The 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.