by the International Association of Police Chiefs.
Like the PG indicated, the policy provides for prevention, training, early warning, intervention and responses. That seems like best practices for the dept.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

What makes Ravenstahl a Democrat?

The Trib provides some analysis on DeSantis' campaign launch today. From the previous Republican mayoral nominee:

Weinroth thinks the GOP eventually could win the office, if enough Pittsburghers conclude one-party control hurts the city.
"We don't even have a one-party system," he said. "Bill Peduto dropped out because he knew he couldn't beat the anointed one, so to speak, the person supported by the (Democratic) committee and the leadership, and that's Luke Ravenstahl right now."
Others think that the Democrats in Allegheny county have co-opted Republican principles.

DeSantis has vowed to go for a full merger of city-county services and purchases (economies of scale), minimizing bureacracy within the school system (and likely other municipal bodies), and is business-minded (having had plenty of work experience). He seems to embody paleo-con Republican values of being fiscally conservative, keeping govt and public dollars out of private enterprise, and minimizing govt, generally. I have been wondering for quite some time but without much of an argument one way or another:

What makes Ravenstahl a Democrat?

Friday, June 15, 2007

Ravenstahl attempting to establish performance? or loyalty?

Michael Hasch at the Trib is reporting, "Mayor asks for several directors’ resignations". This comes after making a few high-level changes in his administration last month. The mayor stated:

"All directors are admirable colleagues of mine who have been working very hard," Ravenstahl said in a statement.
"However, I am not satisfied with the condition of city government. As mayor, I owe it to the people of Pittsburgh to build our government with the best people who are capable of doing the best job."
Joanna Doven, the interim spokesperson for the mayor said:
"It doesn't mean they are going to be fired. The mayor wants to make sure they are the best people for the position, and he's encouraged all of the directors to apply."
So, the mayor asks all these dept heads for their resignation letters but tells them to apply for their job back? That they can serve until they are replaced? That a national search will begin immediately for the best talent?

In organizations and companies I am familiar with, one reviews the job performance of an individual against the responsibilities and goals of that position to see how that individual adds up. You don't ask for resignation letters and then review their application for their job.

How does this benefit the Ravenstahl administration? I'd bet it will motivate some lazy department heads (if any are, in fact, lazy) but, moreso, it will shore up which department heads are loyal to this mayor.

And I'd bet that that Zober had something to do with the resignation letter approach. Remember last summer? Zober was at the center of all of it - and, in the past, has been known to prepare resignation letters for people to sign.

The whole move smells fishy if you ask me.

The PG reports the mayor said that "he felt it was time to put his mark on his administration by making his own selections for department heads". The PG also notes that under the city's home rule charter, Mr. Ravenstahl has 90 days to fill the positions. Let's see what will happen by Sept. 15th.

WPXI, though, notes that the mayor is calling for the City Solicitor and EMS Department head to resign.

Don't know how I missed this, but some good discussion about the events in the comments section.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

URA to the Hill District: Don't worry about it!

Mark Belko on the URA vote today:

The city URA today approved a development agreement with the Penguins for about 9 acres of land known as the Melody Tent site near Mellon Arena, despite protests from a small group of Hill District residents.

The residents had urged the URA to delay the agreement until the team agreed to a community benefits program as part of its new development. The team and community leaders have had several meetings about the types of projects that should be part of the new development to benefit the neighborhood.

Authority members said there will be other opportunities for the city to hold the team to its promise of community benefits and the team wanted the development agreement signed before it would approve its 30-year lease for a new arena.
Just as expected. I started writing a post yesterday regarding this matter (see below). Who on city council sits on the URA board and will soon be up for re-election? Tonya Payne.

We learn from Mark Belko a little more of the specifics in the public shafting agreement made between Penguins owners and Onorendellburklestahl, Inc. In a previous post, I listed some findings of the Allegheny Institute's analysis of the agreement and the $15 million in an SEA 'redevelopment' credit. Now, we learn about the vote on the URA-owned Melody Tent Site pictured here which was included as part of the agreement to give Penguins control of the development rights.

