County, State & Beyond: More sheep shearing

Screen Shot 2015-09-24 at 6.46.50 PMThis will just about catch us up.


ALCOSAN, the City / County sewer authority, has begun investing billions in a centennial overhaul. But ALCOSAN officials are not shopping around for an engineering firm to manage the lion’s share, having settled into a favorite named AECOM. One board member actually resigned because contracting decisions seemed too thinly justified to be associated with.

It is probably time for elected-on-autopilot Allegheny County Treasurer John Weinstein, who chairs the ALCOSAN board and is responsible for how these decisions get made, to step into the limelight. He can begin providing real public accountability for the whole sensational undertaking, instead of public relations.


The new health care system is up and running, utilizing partnerships with a private health network and an established County-run health center. Sounds intricate, but sensible. If quality of care is seen to improve, this should remind people that sometimes government is a better tool for certain jobs than the private sector. Throughout this ordeal I never once heard anybody say, “Just get a different, better corporation to take care of the inmates!” Maybe for-profit criminal justice generally is on its way out.


State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Cranberry), chair of the PA House of Representative’s rather powerful “State Government” Committee, restricts gay and Latino House members from speaking in defense of their own civil rights issues, but recruits testimony from white supremacists to menace them.

Cranberry Township is young, fixated on economic growth and very proud. Cranberrians must think they are doing something right, and they must not sweat the small stuff or much of anything really. But the ugly tyranny of Chairman Metcalfe is getting un-American, and somebody has to do something. This isn’t a symbolic or rhetorical offense; the man is running a discriminatory government body, a kangaroo court.  Speaker of the House Mike Turzai, whose district lies between Cranberry and the city, is perfectly situated to step in and act statesmanlike.


Agreement on a state budget is kind of important — setting tax rates and the expenditure levels for things like education, transportation and public safety, not to mention keeping lights running all over Pennsylvania. At the same time, apparently, a lot of us are upset that we have to make an extra stop to buy liquor or cases of beer.

Screen Shot 2015-09-25 at 11.37.26 AM

But maybe the state budget and alcohol sales are two entirely separate problems that need to be considered separately? As urgently as some of us need Pennsylvania to get out of the liquor business “as soon as possible,” maybe we should be noticing that chaining together disparate issues and playing deadline-busting games of chicken with them is a failed strategy that reliably makes everything more impossible. Just a thought.


Borough of Braddock mayor John Fetterman has jumped into the race against former Congressman and retired Navy admiral Joe Sestak and several-time PA Governor’s administration official Kathleen McGinty.

Check him out on MSNBC’s All in with Chris Hayes:

CH: Okay but — well, first of all, have you had success? This is a very poor place, you’ve been here for ten years, what can you do as Mayor to improve…

JF: Well, the first thing we did is we’ve made it a safe place again. And the thing that I would say I’m most proud of, we accomplished in Braddock, is that we went over five and a half years without the loss of life through violence, which is unprecedented in any community, certainly, facing the issues that we have.

That is the issue he ran on more than eight years ago. That is what those tattoos are all about. So we’re glad this is still a talking point and filed under “success story”, and really hope to hear more about the turnaround.

Meanwhile, although most pundits say they can’t gauge the giant’s effect on the race, Sestak had been running as the down-to-earth lone wolf raging against the machine. Fetterman’s entry poaches that persona like taking candy from a baby, it seems to me. Different people connect with political campaigns for different mixtures of reasons, and while most of Fetterman’s support is no doubt authentic, we wouldn’t be terribly surprised if several are hitching up with him because it seems like a more fun and face-saving way to be helpful to McGinty, Wolf and the new Democratic order.


It was pretty remarkable seeing tens of thousands line up all orderly to eat communion wafers at the state capitol on a beautiful day. Is there a difference generally between who takes it by hand, and who sticks out their tongue? And do you suppose the Pontif’s visit was the catharsis moment for soon to be ex-Speaker Boehner? Is it going to get worse in the House of Representatives before it gets better, or are things just going to get worse? Which white guy will they pick?


We’re filing this news under “Continental”. Pittsburgh is introducing more bicycle infrastructure, and bike boxes will be the next big thing. At those marked intersections, bicycles making left turns will get to cut in front of the line at red lights so as to better execute a Pittsburgh Left.

But while this small-ball stuff is happening, did you notice that the Mayor is  slowly creeping up on the Forks of the Ohio with bike lanes? Maybe state conservatives like Scarnati and Metcalfe are right about Peduto with reference to creeping socialism and Agenda 21. If bicyclists can cruise right into and around Point State Park, that’s basically the start of liberating North America from car culture, and destabilizing the whole fossil fuel economy. I’d want to crush him like a bug before this evolves any further, too.

City Edition: Shearing the Sheep of State

Let’s take care of some issues that have been festering:


Before we dive into such profound topics as architecture and who gets to design it, let me say one thing about Pittsburgh Penguins’ owners alleged interest in selling the hockey franchise and the 28 developable acres:  I don’t trust them.

