Monthly Archives: July 2013

Post-Zimmerman Acquittal: While being “radical”, work the system.

by Bram Reichbaum

There is a lot of organizing and discourse going on out there. We lead off this Monday with a quick refresher on why it is still quite worthwhile to register to vote and to support Democratic majorities in the halls of power until further notice.


Congresswoman Barbara Jordan 1976 pt. 2 (h/t Councilwoman Rudiak)

Some of you will need more convincing, so watch pt 1.

I’m just saying.

Bill Vidonic at the Tribune-Review gamely covers yesterday’s major local airings of grievances about the criminal justice system in the wake of the Trayvon Martin verdict. Now is as good a time as any to report that Trib Total Media now also is accepting comments via Facebook Connect. Welcome to the conversation!

Lexi Belfucine at The Post-Gazette writes a fine article, and there is a nifty as always video by Nate Guidry, but so far One of America’s Finest has opted against hosting Internet comments on this spicy occasion. Oh well. More opportunities for R-Scai & B-Rei.

‘Burgh blog Diary of a First time Mom published an open letter to Trayvon Martin’s mother.

Other coverage is out there. You know how to find information and views. Recommend something.

Whereas Pittsburgh Bureau of Police Commander RaShall Brackney did all that is being reported and more, with patience, wisdom and discernment, Now therefore be it resolved that Wednesday July 17th is RaShall Brackney Day at the Comet and all throughout Pittsburghtown.

Whereas one speaker at Freedom Corner, holding a baby and minding a toddler, delivered one magnificent soliloquy among many yesterday touching on the issue of “What now?”, Now therefore be it resolved that Thursday July 18th is Angry ‘Burgh Mother Day at the Comet and all throughout Pittsburghtown.

Some of us Europeans don’t discomfort so easy. Not this Hebrew.

OTHER QUICK STATE & LOCAL ITEMS:

A “conservative” wing of the State House led by Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-infamous for other reasons) is causing Excedrin headaches for Governor Tom Corbett and Senate Republicans in regards to his unwillingness to raise revenue to maintain vital state assets. (Trib, Brad Bumsted; see also Barry Scoch, P-G)

I wish I had two CMU robot snakes, because that would make me like the Beastmaster. (Trib, Debra Erdley)

Mustaches are the new cupcakes. If they hold exhibitions of mustached Americans eating cupcakes, that’s end game. (P-G, Gary Rotstein)

The University of Pittsburgh’s Center on Race and Social Problems is organizing, too. (P-G, Mary Neiderberger)

Ravenstahl, Gigliotti and delicate sensibilities: InvestigatePGH demands strong stomach

Pleasantville

by Bram Reichbaum

Has a businessman built an empire upon showing our highest public officials an illicitly good time?

That is the question before us, and only the justice system can answer it.

Nobody in their right minds, however, ought to be asking questions such as, “If so, should we care? Should we go after it? Should we bother revealing, punishing and deterring such practices by politicians and influence-peddlers in the future?”

I would not trust Mayor Peduto or anybody else to keep their heads on straight with that sort of temptation and the infrastructure for it swept under the rug, filed under “Normal, Inevitable and Acceptable.”

If our efforts are geared toward making Pittsburgh an economic and cultural world-class City once again, we need to be capable of stomaching a purgative All-American scandal when it is warranted.

HERE ARE THINGS WE DO KNOW:

A federal investigation into a no-bid contract with the Police Bureau led to revelations about an illegal slush fund managed by the Bureau’s Office of Special Events, including a studious lack of oversight of that office’s operations. Debit cards tied to the illegal fund were distributed among Mayor Ravenstahl’s police security detail. One former officer has come forward with allegations concerning altering time cards to shield the Mayor’s “late-night carousing” from scrutiny. Those allegations have been taken seriously enough by federal prosecutors to warrant an invite to “spill his guts” at length before a grand jury.

As this was all unfolding, the lead City investigative reporter at the Tribune-Review began to get published a flurry of items regarding one Robert Gigliotti, a valet service and parking facility entrepreneur as well as a noteworthy local political operative. These initial reports concerned aggressive business practices and favored treatment in handling a Market Square valet amenity initiated by the Mayor himself. They also included information on Gigliotti’s connections in the Police Bureau charged with regulating him, such as the now-indicted Chief of Police.

