The season of “Wait for it, Wait for it…”: A critique sandwich!

Bill Peduto’s techniques for recruiting talent have put a bunch of really able and well-qualified people into important City positions. That is no longer in dispute.

The Mayor is good at sticking to his guns. Some thought his internal and external processes too tardy, slow, cumbersome, silly or prejudicial, but there was never any question of his hastening or curtailing them. Even when perhaps three or four out of his scores and scores of designees for Directorships, Deputy Directorships, staff, as well as Authority or Commission seats caused the slightest commotion, he fought tenaciously in defense of them.

The strategies are paying off. We have seen the cavalry arrive
at the Bureau of Building Inspection. We have witnessed a Department of Public Works better attuned to dominate the freeze-thaw cycle with cold patching and an expanded and much-enhanced City 311 response line. We are encouraged by an attentive, perceptive and dauntless Director of Public Safety, and we are impressed with a Municipal Investigations director capable of enterprising independence. These are all great places to make progress out of the gate.

We sense that on a few particular policy initiatives, progress is stalled at conceptual stages. People wonder what is specifically going to happen with programs like Responsible Banking, or Clean Technology, or Open Data, or Land Banking, or the Ethics function.

We realize Peduto has committed to a less autocratic and more openly participatory government model. Often on the campaign trail he related a certain Lao Tzu quote about leadership, providing refreshing contrast to the rhetorical approach of both his predecessor and competitor. To apply such insight as an officeholder is praiseworthy.

But the Supreme Ultimate is a matter of balancing yang with yin, not of reversing its imbalance.

For example, on the Produce Terminal redevelopment, bids to handle the redevelopment came back, and the primary reaction has been to say, “My, that’s all fascinating. What do you think?” And on Hill District redevelopment, deadlines approach, the dynamics of negotiation seem no different than several years ago, and the Mayor appears poised to mull over the gridlocked pieces even longer.

It looks as though Peduto is now telling us to “Wait for it, wait for it… wait for it” as we await the results of some interim working group roundtable task forces to align with policy papersTalent City ideasTransition Team reports and Mindmixer.

The Mayor’s boldness in the face of adversity is one reason he is good for this role. He had to respond to the trashing of the North Shore, and he did it liberally with the bully pulpit and conservatively with new procedures. His conviction to protect public assets and interests even into political headwinds inspires confidence.

These same courageously enlightened instincts were on fine display when State Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery/Deleware) at tail end of his fact-finding / listening / inhaling tour crashed on Grant St.

“I’m firmly for the use of marijuana for medical purposes,” Peduto said before the meeting.

Peduto added that his administration has more pressing needs to address, such as gun violence and hiring a police chief, before talking about decriminalizing the drug in Pittsburgh.

“Really, that isn’t an issue that this administration is going to deal with this year,” he said. (Trib, Bob Bauder)

As you know, the year is more than halfway finished. Nooice!

We thank Mayor Peduto for continuing to motivate his team to hit benchmarks for reform. He is a valued asset to our organization. We should give his forward-leaning proposals extra time and attention to improve his transformational task-management.

36 thoughts on “The season of “Wait for it, Wait for it…”: A critique sandwich!

  1. Brian Tucker-Hill

    I really, really don’t want to let the Penguins push their schedule. We’ve seen on the North Shore how that can turn into an endless cycle of delays for no apparent benefit, as in fact development as been both slower and worse than originally planned. That said, the last known Lower Hill plan is extremely dated at this point, reflecting expectations for market conditions long since surpassed. And as I have suggested before, that creates an opportunity for a win-win-win with affordable housing advocates through upzoning the plan.

    Similarly, the Produce Terminal should be seen as part of an integrated plan for the Strip, and the last known development plans of Buncher are also now dated and likely considerably undershoot the market.

    In both these cases, the opportunity is so large that it is well worth making sure it is done right over done at absolutely maximum speed, and we have good reason to believe a refresh of the last known plan is warranted. So the question in my mind is whether Peduto can in fact manage a process that leads to a significant increase in ambition on the part of these developers, particularly as applied to residential units (which would be consistent with Peduto’s announced policy goals), or will it be more like the North Shore process where delay just ended up coupled with ever-worse plans.