Why would Mario Lemieux fight so long and ingeniously to become part-owner of huge and pristine tracts of Downtown land, then sell out at the very precipice of becoming a Duke?

Rather, it must be negotiating season once again when it comes to complying with community agreements. Much like his notorious feint towards Kansas City, Lemieux may here want everybody to fixate on the short game (present resale value) when he’s really playing the long game (generational investment).

Should our jaws slacken just because the Penguins hired somebody at Morgan Stanley to do something? “Wow they must be serious, those are some name-brand crooks!” At least the city has a bargaining position of his own.


Meanwhile, the board of the public school district is mulling over how to go about selecting its next superintendent. Recent school board elections have all gone to candidates backed by the teachers’ union, and the workers are eager to seize the means of production. A fine thing, too, because the prior regime was a little too patrician and obtuse to hold it together. How did the elites take control in the first place, I wonder? Was the administration preceding that one too spendthrift and ill-focused?

Hard to see how the transitioning school board hopes to be “transparent” and include the community in its selection process. Inviting representatives from varying education groups into its deliberations might be the only way to open things up without spoiling the confidentiality of job applicants. But that probably is not power the Board feels compelled to distribute. It’s likely the Board will just hold a lot of public audiences to hear input on generalities, hold their candidate search close to the vest, and be solely responsible for whatever comes next.

Either way, the Board ought eventually to rustle up a permanent “Advisory Committee” inclusive of different educational perspectives (and political alliances) and try to alchemize them. The city-led Task Force was a nice exploration, but it was too remote. The School Board can direct a more useful conversation.


Police Chief McLay has been on the job one year. Crime is mostly stable, meaning violent crime is still way too high in certain neighborhoods. The Chief is pleading for patience to get newfangled systems into place, but note also that the number of tragic and controversial policing incidents seems to have plummeted. Hard to gauge how much worse things would feel if that record was otherwise.


Brian O’Neill did a great job outlining how the ICA has devolved into absurd intergovernmental energy-suck, which should probably declare victory in Pittsburgh and begin wrapping things up. But this is what happens when you give top Legislative leaders a vague mandate and an obscure office nook.

An audit of the inscrutable ICA may well turn up activity that is “questionable.” But unless “questionable” means “criminal,” Scarnati’s henchmen can turn around and claim Auditor General DePasquale is merely repaying nepotism and playing politics. Rather unfortunate, that. So the argument will get even more shrill, and less productive.

The ICA’s complaint is that it does not trust that the Peduto administration is genuine in its attempts to secure and implement new payroll management software. ICA fact-finders should be granted a tour of City Hall and a seminar to appraise themselves of the difficultly, nuance and reality of that highly complex ongoing effort. Then it should hand over the city’s rightful share of gaming money already.


One of two Commissioners who voted to hire a state Senatorial aid and state Democratic committee person as Director of the agency is now spending that Commission’s precious time complaining over commentary written about her on this blog.

At first I assumed Leah Williams-Duncan must have been offended over being called a “tin-pot political boss”, but it occurs to me she might instead feel a certain way reading that she needs to be “put in her place”. That latter turn of phrase has some badly unfortunate connotations. We wish we had expressed our perplexity over sharp-elbowed Human Relations Commission politics in a more sensitive, self-aware way.

But really, how is this an issue? Williams-Duncan, an attorney, is not acting like she understands that anyone can critique a public official’s performance in any terms they deem fit. She freely put her reputation at risk when she accepted that role. And several Commissioners don’t seem to understand that their colleagues can say just about anything they want about most Commission business, to anyone they please, as well.

It’s a terrible waste of the Commission’s time and energy to insist that people need to be hauled before inquisitors, and all must cower before completely phantom legal threats. My friend and commissioner Helen Gerhardt can be a nudge, a pain and an infuriating idealist, but she is not a spy, a saboteur or a careless person. She is just one kind of grassroots activist. She is there to make sure you are getting your grassroots, good and hard. Love it or hate it, just get on with the people’s business.


The new law is being challenged in court as unconstitutional under the state’s capital-friendly constitution. Its legislative sponsor and the mayor are both defending the law as the “right thing to do,” which might indicate that they’re hoping to win the war with this one, but not the battle.

Attempts like this need to get bigger:  countywide, statewide and national instead of citywide, and part of a raft that includes things like minimum wage hikes and anti-discrimination protection. I’m not sure Pittsburgh as a citadel of progressivism in a vast ocean of contented conservatism scales. If the idea is to shake the trees, then we should shake them all and really hard.


HBO adaptation of August Wilson cycle will be a huge eruption

Home Box Office, or HBO as they like to be called, makes fantastic television.

