Monthly Archives: October 2009

Ravenstahl: “Yeah, I would assume that he’s asked folks to contribute.”

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“Mr. Acklin has failed to connect the dots,” Mr. Ravenstahl said. “He knows it.”
(P-G, Rich Lord)

12 days left. Or actually, there’s no time limit…

Parking Authority Solicits Special Guidance

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Just call it a hunch.

The Pittsburgh Parking Authority yesterday invited around 20 firms to send in proposals to serve as advisors on the planned lease of public garages and metered spaces in the city.

The winning firm would guide the authority through selection of, and negotiation with, a firm that would pay a lump sum in return for a decades-long lease and control of parking revenues. (P-G, Rich Lord)

Hmm.

Interested firms have until Nov. 4 to respond. (ibid)

Hmmmm.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl hopes that a lease would net at least $200 million, which would be used to stabilize the city’s ailing pension fund. (ibid)

My understanding is that there is little out there to support that conjecture and quite a bit to refute it.

Thursday: Sorting Through the Deception

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The Busman pulled additional information and audio:

KA: “What business interest does John Verbanac have before your administration or with any of these city authorities?”

LR: “”First of all, he has none…” (Busman’s Holiday)

No business interests? Summa Development, Forest City Enterprises and the IdeaMill for starters represent no business interests that affect the City?

(Yes, the IdeaMill in Lawrenceville — I discovered that linkage on several websites, including a 2007 County press release for a new Transportation Action Team, listing John Verbanac of the IdeaMill as the City of Pittsburgh appointee.)

Let’s make one thing clear — John Verbanac is all about business interests before governments. That’s what. He does. For a living.

Ravenstahl can conceivably argue that he turns a blind eye to all the pro bono political consulting work* that Verbanac performs for him, while as Mayor he makes rulings that affect Verbanac’s bottom line — but to claim that Verbanac has no business before the City is laughable. Laughable! And indicative of the fact that Ravenstahl knows, deep down inside, something’s wrong and something needs to be denied.

LR: “I wasn’t even the Mayor when the Gaming License was awarded.” (WTAE)

See?

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Let’s explore that. Yesterday:
And Mr. Ravenstahl pointed out that, contrary to Mr. Verbanac’s wishes, he had supported yet another unsuccessful casino applicant, Isle of Capri. (P-G, James O’Toole)

Did he? As Mayor?

The state Gaming Control Board is expected to decide, by year’s end, who gets to build Pittsburgh’s lone slots casino.

In January, Mr. Ravenstahl endorsed the Isle of Capri’s bid to build the casino and new arena on the edge of Downtown. In May, Mr. O’Connor’s Planning Department released a report favorable to Forest City’s competing plan for a Station Square complex.

The pressure is on Mr. Ravenstahl to weigh in as mayor.

The Penguins, who are working with Isle of Capri, said they hope for a repeat endorsement from Mr. Ravenstahl. “I think all of the elected officials have a role in voicing their support for the plan they believe is best for Pittsburgh,” and the mayor’s voice wasn’t likely to be ignored by the gaming board, said Penguins consultant David Morehouse.

Don Barden, who wants to build a casino on the North Shore, said he plans to call Mr. Ravenstahl this week and talk up his proposal. Forest City’s spokesman had no comment.

“I don’t foresee myself doing anything further at this point,” Mr. Ravenstahl said. “I think [Planning] Director [Pat] Ford is a very capable man, who completed [the city’s] report, and I see no reason for me to do anything or change anything.

“I endorsed the Isle of Capri plan. … Now we have a Plan B there,” he said, referring to a blueprint for building an arena with slots funding and private money.

“I think the main thing and the important thing is that we keep the Penguins in Pittsburgh. The Isle of Capri plan does just that. Plan B, in a different way, does that.” (P-G, Rich Lord, 9/10/06)

By the reckoning Ravenstahl provided, once he became Mayor — and by logical extension, John Verbanac’s new best friend — his only concern was keeping the Penguins in town. Now with “Plan B”, either Forest City or PITG Gaming could just as easily accomplish that, he argued — before it was fashionable to do so. (Indeed, Plan B would turn out to be far more costly.)

Ravenstahl then publicly declined even “under pressure” to express any further support for Isle of Capri. The report that Ford (also we now know an inner-circle friend of Verbanac) had just issued favoring the Forest City casino bid was allowed to stand in Harrisburg at the Gaming Control Board as the City’s position.

Which conforms to everything all of us remember.

If John Verbanac’s partners at Forest City didn’t get the business in this instance, it’s because former Mayor Tom Murphy shined a laser on the political connections early on by making public that “the fix is in”, turning the bid too hot to handle. An exception rather than the rule.