    Reply
    1. Bram Reichbaumbramr101 Post author

      The ONLY reason I might countenance pushing back the Penguins deadline… is if it had been recommended to them by the administration(s) and/or Council that they delay submitting their existent plans to the Planning Commission.

      Surely if the Pens had been “asked” to hold off, it would have been because their plans are not “there” yet, and some more intense thinking and negotiations need to take place before a public body can assent to them. But if they’d therefore been asked to “delay,” it would take away from much justice in now saying, “Whelp, your time is up. Now you lose $X,000,000 of property.”

      If there is a second deadline, it should be a short one (~6 months) and the last one. There is every reason to believe that all Lower Hill development could be as successful or even more successful if any given sub-parcel is reapportioned.

      ADDITION: In fact, if Pittsburgh is spanning the Expressway, it might make perfect sense for the Penguins to opt cede that parcel connecting with it to the SEA & URA, if they must cede a parcel. Tremendous new planning opportunities will unspool from it — it will be cleanest for all to consider it separately and anew.

      Reply
  2. Anonymous

    It seems that their education team is an absolute mess. They haven’t been able to even put together a coherent press release, let alone something that looks like a policy proposal or, uh, thoughtful idea.

    Reply
    1. Bram Reichbaumbramr101 Post author

      That intergovernmental collaboration must have a great deal of tension owing to how there are lots of polarizing issues in the School District: facilities consolidation, inequity, funding, management’s right to manage, public-private partnerships and probably a bunch of other stuff. Still, there’s tension everywhere.

      Reply
      1. Anonymous

        laughable. there is massive infighting going on. and lots of directors getting in internal hot water. watch for one or two of them to get “reassigned” in coming months.

      2. Bram Reichbaumbramr101 Post author

        I should hope there’s some infighting… mayor only has one space to his left, and one space to his right. Getting in his face or jumping on his back is only advisable once in a blue moon, and squabbling at his udders must get old. I’m always up for some fine-tuning.

  3. Confused

    Peduto seems to be in bed with the Penguins and clueless about the Civia Arena site and Terminal site. He talks community talk, but he is unnecessarily siding with corporate interest just like most elected officials eventually do. Their development team is lacking. It’s the blind leading the blind. Help us all.

    Reply
    1. Brian Tucker-Hill

      Funny, I have also heard the Peduto Administration accused of kowtowing to the Hill community groups with respect to the Lower Hill site.

      It is almost like “If you are not with us you are against us!” is not a great rule of thumb as applied to someone trying to mediate a deal.

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      1. Anonymous

        Peduto was somewhat active (does tweeting count?) and definitely sympathetic to the efforts to save the Civic Arena. On balance, Hill Community Groups supported the demolition, as the Arena fractured the Hill community. It’s not clear to me where he stands on what will follow…the issue may well be bigger than one man and his Twitter account. His thumbprints are not yet recognizable on the URA, for example.

        The past couple of years have been utterly crucial as far as City redevelopment issues are concerned. Rather than wasting time explicitly blaming Bill or his predecessor for not pleasing everyone, we should instead try to gain and then convey a realistic understanding of how complicated these issues truly are. The campaign is over, so 100 (or even 10) policy papers don’t really slide in as a fix.

        What exactly are the important redevelopment measurables for Bill now that he’s steering the ship? Is it ok now to admit that you can’t please everyone? Maybe Yarone Zober and Acklin can have coffee, so Kevin can start the learning process?

      2. Brian Tucker-Hill

        Personally, I am encouraged by the things Peduto has said about wanting more residential units (“retail follows rooftops”, 20,000 new residents, and such) because that is what I would like to see too (and it is a pretty easy measurable). But as yet, there has been no concrete test of what that might mean for any particular disputed development–until perhaps today, when we are supposedly getting a Produce Terminal decision.

      3. Bram Reichbaumbramr101 Post author

        Anon 2:00: A productive coffee between Acklin and Zober? Stranger things… have never happened. There are a lot of letters between A and Z.

        I don’t think we’re in any manner of crisis state when it comes to the velocity of our redevelopment, owing mostly to strong fundamentals and great buzz. I don’t know whether we know what variables and metrics are most important to consider, and would love to hear more about that. I don’t think we can please everyone, but I think it’s a good policy to strive for accords which please more and more residents. So yes, I support that coffee enthusiastically on general principle.

