Monthly Archives: June 2008

Wednesday: If I Only Had Some Shame

Councilman Bruce Kraus, who, along with council President Doug Shields, wrote the legislation, said the measure aims “to show that Pittsburgh is in fact a very progressive and forward-thinking city” and position it to “attract good-quality employers, and good-quality employees.” (P-G, Team Effort)

Kraus was on KDKA this morning. Marty Griffin played his show’s version of city council’s theme song, If I Only Had a Brain, as an introduction.

Marty was upset that council is concerning itself with a “gay registry” when there are serious problems in our city like failing schools, guns on the streets, and council members that do not get along with the mayor. He also thought it was a dumb idea to ask gay people to register as gay, and to ask them to hand over personal information to the city like utility bills in the process.

Kraus dealt with all that as best anybody can.


Councilwoman Tonya Payne said Schenley’s closing would be “flat-out wrong” but didn’t know what council could do, except pass a nonbinding resolution urging the school board to study the Schenley matter further.

“There are a lot of stupid decisions made, I think,” Ms. Payne said of government. “Usually, they hurt adults. But these are kids.” (P-G, Joe Smydo)

Tonya! Darling! Always a pleasure reading your name in the paper. Agree or disagree, know we’re always getting the Straight Talk Express.


“Obviously, it continues our agenda to advance green investment in Pittsburgh, and we felt it was really important to demonstrate that the city government is serious about being green,” Mr. Ravenstahl said. A staff member and a trust fund dedicated to the concept should help link efforts going on in various departments, and bring about business buy-in and foundation funding, he said. (P-G, Rich Lord)

Wow. Parlay this together with the Department of Public Works’ Green Team and the auto pool formerly known as Flexcar, and it’s like, Holy Progressive-Looking Mayor, Batman!

The 2-year-old task force, which the mayor co-chaired with Councilman William Peduto and state Sen. Jim Ferlo, is expected to make its recommendations to council next week.



We’ll deal with you two later. (P-G, Hart & Bucco)

Don’t Fear the Young Ones

(It is hard to look at this week’s City Paper without thinking of this oldie but goodie.)

The Trib’s David Brown had a nice little article over the weekend about the new wave of young Republicans doing battle in the region.

County Democratic Chairman James Burn said he doesn’t feel threatened by the GOP push. Among Allegheny County’s registered voters, Democrats outnumber Republicans more than 2-to-1.

“It’s going to be difficult to generate excitement with young voters when there’s nothing on the Republican side to get excited about,” Burn said. “We haven’t even had to cast out a net. For the last 10 months, young voters have been jumping in the boat.”

Yeah, that sounds about right.

Too bad, because we need a healthy Republican party to absorb all the conservatives; otherwise we don’t know who and what we’re voting for, and we get stuck with personality politics. Unfortunately, today’s Republican has become less conservative and more anti-rights and anti-global fellowship, so hopefully this new crop can get things back to sustainable.

[Elizabeth Yorio] sums up the GOP’s appeal to young voters this way: “Less government and keeping hands out of the taxpayers’ pockets.

“Limited government really resonates with young Republicans,” she said.

Whatever you say. If we liberals didn’t get this lecture every once in a while, we’d probably socialize footrubs or something.

Meanwhile, the Comet got to chatting with Elizabeth Emery Rincon, newly the state director of the League of Young Voters, and asked her what’s news.

“Rauwr”, she replied.


“Roo Roo!”

“I don’t understand what you’re saying.”


Oh! Rural! That makes a lot of sense. Obama is monopolizing all the arable land in the city and even in the suburbs for the moment, but when it comes to Pennyslvania’s heartland, there may yet be virgin doors awaiting their first knocking.

Not quite as easy as canvassing Highland Park again, and maybe not as gratifying as revolutionizing city politics directly. Yet if things like transit funding and public school funding rely on the state … shoot, even our city politicos pass the buck off to Harrisburg with regularity. It would be nice to have somebody chasing down those issues over there.

$36.8 Million

That would be the amount necessary to adequately and safely repair Schenley High School, according to speakers at a news conference yesterday evening. The figure was alluded to by B-PEP chairman Tim Stevens, made explicit by researcher Kathy Fine, and supported by civil engineer Nick Lardis, all of the Save Schenley movement.

In addition, the cost of preparing other buildings to accommodate Schenley students came under intense scrutiny. The $11 million originally quoted to repair Reizenstein, for example, was “wildly underestimated” by the School District administration, say activists, raising the usual questions about the rest of the District’s preliminary numbers.

The notion of a full-blown asbestos crisis was flatly rejected by activists. Airborne asbestos particle levels, which are measured every two weeks, have on every occasion measured lower than the legal limits to be adhered to even after asbestos remediation procedures; moreover, damage to plaster is not so widespread as reported, being limited to a few areas that were rapidly “patched” at some point years ago.