Was the fix in? Any answer would be a matter of degrees. Did Luke Ravenstahl’s enthusiasm for Isle of Capri diminish drastically upon inheriting John Verbanac?


LR: “I wasn’t even the Mayor when the Gaming License was awarded.” (WTAE)

Again, why even attempt to deny something like that in this context? It even sounded as though his enthusiasm for saying it dried up halfway through the utterance — but he resignedly soldiered through with the lie anyway.

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Now, there’s another element to all of this.

Kevin Ackin’s “sheaf” of e-mails and news articles was topped with a few pages worth of exposition. The information presented in the fourth paragraph of the cover page has yet to make its way into any news reports:

In addition, several former high ranking officials from the Ravenstahl administration have approached the campaign about their being interviewed by federal investigators in relation to the unethical conduct of the Mayor’s office. These interviews took place between October 2008 and April 2009. The individuals who cooperated with federal authorities have given us permission to release their contact information to the press so they can confirm the existence of a federal investigation.

No comment.

Why has there been no mention of that portion of the explosive allegations? Could it be that the memory of these conversations left an impression?

The evening before, City Solicitor George Specter made a series of phone calls to top media company executives around town, expressing concern about potential news coverage of rumors about the Ravenstahl administration. (Busman’s Holiday, 9/4/2008)

It’s curious that according to the Acklin report, the interviews began to take place about a month after previous rumors of forthcoming indictments spilled wide open.

LR: I would just advise Mr. Acklin to be very, very careful.

KA: Is that a threat? (WTAE)

Yes. That sounded like a threat. For sure. Anyone else getting threatened?

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*- I received an anonymous tip this morning identifying John Verbanac as the “official/unofficial Campaign Chairman” for Mayor Ravenstahl. I don’t know what that would mean literally, but considering the extent of Verbanac’s pro bono political consulting for Ravenstahl, it seems like a very apt description.

John Verbanac: A Friend With Benefits?

Kevin Acklin presented 19 pages worth of e-mails today seeking to illustrate that John Verbanac, CEO of Summa Development, has played an integral role in the Ravenstahl administration since its inception.

The e-mails were circulated among very small groups of individuals, usually comprising only Luke Ravenstahl, Yarone Zober, Pat Ford, Ed Grattan and Verbanac himself. It should be noted however that their authenticity has not yet been verified! What will follow are only excerpts from some of them.

If genuine, they are enough to establish that 1) Ravenstahl was effectively lying on Saturday when he flatly denied that Verbanac has a role in his administration; that role appears to be one including senior communications director and city staffing sergeant, and 2) That Verbanac plays this role is troubling considering the way his business interests, at least in regards to Forest City Enterprises, intertwine with that of the City.

And if genuine, the mayor was certainly lying again tonight when he claimed Kevin’s more specific allegations about Verbanac “putting words in his mouth” and influencing decisions regarding “strategic planning” and “firing staff” were wrong.

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Let’s start with the recollection that Ravenstahl supported the Isle of Capri casino bid for the Hill District as a Council person, later to move his support as Mayor to the Forest City / Harrah’s bid in Station Square:

From John Verbanac, 12/16/06, Subject: Your Attention Please
To: Luke Ravenstahl, Yarone Zober, Ed Grattan and Charlie Zappala

Question: With all the buyers and the certainty of the two arena plans, why are the Pens saying the future is now uncertain and only the IOC answers the question?

Answer: Because IOC is the one plan that makes the most money for Ron Burkle. Ron Burkle is willing play Russian Roullete with the francises’s future to make the most money. It’s a gun to the head of Pittsburgh strategy that benefits few, hurts many and inproperly politicizes the gaming decision in an effort for Ron Burkle to simply make more money.

Verbanac was a lobbyist for Forest City / Harrah’s. Charlie Zapalla was to be an investor in the Forest city casino. He was and is Verbanac’s significant business partner. After Mayor Ravenstahl switched his support to Forest City, and former mayor Tom Murphy opined that “the fix was in”, the casino license was awarded to Don Barden of PITG gaming.

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The relationship continued into 2007:

From Verbnac, 4/11/07, Subject: Team
To: Luke Ravenstahl and Yarone Zober

When we confront the real issues, we’ll need a strong team. A loyal team. A team that reflects the heart and minds of the RAVENSTAHL Administration.

When new leaders come in, the ranks are always turned over. A few make it through, but only a few. It’s not because they are ill motivated and political. It’s because they need their own team around them. That is the message around the moves you make. Ravenstahl is building his own team. Not trying to win over someone elses.