According to Belko's article, a few things are attention worthy.
Board members are expected to vote tomorrow on a 10-year option agreement with Pittsburgh Arena Real Estate Redevelopment, a Penguins affiliate, that would give the team control over the URA-owned Melody Tent site, now used as a parking lot.
The team gets control of the development rights but the property remains under ownership of the URA? Sounds good right? If I'm not mistaken, that means that the Penguins keeps all profits from events and use of the space but pay no property taxes since they won't own the property. What revenue does this bring the city? A portion of the sales tax from hot dogs and Penguins jerzees?
The team is required to develop 10 percent of the land each year, or face the risk of losing all or a portion of it. The Penguins must pay fair market value for the land, but will have access to $15 million in credits to offset the purchase price as a "further incentive to development," according to a URA report discussing the Melody Tent site.
Well, being forced to develop 10% of the land each year or face losing it is no incentive to consider and negotiate community input on redevelopment. Without a provision in this contract to ensure community input, the URA will effectively be negotiating a steamrolling of the public, in whose interest it claims to serve.
The Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh is more than a redevelopment authority -- it is the City of Pittsburgh's economic development agency. As a developer of last resort, the URA develops properties which the private sector will not undertake. Our goals are to create jobs, increase the city's tax base, and improve the vitality of businesses, neighborhoods, and the City's culture as a whole.
Increase the city's tax base? Develop properties the private sector will not undertake? The Penguins are getting $15 million to put towards buying up prime real estate downtown! What authority will the URA retain regarding development of this property?
The development rights could provide the Penguins with another revenue stream once the new arena is up. The team also has the option of using some of the land for parking before it is developed.
What new revenue streams (for the city) will come from signing over development rights? Great for the Penguins but what benefit for the city? Remember, the Allegheny Institute remarked how the SEA retained ownership of the arena site; retaining the land, potentially good, but also forgoing the opportunity to collect property taxes from the arena. Furthermore, the Penguins get to keep all proceeds from sporting and non-sporting events (like Bon Jovi concerts) while infrastructural improvements (and maintainence, likely), such as plumbing and electric for the new arena, are paid for with public monies.
As part of the Isle of Capri Inc. bid for the Pittsburgh casino, the Penguins had teamed with Nationwide Realty Investors of Columbus, Ohio, to redevelop the 28-acre site with offices, housing, restaurants, retail and entertainment facilities, and to re-establish a street grid to reconnect the Hill with Downtown.
Nationwide dropped out of the picture after Mr. Barden won the casino license.
The Penguins have yet to select a new developer as part of the arena deal,
but are expected to look at similar uses for the land.
It will be interesting (i.e. I will be surprised) if a redevelopment plan with a new realty company is concerned at all with reconnecting the Hill with Downtown.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Real cool cats

2PJs posted a funny picture of the mayor crashing Tiger's party and provide a summary of links from many around the burghosphere commenting on the mayor's uninvited attendance at the Oakmont Country Club. Mostly, the perspective is that the mayor has been embarrasing. Reading much of the commentary I began to think of how the mayor's behavior has been making a case for a council-manager style of municipal government. Other cities have this style of governance and, while it hasn't worked everywhere, there are good arguments for and against this system. In the case of Pittsburgh, the 27-year old mayor is now taking the opportunity to use the US Open as an opportunity to promote the city. Perhaps moving away from a mayor-council form of local government isn't a bad idea.

My favorite piece of Rich Lord's article is:

He led a tour of the city, touted the April finding that the city was again the Places Rated Almanac's Most Livable City, and was filmed knocking golf balls from Point State Park into the rivers.
Perfect! Another piece of trash that goes into our rivers. We were worried about mine drainage and sewer overflows (to follow in a future post) and now the figure head of the city is knocking golf balls into the river. Maybe I'll start fishing for golf balls.

Reading Lord's article we see how focused the mayor is on promoting the city. That's great in a way. Lord (both of them) knows this city needs a cheerleader. But so much so that he will "spend much of the week" there in Oakmont, 15miles from the city-county building? Since the mayor's primary concern is focused on hobnobbing and wooing golf fans and its clientele then maybe considering having a different kind of city government isn't such a bad idea.

Consider the history of the shift from mayor-council governments to council-manager governments. From City Mayors:
Council-manager government was conceived in response to entrenched one-party political machines that had dominated many city governments by the beginning of the 20th Century. During that period, party politics and corruption prevailed and were perceived as being an impediment to fair local government. Partisan elections, dominated by local political machines, limited candidates to party regulars and patronage systems prevented qualified people from serving in local government leadership positions.
As a description of the system:
The mayor, or chairman, of the council and council members are the leaders and policy makers elected to represent the community and to concentrate on policy issues that are responsive to citizens’ needs and wishes. A manager is appointed by the governing body to carry out policy and ensure that the entire community is properly served. If the manager in question does not respond to the governing body’s wishes, it has the authority to dismiss that manager at any time.

A study of North Carolina cities has found that the council-manager system needs certain contributions from the mayor in order to operate smoothly. At the very least, the mayor must take on leadership of the coordinator type to facilitate an exchange of information between the public, council, and staff and to help the council operate more effectively. The study noted that “[t]his attention to the internal dynamics of city government and relationships with the public is crucial for complete leadership. If a mayor is to shape both the process and direction of city government, he cannot ignore the coordinative dimension; he can achieve victories over the short run but may become an isolated reformer.”
Mayors, in this arrangement of city government are considered "soft" mayors because they are coordinators and their primary agenda is not concerned with policy issues. "Soft" is not considered 'less than', the roles are just different.

Applied to the Pittsburgh case, Ravenstahl would have every freedom to blow smoke to senior citizens like Elaine Lee, meet with kids who want new developments in Pgh to be green, hang out in Oakmont, and generally put his face everywhere he can (no small thanks to Lamar Advertising). The favor that is (was?) bestowed upon him would then be warranted because he would be the pretty face of the city. He could then chime in on issues but not really have to be burdened with the minutiae of city policy; like tax-payer financed campaigning, equitable street-paving, city contracting, n@. Better for everyone. Given the 'catty' email the mayor sent Shields, a cat could be a cat and the Tiger could play golf!

East End Anarchists? What anarchists?

