Both are Democrats, at the apex of the party’s two legislative pyramids.
Yet if the city’s secondary financial oversight board is still stonewalling over $20 million in casino money, they must somehow be at odds with the City of Pittsburgh.
“They’re creating a $20 million deficit and I don’t think they realize that they’re doing it,” [City Finance Director Paul Leger] said. “By June I would have expected about $7 million in the kitty. If we don’t have $7 million in the next several months we’re in trouble. (P-G, Robert Zullo)
Now, with a Democrat in the Governor’s mansion and a reasonable partner on Grant Street, we are not sure what is the problem.
Nominally, the bone of contention is the City’s frustrated attempts to complete the installation of joint financial management software with the County.
In case you don’t subscribe to Eat That, Read This, we’ll reproduce its smart analysis of that situation here (cleaning it up a little) but be forewarned it’s a shaggy dog tale which you may as well scroll past…
On the surface, it makes efficiency sense for the city and the county to use the same payroll software system. And in theory, a joint resource software should save us all money as well.
So back in 2011, Mayor Ravenstahl and County Controller Mark Patrick Flaherty signed an agreement, and the city and the county jumped in together to upgrade our respective payroll systems within a “resource planning software” called J.D. Edwards. County staffers were tasked with this upgrade process, but in order to help make the transition assuredly successful, the county contracted with a company called Denovo. (As an aside, it should be noted that while Pittsburgh contributed $300,000 to the county for its staffers’ help in this process, we ended up paying $1.5 million to Denovo staffers for their end of the bargain. Why? because Denovo “charged approximately $155 an hour plus meals, flights and hotel rooms, while County employees earned roughly $30-70 an hour.”)
Both City Controller Michael Lamb and County Controller Chelsa Wagner were proponents of the joint J.D. Edwards payroll system upgrade, assuring that this was not only a necessary process, but an easy one to boot. “This system is ready to go. I use the analogy of a house that’s been built, but nobody has moved the boxes in,” said Wagner rosily at an ICA meeting last summer.
But the underlying truth is that the city and the county, each with their own distinct set of responsibilities, actually have completely different personnel structures, adding an increasingly chasmic complexity to what was supposed to have been a straightforward process. And little by little, as the implementation process rolled on, the inexorable reality of this fundamental difference became ever more apparent–to the tune of over $1.2 million.
Shocked by the bill, the city hired the law firm Deforest, Koscelnik, Yokitis and Berardinelli to draft a report exploring why this cost us so much, and who was to blame. They concluded that “the original bid was premised on the belief that the county’s payroll setup could be used for the city, but this ended up being incorrect, resulting in significant additional design, analysis, resources and training time” and noted that “between March 2013 and January 2014, Denovo … received eight change orders that totaled more than $988,000, all but two signed by Chuck Half, a former City employee who served as project manager on the endeavor.” “It was literally one guy,” said Chief of Staff Kevin Acklin about former staffer Chuck Half, but Half defended himself, saying that the change orders “were the result of joint decisions with officials in the city’s personnel and finance departments as well as the City Controller’s office.”
Mayor Peduto decried the process’s overall “gross mismanagement, lack of oversight, and sheer waste of resources.” It has been, by all accounts, a slow-motion trainwreck, in addition to a Rashomon-style drama, each actor with his or her own take on the matter, but in the end we can highlight a few valuable lessons here: … Ravenstahl’s folly of neglecting to build in multiple points of sign-off oversight and his lack of seriousness when tasked with staffing the endeavor. The pitfalls of cobbling together complex City and County systems that don’t easily dovetail as nicely we’d like them to. Folly of not building in multiple points of sign-off oversight. The crucial role that a proactive, professional controller plays. And, of course, look before you leap. (ETRT)
Got that? Don’t worry, it doesn’t matter much.
The point is that everyone now agrees we should have the software, and we can all see that in each other — it just proved to be a lot harder to do in the way that everyone then thought best.
The logic of punishing City residents, commuters and businesses for errors made by politicians and bureaucrats who aren’t even in power anymore is just silly. The casino money is legitimately owed to the City, we all know it is eventually going there anyway, and nobody needs to be “convinced” to pursue modern financial software any longer. Why leave streets a mess and slow down development over spilled milk?
In the past when it came to this sort of obstruction or frustration, City Democrats got in the habit of blaming either ICA Director Henry Sciortino (a journeyman bonds trader and slippery intermediary) or else ICA Chair Nicholas Varischetti and his appointer, State Sen. Joe Scarnati (a rural Republican who would probably rejoice if Pittsburgh suffered a plague of locusts).
But with a 3-2 advantage, why hasn’t the balance of power shifted? Why aren’t the City and our nearby State Democratic leaders cooperating? Why is Varischetti still the Chair?
The Comet can imagine four reasons:
- Maybe the ICA has become addicted to holding onto our casino money to skim the interest to pay staff like Sciortino…
- Maybe Scarnati or the Varischettis are influential enough to be owed favors like controlling even the Democrats’ appointments to the ICA board…
- Maybe Sen. Smith and Rep. Dermody are conservative blue-dogs who sympathize with the notion that today’s City dwellers must be scourged for being moochers whose parents ought to have busted the public sector unions back when the regional Great Steel Depression devastated our tax base…
- Maybe new Governor Tom Wolf just hasn’t gotten his arms around this situation yet.
We don’t know. Any ideas, readers? This kind of thing really shouldn’t be that hard anymore. We should all be on the same team, making progress.