The Brink was wonderful, Silicon Valley got better and better, and Ballers was exactly what it wanted to be at the outset, although that turned out to be disappointing. And I don’t even have to tell you about Game of Thrones and Last Week Tonight.

Quality source material helps make for good television. August Wilson is sometimes considered one of the greatest playwrights of the 20th century.

It is remarkable how cable television has conditioned us to expect new content in ten-episode seasons, and here Wilson provides a tidy package of ten plays about a timely topic:  race in America, and the ongoing struggle to heal certain wounds.

All of which suggests that this HBO series is probably going to earn a lot of attention and acclaim.

Which is great, as  Continue reading

Police Chief McLay’s Reading List

MORE: See the Courier

MORE: See the Courier

First:  hurry!  You have only until the end of this week to sign up for autumn’s Citizens Police Academy, an informal 15-week course designed to help you get better acquainted with how our city’s Bureau of Police works.

It’s a good class for everybody from neighborhood or organizational participants who want to work more closely with law enforcement on their block or at their events, to social justice activists seeking to deepen their understanding of the 5-0’s perspectives.

They don’t try to convince you that they’re all angels, so much as provide information as they see it and live it. It’s a good atmosphere for back-and-forth.

Meanwhile we caught up with Police Chief Cameron McLay the other day, and asked him his reading recommendations for understanding policing challenges in the modern era. Here is what he had for us:   Continue reading

Peduto Stance on Pensions Ruffles Party Feathers

When Pittsburgh’s mayor sided with state Republicans and against Governor Tom Wolf on the issue of public pensions, it was a one-day story for most of Pennsylvania.

But within Pittsburgh’s Democratic machine, his position may be adding fuel to what had been the quietly smoldering embers of factional division.

Peduto supports a Republican-backed state Senate budget proposal that would have switched new state employees, including legislators, from defined benefits to defined contribution plans similar to a 401(k), in which employees have the option to save and invest some of their paychecks, a portion of which the employer matches. (Trib, Bauder & Daniels)

A week later, at the Democratic Committee vote to nominate a new County Council member in the east (congratulations, Paul Klein!) our own Committee precinct rep criticized that proposal to us as placing the retirements of public safety personnel in jeopardy, Continue reading

Commission on Human Relations meets again, puts off more delicate decisions

Today, the City of Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations met for the umpteenth time to discuss their search for a new Executive Director.

Pittsburgh’s CHR is a law enforcement agency which derives its authority from the City Fair Practices Provisions found in Article V, Chapters 651 through 659 of the Pittsburgh City Code. These provisions make it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, family status (housing), age, ancestry, national origin, place of birth, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, handicap or disability, [or] retaliation

Four months ago, the painstakingly reassembled Commission showed signs of trouble in its process of selecting a new Executive Director. The Personnel Committee continued to have strained relations with the rest of the Commission. Last month, they all thought they had come together on an agreeable selection. But alas, that applicant had withdrawn their interest.

Before Continue reading

Dems Correct Course, Will Replace Danko in District-Wide Vote

Rank and file Democratic Committee men and women representative of individual Allegheny County Council District 11 neighborhoods all will get to vote for the successor to Barbara Daly Danko.

Danko died of illness during her campaign, yet the voters of that District reelected her by a comfortable margin.

“After careful consultation with attorneys and members of Allegheny County leadership, I am pleased to announce that we are able to grant voting privileges to all committee members within this district,” Ms. Mills said in the release. “We know this is the most democratic — and most fair — way of conducting this election.” (P-G, Early Returns)

All’s well that ends well.  Continue reading

Transforming the ‘Burgh: Riding this Beast

Nova Place. The old Allegheny Center. Feast with your eyes, upon the drawings!

Super that we’re doing something about Allegheny Center after all these years. In the depths of 20th century American “urban renewal”, that was somebody’s idea of a classical Athenian paradise adjoining an indoor mall. A wide public crossroads, planned centrally, a lot of tall apartments for residential density, with cultural resources and libraries and sculptures within, and tables for chess and enlightened sociability.

Allegheny Center has long been regarded as a disappointment. It is known. Whether that is fair or not may turn out to be a bit more nuanced.

But now the City is doing away with much of that. The Peduto administration is proposing turning it into an innovation works, a 21st century technology hub, a high-end campus, featuring the “right kind of office space” Continue reading

Loading: A pop punk rejoinder…

Fitz down, Lamb up, Wagner up, Machine resurgent, Peduto weakened.

Don’t believe that just because there are now 4 or more bosses, the Machine is “gone”. At the same time, don’t expect it to stick around any longer than four more years.

There are loads of light at the end of these tunnels…

Stay tuned during our editing process.



BACKGROUND: P-G, Lord and Born; and previously Molly Born.

That’s a wrap. Roll Footage!


Chelsa remains County Controller. Lamb remains City Controller, winning lopsided. Discussion of these results and more go in the comments here. A more formal analysis coming later in the week!