There seems to be a little broad stroked painting going around Pittsburgh since the window smashing of the Quiet Storm and the East End Food Co-Op. The night after they were hit, "anarchists" struck again. This time the manager of the Co-Op got a call from the police at 4am saying their new front windows were smashed again. Later that morning we learned that the windows of a number of Shadyside businesses were broken and tagged with anti G8 slogans and circle A's. My problem is the lumping of all black- clothes-wearing, bike-riding, Eastenders as "anarchists". Very little attention is paid to how this subset of Eastenders differ from one another. And the issue of lumping all these groups together then raises the age old political economic question of "who does it benefit"? Let's see.

Coverage from WTAE:

Police said they received a report of two men wearing dark clothes, riding bikes and throwing rocks through windows on Walnut Street.
Pittsburgh councilman Bill Peduto held a news conference Wednesday with community leaders regarding the recent vandalism.
Officials said they believe the Pittsburgh Organizing
Committee, a group that organizes anti-war rallys, is behind the vandalism, which targeted national chain stores.
Peduto said the vandals are only hurting local businesses.

Two men wearing dark clothes, riding bikes. Hmm, that's a pretty regular site in the East End. Pittsburgh Organizing Committee? Nope. It's the Pittsburgh Organining Group, not committee.

Coverage from WPXI and real insightful quote from James Ford, owner of Shadyside Market:
James Ford: "I heard that it was, some people on bicycles throwing river rocks because of the G-8 summit that they were protesting against some of the things going over in Poland and Russia... Probably environmental. I think so, the activists get pretty extreme. "

Police are not saying that there are protesters or anarchists involved.
Thanks Mr. Ford for your informed perspective on the matter. Sorry your windows were smashed but putting the blame on 'protesters', organized by POG that walked passed your store peacefully en masse by the hundreds before and after the invasion of Iraq are not equivalent to Greenpeace or, better yet, the Animal Liberation Front. But thanks for broad stroking and lumping together anything different from wooly cotton brained Shadyside. Sounds like you haven't gotten over the "love it or leave it" argument. Poland and Russia, huh? You obviously have no clue as to the well-intentioned aims of the alternate-globalization movement. It's the entire global South that is starving from the unfair political-economic policies of the North. Judging by the prices of your wax-polished produce for expensive palates I wouldn't expect more from you.

Initial coverage from the PG:
Vandals left the messages "Smash money" and "Down with G8"
The food co-op had windows broken, and an anarchy symbol -- a circled 'A' -- was drawn in several places along the building's front, as was this stenciled message in red: "There are no good corporations. Stop [word intelligible] selling."
Rob Baran, the general manager of the cooperative, said he spoke with Jill McDowell, owner of the Quiet Storm "and we think it's the same folks. I can't even think of these people as anarchists."
Righteo, Mr. Baran. I can't even think of these people as anarchists either. Pittsburgh labor organizers of the late-19th century wouldn't consider these dudes anarchists either.

Finally we arrive at the resulting conflict from all the coverage. Peduto has apparently struck a chord with POG, and rightfully so. The PG covers this today:

"They're losing the one elected official they had because of the accusations and tactics in the field. They're proving their actions don't work and actually are counterproductive," Mr. Peduto said.
"They're saying it's irresponsible for me to isolate any one group. What other group of anarchists are there in this city?"

POG, an anarchist group? POG is a well organized group that often holds "radical" positions on the war in Iraq and other global justice issues. They are a 'radical' group, not anarchists. Their stated position of identity is to "seek to understand and oppose the inter-connected forms of oppression while utilizing non-hierarchical, consensus-based organizing". And they do so, often collaborating with the Thomas Merton Center, which follows the principles of the Catholic monk by the same name.

"I am against war, against violence, against violent revolution, for peaceful settlement of differences, for nonviolent but nevertheless radical changes. Change is needed, and violence will not really change anything: at most it will only transfer power from one set of bull-headed authorities to another." --Thomas Merton

Consensus, as a principle, does not translate well to anarchy. Various groups who self-identify themselves as anarchist do not often agree with one another on ideological principles, and particularly on economic models.

So, POG has written an open letter , referred to in the PG article above, asking Peduto to take back his statements which was sent out to its mailing list and is also posted on its site.

Councilman Peduto's comments at the June 6 press conference were highly irresponsible for a public official to make, detrimental to local movements for peace and social justice, and a slap in the face to those progressives who have previously considered him an ally. He was the first, and as far as we are aware, only non-police official to attempt to link us to these events. His statements have contributed to a public perception of our guilt, caused division within the local anti-war movement, drained our time and resources away from important campaigns, and damaged our personal relationships with members of the community.
When you see dark-clothed bike-riders around town, they are likely NOT anarchists. From my perspective, they fall into three rough categories. They fall into what I term hipster vampires, DIY, and youngsters. Hipster vampires hang out at all the cool bars in the East End, are fashion conscious, and are vampires in the sense that their social circles are very insular and difficult to access to a non-hipster. DIY (do-it-yourself) are those progressive thinkers and actors who are really contributing to the new Pittsburgh. I would place active POG members in this camp (apologies in advance if I offend) as well as Free Ride volunteers, Construction Junction affiliates, and many many other progressives active in organizations, several newer organizations, that are driving much of the great culture-shift happening in the city. Youngsters are those who may appear as 'dark-clothed bike riders' but have not yet developed the nuances in their ideological positions to understand how to navigate tactically. Therefore, their tactics are to tear down and destroy (economic systems, Starbucks, everything). They likely don't understand that people in the resource-poor countries they are arguing for would probably not understand their position at all.

