City Land Bank’s Interim board grappling w/ issues

Screen Shot 2014-07-21 at 2.44.31 PMThe Interim board of the City of Pittsburgh’s new Land Bank held their fourth meeting on Thursday July 17.

For the fourth occasion, despite the tidal waves of attention land banking merited during debate, only three or four spectators were in attendance. Even most officials in City Hall seemed unaware of the off-peak deliberations in Council chambers.

The Interim board is charged with devising proposed policies and procedures for the City Land Bank, and submitting them to Council for approval.

Each Council member appointed one member to that board, resulting in the following cast of characters:

  • Ronell Guy of Northside Coalition for Fair Housing (c/o Councilwoman Gross)
  • Jerome Jackson, Operation Better Block & PCRG (c/o Councilman O’Connor)
  • Richard Carrington, Coalition Against Violence (c/o Councilman Kraus)
  • Kim Salinetro, Councilwoman Kail-Smith’s office (Councilwoman Kail-Smith)
  • Shawn Carter, Councilman Burgess’ office (c/o Councilman Burgess)
  • Lloyd Hedlund, Councilwoman Harris’ office (c/o Councilwoman Harris)
  • Dan Wood, Councilman Lavelle’s office (c/o Councilman Lavelle)
  • Barbara Valaw, CEO of Valcott Enterprises, attorney, and City Planning Commission member (c/o Councilwoman Rudiak)
  • Matt Barron, Mayor Peduto’s Policy Manager (c/o Councilman Gilman)

Here is a breakdown of Thursday’s action, which includes some background from previous meetings:

3:00 – 3:45: The RK Mellon Foundation has expressed a willingness to grant the Land Bank $20,000, and more meetings are being set up with other potential funders. But how much money does the Interim board require to perform its mission? Will they require a 501(c)3 organization such as Operation Better Block to act as fiscal agent?

And how should potential conflicts of interest be navigated? For example, should the body be concerned that PCRG already has been allocated a $50,000 grant from the Pittsburgh Foundation to handle “communications” and “community engagement” for the Land Bank? Will that arrangement impact the Interim Board’s own ability to set policy? Does it put the chairman it elected, OBB’s Jerome Jackson, in a conflicted position already as a board member of PCRG?

Finally, it looks as though the Interim Board requires legal counsel to help them navigate such issues, but the City Law Department has determined the Land Bank is a separate entity from the City and therefore not at its disposal. So the Interim board may need money for independent legal guidance — but how can they accept said money before they receive said guidance?

Does the Interim board need to back up and devise bylaws to deal with these issues?

3:45 – 5:00:  Are the video cameras set up around the Council table and pointed at them currently operational, and are they being televised on the City Channel as they had hoped? How do they get more information about these Interim board meetings on the web page, or otherwise get word out? Or is it more important that they agree on “uniform messaging” first? Is it alright for now to utilize the PowerPoint presentation on land banking that PCRG put together? Would it help or hurt if these meetings were held out in communities instead of City Hall?

The board voted to alter its schedule from weekly 2-hour meetings to biweekly 3-hour meetings, but tabled consideration of whether they should be held “out in the community” until they worked out other issues.

They also discussed an intended board retreat to hammer out policies and procedures, and discussed the possibility of hiring a professional facilitator.

Board member Carrington expressed frustration at the combined productivity level of the board meetings so far:  “I think in a lot of ways, we have overcomplicated our original charge.”

He was not alone in that assessment.

The agenda for each session had hardly advanced; all the questions they were ruminating were already familiar.

Although open accusations traded amongst board members regarding outside agendas had subsided — between those representing community groups and Council members directly, or between those representing groups a part of and outside the large PCRG umbrella – these still simmered beneath the surface.

The Chair was starting to get the hang of keeping discussion on track, but not exactly using Robert’s Rules of Order to ensure equal participation or curb interruption.

To editorialize, many of these difficulties appear to stem from the way Land Bank legislation first passed. Council’s factions were then in furious competition to appear most community-, transparency- and democratic-oriented; one result was the creation of an independent Interim board with a gigantic but vague mandate, all of which might still be gutted by Council.

As a result, the in-government members of the Interim board, Council overseers and the Mayoral administration itself charged with executing this legislation all seem reluctant to weigh in substantively on a melee, even when it comes to providing mechanical advice on how to “Do A Government”. Why get caught up in the crossfire of something that likely may not matter anyway?

