Monthly Archives: September 2007

DeSantis Smells a Rat

They don’t need any politician telling them — feeding them — empty promises and documents that don’t have any meaning.

Challenger Mark DeSantis actually looks and sounds like he’s about to cry during the segment from Jon Delano on KDKA.

Real, grown-up businessman tears.

He is not outraged by some offhand campaign line or vague pledge to move forward. He is criticizing the actual 313-page budget document that the Mayor intends to present to City Council and the state oversight boards.

Incumbent Luke Ravenstahl trumpets this new budget proposal as yielding $13 million in surplus, all without new taxes or future borrowing. He says:

We’ve done this by creating efficiencies in government and also controlling spending so that over the next five years it’ll cost taxpayers less to run city government.

DeSantis emphatically suggests that they’ve done this by creating numbers straight out of their own hindquarters.

Too harsh? Consider that he has dubbed it the “Pittsburgh Promise II.”

Jon Delano delivered his clincher with what might have been a wink and a nudge:

I have a feeling there’s gonna be a lot of talk about numbers in the next few weeks leading up to the election.

Very few of us poor citizens are capable of assessing the truth value of a 300 page municipal budget — but the truth is out there.

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Mind you, if you’re Mark DeSantis, there may be a hidden danger in all this. There are enough big issues, like crime, consolidation and his raft of ethics proposals, all of which draw sharper contrasts that may be easier to comprehend.

DeSantis does not really need Pittsburgh to get bogged down in a debate over amortization and depreciation.

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Be that as it may, the Comet does have a few questions that could use answering.

1) Does Ravenstahl actually have the authority under Act 47 to raise taxes, even if he wanted to? Remember that he opposed Act 47, and wants us out of it as fast as possible.

2) By claiming we’ve realized these surpluses by creating efficiencies and controlling spending, does that mean no more borrowing over the five years? In changing our credit card mentality, is Luke essentially saying, “Read my lips, no new debt?”

3) Why is the amount we plan on collecting from the nonprofits going down? Why is it not, like the price of everything else, going up? We have yet to begin negotiations, and we are already settling! Why?

4) DeSantis claims he can trim the budget even while diverting about $23 million from the general fund to pay down our pensions. Care to offer some real specifics? Ravenstahl is already suggesting that city services like police and fire would suffer.

5) Would Ravenstahl be willing to operate his own Mayor’s office on half its present budget, as DeSantis intends to do? Is DeSantis being realistic? Is Ravenstahl being extravagant?

Don’tcha?

Ravenstahl Completes Homework

The Mayor submitted his proposed annual budget to the dark overlords of the Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority today.

There will be More details in tomorrow’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but we do want to riff off of one note today.

Included in the revenue estimate is $4.3 million from nonprofit organizations. The mayor said he has received verbal pledges in that amount and is seeking binding commitments.

“The reality of the state law is that now they don’t have to give us a dime if they don’t want to,” he said of the nonprofit groups. (P-G, Rich Lord)

Two ways to skin this cat.

1) Would Luke be in favor of changing said state law? He has shown a passion for lobbying and organizing at the state level, and at least one close political friend in Harrisburg is all about changing this law.

2) The reality of city law is that we don’t have to let any nonprofit build a new barbecue pit if we don’t want to. So maybe we should be using that leverage to strike a more favorable accord.

UPDATE: the Burgher’s back and you’re gonna be in trouble, HEY LAI, HEY LAI…

The DeSantis Anti-Crime Plan at a Glance

It seems as though the scabrous MSM has neglected to fully explicate the Mark DeSantis proposal for public safety — except to comment upon the antics of a certain North Side grocery store proprietor, who co-opted the big press conference. (P-G, Timothy McNulty)

The Comet promises to revisit the impressions of Mr. Walt Davis, but in the meanwhile, Here We Go:

1. We have 30 police officers dedicated to community oriented policing. I want the entire department dedicated to community-oriented policing.

This is truly the entirety of any possible public safety plan. Community buy-in is a must, but also, and frequently overlooked, police buy-in is even musterer.

Whether or not and how the communities and law-enforcement are made to cooperate is really the be-all and end-all of any possible public safety stratagem. WE CANNOT STRESS THIS ENOUGH!!!!11!!!! Kudos to Mark DeSantis for at least acknowledging that we must be doing more and better.

2. Wherever possible, any function currently being performed that doesn’t result in arrests or time spent by an officer in the community will be civilianized, computerized or eliminated.

If this is really a problem, and if this is realistic, then booyaugh! More officers on the streets can only be good. If we are truly utilizing cops to deliver interoffice mail and the such, as Act 47 and the Consent Decree have discouraged us, then we should cease at once, as we should have ceased long ago.

3. Police should be hired and promoted based on merit, not seniority or patronage.

Well, this would be good. We’re not sure whether or not this is possible under the current FOP collective bargaining agreement, but it seems like a “gimme” of an idea.