It doesn't seem as though POG would be involved in window smashing in this instance for a number of reasons. As they said, they are a public organization and it would not benefit them to have windows smashed at, among all places, the Quiet Storm or the Co-Op. When they came into being they were made up of young, smart, cleverly tactical members. They were well organized and carefully picked issues to which they would attend. They never sanctioned breaking the windows of Navy buildings during anti-war protests. When people choose to do this, they do so as free-choosing individuals. POG has been a great contributor to the organization of Pittsburghers against war and social injustices. Breaking windows of local businesses just seems too dumb and organizationally immature as a POG tactic.

If POG affiliates did commit the crimes, public pressure from Peduto and media attention will likely force the organization through growing pains. Peduto is not backing down from his statements. I would trust that he has good information to make such a claim but without definitive evidence that POG did, in fact, do this, perhaps Peduto could make some concessions that he may have overstepped his claims. There is a way that he could defend his constituents in the business district on Walnut St. without lambasting POG. Go after the criminals, not the radicals.

Finally, who does this all benefit? To make the argument that all those who are opposed to global injustices are to blame for smashed windows is being an intellectual cheapskate (ahem, James Ford-ians). According to WPXI, the police were not saying that protesters or anarchists were involved. Let's stay with that mindset and not benefit those whose worldview equates anti-war and freedom hating.

Whoever did this at the co-op cut themselves pretty badly and bled on the front windows and sidewalk. Know anybody that wears dark-clothing, rides a bike, AND has a pretty bad cut on their body somewhere, likely their arm?

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Old Quarrel, Old Battle; And just who represents the Hill?

Bill Toland over at the PG did a fair job on Sunday of painting the political landscape on the Hill in securing a benefits agreement regarding casinarena issues. I've been following this issue (Pt.1 and Pt.2) and find that his title, "Old quarrel shapes new battle over Hill District" really should be Old Quarrel, Old Battle. I argue this because there is always a battle over who represents a 'community', this is not particular to the Hill District, and because residents in the Hill were not passive when the Civic Arena was originally built. I reprint the entire article below with comments and interpretations based on attending the original community forum at Weil Elementary last month and some previous articles. Apologies in advance for the format - just had to get these thoughts down. And last night, 230 concerned citizens came to the arena to voice "their concerns, frustrations, and thoughts about the proposed $290 million arena and its impact".
In August Wilson's Hill District, where political memories are long and family loyalties run deep, late city councilman Jake Milliones still has disciples, 14 years beyond his death. And those disciples, harnessed by ousted city councilman Sala Udin, have their antagonists, given voice by current city Councilwoman Tonya Payne.
It was Ms. Payne who defeated Mr. Udin in the 2005 primary, eventually winning the right to represent the Hill and city council's District 6, and it was Mr. Udin who fired Ms. Payne from his council staff 10 years ago.

Yes, but the word on the street (and please take it as such) is that Mr. Udin hesitated for months and months before firing Ms. Payne because he didn’t feel he could/should do it. But after he was convinced that she WASN’T DOING ANY WORK as a city council staffer he had to fire her. When he decided to explore running for mayor he neglected to attend to his re-election campaign for his council seat. Folks not with Mr.Udin in the Hill (and some of Mr.Udin’s downtown adversaries with $$$) encouraged and backed Payne to oust him.

And it's this split -- the Payne class pitted against the Udin guard -- that is shaping the latest tug-of-war over the soul of the Hill. The winners will be able to make the claim, for the moment, that they are the authentic voice of the community, and will be better able to control the jobs, contracts and tens of millions of dollars in future investment at stake as the Pittsburgh Penguins prepare to build an arena in the Lower Hill.

This seems to be a fabricated interpretation of what is happening in the Hill right now. The “One Hill” group, the likes of Monroe/Wheatley/Milliones/Udin is aiming to unify the Hill in one voice. I have seen my past suspicions modified regarding how it would benefit Onorendellburklestahl, Inc. if the Hill was divided and could be conquered. Jake Wheatley, in solidarity with ALL Hill District stakeholders, said that the Hill should work to come up with a unified voice – especially among public officials. There is not this explicit drive to badmouth one another from the “One Hill” side. From hypocritical Tonya Payne’s perspective, Mr. Toland has a point because she seems to be fomenting a power struggle.

Also at stake are the development rights themselves -- will the Pens develop the 28 acres around the new arena exclusively, or will the team cede some of it to Majestic Star gaming head Don Barden and his allies? In the back of everyone's mind is the specter of the old Civic Arena and the sense that if they don't get it right this time, there may not be another chance.
"It's all about power," said DeWitt Walton, head of the Crawford Square Homeowners Association and an observer of the Hill's politics and power plays. He was an early supporter of the Isle of Capri, the St. Louis company that partnered with the Penguins and hoped to build a casino next to the new arena. "Power translates into dollars."
And the Hill wants dollars. Marimba Milliones, daughter of Jake Milliones, wants to collapse the Community Development Corporation that she heads into a nascent umbrella group, the Greater Hill District Development League, which would direct investment money in the Hill. Ms. Payne, part of the Hill's next generation of leaders, wants to be the funnel through which cash flows into her district. Carl Redwood wants his Hill Consensus Group to be a primary arbiter of development in the neighborhood.