Tom Murphy left office with a 17 percent approval rating. Bob O’Connor left office before his numbers fell as the real performance of his administration became visible. I have 2009 and beyond on my mind guys. The future. Yours, mine and ours.

We need a team and we need it now. Not after May 15th. Not after the next crisis or artificial date we come up with that holds us back. Not waiting for the day that Rich Lord might give us a pass and take it easy on us. We’re at war now. We need our troops.

We? Our? Mine?

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More:

From Verbanac, 4/17/07, subject: High Level Issues!
To: Luke Ravenstahl, Yarone Zober

Issue Three: Strategic Planning I have talked with Yarone about this already as well. I would strongly suggest that you, Yarone, Pat and maybe a chosen “FEW” others hold a bit of a retreat to get together your strategic plan.

We have a great blessing not facing the voters until 2009. That’s a lot of time to do some things. It’s also ample time to fuck up if you don’t have a clear strategy and measurements for what you want to achieve. 4 or 5 hours of unfettered, facilitated time with some of your key decision makers would be well spent.

I offered to facilitate the discussion and to take notes and summarize the plan discussion.

Response from Ravenstahl:

The suggestion for us all to sit down is a great one — I would include no more than me, John, YZ, Ford, and Ed. Don’t see the need for anyone else. We can establish a clear plan and agenda and most importantly a way to implement it. Maybe a whole day-off location would work best.

Response from Verbanac:

Maybe Yarone can have missy schedule a day’s retreat? Maybe we should take a run down to nemacolin…

This e-mail may deserve a post of its own. The other three “High Level Issues!” detailed in this e-mail were State Rep. Jake Wheatley agitating for a CBA for the Penguins development, the Steeelers’ interests regarding the casino master plan (then owned by Don Barden), and yet again “staffing”, with special mention of the URA.

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Verbanac’s involvement in high-level staffing continued:

From: John Verbanac, 9/19/07, Subject: Last point
To: Yarone Zober, Pat Ford and Ed Grattan

Pat

Give the mayor 3 examples of fuck ups at BBI that hurt progress. Make Graziano and example of red tapke, bad communication and bureacracy. To support him is to stifle progress. Then you’ll bridge driectly to a response city open to progress.

Pat – if you don’t have examples I do. Like the 26 art students in a hotel right now because BBI changed their static air pressure requirement on a developer that has done 4 downtown conversions for students and just got crushed by the beloved Ron Graziano.

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Fasting forward to 2008, and more staffing:

From John Verbanac, 2/25/08, Subject: URA Personnel
To: Yarone Zober, Pat Ford

Guys,

You guys had mentioned, as part of your URA right sizing, ARt Fidel’s kid, Bob. Please be advised, this is Bill Rudolph’s brother in law. I recognize that he is less than an exemplary performer; however, this is Bill’s family and I think I speak of us all when I say he is a friend. Let’s just leave it there.

Thanks.

Robert Fidel is still listed as the “Business Liaison” in the URA’s Business Development dept.

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Many of the e-mails involve speech writing, talking points and advice for how to handle the press. In terms of city business however — leaving aside the casino sweepstakes, the Penguins arena and “strategic planning” — the kicker involves the LTV Coke Works site in Hazelwood.

The site is owned by a consortium of non-profits and other foundations called Almono LP.

Forest City Enterprises had been on the list of developers that had submitted bids for the site since 2003.

In August of 2004, Governor Rendell announced $6 million in RACP funds would be going towards the LTV Coke Works project. In March of 2005, when City Council officially requested these funds, it was reported that Forest City was the “preferred developer” according to a spokesman of the Heinz Foundation.

Years later:

From John Verbanac, 1/09/07, Subject unknown
To Pat Ford

Pat

Heads up. I wanted you to know that I’m a joint development partner with Forest City for the LTV site. I understand you’re meeting with some of the folks tomorrow.

J

We know Verbanac had already been with Forest City since at least 2006, and that this was not a mystery to the City. The occasion of Verbanac’s declaration to Ford seems to have been the forthcoming meeting with “the folks”.

Bear in mind this was during the period we now know that Verbanac was sending out strategy and communications memos to the Ravenstahl administration on a regular basis.

From John Verbanac, 2/21/2008, Subject: The Truth
To Yarone Zober

Yarone,

I need to know the truth regarding what you are doing relative to the 6 million in RCAP that has been granted to Almono for the LTV site? Are you attempting to transfer these dollars to Piatt?

When I asked you about this yesterday, you indicated that the City was not doing this. I now learn that you specifically directed the URA to do this. I sincerely hope that is not the case.