In short order, the feds began taking a look at valet permits from the special events office, and poking around questionable parking facility contracts that arose earlier in Ravenstahl’s tenure involving Gigliotti.

HERE ARE DETAILS WHICH FEED A CERTAIN PERCEPTION:

During the same week federal authorities raided the Police Bureau special events office, it was reported that authorities also raided what we here will call a “Marty Griffin business.”

The Andy Griffith Show

Only two days into being named Acting Chief of Police at the crest of a burgeoning white-collar crime scandal, Regina McDonald attempted to bar officers from working off-duty at Marty Griffin businesses.

When the outspoken mayoral security guard’s attorney met with a gaggle of reporters following that officer’s testimony before the grand jury, the Post-Gazette edited its short video report such that it begins with a television reporter asking an overly specific question about whether the illegal funds were used to purchase the services of what we will call “Nate Guidry workers.”

The Post-Gazette recently reported that Mr. Gigliotti appears to be a “central figure” in the investigation. Its lead, longtime and thus-far unimpeachable investigative reporter made multiple prominent mentions of the fact that Gigliotti has at least one Marty Griffin business for a client – and that he “sat in on” at least one meeting along with representatives of the Marty Griffin industry. The aim of the meeting was to dial down legislation designed to safeguard Marty Griffin businesses from spawning Nate Guidry work and other black market activity.

It should be non-controversial that the car services industry frequently has close relationships with the Marty Griffin industry – not only in the form of direct on-location client services, but also in terms of paid advertising, and its drivers providing concierge-like recommendations to passengers.

We know that in the few, guarded words of the bodyguard’s attorney, the Mayor was supposed to have misused public money so that he might enjoy the services of a “driver” or “chauffeur”.

Patrick Ford, the city’s “development czar” under Ravenstahl during the period in which one of the questioned contracts began to coalesce, took a leave of absence before it was executed and later resigned in a firestorm. He accused the administration of fostering a “culture of deception and corruption” and of being made “a scapegoat for the inappropriate affairs and activities of others.

The Mayor and his spouse separated after his reelection and ultimately were divorced; federal investigators recently attempted to question her.

Ravenstahl denies all wrongdoing. Yet the investigation into these matters not only instigated his decision against running for reelection, but has effectively driven him underground.

WHAT WE DO NOT KNOW:

To the extent these perceptions have any validity, one might speculate that somebody bearing the name Robert Gigliotti may have been inspired to so skillfully manage such an ambitious, illicit endeavor in part by the late State Rep. Frank Gigliotti, who hailed from the same part of town. Frank Gigliotti plead guilty to extorting bribes to award contracts, was described by contemporaries as “old-school” and “overreaching,” and had reputed ties to “mentors” in organized crime.

However, we have no idea if the two men are related, or if any further “mentoring” was paid forward between them. We have never known anything about Rob Gigliotti’s side of the story. He has opted not to respond to press inquiries since this all began.

AN ATMOSPHERE OF UNEASE:

Pittsburgh can do little but await further activity from federal authorities. It is acutely mindful that any indictment would most likely result in a years-long, very publicly argued, fiercely contested trial.

What that day at Kennywood did was humanize him. For all of his shortcomings, he was a man. A father. A dad. DAMN IT. (Pgh Mag, Virginia Montanez)


Indeed, that is well and duly noted.

We are aware that layman guilt can be hard to prove in criminal court, and that “honest services fraud” if it comes into play is tougher to prove than it used to be. We are aware that the federal prosecutors in the trial of Dr. Cyril Wecht were outclassed and outmaneuvered, exhausted and made to look ridiculous. We know that when defense attorneys and sympathizers of the accused call this a “witch hunt”, about one-third of the public will believe such on the spot, just for starters. And we know that many onlookers who engage in their own borderline forms of influencing public officials will view this merely as the persecution of “successful” people “being successful”.
The Backyard Pioneer
Most formidable, however, is the fact that we all know Luke. We know his people. Many of us know Rob. We all have Facebook. This is Pittsburgh.