Who would you trust? Payne, who collaborated with Robinson lobby for the Isle of Capri that your constituents clearly rejected, who collaborated with Robinson’s friend Rev. James Simms who was paid by the casino to appear as some independent Hill District advocate with the “Pittsburgh First” organization fronting as a community group? Or, Marimba who worked with the CDC, along with its board members for the past year or so without payment to ensure fair development practices in the Hill; who worked hard to secure the Bedford Dwellings , which has been a great success in terms of participatory community development; or Jake Wheatley who told the PA House that an independent community survey found that 65% of the Hill District opposed the Isle of Capri plan “unlike the privately funded survey done by a signature-gathering company which was paid for by the Isle of Capri/Pittsburgh First organization.” ; who also suggested that the Gaming Commission should visit the Hill residents and hear for themselves what the community’s perspectives are. Or Sala Udin, who spent 4 years of his life as a Freedom Rider in the 60’s taking beatings again and again down south for the civil rights struggle, who established a drug treatment center and addressed AIDS injustices early on in the bay area, and developed a multicultural training resource center before PCness.

Deciphering the political alliances in the Hill is like playing a game of connect-the-dots -- it takes a few minutes, but eventually, a picture emerges. Mr. Udin was the quiet nexus of the group that ended up fighting to derail the proposed Isle of Capri casino. Mr. Udin was Jake Millione's chief of staff; later Mr. Udin hired Jake Wheatley, now a state representative, to work for him during his city council tenure. (Mr. Wheatley, for a time, was engaged to Ms. Milliones.)
Entertainer-activist Kimberly Ellis (or you could call her Kimberly Ellis, PhD head of the Hill District’s Historic Hill Initiative, doing good work to maintain the history of the Hill, and also this), the self-proclaimed "Dr. Goddess" who helped whip up opposition to the Isle of Capri, is the niece of the late playwright August Wilson -- one of Mr. Udin's best friends.
Meanwhile, Mr. Udin's relationship with ministers in the Hill, including the Rev. Johnnie Monroe, pastor of Grace Memorial Presbyterian Church, is more of the old-fashioned back-scratching variety -- he helped them during his years on city council, and now many of those Hill ministers continue to be faithful to him. (A coalition of ministers supportive of Mr. Udin and distrustful of gambling on a moral level, called Raise Your Hand, was one of the Hill's chief anti-casino mobilization forces.)
"There's a connection everywhere," said Perline Coleman, who has spent decades in her Sweeney Way home above Wylie Avenue, is the secretary for the Hill's Third Ward. She falls into the Payne camp and the Hill Consensus Group, which has emerged as a counterweight to the influence wielded by Udin subordinates.
Ms. Payne?
She has been supported by the city's Democratic establishment (wow, lots of faith in her once you mention she is supported by the city’s junta), winning the endorsement of the party committee in 2005 over Mr. Udin. That solidified her alignment with County Councilman Bill Robinson, the same Bill Robinson who once served in the state House of Representatives -- until he was defeated by a young man named Jake Wheatley.
Mr. Robinson and Mr. Udin, it's fair to say, are political archrivals. Mr. Robinson, meanwhile, has been a political and personal friend to the Rev. James Simms over the years -- it was Mr. Simms who was a paid consultant for Isle of Capri's public face, called Pittsburgh First, which tried to organize community support for the Lower Hill casino.
Ms. Payne and company, who were front-and-center in lobbying for Isle of Capri, were delivered a setback Dec. 20 when Isle of Capri lost its bid for the Pittsburgh casino license in favor of Mr. Barden's PITG Gaming and Majestic Star operation, which plans to put its casino on the North Shore. But she's tried to rebound and is horning in on what Mr. Wheatley, Mr. Udin and Ms. Milliones view as their rightful winnings -- to the victors go the spoils.
And in fighting off Isle of Capri, and aligning themselves by default with Don Barden, they view themselves as the victors.
But the road to victory is littered with casualties, and at times these skirmishes have been nasty, as is often the case when politics bleeds into public theater. Ms. Payne said Mr. Wheatley and Ms. Milliones' tactics reeked of "extortion." Mr. Wheatley said "Tonya Payne and Bill Robinson should be embarrassed" after they struck a side deal with Isle of Capri to create the Hill Entertainment Services District, which was supposed to pay for public services and other neighborhood improvements.
Mr. Udin, who has publicly stayed above the fray, said he's disappointed by the sniping in the media, but otherwise had no comment. Ms. Milliones wouldn't talk for this story, either.
Mr. Wheatley, on the other hand, said the divisions, while long-standing, are natural over such high-stakes issues.
"Ever since I've been in Pittsburgh, I've heard about the division in the Hill District like it's unique," Mr. Wheatley said last week. "Sometimes, we're going to be working together, and sometimes we're going to be working against each other."
That's politics, he said. And when politics mixes with business -- which is nearly always -- those divisions emerge.
Some of those divisions, said several people who were interviewed for this story, are being stoked by the Penguins, who seem to prefer dealing with Ms. Payne's group, largely because of its early support of Isle of Capri, and partly because the Penguins think that Mr. Wheatley and Ms. Milliones overreached when they tried to negotiate their first agreement with the Penguins -- they wanted $10 million for the Hill annually, plus a portion of parking proceeds and 25 cents from every hot dog sold.
"Don't get out in front of the community," Ms. Payne said. "It didn't make much sense to me to come up with a list of demands" without consulting others in the Hill first, she said. "They're all connected that way. They work together. And that's fine, as long as it's not going to be harmful to anybody ... I just don't want you to make decisions for everyone."