You know very well of our interest in the site. To be involved in this issue and not have a conversation with me, is very hurtful to me personally and from a business perspective. It cuts my legs totally out from underneath me with my business partners, RIDC and a host of others. Further, it is highly troubling to me on a personal level

I hope that my understanding of this issue is wrong. To be prudent, I’m going to stop short of saying anything else pending a conversation with you.

John

Verbanac certainly seems irate that the City leaders which he works so hard to support would do something contrary to his business interests. Five days later, Pat Ford sends Verbanac a response which seems to mollify him.

From John Verbanac, 2/26/08
Subject: Re: CONFIDENTIAL: Brief on meeting with Don Smith
To: Pat Ford

Thank you. That jives with everything I’ve been told. Each and every point. That’s very good to know. Gives me further confidence. We were shortlisted by Almono on Friday. Stephenson informs that he feels we’re far out in front. Last cut by almono will be made April 15.

{snip}

That Mayor and you and Yarone will need to get oaklanf focused. I’m not sure that it’s LTV or portal yet. It may not be either or. It will take further dialogue with pitt, upmc and cmu to arrive at a conclusion. It seems the pieces are in place and moving forward. The City must be the beneficiary in the end and oakland must get their act together. I’ll talk with you tomorrow.

Considering the “We / Me / Our” talk above, the frequent agonizing over Ravenstahl’s speeches, press releases and preparation for television interviews, and the dogged insistence on replacing so much city staff, I started to wonder whether Verbanac considers “The City” to be synonymous with himself.

The LTV contract remains unawarded, and the site remains undeveloped. One of the sticking points according to the Acklin campaign is the fact that a long-mulled over expansion of the Mon-Fayette Expressway would cut straight through the 178 acre development site. Without a plan for closure on that issue by the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission (SPC), the development must remain in limbo.

In an excellent 2006 article about awarding the casino license, we learned:

Mr. Verbanac said he met Mr. O’Connor in his role as a consultant to the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission. (P-G, Rich Lord)

That is only one front-door example of Verbanac’s immense backdoor government influence, employed for private enrichment, which makes me uncomfortable.

Because even back then:

“I have no official role with Bob O’Connor, and never did,” Mr. Verbanac said.

“If Bob ever asked me for my advice on something, I offered it to him,” Mr. Verbanac said.

“Bob continues to be a friend of mine,” Mr. Verbanac said. “I talk with Bob occasionally.” (ibid)

What luck, being such a close personal friend to two mayors in a row!
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It’s understandable why Ravenstahl would want to stay a galaxy away from this subject, claiming that Verbanac is “just a friend” who he “has conversations with”.

Yet don’t we all deserve to be treated like grownups already? None of us were born yesterday, anymore. Mr. Mayor, you don’t see anything questionable about investor John Verbanac’s active string-pulling in your administration? Are you going to continue to deny anything that Mr. Acklin said tonight?

And we haven’t even discussed the fund raising yet.

MORE AND NOTABLE, FROM THE E-MAILS: Link.

Watch that debate — or just watch Everything.

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Wednesday: What’s Shakin?

Debate 2 is on WTAE tonight at 7:00.

Nothing against Sally Wiggin, Andrew Stockey and Wendy Bell, but is this not the channel that usually puts Bob Mayo, Jeremy Boren and Jill King Greenwood into the squared circle as well? The addition of local beat reporters was always a singular distinction.

Watch for the URA to come under heavier fire tonight, and for the community benefits issue to be raised already.

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Alhough Carnegie Library Executive Director Barbara Mistick and company may not be participating in Mayor Ravenstahl’s carnival dunking booth community meeting in Lawrenceville this Saturday, she did meet with public officials today:

Along with Rep. [Chelsa] Wagner, other officials participating were:

State Sen. Jay Costa, state Reps. Dom Costa, Paul Costa, Jake Wheatley and Dan Frankel, City Council President Doug Shields and members Patrick Dowd and Bruce Kraus, council members elect Dan Lavelle and Natalia Rudiak, and staffers for state Reps. Dan Deasy and Don Walko and city council member Theresa Smith. (P-G, Team Effort)

They may or may not seek to tap a portion of the state’s forthcoming table game revenue. It’s a good thing we elected to bring these casinos to Pennsylvania about five years ago, or I don’t see how any part of our civilization could have survived. This is how and why weed is going to become fully legal one day — we’ll need the money. I don’t know what we’ll have left after that. Prostitution, maybe? Cockfighting? Dogfighting? Bum fighting?

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Today I am thankful for the Ohio U chapter of SDS.

Mackenzie Peoples, 19, a student at Ohio University, said she shouldn’t have been arrested after police ordered a large gathering in Schenley Plaza to disperse on the night of Sept. 25.

“We had every right to be a part of this,” said Ms. Peoples, a member of Students for a Democratic Society.

