Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Public Hearing on Tax-Abatement: May 1?

When Ravenstahl had Peduto as a challenger in the mayoral race, he couldn't offer enough promises to the public to release the details of his tax-abatement proposal. He kept saying he would release details soon or "in 2 weeks" each time he was asked by the media since February, much like the building contractor in the movie The Money Pit. Remember, Ravenstahl said he had a plan the day before Peduto was to release an 8-month long study he commissioned as the Working Group on the Shared Tax Abatement for Neighborhood Development (STAND) District for Downtown entitled, "Tax Abatement Policy Review: Analysis and Recommendations". This proposal has been posted on Peduto's city council page since then for public review. Mayor Ravenstahl's plan? Still no details released to the public. The most we've heard of details has been from Matt H in comments. So, without releasing a detailed plan to the public beforehand, the public is invited to a hearing on amending the city code for tax-abatement?

Is the city going to use Peduto's plan? Is that plan amended? Has that plan been co-opted and branded as Ravenstahl's plan?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Ravenstahl Campaign Signage: City Code Violation or Ethics Board Referral

With a competitive mayor's race in Philly focusing on crime and corruption, the lack of a challenger to Ravenstahl prevents the scrupulous adherence by candidates to law or ethic in campaigning. We've seen Ravenstahl's name and image everywhere from garbage collection schedules and mail and billboard advertisements for both the Redd Up campaign and the 311 line, bolstering the case for filing a complaint with the State Ethics Commission. Most recently we've seen this political branding at a former porn theater. Though without a challenger to his campaign for mayor, Ravenstahl still has the right to display campaign signs - but not on vacant or municipally owned property!

CHAPTER 423: UNAUTHORIZED ROADSIDE AND UTILITY POLE SIGNS PROHIBITED is the title behind chapter 423 of the city code, the entirety of which you can find here. Title 4 Article I Chapter 423 excerpted can be found here. The legslative intent behind the code is explicit.

The City Council makes the following findings:
(a) Unauthorized signs along City roads and on utility poles are a danger because they are intended to distract motor vehicle operators and because they often obstruct views of other vehicles;
(b) Unauthorized signs along City roads spoil the natural beauty that is an invaluable asset treasured by residents, commuters and visitors;
(c) Residents, commuters and visitors have frequently asked City Council members what could be done to eliminate roadside signs including, but not limited to, signs supporting candidates for elected public and labor union offices and signs soliciting for a variety of business interests; and
(d) There are a number of alternatives available to advertisers that do not have the negative impacts that signs on roadsides and utility poles have.
(Ord. 4-1998, eff. 3-16-98)
The penalty is as follows:
§ 423.99 PENALTY.
A violation of this Chapter shall be a summary offense. Each sign in violation of this Chapter shall constitute a separate offense. The owner of the sign and/or any person who caused the violation of this Chapter shall be subject to prosecution and fine. The fine shall be no more than three hundred dollars ($300.00) per sign and no less per sign than the total cost to the City to remove the sign (including proportionate wages and benefits for employees while removing the sign, attempting to locate the offender and storing the sign; proportionate vehicle cost, maintenance and fuel for transportation of the sign; storage costs and disposition costs).
(Ord. 4-1998, eff. 3-16-98)
If you drive along Centre Ave in the Hill you will see this at the intersection of Centre and Robinson Ext:

The property above is either public property or municipally owned, along city roads, and should not be used to display political campaign signs.

At 2521 Centre Ave. there is a vacant lot. For all the rhetorical hoopla about abandoned properties and vacant lots, it is quite ironic that the mayor has a campaign sign displayed there. The property is back due on taxes since at least 2004 and represents precisely what is discussed about vacant lots in the city. Apparantly, Ravenstahl sees a use for this vacant lot:

Take a slight left onto Reed St. and at the intersection with Soho St. you will find another sign next to the fire hydrant and stop sign.

