Monthly Archives: July 2007

Cat-Licensing is the new Immigration Reform, and other Editorial Heckling

Council splits 4-4 on legislation to require pet owners to secure $7-$12 licenses for cats. Jeff Koch will spend the next week parlaying his abstention into benefits for South Side residents.

From the P-G’s Rich Lord:

Council President Shields countered that there’s “a much lower level of concern” about cats than dogs, because the latter can cause injury.

Ms. Carlisle said that’s an outdated perception. “That was yesteryear,” she said. “In 2007, cats are more aggressive than they used to be.”

Councilwoman Twanda Carlisle is, first and foremost, a scientist.

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Bad news from the P-G’s Linda Wilson Fuoco:

Allegheny County and federal officials last weekend rounded up and killed 272 of the Canada geese that live and breed in North Park where they enchant some picnic-goers and outrage others, largely because they produce a lot of droppings.

The geese were loaded into the back of a truck calmly and humanely (using a laser). County Parks Director Andy Baechle was unaware what methods were employed to exterminate the geese, but assures us it was also humane.

The Comet fears we have awoken a sleeping giant.

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Also from Rich Lord, slid underneath a story about some golfing non-issue:

Just back from a trip to Louisville, Ky., with Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato and members of a city-county committee on efficiency, Mr. Ravenstahl wouldn’t cite any measures taken by that region that he would like to implement here.

“There’s no quick fix, or no blueprint” in Louisville that would apply to Pittsburgh, he said.

Then why did you go? Didn’t you already feel that way? Did Dan Onorato make you go? Did you have another bitter row with him over consolidation, like the ones we’ve heard about in Newsweek?

UPDATE: In a conversation with KDKA’s Fred Honsberger [much rejoicing], Luke said he “learned a lot” in Louisville, alluding to Dan-O having his opinions on mergers, and Luke having his own. He also said that he did not limit the number of mayoral debates to be scheduled, and that he is waiting on a phone call from the DeSantis campaign.

Old-School Tuesday News Wrap

Luke Ravenstahl is “happy to participate in the Ethics Board’s request,” will address concerns about UPMC financed outing in person. (P-G, Rich Lord)

(also, WTAE’s Gus Rosendale, who happened upon the Mayor as he was shaking hands with people sweeping up city streets.)

Editorial Aside: The Mayor is to be complemented for taking these concerns so seriously. Now, if we can just get him back talking to Marty Griffin, or some other talk-radio host …

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PA House and Senate pass different smoking bans — resolving them for to put a bill on the Governor’s desk will be difficult. (P-G, Tom Barnes)

The House would have permitted smoking only in private homes, in private rooms at nursing homes, at large-scale cigar expositions, in tobacco stores and at private clubs in existence for at least 10 years. It would have banned smoking at restaurants, bars and casinos entirely, which some casino officials objected to.

The Senate would have permitted smoking on 25 percent of casino floors, in smaller bars where food sales didn’t exceed 20 percent of total revenue, in cigar bars and other places.

Editorial Aside: Here we go, How-owse, Here we go! -clap- -clap- Here we go, How-owse, Here we go! -clap- -clap-

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Mayor Ravenstahl has yet to hire an Assistant Director / EEO Officer to work in the Personnel Department. (Courier, Christian Morrow)

However, Acting Communications Director Joanna Doven says the search will be complete in about two weeks, and the 10 directorship positions currently “in limbo” will not be filled until an EEO Officer is in place.

Editorial Aside: Perhaps the Courier would care to investigate the state of the ongoing campaign to secure community benefits related to new arena construction? Because no one else seems to care, any longer.

What’s the Plan, Stan?

Tell us that the juxtaposition of these last lines from today’s P-G Rich Lord piece is not artful.

Mr. DeSantis said that by Oct. 1, he will issue a plan to prevent city bankruptcy. He focused on the city’s $800 million debt, its pension fund which is $484 million short of its ideal level, and the money owed by its authorities, calling that situation “unprecedented in the United States.”

Mr. Ravenstahl’s campaign shot back that he’s “the first mayor in years” to submit a truly balanced budget.

Mr. DeSantis also pledged a campaign that treats voters “with respect.”

The full issuance from the Ravenstahl campaign (KDKA, h/t 2PJs) explains Luke’s response to the demand for a financial plan like so:

If our opponent does not know, the City of Pittsburgh is required under Act 47 and Act 11, the Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority, to have a five year budget and recovery plan. We have that already.

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The Comet had previously understood that these prescriptions serve as financial “triage.” They stabilize our vitals and stop the worst of the hemorrhaging — but do nothing to remedy the underlying imbalances. For that, we still require strong medicine.

We could be wrong about this; it is a good place to start the debate.