Ten members of the group came to Pittsburgh from Athens, Ohio, for the summit. Eight were arrested, and all plan to fight the charges. (P-G, Jerome L. Sherman)

I’m not saying they’re necessarily innocent of the charges, I’m saying I’m glad there is an organized block of individuals intent on not taking a deal and challenging their arrests. I wonder whether those who saw their charges get dropped already did so not because of circumstances or evidence, but because of who they are.

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I feel bad about not having mentioned the UPMC facility closure in Braddock until now.

Dorundo encouraged residents to consider going to other hospitals in the UPMC system, including those in Oakland and another six miles away in McKeesport.

Residents, however, said transportation is a problem for some in the borough of 2,700. Many are senior citizens and don’t have vehicles. (Trib, Chris Ramirez)

Also:

“Not only are we losing a hospital, we have lost everything,” said Jeanette Stanton, who has lived in Braddock her entire 80 years. She pointed out that the hospital’s closure means the loss of the borough’s only ATM and that the hospital cafeteria is currently the closest thing the community has to a sit-down restaurant. “What are we supposed to do?”

Members of the crowd were particularly agitated by UPMC’s plans to build a facility in Monroeville… (P-G, Moriah Balingit)

This is clearly a done deal, and it was apparently done for compelling business reasons. I’m not sure what Braddock or anyone else can do to compensate, but it’s definitely another illustration of why there’s no reason to treat UPMC like some sort of non-profit or charitable outfit. Braddock doesn’t need this right now, it was pregnant with momentum and this is likely to stifle a fair bit of it.

Pat Ford: Gaining Credibility

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One year after terminating his lingering five-month suspension under an ethics cloud by way of resigning in a fury, calling himself a “scapegoat” for a “failed administration” — and in so doing securing for himself a generous severance package from that administration — Pat Ford is now at the helm of a coalescing regional development juggernaut just 25 miles from Pittsburgh.

“My first two charges as the Executive Director of the BDC was to organize the board, and do a strategic plan” Ford said at a workshop meeting of Weirton City Council. “By the end of the year, we’re on our way to making things happen.” (Vid4, 2:00)

Ford presented to the Council a set of radically revised governing bylaws for the Business Development Corporation (BDC) of the Northern Panhandle of WV– an organization which had long dissatisfied many of its stakeholders for being listless and politically unwieldy. Weirton officials were anxious to carefully vet and tweak the proposed new bylaws prior to contributing a potential $25,000, which would entitle the city to two seats on its new Board of Directors.

At the end of the meeting, Ford was cajoled by one Council member into making an announcement — he had “just got off the phone with Congressman [Alan] Mollohan’s office” and had received an informal commitment “for the money to do a strategic plan” in the northern panhandle.

“It’s not official official, official — but they say they’ve … received confirmation from the Secretary of Commerce.”

(Days later, the $200,000 grant would indeed become official.)

Weirton lawmakers, who had shown more enthusiasm for certain bylaws than others, brightened audibly and congratulated Ford on the good news for the region.

“Well you see, that’s why we want you to be a paying member of the BDC,” Ford pointed out with characteristic panache. “So that we can help you make things happen.”

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Two months ago, the BDC prepared for these negotiations with local officials from all over the region by putting out a full color magazine-style brochure, replete with advertising. The cover of the literature (above right) prominently features Mr. Ford’s image.

Page 3 (left) features a smaller photograph of Ford along with a personal letter entitled Welcome to Brooke and Hancock Counties, detailing the area’s existing industrial parks, retail development sites, major road, river and rail access, Bethany College, golf courses, country clubs, and Brooke Hills and Tomlinson Run parks.

Summarily, there are plenty of other reasons to “grow” in West Virginia’s Northern Panhandle, with our low cost of doing business, skilled work force, safe communities, excellent schools, competitive housing prices and low real estate taxes.

Page 4 is more politically telling. There is a rather officious declaration of support from the Brooke County Commission, with a formal pledge of $30,000. Then there is a ringing endorsement from the three commissioners of Hancock County, who are also contributing $30,000. They write, “It is important that the BDC receive regional support from the local cities and counties in order to have a budget adequate to perform the tasks necessary to be successful in these economic times.”

Finally, starting on Page 4 (right) there is a news-style article spanning two pages entitled, Communities across region supportive of BDC. It describes some of the relationships forged by that time with specific local governments. “I think Pat Ford is on the right track with what he wants to do,” offers the president of the Brooke County Economic Development Authority. “I think the future of Brooke County is brighter with Pat at the helm.”