By that last statement, Ms. Payne, do you mean exactly what you and Robinson did? Get funding to lobby for a casino corporation, have a 'reverend' front as a community activist to try to garner support from residents, and then secure for your and Robinson's political benefit a side deal with the corporation to create the Hill Entertainment Services District without consulting the needs and wishes of the community? Let me restate your comment, "I just don't want YOU to make decisions for everyone".

The alternate view in the Hill is that Mr. Wheatley, Ms. Milliones and company got "out in front" because they didn't want the Hill's viewpoint to be steamrolled in the process, as was the case when Mellon Arena was built. Ms. Milliones, in the past, has said she and her allies represent the "indigenous leadership" on the Hill. "I think from their perspective at the time [nobody] was speaking," said Elbert Hatley, former director of the Hill CDC, now known affectionately as the "mayor" of the Hill District.

I agree with you Ms. Milliones. I think your group does represent the indigenous leadership on the Hill. And yes, that’s why the Wheatley/Milliones/Udin/Monroe group stated they were going to have a community forum on the arena issue. NO ONE WAS STEPPING UP TO PREVENT THE HILL FROM GETTING STEAMROLLED AGAIN. And that includes you, Ms. Payne.

"There was some urgency in getting an audience with the appropriate policy-makers and stakeholders," he said.
Mr. Redwood, head of Hill Consensus, said there's a difference between urgency and legitimacy.
"They went Downtown first and talked to folks," Mr. Redwood said. "That's all it takes for Downtown to appoint leaders."
One city business leader, who likened the fractured Hill District to the Balkans, said cooperation is the key to the neighborhood's salvation. Otherwise, they'll continue to blow through millions without the resurrection they've long been pining for. "There have been other places where money has been spent," he said, pointing to the North Side neighborhoods, "with much better results."
That bothers stakeholders in the Hill, such as the Hill House Association, a community services group. And that's why it's so important to get it right this time -- and why so many people want to flex their muscles, said Evan Frazier, Hill House president.
"I don't think it's unlike any other neighborhood. ... Everybody sees the opportunity and the challenge. People are just coming at it from different angles."
Despite continued behind-the-scenes sniping, there have been outward signs that the factions might be able to patch up their differences, or at least suspend them, for the good of the Hill. A late April meeting between the Penguins and the Hill's community and religious leaders, where the parties discussed a "community benefits agreement" for the Hill, went well. Ms. Payne characterized it as a "team-building" effort. The Rev. Monroe and Mr. Wheatley said they were encouraged by the session.
But it's hard to know how much of that was political grandstanding. One person who attended the meeting said the two factions didn't get along, with Ms. Payne questioning who the Hill's true leaders were -- her alliance or Wheatley-Milliones-Udin.

Again, Ms. Payne foments a division among stakeholders. At the first community forum, Wheatley encourage all parties, including Ferlo and Payne, who represent parts of the Hill to not publicly appear divided on this issue. But, since Payne was not personally there, maybe her representative forgot to pass along this central piece of information from the forum. Better yet, she could have attended such an important Hill-wide meeting.

Mr. Wheatley, striking a diplomatic tone, said he hopes to get past the age-old battles. "There's always some tension when you have energetic leadership around the table," he said. "At the end of the day, none of us hold ultimate authority in the Hill District."
That sort of talk was echoed across the board -- consensus, however it is achieved, is preferable to the alternative, said Mr. Walton, the Crawford Square homeowners' leader.
"These people are my friends. These people are my neighbors. Reasonable people can disagree without being disagreeable."
What will be interesting is to see who will represent the Hill in this very important case. You can bet your butt Skip will be using the fish finder to keep this one on the radar.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Exploring cuts to Pittsburgh EMS?

Just last month Rick Earle broke a story on Pittsburgh EMS being below national standards. In a previous post, I was concerned with the performance of Pittsburgh EMS but listened to the perspective of Paramedic Union president Jeff Vesci who stated that budget cuts in the past have eliminated 30 EMTs. He also stated that the city needs 4 additional advanced life support units to "make the system right". And the state oversight board wants to explore budget cuts?

Yet, Jeremy Boren reported first today, "City overseers study cuts". Oh yes. The state oversight board will use part of its $632,000 allotment to pay for a $74,000 study on how to explore cuts to and improve efficiency with EMS's budget. While it is unknown whether Vesci's comments were based upon internal performance/need audits, this study will be based on data. The best part, however is that, "The results of the studies could show ways of merging fire and EMS services to cut costs, oversight board officials said today". The oversight board contracted out the study to Tridata Corp of Arlington, VA.