  4. Anonymous

    Here is the problem. It is way too early to tell how Peduto is doing. Policy papers, statements, tweets, campaign events and riding bikes in Europe are not “governing” or “results.” Liberals love big statements, but what we need are results. For now, mostly everything that is happening is still the result of Ravenstahl’s administration and that will probably be true for another year or so. If the economy is doing well and debt is down and new people are moving in, that is a result of Ravenstahl policies. If the economy keeps chugging along or picks up in a couple years then I give Peduto credit (and both Ravenstahl and Peduto need to give credit to Murphy). One could criticize Peduto for the rash in violence for the fact he still doesn’t have a police chief and has a public safety director in a bizarre spat with the DA, but I think we also need to give him a little time there. Again, the goal is a good economy with growing job and tax base and low crime rate. Lets keep a critical eye and watch what is happening but reserve judgment until next year.

    Reply
    1. Bram Reichbaumbramr101 Post author

      “If the economy is doing well and debt is down and new people are moving in, that is a result of Ravenstahl policies.” Or of the national economy, our eds and meds, cities coming back into vogue and Pittsburgh being Pittsburgh. And Murphy policies regarding riverfront development. And Peduto insisting we enter and follow Act 47. Conservatives love quick statements, but let’s not play this game.

      Reply
      1. Anonymous

        “Or of the national economy…” – um, while Pgh was booming the rest of the national economy was in shambles. You have instantly lost all credibility on this argument. Despite that, I agree that there are other factors, which is why I mentioned Murphy. We should probably also give Masloff some credit.

        To say that it had something to do with Peduto insisting we stay in Act 47 is ridiculous. That didn’t happen until last year. The point though is that big statements and biking trips to Europe do not equate to Peduto doing anything great for the City. It takes time to see how is policies play out. If you disagree then it really isn’t worth even talking to you.

      2. Brian Tucker-Hill

        Maybe I am about to lose all credibility too, but I absolutely believe Pittsburgh’s economy was hurt in relative terms by the housing boom, and then helped in relative terms by the resulting housing bust, great recession, and now recovery from the great recession.

        I’d also go way farther back. The steel bust baked in the cake many years of demographic struggle as the young workers who left the region also de facto took with them their future children. But at some point the region was going to transition past that period to a new period of population stability and then a period of modest growth. Demographers were predicting that to start happening later than it appears it actually happened, which can be attributed to the boom-and-bust cycle noted above altering domestic migration patterns.

        So yes, local officials now are benefiting in relative terms from large scale economic effects that really have nothing to do with their policies. And so one very important question for today’s local officials is can they grasp how much how things have changed such that they both make use of opportunities and also avoid potential pitfalls that were not really present to anything like the same degree for most of their recent predecessors (although Luke caught it at the tail end).

      3. Bram Reichbaumbramr101 Post author

        Just in note to Anon 8:28, Peduto shares a huge chunk of credit (or blame, if that’s your style) for getting us into Act 47 in 2004 and keeping us in it in 2009.

  5. Anonymous

    I am dying to know the standard by which it has been established that there is no dispute over the hiring of talented people. This administration is mostly a bunch of campaign hacks, old city retreads and Peduto drinking buddies. There have been a couple good hires but for the most part they are unproven, inexperienced, entitled, and their competence remains in question.

    Reply
    1. Anonymous

      Generally speaking, I agree. I don’t know how you build a “Next Pittsburgh” after bringing in Guy Costa, for pete’s sake. No one says Old Politics Pittsburgh like a Costa bro – and in particular this one. Bill really, really wanted to hire a buddy for Finance. Edward Kiely once ran for Controller, with a Bill Peduto as his campaign manager – and he owed $83k in back taxes. Leger was a previous finance director, and also was one of Peduto’s college profs. And now, after all of this community input for the Police Chief role, Peduto tells us that he’s bringing in his brother to help him decide. Debra Lam – Tom Murphy met her at a conference, thought she was cool, told Bill, and in she goes…while many, many deserving folks in the hot pgh tech sector – people with tons of experience building and selling successful startups, people with technology project and departmental management – applied and were not chosen. Valerie McDonald-Roberts…has anyone heard a peep from her? Does anyone familiar with her earlier body of work have any great expectations of above-board productivity? I don’t mean to say that hiring a new administration is easy…but the Talent City thing was a political exercise, let’s be honest. Bill was mostly looking to hire his friends or campaign people or the people his friends pointed his way…just like every other incoming mayor.