The Ravenstahl campaign video Financially Sound Pittsburgh has Luke saying that he…

… led the fight to build that rainy day surplus that we now have. We’re going to continue to build on that fund balance at the end of 2007, we will have an excess of $60 million in the bank.

So we’re turning the corner, we’re moving in the right direction, we’re making the difficult decisions necessary to be fiscally responsible, and to ensure that the taxpayers’ money is protected.

We have heard from multiple commentators that the $60 million surplus is largely an accounting artifice — and besides which, it is a drop in the bucket compared to the $800 million debt and the $484 million pensions shortfall.

In other words, the truly tough decisions have yet to be made or even contemplated, and to suggest we’re already on the road to recovery is to be borderline irresponsible.

Again, these commentators could be all wet, but this is a fine thing for two candidates to be arguing over.

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CORRECTION:
The P-G article also includes this tidbit:

Investigation “would not be the correct word,” said Sister Patrice Hughes, chairwoman of the ethics board. Board members have voted to write the mayor a letter asking him to explain his attendance at the invitational.

The Comet regrets the the error.

Ravenstahl Responds to Ethics Board

The Busman’s Holiday has audio of the Ethics Board meeting — as well as a short statement by Mayor Ravenstahl.

As Mayor, you cannot address matters of City business such as job growth, economic development, and payments in lieu of taxes without talking.

Ew.

And you can talk without golfing — or at least while paying your own way.

During the Invitational issues importance to the City were discussed, including my trip to Harrisburg where I lobbied for state budget appropriations relevant to arena funding, and UPMC’s ongoing partnership with us to contribute payments in lieu of taxes.

Okay, in all seriousness, this is comforting.

If the Mayor truly used the occasion to stand up for overburdened taxpayers, and to prevail upon UPMC to improve its conception of corporate responsibility, then his lapse in judgement will be forgiven.

We look forward to the big press conference concerning the new regime in non-profit PILOTs.

UPDATE: Toward the end of the podcast, Board Chair Hughes highlights a distinction between admission to a charitable event — as an onlooker — and participation in the spectacle of that event.

We can imagine a parallel scenario, in which a public official attends a charity auction, on the one hand — and where the purchases of that official during said auction are underwritten, on the other.

DeSantis Seems Serious

The Trib’s David M. Brown reports that Mark DeSantis has assembled a star-studded phalanx of political operatives.

Among the notables is Neil Newhouse, a national figure whose highlight reel would include an assist in knocking off Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle in 2004.

Nonetheless, some pundit from W & J says:

“It would take a Herculean effort by an opponent to make any significant challenge to Ravenstahl at this time,” DiSarro said. “But politics is volatile. There are all sorts of pitfalls between now and November. DeSantis is positioning himself in case Ravenstahl should commit some kind of irreparable misstep.”

Herculean. Not Periclean.

At the press conference we totally missed this morning, DeSantis challenged incumbent Luke Ravenstahl to sign five campaign pledges, and to agree to eight debates.

The Comet considers it unlikely that Luke would consent to anything proposed by someone who has The Relationship with President Bush.

Cost-Recovery Update

The P-G’s Rich Lord reports that the new police secondary employment cost-recovery program is … going … well.

Over three months, the program has collected around $175,000, which will compensate the city for equipment, administration, and the odd liability incurred as police officers perform private security gigs at bars, other businesses, and sporting events.

Cost-recovery is something of a sacred cow for the blurghosphere community, since it was there that the political will to finally institute the program took hold.

The program represents only half of the recommended reforms in police secondary employment — “entrepreneurial officers” continue to do most of the scheduling themselves, which may be resulting in weaker oversight.

Nonetheless, Fraternal Order of Police president James Malloy continues to sound not entirely at-peace with the existent program — nor do the folks at Station Square, nor the Pirates.

Indeed, without saying so, the article seems to illustrate something of a cloud hanging over the program. Perhaps the reporter overheard whispers that it is not long for this world. If that is the case, likely dates to watch for the “pilot program” to end would be just prior to the start of football season — or just after the election.

Happy Monday

Ethics Investigation Underway

CORRECTION: A more accurate title would have read “Ethics Inquiry Undertaken”

KDKA’s Jon Delano took a stroll with Sister Patrice Hughes, who was chosen by Bob O’Connor to lead the city’s Ethics Hearing Board. She said:

Our preference would be to have him appear before us. I think the possibility of greater credibility with the general public would be enhanced by his response to us personally.

She is drafting a letter to the Mayor to make that preference clear.

It will surely tick off the board if Ravenstahl declines to attend next month’s meeting, and sends lawyers in his stead. Video of such a meeting will show an ethics panel expressing disappointment and frustration, and the accusations of impropriety will only be made more explicit.