And these are all things prosecutors are also aware of, as they contemplate undertaking an expensive and bitter war of attrition for the purposes of benefiting this town and combating public corruption.

The Comet therefore finds it crucial to stipulate some things, in the event that any of them have actually transpired:

1. If police equipment and personnel were utilized to transport Nate Guidry workers from point A to point B, and habitually burdened by doing so in a way that keeps it secret, that is massive and unacceptable waste as well as an efficient way to lower professional standards throughout the entire Police Bureau. Ordinary people with families are charged with Nate Guidry work every day with nary a thought. For police officers to see the City’s leader using them for that would obliterate professional standards.

2. If police equipment and personnel were utilized to transport employees of a Marty Griffin business from that establishment to some point B or C with public officials, that is the very same thing.  The process by which a Marty Griffin employee can become a Nate Guidry worker is akin to how a business person does a favor for a politician on one occasion and the politician does something for the business owner on a separate occasion. It is rarely simultaneous and there is never a receipt, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be proven to a jury beyond any reasonable doubt. It results in just as much waste and corrosive effect on the Bureau, because everyone witnessing it will make the reasonable assumption.

3. If police equipment and personnel were utilized to work in concert with a private valet or car service in together accomplishing the same goals as in #1 or #2, that is again the same thing. That would be a truly abominable example of a “public-private partnership” springing up to illicitly service public officials while eluding scrutiny. It’s the sort of influence that can affect officials’ professional judgment more powerfully than any other type of favor.

4. If the Mayor patronized extensively any Marty Griffin businesses in the City while the staff charged with protecting its employees were in fact off-duty police officers in the Mayor’s employ — I personally find that objectionable, and would support prosecutors uncovering anything which would strongly discourage it. The work environment in Marty Griffin establishments can be plenty coercive already. I cannot see where that employee could turn for relief, how she or he could even consider trying, in the event of encroachments which are an occupational hazard. The knowing participation of peace officers really makes the danger to Marty Griffin or Nate Guidry workers in examples #1, 2 and 3 that much more heinous.


Federal authorities may not be pursuing anything like this.
These points are in response to common perceptions, and perceptions can easily be in error.

But in a small town which sometimes finds it distasteful to discuss certain matters openly, I felt these points important to make. People may be waging a whispered “So what, who cares, it will get too ugly, sweep it all under the rug, have a cigar already” campaign.

We want this to be about bid-rigging anyway: the bid rigging which would be the flip side to any coin involving any sorts of favors to politicians.
It’s possible however that in order to get to the bid-rigging, we need crawl through the favors. That may mean an even more disruptive investigation. Or it may mean being patient throughout a long, grueling, contentious trial which brings few any joy.

Pittsburgh deserves justice. We should be prepared to do what it takes to get to the end.
*-UPDATE: The man who was to replace a Thomas Gigliotti at PWSA has resigned abruptly without comment after arriving in town less than a month ago. (Trib, Bob Bauder)

Wednesday: Strap on your flood gear!

These boots are made for blogging (The Busman)

by Bram Reichbaum

Veolia Water’s press has been so good in the immediate run-up to today’s contract renewal with PWSA and the run up to Councilman Dowd’s retirement, its circulation has been taken up mostly by the company.

And the results speak for themselves.

Board members said… (P-G, Moriah Balingit)

When Veolia came on board to direct an epically beleaguered water authority but only under an unchanged board and over essentially unchangeable management and personnel, there was reason for skepticism.

It is encouraging that customer service call-waiting time to the Authority has decreased significantly, and it seems like there has been no urgent reason to change horses midstream. The efficiency of the physical plant and facilities management might need to be looked at in the coming year.

WHAT ELSE IS BREWING:

The Race for CCD7 as of this instant appears to be a Tony Ceoffe vs. Deb Gross (CP Blogh) affair. Lauren Byrne is no longer pondering. Susan Banahasky is pondering a bit. *-UPDATE: The P-G runs an article including several other plausible candidates.

