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.