Again, this is municipally owned property, along city roads, and should not be used for political campaign signage. Take a left on Kirkpatrick and head towards the Birmingham Bridge, you will see this at the corner of Kirkpatrick and Bentley. Take a guess on who owns this property.

If you happened to head up Herron Ave from Centre you would have seen on your left the open lot shown below. According to the County Assessment website this property appears to be owned by the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

So, on a quick drive yesterday evening (April 23) I spotted these 7 signs on either abandoned property or municipally owned property. That totals up to $1800 (not counting the summary offense) in fines to the Ravenstahl campaign for violations to Title 4 Article I Chapter 423 of the city code. If this is not the correct application of the city code or if there is another code that better accounts for posting campaign signage along city roads or on public or abandoned property I am all ears.

This either warrants the attention of DPW, which, according to how I read the city code, is responsible for enforcement or to the city ethics board. To make a big deal about buying back liens on abandoned properties within the city and then post campaign signs on a vacant lot seems hypocritical. Together with the earlier case for the State Ethics Commission this might be something for the city's ethics board to consider once it (or if it ever) begins holding meetings.

The fact that Judge Williams and other candidates have done this is not a legal argument. That this whole post is a waste of time - not a legal argument. The fact that everybody does it and that city residents don't pay attention are also not ethical arguments. The law should be enforced equally.

Are there more campaign signs on public or vacant properties around town?

What's going on here?

Today the Trib reports, "Penguins officials to meet with Hill District residents". It seems as if there are competing coalitions developing between Payne/Milliones/Robinson's unnamed group and Pittsburgh UNITED. This is a development on a previous post.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Gun Violence in Pittsburgh

Today the PG reports that a man was shot multiple times in broad daylight downtown on Smithfield St. The killer pulled someone off a public phone, realized he had the wrong person, sat back in his car, found his man, grabbed him, shot him, and continued to empty 7 more shots into the man's chest once he fell to the ground. This is both tragic and symptomatic of the failures of our city and society. We can debate endlessly about causes for the violence (the quality of education within the Pittsburgh school system and job opportunities comes to mind) but we should agree that the phenomenon is likely overdetermined by a number of causes and should act in some way to minimize the number of lives being lost and injured due to gun violence.

A study released from the Violence Prevention Center on Jan 29 2007 indicated that Pennsylvania leads the nation in the per capita rate of black homicide victimization. The state's black homicide rate of 29.52 per 100,000 is six times the national overall homicide rate of 4.86 per 100,000. Among other findings described in the report, in 2004:

  • There were 398 black homicide victims, resulting in a homicide rate of 29.52 per 100,000. Of these, 348 were male and 50 were female.
  • For homicides in which the weapon used could be identified, 86 percent of victims (335 out of 389) were shot and killed with guns. Of these, 81 percent (273 victims) were killed with handguns. There were 48 victims killed with firearms, type not stated. There were 25 victims killed with knives or other cutting instruments, 7 victims killed by bodily force, and 9 victims killed by a blunt object.
The Courier covered the release of this study and has been monitoring gun violence in Allegheny County. The paper states, "It is our hope that as the list of victims grows, so will a true understanding of how these lost lives effect the mental health, economic well-being and self-images of the region’s Black neighborhoods." The paper publishes monthly accounts of the number dead from gun violence in the county. As of March 31 this year, the Courier reports that there have been 30 homicides in Allegheny County —24 of which have taken the lives of Black people, 22 of those Black men.

BPEP, the Black Political Empowerment Project, declares that, indeed, the time for talk is past. BPEP, along with and at Hill House, organized the One Hood press conference and community action group in February to seek public engagement to address the growing problem of black on black homicide in Pittsburgh neighborhoods.

“Due to the overwhelming show of support, what we will do is ask everyone to write down their ideas and suggestions to put in a hat and discuss each one and determine which ones can be implemented within our communities, and the ones that require outside resources for implementation will then go downtown,” explained Stevens.

“We intend to hold the mayor, Doug Shields, Bill Peduto and the other officials to their word of support.”