      Reply
  6. Anonymous

    No, they are not. Even Acklin admits Costa has been a disaster and that Kiley was a non-starter. Then of course there is DePasquale…

    Reply
    1. Helen Gerhardt

      “Beyond dispute”?

      That blanket assertion contradicts a range of concerns, doubts and thoughtful critiques I have heard regarding Talent City process, transparency, potential conflicts of interest, and actual hiring results, from thoughtful public servants with long and solid records of substantive contributions to the City. All of these concerns were expressed by strong supporters of the Peduto progressive platform, and in several cases from men and women who actively campaigned for the Mayor. To lay down the line of “beyond dispute” seems to immediately reject what valuable disputations and information they have to offer to the conversation here, to the City, and to the Peduto Administration itself.

      Reply
      1. Bram Reichbaumbramr101 Post author

        See, this is why I need to keep the blog moving. Back from vacay this evening.

        Helen, which “actual hiring results” concerned those from which you have heard? At least give us a department to consider.

      2. Anonymous

        Talent City has been a joke. Lots of hiring of committee people, campaign supporters and purging of anyone that said hello to Luke. Remember Keily? Oops. the new head of BBI – oops doesn’t have the proper degree. Public works head? Oh, he just happened to cast the deciding vote in the Deb Gross committee anointing. And he doesn’t have a degree that was in the job description. A clear violation of civil service laws. Nothing to see here, please disperse. Zoning administrator? Get rid of her and hire someone from Riverlife when the Talent City search committee just happened to be headed by… wait for it…the head of Riverlife. New solicitor’s law firm where her husband works getting all the bond word and other legal gigs. Former ward chair getting public relations job at Alcosan. Keep moving, nothing to see here. Former chair of AWC when it went down in flames gets the urban initiatives job. Please keep moving. Don’t look over here. The list goes on…..

    2. Bram Reichbaumbramr101 Post author

      What is happening at BBI? Is everything copacetic? That would be good to confirm: my impression that everything is indeed. Kennedy won confirmation by a considerable margin; 8-1 I believe.

      I didn’t realize there was a changeover at Zoning Administrator. I can understand why; same reasons we have a new Zoning Board and Planning chair. That billboard interpretation was conspicuously egregious.

      Reply
      1. Anonymous

        Kennedy being confirmed 8-1 with this bunch of jokers on council is hardly a ringing endorsement. She was selected in a manner that violated the law. Plain and simple.

  7. Anonymous

    This post has caused me to visualize Peduto – Bram at his side, like a less grumpy Rumsfeld – at a podium with a “Mission Accomplished” banner background, ala Bush II. I guess this would be aboard a Just Ducky boat rather than an aircraft carrier? “Beyond dispute” is a bit aggressive.

    Reply
    1. Bram Reichbaumbramr101 Post author

      Dispute away. Who of note is in over their heads? There is a lot of room for reasonable people to differ about goals and policy, or leadership and strategy, or style and attitude. I’m here to tell you, few to nil have any specific concerns about the new guard’s capacity.

      You’ve had over a week to think of anything, and nothing. Now you’re quibbling over a stylistic flourish? Pathetic. 😉 <– UPDATE that retort was directed at the Anonymous commenter who likened me to Turd Blossom, not to Helen of course. Threads can be a bit unclear.

      Reply
      1. Anonymous

        Concerns over the hiring of Michael Huss certainly seem well-founded by the corruption and undermining of public safety under his watch.

      2. Bram Reichbaumbramr101 Post author

        Ah. Excellent choice.

        From my perspective, public safety is an area of intense polarization as well as constant scrutiny. Mike Huss is well-regarded by many in Pgh who are less charmed by Peduto than others. The fact that he can bridge those divides and provide a semblance of continuity, and is willing to do so as a subordinate to the brand new Director, is probably a valuable thing.

        Valuable enough to counterbalance whatever it is that happened “on his watch” for which he’s in part accountable? I don’t know. I don’t know enough about that. In terms of trivia, it might be noted that Peduto urged the appointment of Huss way back in 2006 when Ravenstahl preferred Dennis Regan. Of course Ravenstahl changed course once Regan became enscandaled, but lots of people in City gov. were then getting enscandaled, and thereafter. No conclusions, just reflection.