4. I will reinvigorate the Public Safety Council. The Public Safety Council, which represents each of the city’s 88 neighborhoods, will meet regularly with police, fire, health, building and code enforcement officers to identify problem areas in the city and develop strategies for solving them.

We can’t comment too much upon this. We don’t know what in blazes the Public Safety Council is. Therefore, we assume it to be an inviting candidate for re-invigoration.

5. BROKEN-WINDOW POLICING: I’ve taken this idea from New York City, where it made a huge difference. As Mayor, I will have a zero tolerance policy for crime, no matter how small.

This sounds like maybe a bit of hollow rhetoric. We’re unsure what emptying the pockets of every passerby will do for a target neighborhood, but then again we’re unsure of whether we have the manpower to actually pull off a Guilliani-type crackdown.

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Our final thoughts: we have a solid and very ambitious plan on the table. Mark DeSantis says he wants to make Pittsburgh “the safest city in America.” He is aiming awful high — but surely he has picked the correct issue on which to aim so high, hasn’t he?

His plan invites us to ask: where is Luke Ravenstahl aiming? And what is his plan for getting us there? Security cameras alone, IOHO, are never going to get us where we need to be.

Wednesday: Other Junk

While tweaking the Mayor for the results of his alleged national search, the P-G Ed Board evaluates his personnel moves. On the new regime at the URA and at Building Inspection:

That approach should work for developers, but we hope it won’t mean the end to community input and to important checks and balances…

Editorial Comment: Yeeeeeaah. That’s kind of what we’ve been getting at.

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Wal-Mart is still sliding onto Route 65, reports the Trib’s Karen Roebuck.

There was hope that once Wal-Mart itself took the reigns from the local developer, it would get serious about stabilizing the site. Now it’s evident its only serious about throwing more expensive lawyers at the problem.

Also, we may have a new culprit:

The county Office of Economic Development warned township officials in 2003 and 2004 that the site is landslide-prone, has problematic soils and steep slopes, and that the proposed development violated township ordinances.

In response, Kilbuck officials waived or changed ordinances, saying not doing so would make any project cost-prohibitive to developers and deprive the township of tax money.

“One little borough here … was proceeding full-speed ahead even though they were warned over and over and over and over what could happen,” [State Rep Thomas] Petrone said.

Editorial Comment: See how we’re leery of a “business-friendly environment?”

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The Pittsburgh Hoagie has more details on the proposed “Riverfront Dollhouse.”

It sure seems like Matt H opposes the North Side strip club, but on the flip side he is definitely amplifying 23-year old Steve Ivanovski’s cattle-call for “the Most Talented/Beautiful/Flirtacious Women that Pittsburgh has to OFFER !!!!!!! :)”

(Of course, we suppose now we are, too…)

Ed Heath offers a very interesting and well-researched comment, which we have truncated:

One of the reasons Hot-lanta is such a popular convention spot is because it *is* “Hot-lanta”. Male convention goers know what they can do in the evenings … That’s also why you may see City Council members quietly shrug their shoulders and say they can’t vote against the strip club.

We guess a business-friendly climate takes many forms.

Nothing to See Here

Experts who take a hard line in dealing with police officers accused of domestic violence recommend a range of approaches by departments, including temporarily putting alleged abusers on desk duty, taking away their guns or forbidding contact with their accusers.

Pittsburgh employs none of those techniques, hewing instead to a mostly hands-off policy.

The Post-Gazette article goes on and on and on, but that lede says it all. Other cities are doing things, and Pittsburgh does nothing.

Hubert Williams, who ran the Newark Police Department in New Jersey for 11 years and is president of the Police Foundation think tank, expressed surprise that police brass in Pittsburgh are not more proactive.

“I’m surprised, quite frankly, because I know they just got out from under a consent decree, because this is the kind of thing that opens the door to outside intervention in internal affairs. If we’re going to let the courts decide whether the officer’s conduct was appropriate, it’s problematic,” Mr. Williams said.

The bureau was under federal oversight from 1997 to 2002 after the U.S. Justice Department said it could prove a “pattern and practice” of police misconduct.

Maybe we’re not being fair. At the recent post-agenda session of council, union president James Malloy argued that once a Mayor chooses his Chief, and Council approves that Chief, it is incumbent upon all of us to place our faith in that Chief, and to simmer down.

Since our Chief has elected to take no measures against any officers, that is a clear indication that all of our officers have become exemplary citizens over the past decade.

The issue is now front and center in the Pittsburgh bureau, where at least 34 current officers have been defendants in PFAs. Top brass recently promoted three officers whose histories included accusations of domestic abuse that did not include protection orders.

Oh.

Well, it could be argued that in all 34 out of those 34 cases, and in the cases of the three promoted officers (two of which merited a mayoral reprimand), and in all the cases we don’t know about because they did not culminate in official PFAs — nothing really happened.