The PG reported:
"Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, who attended last night, said he could not pretend to understand what crises the young men face but that he would work with the community to try to get illegal guns off the street"
From the PG report today, the mayor was attending a groundbreaking for a library in the Hill District when he heard of the incident and headed to the scene.

"To have an act of violence on Smithfield Street in broad daylight with hundreds of witnesses around -- it raises concern," the mayor said.

"I want to assure the public that this is an isolated incident," he said. "Police believe it is a targeted shooting. There are a lot of witnesses who are cooperating. Despite this today, we are one of the safest cities in America."

Well, after yesterday's awful tragedy at Virginia Tech, there should be no doubt that gun violence is a problem and we must act to address this problem locally. We may have one of the safest cities in America -in general terms- but looking at the data much more closely, certain groups in Pittsburgh are disproportionately affected by gun violence. Community groups are essential in advocating and organizing awareness to community problems but it will take political will to translate that concern into legislative action, mobilizing resources to address the problem. Let's hope that BPEP and other concerned citizens hold the mayor and other public representatives to their word in getting illegal guns off the street or doing whatever it takes to address this problem.

Sadly, yesterday was a hat trick .
The PG editorial board suggests the mayor take action.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Casinarena and Community Coalitions

The bigger the coalition, the bigger the fish to fry. The organizing force in the Hill is growing and developers and public officials have a problem on their hands. And that's a good thing. If our mayor weren't lollygagging in NYC last month and missing meetings with Hill District leaders to listen to their concerns he might have been able to take proactive measures to prevent a coalition from forming. Both he and Onorato also could have considered these likely concerns prior to establishing the contract with the Penguins. Rich Lord reports today, "Groups unite to demand arena benefits".

Thanks to pre-existing organizing infrastructure of UNITEHERE and SEIU, the Pittsburgh UNITED coalition is an umbrella group of 15 organization which will demand arena benefits. Its membership is growing. PIttsburgh UNITED has not endorsed the 'terms sheet' provided by Milliones' group last week. In case you missed last week's post, it's here.

Hopefully, her group will join Pittsburgh UNITED and not allow public officials and developers to play coalitions in competition against one another and defeat both their aims. One of those aims on the 'term sheet', according to Lord, was for the Hill to share in arena revenues. According to The Allegheny Institute's documentation on how the public was shafted in the arena deal, revenues generated by ALL arena events remain under control of the Penguins. If this is the case, no one will be able to argue for sharing revenues since this arrangement is already in contract with the Penguins.

Other demands such as minority and women owned business contracting is already set in guidelines passed by the city. Good reporting work on monitoring adherence to these guidelines has been done by Christian Morrow of the Courier here and here. Given that the arena is a joint city-county project it will be interesting to see how this will play out. According to Morrow (last paragraph of the first article), pass-through contracting is already being utilized.

It is likely that compromise will have to be reached on creative community benefits as Lord describes in the article such as those in the Staples' Center or the Atlantic Yards development.

Mr. Ravenstahl said, "I think that's fair for them to have a seat at the table". Yes, I believe so.
That's why there was such opposition to having the casino built in the Hill and why it is important to consider what to do with the site of the current/old arena. Lord writes, "The Penguins have said they will meet with Hill residents and consider their concerns, and Mr. Onorato said he's trying to schedule a meeting for next week. It's not yet clear whether alliance leaders will be at that meeting." I'll continue to harp on the leadership issue again but why isn't Ravenstahl, instead of Onorato, try to schedule these meetings? What does it say when Onorato is symbolically the leader in these negotiations? One interpretation is that our 'fresh leadership' mayor is so 'fresh' that he doesn't have the seasoned negotiating skills to navigate the concerns of all of the stakeholders in this matter.

"We don't settle until we all settle," said Hoffman, SEIU programs director. That includes North Siders concerned with casino construction. Will that grow to include organizations from other neighborhoods within the city that want casinarena benefits? It's going to be interesting to see how this unfolds.