      3. Helen Gerhardt

        I wouldn’t have responded to your “beyond dispute” assertion if it hadn’t seemed to be such a glaring example, not simply of sweepingly pro-Peduto proclamations, but far more important omissions from your public critique sandwiches. Such as the glaring example of the Mike Huss hiring when public safety is so very challenged in Pittsburgh this year.

        No, I’m not critical of a stylistic flourish, Bram, but of an overall tendency of political writers to insulate the elected officials of their political camps ftom the harder questions and critiques that would help keep them and their camps more responsible to the public interest. I don’t think we do service to the Peduto progressive platform or the public when we skip the hard stuff.

      4. Bram Reichbaumbramr101 Post author

        Credit where credit is due is also a thing. It was a narrowly-tailored and even tame compliment: that he picked a bunch of really bright people, regardless of how, and of external circumstances such as the state of Public Safety and what it might require in terms of compromise. If I was insulating anybody from anything I wouldn’t bring up touchy subjects like personnel to begin with, or invite comments. I also called him out for not doing anything yet on Ethics, but nobody’s amplifying that.

        I’d run a pretty boring blog (not just for my audience but for myself as a writer) if I had to be as tentative as you’re now advocating. I guess sweeping pronouncements are generally more welcome when they’re critical of government, whereas giving it any credit is only palatable when ladled out with the stinginess and culinary reserve of an orphanage cafeteria. Fortunately there are many blogs with multiple perspectives, and lots of interactivity.

      5. Helen Gerhardt

        I want to clarify my own position. I absolutely do think many, many awesomely valuable people have been hired and appointed by the Peduto Administration thus far – and I’m VERY I’m glad that room has been made for people who have demonstrated strength of character, creativity, talents, commitment and contributions to their communities who in some cases don’t also have elite educations and officially perfect credentials (just one example, Maura Kennedy, who evidently made very positive waves in Philly and might provide some much needed shaking up of BBI here in Pittsburgh.)

        I want it to be very clear that the thing I respect the most about Bill Peduto is that he actively encourages active community engagement and critique of local government. He has consistently encouraged people to courage – the same kind of chutzpah you showed in your own criticisms of the Ravenstahl Administration, Bram, despite all costs and consequences. I know that you so actively support Peduto as the antidote to years of corruption and uncaring apathy toward communities most in need of responsible care.

      6. Bram Reichbaumbramr101 Post author

        The jig is up, the news is out…

        Yes Helen, in addition to those very very valid observations. lie a few other things. Some are singular. One, quite honestly man, is the degree to which the present predicaments and questions surrounding Mayor P do not rise to the level of being terribly stimulating. What is surfacing is all so dependent on perceptions, extrapolation and/or impatience right now.

        I understand we need to keep that challenge-hungry and skeptical process cranking on general principle, however, so I will dutifully correct courses. Not overcompensate but correct, realign, update. And as always I’d be pleased to highlight trenchant, necessary critiques arising anywhere.

  8. Anonymous

    Stay on the Ethics issue Bram. You are right that nothing is happening there. Part of the problem is that the Solicitor is so ethically challenged. Her firm (where she still realizes a financial benefit) and her friends are getting more work than anyone should feel comfortable with and she is still playing games on residency.

    Reply
    1. Bram Reichbaumbramr101 Post author

      Wow. Strong accusations. Any “financial benefit” would be predicated upon her spouse’s occupation at the law firm Clark Hill Thorp Reed, correct? And a prior commenter mentioned “bond work”. Send all fishing vessels after Clark Hill PLC! And if they bring something back, hand it over to the Interim City Ethics Hearing Board, AKA Bob Mayo.

      UPDATE: Well, let’s see. They were the solicitor for the CPRB back in 12-13 (maybe that was when McGough was on the outs?) but nothing listed for this year. Of course, Open Book Pittsburgh only lists City stuff.

      Reply
  9. Bram Reichbaumbramr101 Post author

    Remider – As always, personal attacks will be deleted, and if there is an outbreak we will revert to moderated commenting. Peddle it elsewhere.

    Reply

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