Hillombo is wondering about Penguins area / Lower Hill development, and when to find out how benchmarks for affordable housing and resident-owned businesses can be met. The last time I personally went to a meeting, the Penguins represented that there is a document they are working on which will operate as a blueprint as far as community stuff which the Penguins ever intend to pursue.

To Learn, Go Forth and Serve, a documentary on the history and closing of Schenley High School has appeared care of the Creative Arts Corner. h/t PUREreform

Counterpoint PA interviews Sue Lyons, author of the Pa’s fracking moratorium resolution embraced by State Sen. Jim Ferlo among others. h/t Keystone Politics

Capitol Ideas posits that gay marriage is fixing to become a prominent state issue, with a lawsuit announced and with Democrats vying for a nomination, and with Governor Corbett “remaining firm” that marriage is between a man and a woman. Today Pittsburgh Councilman Kraus proposed what I’m calling “prevailing benefits” legislation.

The Allegheny Institute notes that although a County grant towards the production of a reality show may be defensible in terms of job growth, it may not have been an “eligible activity.”

Nullspace continues to posit the question of whether You Gotta Believe.

Have a nice day, peoples!

TRIUMPH – Lay it on the Line (OFFICIAL VIDEO) by triumphalliedforces

Yakking with Officer Kuzak about Jags n’at


All glory to John Chamberlin & co.

Let’s Now Argue about where Police can Live

Business Books Guy

by Bram Reichbaum

Councilman Ricky Burgess is proposing a ballot initiative for the next election to determine whether City police officers must continue to be barred from living elsewhere than the City proper.

“The community I represent … they are frightened and disturbed that the police officers that patrol their streets have no personal interest in the city that they protect,” he said. “They won’t live, play … and worship in the city.” (P-G, Moriah Balingit)

Probably not coincidentally, the P-G was prepared with an editorial already.

Asking workers to support their employers by being taxpaying citizens is not unduly burdensome. In addition, living in a community can better prepare officers — in fact, all city workers — for their jobs, because they are bound to be more informed about what’s going on at a grassroots level and more connected to their fellow Pittsburghers by virtue of being members of the populace. (Edit Board)

Here is the thing:

Even today under a residency requirement, is there even the slightest assumption in Rev’s community and those like it that the white officers from Banksville are personally knowledgeable of and invested in the black residents in Homewood?

Pittsburgh Councilman Ricky Burgess said Tuesday he’s worried that relations between police and the city’s poorest communities are at crisis level.
“On both sides you’re going to see violence,” he said. “Both sides are armed. The disconnect that causes trauma on both sides is at the boiling point. We have to get both sides to change these attitudes.”

Burgess pointed to two “false narratives” causing problems: that officers believe people hate them and are complicit in criminal activity, while residents think officers hate them, disrespect them and are out to convict them of crimes.
“If we do not address this, this is a train wreck heading for our city,” Burgess said. “You’re looking at a bomb ready to explode.” (Trib, Margaret Harding)
I agree, it’s scary right now. We have a lot of work to do.
Not only is there work to be done staffing the Police Bureau’s leadership, but reforming all manner of administrative, policing, training and oversight policies. Plus work making sure the community is meaningfully engaged and appraised of progress or lack thereof. That’s all huge, and sensitive, and will require a lot of public attention and energy.
Difficult to imagine how launching what will be a long, clamorous, narrowly-focused and polarizing public argument about the employee residency requirement at the very start of that work will foster a good atmosphere for it.
Mark Niquette, Bloomberg

Furthermore, a ton of what the City needs to reform can only be won at the bargaining table with the FOP. I cannot imagine the City possesses a better potential bargaining chip than the residency requirement for things like restrictions and clarifications on off-duty details and powers, or on recording incident reports in certain ways.

Besides, waiving that requirement might have positive effects as well. If officers can live elsewhere than in the City, perhaps we will be able to draw from a broader pool of applicants, and broader can mean more diverse. We may make ourselves more attractive to African-American candidates at all levels of experience, from across the country, if we’re not telling them where to live with their families after hours.
So there are a lot of reasons to work and worry over many other things at the Police Bureau. But then again, maybe we’re in the mood to wage a campaign at the ballot box instead. Maybe the most recent one wasn’t perfectly adequate.