Nothing important. Nothing bad enough to disrupt a good cop’s career.

For all we know, those alleged “victims” all came after those poor police officers with frying pans!

Under pressure from City Council and various public interest groups, Police Chief Nathan E. Harper is updating the bureau’s policies regarding officer-involved domestic disputes. One of the changes he plans is to authorize an “administrative investigation” of all domestic violence incidents.

Does that sound like anything? Maybe it’s the scare-quotes, but to us that sure doesn’t sound like anything.

Back with a Vengeance!!

Mark DeSantis proposes a raft of ethics reforms, including the appointment of an Ethics Compliance Officer. (P-G, Tim McNulty; Trib, David M. Brown)

Editorial Comment: We bet he won’t be stealing this one.

The County is launching a program to spruce up small business districts by offering grants, no-interest loans and tax-abatements, called Allegheny Together. (P-G, Ann Belser)

Editorial Comment: What’s with the names, already?

A certain Bernard Taylor has filed an application to open a strip club just blocks away from the casino on the North Side. (P-G, Mark Belko)

Editorial Comment: How about, no?

The Post-Gazette gets all up in the Tribune-Review’s dirty familial cashmere. (P-G, Dennis Roddy)

Editorial Comment: We initially thought it was awful petty of the P-G to bother bringing this to our attention. Then we remembered that Mr. Scaife himself once powered a far uglier campaign to investigate and expose a noteworthy couple’s personal family business out of spite and political disdain. So we only care to comment, “Ah hah!”

“Blogged to Death”

Right, what’s all this, then?

With ‘Burgh brand satire, Off the Record VII takes hilarious aim at the ‘Burgh on the ‘Net and features the characters of Mayor Ravenstahl, Mary Beth Buchanan and Bob Nutting, among others. KDKA news anchor Ken Rice emcees; guest humorist is County Chief Executive Dan Onorato. (PTS, h/t MR)

Sounds like the County Exec is really set to cook our goose. The event does benefit the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, so we assume he’ll be unveiling his donation right there on stage, on slew of pallets.

Luke was supposed to join Dan for some buddy comedy schtick, but backed out at the last minute. The Mayor was afraid that by collaborating, the routine would lose its “Pittsburgh Voice.” So now they’ll each be performing the same material, back-to-back. Your tickets prices will double, of course.

Journalists and performers satirize Pittsburgh news and newsmakers in comedy and song, with rebuttals from some satirized… (PCT)

Alright, who’s holding out on us? Dayvoe? Peckham? Wait — don’t say it — just don’t say it…

Mayor Announces Leadership, Structural Changes

Luke Ravenstahl announced sweeping changes as part of an ongoing process to improve, enhance, and create further efficiencies in his administration. (PGH, Joanna Doven)

“I’ve had a year to evaluate the City’s management structure and personnel,” Ravenstahl said. “I’ve not been satisfied with the performance of the City either historically or today. The status quo is unacceptable. Changes need to be made and I’m making them.”

The moves include two newly created positions. Arthur O. Victor Jr. will be Director of Operations, and Michael Huss will be Director of Public Safety.

The mayor says that Mr. Victor will “enhance what we do while also creating efficiencies,” whereas “residents should sleep better knowing Chief Huss is in place.”

In other news, Patrick Ford will take over as URA Director, because “he knows all the facets inside and out.”

“With Mr. Ford at the helm we will have strong continuity between my Administration and the URA. Expect to see further structural changes taking place under our leadership to increase efficiency and further streamline permitting in the City. Stay tuned.”

Finally, Alecia Sirk will take over as Press Secretary.

“We interviewed people from as far away as Washington, DC and Philadelphia,” Ravenstahl said. “We found the right person here at home working for the URA.”

She should not expect the Comet to be quite so faithful and attentive to her press releases as we are being for this one today.

“Change is never easy,” said Ravenstahl. “But it’s necessary to improve City government for the taxpayers. I will accept nothing less than the best for Pittsburgh.”

Friday: News of the Day

Carol Pascuzzi works behind the cheese counter at the Pittsburgh Macaroni Company, in the Strip District. She calls everybody who walks in “Dear Heart,” and she knows a great deal about cheese. (PC, Heidi Price)

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CMU and Caterpillar Inc. are teaming up to establish a Center of Excellence for Field Robotics and Automation. It will yield five to ten new engineering jobs in Lawreceville or Oakland. (PC, Deb Smit)

The region should look at this as a good opportunity with a great company for the future of robotics,” Bares says. “This is a field that is in its early childhood and Caterpillar feels the time is right to begin developing these products. We’re confident that it also will provide Caterpillar with access to some of the best minds in the business.”

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Summerset at Frick Park has cottages available starting at $297,000, or estates that reach upwards of $600,000. The development is accessible from Forward Avenue in Squirrel Hill. (PC, Team Effort)

Editorial Comment: This sounds like a great place to live.