The oversight board commissioned a $193,000 study of the city's Fire Bureau to TriData last year. Preliminary results of that analysis are expected to be available later this month.
Rich Lord covers the story as well, "City medic service, merger with Fire Bureau studied". From the PG:
"They're looking at everything from equipment to safety to training to coverage," said Barbara McNees, chair of the ICA. Given changes in the city, from increasing Downtown housing to a coming casino to the transformation of East Liberty, the city needs "a plan on where we are and what we need to look like" in the public safety bureaus, she said.
"We're respectful and mindful of the fact that the three uniformed services have collective bargaining agreements," said ICA Executive Director Henry Sciortino.
"The more data, the better," said city Finance Director Scott Kunka, adding that Mayor Luke Ravenstahl hasn't committed to implementing whatever recommendations come out of the study.
Merging fire and EMS? If it is based on good data and reasonably conservative interpretations, why not? Well, interest group coalitions like the respective fire and EMS unions might block such a merger even though it might be better for the city in terms of cost-effectiveness and improved service delivery. There is more to the equation than sound efficiency analysis when a policy like a fire/EMS merger is on the table. Of course, the mayor is going to be hesitant and give a prelude to his refusal to restructure city government and spend some of his unearned political capital. Will this analysis of Tridata Corp. vindicate those who believe the city needs to renegotiate its contract with the firefighters? While results of the Fire Bureau study will be available later this month will we, the public, have access to its results?

On a side note, why would the oversight commission not use the funding allotment it receives from the state to contract with either locally-based companies providing these kinds reports (RAND, for example) or the many skilled academics in public policy or related departments who are capable of producing such reports? That might encourage some linkages and engagement between local policy-making bodies and the wealth of skill we have at our universities in Pittsburgh.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Traffic for the Casino and the City Budget

If not a traffic jam than it is a certainly congestion for coordinating stakeholder interests for the North Shore casino, and Ravenstahl wants to get it done quickly. In an earlier post, I cited something Sala Udin said back in 2000 regarding the lack of political will among city officials to follow the city's guidelines regarding contracting with minority and women owned businesses. He said, "There is no really strong political will for [the Sports & Exhibition Authority] to be strident in their enforcement of the guidelines because the goal is to get these projects moving". Following this pattern of city officials, Ravenstahl is prioritizing "moving the casino construction fahrd" because it plays a serious role in his loose city budget projections.

Back in March, Chris Briem pointed out some fallacies in the mayor's budget. He notes:

Why would the ICA be so concerned if things were looking up for city finances? One reason is that the city budget projections count on revenue from the casino coming in next year. I'd have to go check, but I bet the budget counts on some casino revenue this year. You really need to look carefully at the previous year's finances, which are said to have ended with $25 million in the bank. Superficially you may think that going from a $25 year-end balance in 2005 to $38 mil at the end of 2006 is a good sign. You have to dig just a tad deeper than that. Just consider that in 2006 the city:
  • Borrowed $50 million additional dollars.
  • Deferred ~$12 million in debt payments coming due into future years
  • Received at least $10 million in one-time payments from the state for capital purchases.
  • had more unfilled positions than planned as city employees rushed to retire before Jan 1, 2006 when certain retirement benefits would expire.
The city does count on casino revenue. Briem cited an article from the Trib regarding the perspective of the state oversight board chair:
Pittsburgh's financial watchdog said Friday it wants Gov. Ed Rendell to guarantee the city's local share of gambling money even if a planned North Shore slots parlor doesn't open on schedule next year.
According to Pittsburgh's $419 million 2007 budget and five-year plan, the city expects to receive $1.9 million in gambling revenues in 2008; and at least $10 million in 2009 and EACH YEAR THEREAFTER.
"There will be gaming monies coming to the state even though our casino won't be built," said Barbara McNees, chairwoman of the state-appointed financial oversight board. "Can those monies be directed to the city of Pittsburgh in the interim? That's certainly what we'll be requesting."
Other assumptions in the original budget proposal and a perspective from Peduto from an Oct 2006 PG article:
The budget assumes the city will collect $7.7 million next year from a slots parlor, down from the original estimate of $17.7 million. It figures the city will lose $6 million in collections on the $52 tax on people who work in the city, because of a change in the collection schedule the Legislature is considering.

Councilman William Peduto said he supports the lower council budget, but will vote against the overall five-year plan because it overestimates state aid, nonprofit group contributions and age tax revenue.

"This is not a five-year recovery plan," he said. "It's a one-year recovery plan, and it's a five-year financial disaster" that could lead to layoffs or tax hikes in later years.
Well, those projections have now come to bite the administration in the behind and Ravenstahl is now stuck in traffic in order to remedy threats to the soundness of his budget. We learn that he has gone to Harrisburg to lobby for guaranteed casino revenues (also pension relief and, all of a sudden, public transportation), even though it will not likely even open in 2008, and for the $10 million the he wants for the city even though it was only offered last year as a one-time payment from the state for capital purchases. The PG covers this lobbying trip here and here. From the PG:
The mayor is trying to boost the amount of state aid to the city from the $6 million proposed in Gov. Ed Rendell's 2007-08 budget to the $10 million the city got in the fiscal year that expires June 30. The city's 2007 budget and long-term plan count on $10 million from the state every year.
The mayor said that much of the $10 million in state operating funds the city got in 2006-07 went for public safety costs, but added, "The money is flexible and we will work with the state to be creative and help meet our needs."
In the event that the state does not come through with the $10 million requested and doesn't guarantee the shortfalls in the casino revenue projections for the city, Ravenstahl's budget will be short about $6 million ($1.9 from casino revenues and about $4million from the gap between the $10million requested and the $6 million in Rendell's budget).