The promotional piece was published by the Herald-Star and the Weirton Daily Times. Layout, editing and writing was performed by Business Editor Paul Giannamore. It set the tone for discussions such as this one:

See also videos 2, 3 and 4 from the workshop in Weirton council chambers. The sound isn’t great and it’s not always very compelling, but many parts of it will evoke memories for those familiar with Ford’s work in Pittsburgh.

Issues of deliberation concerning the proposed bylaws centered around the practical difference in powers divided among the organization’s general membership, its Board of Directors, the Executive Director and the Chairperson:

Article II – Membership

Section 1 – Eligibility

Any person, association, corporation, partnership or entity having an interest in the objectives of the organization shall be eligible for membership.

Section 3 – Investments

The annual investment (dues) in the corporation shall be fixed by the Board of Directors and shall be payable annually in advance, or in such other installments as the Board may from time to time determine.

This first mention of the Board is found on page 2. Here we also find that “candidates of ex-officio membership shall be nominated by the Board of Directors and elected at any regular meeting of the Corporation” by a 3/4 vote of approval.

The Board of Directors is not explained until page 4:

Article IV – Board of Directors

Section 1: Authority

The governance of the corporation, the direction of its work, and the control of its property shall be vested in the Board of Directors. The Directors shall have power to fill vacancies … they may adopt rules for conducting the business of the corporation.

Section 2: Composition

The Board of Directors shall be composed of no less than twelve (12) and no more than twenty (20) dues paying members who are current (not in arrears) in their regularly scheduled investments (dues); a majority of whom shall be bona fide residents of West Virginia. They shall be either members or representatives of members of the Corporation. Provided, however, that some members of the Corporation shall be qualified to serve by virtue of being nominated by governmental units (defined as a municipality or county) and shall be classified as “Government Directors” in the following manner: two (2) nominees per government entity containing populations over 10,000 persons … one (1) nominee per government entity containing populations of 10,000 persons or less …

At least four (4) of the members of the Board of Directors shall be elected by the members of the Corporation on an at-large basis. Those elected must be members of the Corporation. In addition, the Chairperson, with the advice and consent of the Board of Directors shall appoint two (2) persons, among the Corporation membership to serve as Directors.

There also appears a mechanism for designating ex-officio Board members.

As you can see, Ford is not designing a boilerplate 501(c)3 — he is writing something as innovative and complex as the United States Constitution. Only instead of having the all the necessary delegates gathered in a tavern in Philadelphia, he is required to run shuttle diplomacy among many governments, businesses and other interested parties over a matter of months. The workshop in Weirton was just one among many.

Active VIII – Amendments

The Board of Directors shall have the power to make, amend, and repeal the Bylaws of the corporation, by vote of majority of all the Directors, at any regular or special meeting of the Board, provided that notice of the intention to make, amend, or repeal the Bylaws in whole or in part shall have been given at the next preceding meeting; or without any such notice, by a vote of two-thirds (2/3) of all the Directors.

Some Weirton city officials voiced skepticism over the need and advisability of including non-voting “ex officio” officials of any kind, on the twin premises that appointing the president of a major bank for example would allow that person to wield determinative power anyway — and that meetings of the BDC are said to be open to the public (though this does not appear in the proposed bylaws). Ford clarified upon being asked:

“There’s no official notification requirement, no advertisement, but if someone just wanted to just show up they could.”

Some Council members were concerned that allowing government officials to sit on or appoint members to the Board would overly politicize the organization — a problem with the previous BDC which this new organization seeks explicitly to avoid. One however noted dryly that “you can’t take politics out of politics.”

At various times it was suggested that either the Chairperson or the Executive Director looked to wield too much individual power. “One person can stack that thing,” came one objection. “Let’s face it, he’d better stack that thing!” came a response, to much laughter.

Some wondered why any interested party should want to become a dues-paying member of the BDC if they didn’t get a vote on the more-powerful Board of Directors.

“The idea is, we want them to have skin the game,” Ford explained. By having a financial stake in the organization, they should have a better expectation of making it work for them.

At length, Ford was asked the degree of buy-in established so far from other governments.

“Brooke, Hancock: checks in the bank” he answered. “Wellsburg, Follansbee voted to pay, checks not in the bank. I haven’t worked with the other [inaudible].” (Vid4, 1:00)

Weirton City Hall would go on to send Ford back on the road with several proposed alterations to his bylaws, lots of encouragement, and praise for having secured the $200,000 state grant for strategic planning — but no financial support from City of Weirton taxpayers as yet. Ford answered in response to inquiries that he expected to meet his goal of enacting new bylaws, transitioning from the present board to the new one, and securing sufficient monetary buy-in by the beginning of the new year.