On the other hand, if Luke does show up — video will show that. It is a question of self-assurance, more than anything.

Hughes also said:

We have to be non-political: only investigating, looking for truth, making wise judgements that can’t … that are based on fact, not by political persuasion.

We do not know what Delano asked to elicit this comment — but the fact that “political persuasion” was already on Hughes’ mind, might be telling.

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WTAE’s Bob Mayo focused more on what was said at the hearing, particularly by Rabbi Danny Schiff.

Although the Comet recalls that Schiff sat silently throughout the entire first board meeting, he was considerably more exercised this time:

It seems to me that the Mayor is certainly in violation of the codes in front of us — not only the Pittsburgh city code, but perhaps even more particularly the State Ethics Act.

Acting city solicitor George Specter insisted that all charitable events are excluded from the code, regardless of cost or extenuating circumstance, and so Mayor Ravenstahl is in the clear.

Assistant city solicitor Kate DeSimone attempted to buttress this point:

Nobody in their right mind is going to pay $9,000 for a golf game. And the actual value of the game had to have been much lower than that.

Editorial Comments: Yet people in their right minds do. That’s why they hold celebrity tournaments. The value lies not in the greens fee and the meal, but in the intimate exposure to big stars — not to mention the very, very wealthy.

The fact that UPMC arranged for Luke to golf with Sidney Crosby, together with two UPMC lobbyists, shows that they knew exactly what they were up to.

The fact that Luke was proud that he was conducting city business in these circumstances, and that it was somehow “just like a meeting in his office,” is alarming — and confusing.

Ordinary taxpayers, who each bear a considerable share of the city’s massive financial burdens, do not have such favors to pass around.

Residents who can see the U.S. Steel Tower from their own front porches, and who would prefer not to think of UPMC every time they glance toward Downtown, do not get to show our public officials such a good time.

The Ethics Board is to be commended for taking such initiative. Someone needed to bring serious concerns to Mr. Ravenstahl’s attention, in a manner befitting those concerns.

BREAKING: Gifts and Influence

From Rich Lord of the P-G:

The city o’ Pittsburgh’s Ethics Hearin‘ Rapscallions expressed deep concern today about Mayor Luke Ra’enstahl’s attendance last month at an expensi’e charity golf e’ent as a sponsored guest o’ the Uni’ersity o’ Pittsburgh Medical Center, but stopped short o’ declarin‘ in ‘iolation o’ the city Ethics Code. Aye.

-swash-

“Arrr, it seems t’ me that the mayor is certainly in ‘iolation o’ the codes in front o’ us,” said scalwags member Rabbi Danny Schiff. “It lea’es the public with the impression that thar is a gift beingi’en in order t’ curry fa’or with the mayor.” Aye.

-swash-

Rabbi Schiff said the exception appears designed t’ allow officials t’ attend e’ents t’ which the general public can easily gain access, rather than t’ permit sponsorships t’ high-dollar, exclusi’e e’ents.

“It certainly is hard t’ a’oid the conclusion that he certainly has accepted somethin‘ o’ monetary ‘alue — o’ considerable monetary ‘alue — by which he can be influenced,” said Rabbi Schiff. Such a gift could make him “beholden t’ the king’s men that ga’e access t’ these celebrities and other public figures. Gar, Where can I find a bottle o’rum?”

In other Ethics Board news, the Redd Up Crew incident was formally declared a violation of the city Ethics Code — but it remains unclear what the consequences will be. Most of the crew members returned to work before their full 5-day suspension were served.

Theft & Conspiracy

Reprinted in its entirety from the Tribune-Review:

Ahoy, pittsburgh City Councilwoman Twanda Carlisle and two o’ the three people accused o’ gi’in’ her kickbacks pleaded not guilty Thursday.

Attorneys for Carlisle, 48, o’ Homewood; Lee O. Johnson, 77, o’ Penn Hills; and Sheryl A. Pinson-smith, 48, o’ Lawrence’ille, said their clients be innocent.

A fourth defendant, Darlene Durham, o’ Mckeesport, failed t’ appear for a scheduled formal arraignment at the Allegheny County Courthouse, Downtown. Court officials said an arrest warrant could be issued for Durham if she does not come t’ be arraigned within a few days.

Arrr, the four be charged with theft and criminal conspiracy. Johnson, Pinson-smith and Durham be accused o’ acceptin’ thousands o’ dollars in taxpayer money for doin’ consultin’ work that produced nothin’ useful and then kickin’ back more than $43,000 t’ Carlisle. A pence for an old man o’de sea?

(h/t PittGirl)

The P-G’s Rich Lord has revealed that Pinson-Smith, who continues to work in the Councilwoman’s office, has been talking with the prosecution about a plea bargain arrangement. Life must be interesting in that office.