So, what to do? Like Sala said, we see why the goal is to get these projects (the casino) moving. Anticipating these budget gaps, Ravenstahl is pushing the casino construction 'fahrd' before stakeholders agree on what new traffic problems will arise because of the casino. The PG reported over the weekend, "Mayor wants casino construction before traffic study".
"I understand the concerns the Steelers would have with waiting until after the casino is open," Mr. Ravenstahl said. "I think it should be studied. Obviously you won't have as good of a feel for the impact until the actual traffic is there. But nevertheless, I think it is important to have a study completed prior to the facility opening."
Why study the damn traffic ex post facto? I don't see the logic unless I consider Ravenstahl's motivation for doing so - the city's budget. However, Rooney understands casino traffic and he's not happy with Ravenstahl's proposal to 'move fahrd'. From the Online Gambling Paper:
Rooney's family owns Yonkers Raceway outside New York City, and Art Rooney II says that he is very familiar with casino traffic, and that a study must be conducted before the casino building plans are approved. He fears casino traffic could double exit times for some fans leaving Heinz Field on game days, especially those heading across the West End Bridge.
Both this publication and the PG are reporting that the Steelers are threatening to sue the city if it goes ahead with construction prior to studying and resolving the traffic concern. Remember the Science Center had its own concerns. Elsewhere (and I can't find the source now), PITG, operating company for Barden's casino, said that they were frustrated because they had provided the gaming commission with everything requested and this is yet another barrier to getting the casino up and running. And Rendell has said that the state would put up the financing for the Penguins arena construction (but not the casino, right?) if the casino is not up and running according to schedule.

So, Ravenstahl proposes loose projections in his 'big surplus' budget, probably anticipated having
to appeal to the state to remedy it, goes to the state to lobby for $$$, and now risks yet another lawsuit against the city because he needs to rush the casino ahead of civic planning concerns so that his 'big surplus' doesn't turn into a big boondoggle. But perhaps this is the right time to bark at the state anyway.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Outcome Based Budgeting n'at

There has been some wonderful analysis of Tuesday's primary election results in the burghosphere and much deserved props to campaign managers, staff, and volunteers of our newly elected city council members Dowd, Kraus, and Burgess. While this has yet to be exhausted because of the many perspectives of analysts and the important things it symbolizes, I have begun to think of how policy-making for city government functions might take a turn.

Rick Earle broke a story "Pittsburgh EMS Response Time Below National Standards". He presents a shocking case of an 86-year old woman who waited almost half an hour for an ambulance to arrive after a neighbor called 911. He reports that:

National Standards call for paramedics to arrive at life-threatening emergencies within eight minutes 90 percent of the time.

Here are Pittsburgh EMS response times for the last four years:

•2003 : 75 percent of the time
•2004 : 70 percent of the time
•2005 : 65 percent of the time
•2006 : 66 percent of the time

EMS Chief Robert McCaughan told Earle that when the call came in at 4:32 p.m. the two units on the North Side were already out.

Paramedic Union President Jeff Vesci told Earle, “When the service gets taxed it's not uncommon for a half- hour to an hour to wait for an ambulance.”[because life-threatening emergencies take priority]
Vesci said budget cuts forced the elimination of 30 EMTs several years ago and that may be affecting response time.
Vesci told Earle,” We need four more ALS (advanced life support) units to make the system right and then we can handle anything.”
Vesci also told Earle there are other problems with the priority system.
Now, it was confusing in March when we heard that we did/didn't have a great disaster preparedness plan for the city. But the stewards of tax dollars must make decisions on what city services to prioritize and then how to fund those services. But city EMS is functioning below national best practice standards. And, while I'm sure they are doing the best they can, EMS experienced budget cuts and can only deliver the best services they can with that budget.

Back in 2005, Peduto was campaigning on "outcome based budgeting":
The budgeting method "is a move away from the special interests to the general interest of taxpayers ... completely overhauling the way we do budgeting in this city,"Peduto says.

Peduto is proposing a full-scale change in the city's budgeting methods, adopting an "outcome based budgeting" method that has been used by state governments such as Florida and Washington. Governments first identify their most important initiatives -- such as parks or police protection -- allocate their taxes and other resources according to those goals, and regularly benchmark their implementation.
Recently, Peduto advocated a performance based system with the issue of street paving. Dowd's campaign promises include listing second that "[he] will work to deliver city services at the high standard working people deserve by monitoring and assessing performance". And that's a smart and transparent delivery of city services.

It's not well known that Pittsburgh gave birth to emergency medical services, the model that is now used WORLDWIDE, with Freedom House. It's sad that the city that pioneered this essential public service is now underperforming according to national standards. Perhaps this swelling of progressive candidates will divest the old patronage system of its negative human capital and return city government to the people with transparency and accountability.