In a way, Pat Ford was more transparent, more in proportion than I had ever seen him. Here was a guy trying to squirrel together some money, some authority and some opportunity. He was just being his natural rainmaker self — a hustler, an agent, even a vendor if you will for governments — but not a government unto himself. And he seems to be thriving despite everything.

He is no longer running a redevelopment authority while running a city planning department while running a housing authority while running a parking authority while running the enforcement arm of a campaign anymore, all for the same person. He no longer has whatever “role” that was.

Speaking of that role, less is known about former mayoral press secretary Alecia Sirk, wife to Pat Ford, who left city government along with him.

Too bad. She was born to tweet.

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Debate 1: Standard Fare

I don’t think we need to put a lot of energy into dissecting “how the debate went”.

Harris and Acklin were both sincere-sounding, nervous, and lacking for any truly point-scoring hits. Ravenstahl on the other hand delivered a studio-ready and dynamic presentation, but that shouldn’t disguise the fact that it was all bullshit.

That’s what we’re going to explore here — but first I have to critique the ordinarily impressive Ken Rice for one thing: why lead off the program with, “The biggest question in this race — is this really a race?”

If you count Bill Peduto’s partial run, this now marks four straight elections in which our media obsessed, from their very outsets, on the idea that these were all forgone conclusions. And by implication, that any challengers should be described as “losers”. Ordinarily this falls under the aegis of punditry, but for some reason this is forever the lead story. It’s as though nobody is familiar with the term “self-fulfilling prophecy”. Admittedly, this particular contest seems contracted for a variety of reasons, but in general how is this compulsive fixation of odds — which always rears its tiresome head months and months in advance — in any way edifying to the viewing and reading public?

Spend energy communicating and investigating the ideas being exchanged, and leave the spin to the professional hacks already.

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Ravenstahl asserted during his introduction that he has “laid out a plan for the future of the City”. Nothing has been laid out formally except the vaguest of platitudes, but a real plan is on display most visibly HERE and HERE, in two videotaped sessions that are best understood in tandem.That plan is to identify and secure large pools of taxpayer money and land, funnel these directly into the hands of large-scale private developers with zero accountability, prevent these same types of resources from being frittered away on smaller-scale community initiatives, slander neighborhood or quality-of-life oriented opposition and divide it against itself, subvert the zoning code and any other law that gets in the way of a private developer maximizing profit, and let any neighborhood that does not appear on the agenda for this kind of massive exploitation rot in neglect.

Oh, and when possible, do it all “greenishly” — because there’s free money being handed out these days for that anyway, and you are technically a Democrat.

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Ravenstahl believes the police “did an admirable job in keeping the community safe” over the G20 and returned repeatedly to safety — but declined even to pay lip-service to the notion of balancing safety with civil liberties. It’s as though the objections of students, journalists and bystanders do not quite register.

He says he’s asked for “exactly what Kevin has suggested” in an investigation — yet Kevin asked for a “Blue Ribbon Commission”, that is, something new and independent; not the present police department investigating itself through its own methods. In addition, Ravenstahl would obscure any inquiry into the city’s public safety decision making by losing it within a Regional “How We ‘Handled’ the G20” evaluation with an infinitely broad scope (though I bet they determine they handled it real good).

How he can state point-blank that “there was no militarization of Oakland” is beyond me. It’s like there’s so little for him riding on this debate, he can say up is down.

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I have to give it to Luke: we do need to come up with $15 million to balance our budget, and it’s entirely legitimate to find a way to charge our tax-exempt universities and health care providers (not “students and the sick”) in order to get there. I’m not going to let politics get in the way of what we have to do now.However, it’s distressing that we need to scramble to come up with this $15 million, considering that we had “no crisis” and “strong financial management” and were “moving in the right direction” and had a “$100 million rainy-day fund” and “held the line on taxes” all winter and spring — until the very day after primary Election Day, when all of a sudden it was acknowledged: we need to come up with a fresh pile of cash and there are only bad choices. It makes you wonder what will be in store for us on Nov. 4?

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“95% of the investment at the URA in my administration has been in neighborhood business districts…”Well, I suppose Downtown and its environs is a neighborhood. If the URA invested in something somewhere that did not qualify as being “in a neighborhood” of the City, that would be a major problem. What’s up with the other 5% anyway? Is that headed towards the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia?

“…80% of the investment at the URA in my administration has been in small businesses of less than 20 people”

What’s the percentage if we discount Lawrenceville? More importantly, when we deal with a developer, do many developers actually require more than 20 full-time paid staff? If the URA invests in a developer that is involved in bringing in a Big Lots, and that developer is just a couple of guys, a couple of their accountants, a few draftsmen and their own personal assistants — plus consultants taken on as-needed — does that count as investing in a small business?