Meanwhile, the only clues which exist thus far as to future “policies and procedures” reside on PCRG’s website. The most salient of its Community Land Bank Principles will have to get boiled down by the Interim Board (or others) from happy talk into actionable rules and regulations. Other policies will probably need to be added to the mix; things like mandating at least a 2-for-1 ratio for developing market-rate and affordable new housing units.

If the Interim board successfully engages and comes together to devise coherent and popular policies and procedures, Council will certainly have to ratify them, putting to rest a host of issues. If it fails, a more conventional political process will carry the day after all this activity — leaving the door open for continued political recrimination and grandstanding.

The next meeting appears set for Thursday, July 31 at 3:00 pm, City Council chambers.

Tom Corbett: Tortoise-like candidacy Hard to Watch

In this election for Governor, Democratic challenger Tom Wolf bounded out to as huge an early lead as imaginable. If a Tortoise and the Hare fable is what it takes to make this look like a “race” against incumbent Republican Tom Corbett, we had better use it.

Otherwise, it’s all too grim and terrible.

Basic education services under Tom Corbett have been slashed with predictable sharpness, all without any apparent plan to address the losses.

The budget has not recovered in Pennsylvania anywhere near to the extent that it has in other states.

And the Governor thinks keeping us away from Medicaid will cure what ails us.

He loves to imply Continue reading

Anti-Fitz Activists gain Traction with Ethics angle

There seems to be little point in arguing over fracking, let alone blogging about it.

As the Comet watched Allegheny County Council’s vote to approve natural gas drilling at Deer Lakes Park, cultural differences seemed front and center. This week we learned about how had it further confirmed that psychological and physiological factors determine political beliefs more than either facts or commentary. And as though to drive that point home, we discovered the art of rolling coal.

If half of us are confident in our beliefs that Continue reading

Diversity in the City Workforce: A Thorny Question

Naturally enough, some Pittsburghers have been trying to determine whether or not the new mayor’s otherwise successful government diversity agenda has been inclusive of openly LGBTQ persons — and with little success.

Given both the candidate and the administration’s pride in backing LGBTQ rights and all the crowing about government diversity, it’s a fair question.

It’s also a darn tricky one.

The first difficulty is in the timing of when to ask it and to expect a useful answer. When is the new administration fully assembled enough to do so? That’s been the precise trouble in gauging whether or not there has yet been enough progress in the police bureau. In that instance Continue reading

Developing, Budgeting and Liaising: ‘DAT SYNC (pt. 3 Finale) -> Moving Onward!

This huge news made a huge splash!

A Pittsburgh police officer has been selected to be a liaison to the public safety director, a temporary position for which there is not yet a job description.

Officer Michelle Auge, 38, began her first day in the position working at the bureau’s North Side headquarters. (P-G, Liz Navratil)

Call me crazy; it seems like liaising for the Public Safety Director, the Police Bureau and the community is a pretty thorough job description. Also, a daunting one.

If portfolio details and performance standards do not emerge after a while, maybe we should stroke our chins. In the meanwhile, people seem to like the employee and think the move makes sense.

Why not try to get in sync with what’s necessary, when it’s a priority? It is often demonstrated how this maneuver can reap real dividends and open new opportunities.

MORAL OF THE TRILOGY: Does this mean we should relax and say everything in Pittsburghtown is okay? No, but when we experience those healthy anxieties, we should worry about thornier, more fundamental issues like the Land Banking, or managing cultural shifts, or the state of our transit vision.

Let us all investigate such matters. Pittsburgh deserves we prioritize efficiency. And so occasionally, that means rowing with common purpose.

Go US!

Developing, Budgeting and Liaising: ‘DAT SYNC (pt. 2) Where dit go?

In the Land of Checks and Balances…

Mr. Lamb provided reporters with an invoice for a $17,384 high-definition projector, speaker system, Blu-ray player and accessories for the Parks and Recreation Department’s conference room. (P-G, Robert Zullo)

Very good. This, together with the coffee machine squelched by the Trib, gives us our $10,000 toilet seats story.

A Controller ought to come out with this material every month, as new stuff comes in. Continue reading