According to the PG, the city wants to relocate the last remaining synagogue in the Hill District to build the new arena.

City-Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority officials disclosed yesterday that they are seeking to relocate the Beth Hamedrash Hagadol-Beth Jacob synagogue on Colwell Street to clear the way for the $290 million arena.
Rabbi Stanley J. Savage said he had heard nothing about a possible relocation.

"I just think it's a shame that the last of 23 synagogues can't stay here," he said.

Funny how the rabbi of the synagogue in question had "heard nothing" about the plans. Think about the 'Grant St. vs Main St.' mindset of development. Perhaps the seeds to an addition to the community coalition have been planted.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Moonlighting Cops and Accountability

Well, it seems to be an Allegheny Whitefish floating casually by as if it wanted to blend into the scenery so you wouldn't notice it. When you do, though, you're taken aback because your gut reacts, "gross!" Last week, the PG reported, "City police set rates, system for moonlighting officers". The Trib reported, "City police detail rules for off-duty work".

We learn that the new system centralizes the process and sets up specific steps employers must take to request officers and that the bureau must follow in assigning them. From the PG:

Under the old system, officers were scheduled for off-duty security details either through the bureau or police-run private security networks set up by officers who acted as schedulers. That will continue, but now the bureau will use a computerized system to keep track of all details and which officers are working. Previously, supervisors didn't know which officers were working details or where.

The new system requires businesses to sign an application agreement and allows them to schedule officers through the bureau's Office of Special Events or to continue to use police schedulers they had before. Chief McDonald said 345 businesses have signed up to request officers through the special events office and pay them through the bureau's payroll system. The other 150 will continue to designate one active, full-time officer who will schedule other officers in exchange for a cut of their pay. Employers will have to pay the $3.85 surcharge for the time the schedulers spend in setting up the details.

The bureau will track all off-duty assignments and collect the fee for all of them.

From the Trib:
In the past, the police bureau has tracked about one-third of off-duty jobs. It will now track and charge a fee for all of them, McDonald said.

"We have a responsibility to know what our officers are doing," she said.

The scheduling officers must pay the $3.85 fee as well, she said. Only active, full-time officers are permitted to serve as schedulers for off-duty details, McDonald said. Before the rules took affect April 9, retired officers were allowed to do that.

Based on the 7,760 off-duty hours worked in October, McDonald said the city could make $29,876 a month from the $3.85 fee, or $358,512 a year.
Perhaps I'm missing something but there does not seem to be a mechanism to ensure that ALL assignments go through the computerized system and are assessed the $3.85 surcharge. Why isn't the new system to require ALL businesses to schedule through the Office of Special Events and be scheduled through the bureau? Why can businesses continue to use police schedulers they had before? Of course, all of the off-duty assignments that make it into the system will be assessed the surcharge. But will all of the assignments from 150 businesses scheduled by a designated officer get entered into the database? The new process seems unnecessarily complicated.. Remember that because of this system the city lost revenue in the past. This does seem to be an improved plan towards accountability but what guarantee do we have in the fidelity of this system and scheduling officers? I may be missing something here and I'm all ears if that is the case.

Another interesting statement in Boren's article:
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.
What percentage of the fee will "feed" the police union's legal defense fund n@? That money does not go directly to the city. Furthermore, if it is collecting a fee why doesn't the police union, then, bear the burden of paying out in the event of a lawsuit, as in the Eggleton case?

If you missed it and are interested in reading The Admiral's extensive work on this topic, with many relevant links from around the burghosphere, it is presented in parts:

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Pensions and Political Craft: Reform

For some, fishing is an art. The object is to present an artificial lure to the fish one is trying to catch as naturally as possible so as to induce the fish to bite. Rich Lord reports on Mayor Ravenstahl's attempt to address the staggering pension debt that the city faces. Ten Pennsylvania mayors will attempt to address their city's pension problems by creating an action plan (a statewide pension fund so that municipalities can opt into sos they don't have to each manage one or more pension funds, according to Lord). Briem gives us quite a perspective on the daunting challenge. Like the mayor said, "it's not going to happen overnight".