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“Why should we write a blank check to the Carnegie Library or anybody else when we find out they have questionable spending habits?” Luke asks. Because we need access to books and computers.There are a lot of organizations that have been too kind to their managers. We could start anywhere Mr. Mayor, but there’s no political will to increase library funding with the times, so we’re unveiling this new ethic of monastic thrift in their vicinity. We would also have been right to investigate Library spending last year, or the year before that, or the year before that. Are we going to punish little Suzy in Lawrenceville because we’ve allowed big Barbara in Squirrel Hill a membership to the Duquesne Club, and now that there’s a crisis ,we’re suddenly outraged about it?

We need accountability. We also need to keep the libraries open. Making a big deal about the former will not help us accomplish the latter, it will only sooth our consciences a little.

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Luke boasts that he introduced new campaign finance reform, and “looks forward to its implementation in January.” I think we can leave that there.

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Which brings us to Acklin’s curve ball concerning John Verbanac and Ed Grattan. That will either be remembered as the biggest missed opportunity, or the biggest score, of the debate — depending upon whether or not he’s setting Luke up for a suplex down the road.

From what I can glean, both of these gentlemen are what are commonly known as “money guys” — big money guys, statewide money guys — fund raisers, business investors, lobbyers, relationship-builders. The interesting things would be whether they are invested in any of the companies that have received lucrative no-bid contracts from City and authority governments, whether they have been involved in lobbying for those contracts and for their other interests, and whether they had a role in transporting funds or other exchangeables from those businesses to the Mayor’s campaign or other concerns.

It’s hard to say because there’s so much seeming mythology involved. According to chatter, these are the guys that really own the town — it would make trying to change the course of Pittsburgh by criticizing Luke Ravenstahl something like trying trying to change McDonalds’ business practices by criticizing Ronald McDonald.

Curious however that Luke’s answer was so curt and definitive: they’re only “friends”. Friends that have no “formal” role in his administration. Got to wonder why that little qualifier, “formal”.

Friday: Whatever *

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The first mayoral debate will be conducted today and will air tomorrow afternoon on KDKA, that being Saturday at 12:00 NOON, so as to maximize viewership (ha ha).

My only advice: both Independents ought to have snappy counterattacks ready for when the Democratic Republican protests that his opponents are only interested in talking about the past (i.e. his public record) whereas he’d rather talk about Pittsburgh’s future!

Also, we all get to roll our eyes mercilessly at anybody who makes vague references to “headlines” or “cronies” or even “pay-to-play” without detailing exactly what or who those are, and why they’re indicative or important moving forward.

I would advise both challengers to lay off one another and focus on attacking Luke — but that’s essentially what Dowd and Robinson did in the primary, to nil or negative effect. So hey guys, knock yourselves out, or should I say knock each other out. I’m obviously leaning towards Kevin Acklin a little bit at this precise juncture (*-UPDATE: this explained in comment #6 underleaf) — he just has been seeming more together, somehow, even serious — but obviously there’s no point to making up one’s mind until we watch at least one debate. My mind’s still very much open and I think that’s the consensus.

Some news: the ICA just returned the Mayor’s budget with an “Incomplete” and a “What The What?” (P-G, Trib). Zober can say what he wants but I’m pretty sure this is the first time the ICA dissed a budget proposal and asked a Mayor bluntly to fill in some gaping holes.

Extreme sincere congratulations to The City Paper for reporting in print that Mayor Ravenstahl donned police riot gear and told the American Civil Liberties Union and its local lead attorney Vic Walczak “fuck you”, just days after troubling events on Pitt campus in Oakland. I know the annual event is entitled “Off the Record” and I know it’s for charity, but even the White House Correspondent’s Dinner gets criticized for encouraging too-cozy relationships between government and the press — and that’s decidedly not even remotely off the record! So I’m not sure what they think they’re doing that’s so great. Although in the past, the players have conducted themselves with just enough intelligence to get away with their naughtiness, the City Paper made the right call in reporting the egregious lack of class and sense shown by our City’s leader just days after the fact. As I wrote somewhere earlier, he could have joked about the $1,000 garbage cans or anything else — or he could even have joked about G20 security issues without telling the defenders of our civil liberties point-blank what they can go do. Or he could have been funny in some way, a thing which multiple reports confirm did not transpire.

Now if we could only get a picture of him in his flight suit riot gear — or get some challengers who care about this issue. Though I remain impressed that individual officers didn’t lose their cool in a chaotic situation, or dish out any surreptitious punitive discipline that we know of — someone did make the call to pretty much storm through campus and arrest / gas / fire upon anything that moved, for questionable reasons.