Waiting for Peduto or Dying for a Change?

by Vannevar Bush

Withdrawn at a cyclist’s request. Vannevar Bush.

Monday: Our Commonwealth, Our Streets, Our History

Major League (1989)

by Bram Reichbaum

Our State Legislature (R-Fox News) did not pass a sorely needed transportation bill, did not liberalize liquor sales or distribution, and did not tackle state pensions this season. And it certainly did not take part in Obamacare Medicaid expansion, thank you very much. But it did pass a structurally balanced budget on time and without raising taxes for the third year in a row, just like Mayor Ravenstahl used to do.

Corbett commemorated the occasion of those failures and that adequacy by taking credit for some modest job growth. The boasts are being questioned.

We know that liquor privatization became “tied to” paying for roads, bridges and public transit. As in: some Democrats would have caved in and voted for liberalizing liquor sales and distribution in some GOP fashionif the transportation bill was of commensurate seriousness.

And so we learned that having “roads and bridges” tied to public transit is also crucially, subtly important. A third rail, if you will. And high voltage – it can evidently short out a neighborhood.

Civic transportation is a sizable government expense that is executed in this world – and in this very nation – to magnificent economic and other social results. Yet that does not deter many in the Legislature who see only intrinsically corrupt and fundamentally bloated transportation authorities, which entail organized labor forces (gracious!) with which to contend. So they would really like to toss out the bathwater, baby or no.

Fortunately and so far, their attempt to kill urban public transit by attrition is taking place in what is essentially a Blue-minded state. Although you would not know that to look at its Legislature, thanks to the unpopularity of Governor Ed Rendell (D-Philadelphia) by the end of his terms, some Bonusgate razzle dazzle from Attorney General Corbett, and routine gerrymandering.

##

The evidently questionable detention of two Black men standing outside of a community meeting leads the Post-Gazette to voice mainstream concerns about instances of seemingly arbitrary and capricious policing, out of line with what many find acceptable even appreciating the challenges of the job. Out-front City and Bureau leadership on this aggravation is naturally at ebb tide.

Homewood Nation has been chronicling this latest thread intimately and doggedly.

See also Homewood Nation’s stirring musings on incorporating new land-bank powers optimally as part of a strategic, “overall” muni-regional development plan that can transcend both community-group wish lists and brute imperialism.

##
Allegheny County rechristened the Comet publisher’s go-to bridge, the Fighting 16th, after hometown hero historian David McCullough. Regional historian and local columnist-of-record Brian O’Neill summons us to aid a worthy project: brainstorming what is both “right” and “wrong” with Pittsburgh. I am a fan of high-low poker, so my answer is “small town sensibilities.”

InvestigatePGH: A Lot of Dots are Now Connectable

Starts with a Bang!, Ethan Siegel

by Bram Reichbaum

Read this now; the whole thing, now.

But just for now:

“Honestly, I have a lot of respect for [Robert Gigliotti],” said Mr. Bodziak [a competing valet owner]. The hard-knuckled, who-you-know aspect of his success “kind of comes with the territory. … In my opinion, it’s how the business works.” (P-G, Lord, Navratil & Balingit)

I wonder how Mr. Extravagante Valet himself would describe what is being described in this Mayor-businessman relationship story. Hard knuckles indeed, or a comforting embrace? Who you know, or how you know them?

It will take a careful and much longer post to properly unpack everything.

Wait for it.

But for now, as far as we know this started with bid-rigging, and I think we would all like it to end with bid-rigging. Right? And so end the bid-rigging, pernicious bid-rigging, apparitions of bid-rigging. That is something on which we literally almost all can agree.

RELATED: Robert’s uncle appears to have been late State Rep. Frank Gigliotti (P-G, Tim McNulty) unless there were two Anthony Gigliottis in neighboring Banksville and Greentree, each with their own ties to City government.

This Will Be Our Independence Day!

Have a happy holiday. When we return, I’ll get back to doing my job.