"Our goal is to figure out an action plan, moving forward, and try to make, slowly but surely, changes to the pension system that will affect positively Pittsburgh and cities throughout the commonwealth"
I'll overlook the need for the mayor to enroll in a grammar course (is that really English?) and I'll sip on a cold one for Pittgirl's "Moving Forward Drinking Game". My thoughts focus on what the mayor 'could' do with the political capital he now has within the city to seriously challenge city unions and reform the political landscape. He failed to do so with the FOP and the moonlighting police surcharge (yes, I am aware he improved on his stance but there are a number of shortcomings, namely, assurances that ALL assignments go through the city's contracting software - the racket itself has not been eliminated). He also has avoided renegotiating the firefighters contract. And how about no-bid contracts? City unions were all behind Ravenstahl in his campaign and I do not believe that he will make a concerted effort to challenge municipal unions. Therefore, the only option he has is to pursue a statewide pension program. I am not informed enough to comment on the merits (though I see this as positive) of such an approach. My point is that he has enough political capital as a leader to push forth with politically unpopular agendas (such as renegotiating the firefighters contract) in the best interest of the city.

William Ascher wrote a book in 1985 entitled "Scheming for the Poor: The Politics of Redistribution in Latin America". We obviously aren't in Latin America and it isn't the 1980's but the navigational processes used by political leaders to pursue unpopular agendas is relevant to the issue at hand. A review by Jeff Frieden in Political Science Quarterly captures the main points in the book as follows:
Ascher concludes, not surprisingly, that "the choice of strategy and tactics makes a difference" (p. 305). Governments committed to redistribution should cultivate allies among the non-poor, use appropriate instruments with competence and an eye to proper timing, avoid presenting maximalist programs, and avoid mobilizing mass support in such a way as to inflame entrenched opposition. Ascher believes that cautious gradualism has been most successful, that "the masters of redistribution prove to be the tacticians rather than the warriors. The best records of redistribution are held by the pragmatic politicians whose familiarity with the policy process enables them to manipulate the political atmosphere to lull, disarm, or intimidate the potential opposition . . . " (p. 18).
Ascher noticed that leaders who didn't explicitly campaign on moving unpopular agendas and who approached those agendas with a certain degree of political "craft" were successful in achieving their desired policies. With Ravenstahl's unwarranted popularity, he could, not easily but probably successfully, strike upon a number of needed changes within city politics; pension reform, city contracting policies, real and profitable city-county mergering, creative ways to bolster city finances from large non-profits, and the list goes on. He could get those with deeply embedded interests in the city's political landscape to buy-in to doing what's best for Pittsburgh's long-term health. These interest group coalitions (include the likes of no-bid contracting a la Zappala) that prevent these kinds of reforms could be lured to bite without raising all kinds of hell.

But it takes political will and political craft to accomplish such feats, qualities that are not necessarily developed in a young politician. You've got to fail in life and the mayor is now learning on the job. He hasn't gained the wisdom from working in a number of different capacities to grow as an individual, let alone as a politician. He was, what, an office clerk for a while before becoming a city council member? But he 'could' push for reforming the the political landscape and, if anyone could do it, he 'could' be successful. Well, we'll see what kind of an angler he is as the remainder of this term unfolds.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Arena Construction and Hill District Community Benefits

Yeah, yeah....sure, sure. Been gone for a week but not long enough to miss a sham in the arena deal. According to many reports, Hill District leaders and clergy (now, let's not conclude that these folks do or do not represent the Hill) have demanded:

  • $10 million in local development funding
  • Guaranteed jobs for minorities
  • Other community benefits
I will ignore the important issue that was raised in several discussions in the burghosphere about the dangerous precedent that this development funding request may set. Indeed, while the Hill deserves the lion's share of such a fund, the city and region, as a whole, forewent the opportunity to use gambling revenue for infrastructure (transit, for instance) and neighborhood improvements and got the shaft on the deal anyway. Now, if the Hill gets this development funding, other neighborhoods in need (Knoxville, for instance) might see an opportunity, and rightfully so, to lobby for development funding as well. While all neighborhoods deserve to benefit, figuring out who gets what will become a big mess for Jesus (Ravenstahl) and the Holy Ghost (Onorato) while God, the Father (Rendell) stays out of it.

The point I will take issue with in this post is that of 'guaranteed jobs for minorities'. It is sad that this even had to be stated explicitly but it perhaps needs to be stated much louder. Together, construction of Heinz Field, PNC Park, and expansion to the David L. Lawrence Center reached almost 1 Billion dollars. The United States Commission on Civil Rights put out a very concise article entitled, "Barriers Facing Minority- and Woman-Owned Businesses in Pennsylvania" so pertinent to this discussion that I think its discussion of large public works projects in Pittsburgh warrants posting in full.
Large-Scale Construction in Pittsburgh

Large-scale projects create expectations of economic revitalization. As in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh has seen its share of projects that drew considerable attention to M/WBE utilization and development. Three projects in particular—PNC Park (the new Pittsburgh Pirates baseball stadium), Heinz Field (the new Pittsburgh Steelers football stadium), and expansion of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center—drew the most. Conceived in the late 1990s, they are easily the largest public works projects in city history, reaching almost $1 billion in combined costs.[16]

As these projects proceeded, M/WBE owners, state legislators, and Pittsburgh City Council members raised concerns about M/WBE utilization and sought assurances for minority contractors and employees.[17] Project managers and city officials committed to 25 percent MBE and 10 percent WBE participation goals for contractors and subcontractors on the sites.[18]

Beginning in 1999, events began to unfold attracting the Committee’s attention. The Pittsburgh City Council passed resolutions establishing a city goal of 25 percent minority and 10 percent female participation on city contracts over $250,000.[19] In July 1999, members of the African American Workers Union picketed the Pirates stadium site, claiming the group was blocked from participating in opportunities for construction of PNC Park.[20] Nine union members were arrested after having prevented access to a construction site.[21] That same year, a common pleas court ruled that a contract for work on PNC Park was improperly awarded to a firm that was not the lowest responsive bidder as specified under state law. This was an indication of problems to come. In early 2000, a women-owned steel fabricating firm, Industrial Fabricating Systems Inc., filed state and federal lawsuits against the Sports & Exhibition Authority and two steel companies, alleging that it was asked to accept “pass-through” payments from providers for steel for the stadium in exchange for not working on the project.[22]

Soon after, in June 2000, a three-month Pittsburgh Post-Gazette investigation uncovered allegations of wrongdoing on an even larger scale, namely that at least one-third of the $117 million in contracts purportedly going to M/WBEs actually went to firms owned by whites or to firms that no longer qualified as disadvantaged.[23] The Post-Gazette reported that minority- and women-owned contractors were asked to accept token payments for construction work on stadium construction jobs and “pass through” this work to majority-owned contractors.[24] After the story was published, the paper reported that the Allegheny county executive asked the FBI to investigate the awarding of project contracts as well as the county agency that certifies M/WBEs. The Pittsburgh City Council held hearings in June 2000 on problems with the city’s certification process. M/WBE owners, NAACP representatives, and other groups described difficulties in the bidding process for the stadiums, confusing certification procedures, and illegal business agreements.[25]

In late June 2000, the City Council passed an ordinance radically changing the city’s review and approval process for city contracts.[26] The prior ordinance mandated that all development proposals and all bids on city construction contracts over $250,000 include a plan for participation of minorities and women, and M/WBEs as contractors, subcontractors, and suppliers. All plans were reviewed and approved by the city’s Minority Business Enterprise Review Committee. The new ordinance created an Equal Opportunity Review Commission (EORC) to review and approve all construction contracts over $200,000 as well as contractors’ compliance with M/WBE policies.[27] The ordinance requires that 35 percent of all work performed on these contracts be performed by city residents and sets up mechanisms for contractors to report their compliance to the EORC. It also allows the EORC to impose monetary damages for noncompliance.

In September 2000, the Allegheny County controller released an audit of the certification and monitoring procedures of the county’s Minority, Women and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Department. The audit reviewed outreach efforts to include M/WBEs on construction of the stadiums and convention center renovations. In his review, the controller found that (1) monitoring procedures failed to ensure that county departments and contractors were making good faith efforts to meet the county’s M/WBE goals, (2) the department did not follow-up with contractors that failed to meet the county’s 13 percent MBE and 2 percent WBE participation goals, (3) incomplete project information resulted in eligible firms being overlooked during the bid notification process, and (4) over $900,000 was spent by other government agencies to provide similar M/WBE certification and monitoring functions.[28]
A couple of things to note. (1) Dan Onorato was the controller during this fiasco and performed the audit of the county's Department of Minority, Women and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise office. He should be well seasoned by now. As I asked in a previous post, what has Onorato done to prevent this from REcurring? Enlighten me if you know. What controller candidate will take up this issue of enforcing the guidelines set for contracting minority-owned businesses?(2) What the Hill District leaders/clergy are asking for is already in place. The city and county are required to ensure that minority-owned businesses contract on these projects. The problem is oversight/enforcement. Back in 2000, Sala Udin 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". Judging by today's press and the demolition of the site, it seems as though this is the case. There doesn't seem to be the political will to enforce the guidelines, especially when traveling to NYC is more important than to meet with Hill District leaders on the arena issue. What follows is that history will, again, repeat itself in all likelihood. (3) It's interesting that Payne and Robinson are now speaking up when Milliones' group had already done so (even though the Trib article Bram posted somewhere identified Millione's as Jake Wheatley's girlfriend). Seems like we oughta establish a consortium of community development groups, such as Hill House, who have a long track record of caring for the community rather than turn to politicos and opportunists.

Then again, we have a patronage system of politics here in western PA. Why wouldn't we see a corporatist arrangement on public works projects (think city energy consulting and Zappala here)? Who cares about ordinances and established guidelines? There's a history of not giving a shit. Would Lamb, as controller, enforce the guidelines?

April 12, 2007 UPDATE

Christian Morrow of The New Pittsburgh Courier does some careful journalism in his article, "Demolition clears way for development". Morrow writes that Clarence Curry, MWDBE coordinator for the SEA, said participation goals for the demolition phase of new arena project are already being met.
“We have $98,000 in (Minority-owned Business Enterprise) contracts and $82,000 in (Women-owned Business Enterprise) contracts out of $926,419,” said Curry. “That’s 11 percent and nine percent, respectively.”

“The demolition of the (former St. Francis Central) hospital and its parking garage is a separate contract and we’re looking at about 26 percent MBE and 12 percent WBE on that job,” he said. “The demolition design study is still going on though, so we won’t be getting started on that for a couple months.”

Curry said A & A Consultants, an MBE has 15 percent of the design study work, and Fullard Environmental and Sterling Contracting are slated to get 27 percent of the $1.48 million hazardous abatement work once demolition begins.
This article was a follow up to an earlier article on M/WBE contracting. The last paragraph is telling.

Thank you Mr. Morrow. At least there are some folks in the MSM paying attention to such an important issue.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Suckers in the Allegheny

Most people who catch suckerfish, like the Redhorse Sucker pictured above, throw them back into the Allegheny River. That's one of the reasons why the Allegheny River and County is full of suckers. Suckers for wanting a boy mayor to learn-on-the-job, for pursuing low yielding resource-consuming investments (see "Money Talks" in today's PG letters, for example) and for electing officials who shy away from the essential functions of their office.

Today, the PG reports:

Allegheny County Controller Mark Flaherty will audit the Port Authority's ledgers and help provide oversight of spending and other financial matters at the troubled county entity.

It's believed to be the first time that the controller will be so actively involved in the agency, which has operating and capital outlays approximating $400 million a year, including $25 million of county funds.

"We've invited the elected, independent controller to look at the problems we've discovered and changes we think need to be made," Mr. Onorato said. "We think this will be a helpful tool" in view of the crisis facing the Port Authority. The agency last week approved a 15 percent service cutback.
This is the first time that the controller will be actively involved in the agency? An authority to which the county turns over $25 million annually? Mr. Onorato thinks that inviting the elected, independent controller will be a helpful tool. Onorato said the fiscal 'crisis' has been years in the making. Why didn't he assign Flaherty to oversee the budget when he stepped into office 3yrs ago. Why didn't Flaherty assert his rightful authority to oversee the Port Authority's budget so as to ensure the sustainability of such an important piece of the region's economic infrastructure? Why is this the first time the controller will be actively involved in the Port Authority?

From the Trib:
The audit appears to be the first by the controller's office of Port Authority, which has "resisted" previous interest by the county's elected auditor, said county Chief Executive Dan Onorato.

"It's going to be this administration that's going to fix the problem," Onorato said during a morning press conference in his office.
The authority requested Flaherty's involvement. Onorato called Flaherty on the authority's behalf Friday afternoon after the transit agency's board approved cutting routes and scaling back management benefits to cut costs.

The controller's office generally has not been welcome to audit financial records of many authorities, including Port Authority, Onorato said. The county contributes $25 million a year to Port Authority's budget.
So, what Onorato is saying is that only when he thinks it is important to keep the political heat off himself will he call the controller on the Port Authority's behalf to audit its budget. That doesn't seem to be an acceptable policy for fiscal responsibility. In fact that seems to be part of the process that got us into this mess and motivation for his challenger Rick Swartz to call for opening up the process of governing. Reframing this issue, it seems that Onorato's administration has been 'weak' on overseeing the management of public monies for public transit.

The Port Authority "resisted", the controller's office "not welcome"? Does that mean an armed resistance? Does that mean they basically told the county to "screw off" when it asked questions about the $25 million it hands over each year? Does that mean the county controller and executive respond by saying, "duh, ok" and turn around to walk home when the Port Authority doesn't want to turn over its books to be audited? Any other organization that receives $.50 from the county would have to jump through all kinds of hoops to account for their spending of county money. No, the controller IS mandated to audit all county expenditures and failed to be responsible to the taxpayers. From the controller's office:
The Controller is the chief elected fiscal officer of Allegheny County and provides general supervision and control of the County's fiscal activities.

The Controller has the responsibility to prescribe and maintain the accounting systems of the County and the authority to conduct audits of all County expenditures and offices. The Controller is the final, independent check on the fiscal activities of the executive and legislative branches of County government, as well as the independently elected row offices.

Even better, the Audit Services Division of the office:
  • To examine and inspect books, records, files, papers, documents and information relating to all financial affairs of County offices and departments, political subdivisions and organizations which receive appropriations from the County.
  • To review both the administrative control and internal control systems as established by row officers and department heads, and to determine that such control systems are adequate and effective in reaching their goals.
  • To hold County officials accountable in their use of public funds and other resources at their disposal. This includes examination of financial statements and the legality and prudence of expenditures; the efficient use of resources including the elimination of wasteful practices; and the satisfactory implementation of programs.
  • To determine whether County programs are achieving their desired objectives.
  • To issue Audits & Reports resulting from post-audits of County departments and agencies detailing findings.
What happens in the future? What will Onorato put in place so that these kinds of crises are prevented? What are the controller candidates going to do about auditing the county funds used by the Port Authority? Onorato says it's going to be 'this' administration that's going to fix the problem but it seems as though 'this' administration was part of the problem in overlooking the financial management of the Port Authority. Controller candidates certainly have an opportunity before them. I don't wanna be a sucker.