The group demanded that 1) the School Board vote no on permanently closing Schenley High School, that 2) the School District move to immediately create and present a workable, cohesive, comprehensive plan for high school reform, and that 3) a committee comprised of both citizens and School Board members be convened for the purposes of exploring all possible methods and revenue streams for preserving Schenley — including the possibility of a partnership with Carnegie Mellon University.

That last “offhand” notion seemed to take on a bit more gravitas when Vivian Loftness of CMU’s School of Architecture stepped forward to make her own presentation, centering around the superior long-term cost efficiency of investing in the Schenley building, as opposed to lesser buildings or new construction.

The Preamble to the H.R.C.

In order to achieve increased independence for city government, and more power over local matters, the people of Pittsburgh adopt this home rule charter as an instrument of progress and hope.

It has been created in a long labor, open to all citizens and participated in by many.

The purpose of this charter is a responsible city. A responsible city is one which seeks to ensure that all of its citizens’ needs are met, whether from public or private, city, county, state or national sources.

A responsible city is one which expects aggressive action from its officials toward the achievement of dignified housing, useful employment, pure air and water, efficient transportation excellent education, health, safety, recreation and culture, and the other conditions conducive to human growth.

It is one which provides equal protection of the law for all citizens, with no one denied the enjoyment of civil, economic or political rights, or discriminated against in the exercise thereof because of race, color, creed, national origin, age, handicap or sex.

It is one where all citizens have reasonable access to records and officials and where police power is under civil direction at all times.

It is one where citizens generously accept service in government, participate thoughtfully in public decisions, support public employees in the performance of lawful duties, avoid frivolous use of their rights and supply their government with sufficient resources to meet its responsibilities.

The achievement of the purpose of this home rule charter depends upon the constant interest and concern of citizens.

According to the forward, “The Pittsburgh Home Rule Charter was approved by the voters on November 5, 1974.”


1. “The achievement of the purpose of this Home Rule Charter depends upon the constant interest and concern of citizens.” We are fortunate that the technology is finally catching up to the need!

2. The need for achieving “dignified housing” is the first specific imperative laid out in the Charter, and it demands “aggressive” action.

3. This can fairly be classified as a liberal charter, what with all that clatter about the government being there to provide for “conditions conducive to human growth.”

Monday: The Urban Redevelopment Authority, the Stadium Authority, and the School Board

She’ll be comin’ round the mountain when she comes…

Approached at his Butler Street office Thursday, Mr. Edelstein pointed out a wall of awards, across from a walk-in closet full of keys to the scores of properties he manages. He would not answer questions for the record.

A year ago, WTAE-TV reported that Mr. Edelstein was giving the URA and the Bureau of Building Inspection sharply different estimates on the cost of his facade work. The reports generated a city controller’s office audit. (P-G, Rich Lord)

So we’re still waiting. It’s been a little over a year.

The URA had required that Streetface grants be based on three bids from registered contractors. In recent years, it dropped that requirement for developers that use what Ms. Straussman called “their own contracting companies.”

It seems like most of the dubious transactions must have taken place before Pat Ford’s reign of terror at the URA, and before his wife Alecia Sirk’s spokespersonly reign of terror at Streetface — correct? — despite the fact that Edelstein is another anointed “best friend” of Ford. (Maybe that’s just how Ford describes people?)

The recent policy changes at the URA outlined in this article clearly point to an increase in the likelihood of government waste. The whining about having to pay “prevailing wages” is a whole ‘nother political issue on top of that one.


We just can’t get over how good this Ruth Ann Daily column is. (P-G, Ruth Ann Daily)

Honestly, we’re like, numb.

While “there’s a master plan showing the footprints” of all the longed-for developments, says Stadium Authority Executive Director Mary Conturo, “no schematic drawing” of what a finished North Shore might look like has been produced. Not many of us are very good at extrapolating a finished visual from a mere blueprint — not even some pros. For instance, the artist’s rendering of Continental’s contested amphitheater-and-hotel proposal shows a building of uncertain height apparently situated in a meadow surrounded by old-growth trees.

Oh, you know. Shiny buildings. Benches. Children holding parents’ hands, eating ice cream. At nighttime, it will glow brightly.

Seriously. Now that the land is once again ours to control, why not figure out what we most want to do with it? Even if the answer does turn out to be, “sell it to the highest bidder and let the Adam Smith’s invisible hand fulfill our wildest dreams”, how about we shop around for that highest — or best — bid?


In regards to Schenley High School, the “spend money on kids not bricks” argument just got a whole lot thinner.

Vivian Loftness is university professor of architecture at Carnegie Mellon University, where she served as head of the School of Architecture from 1994 to 2004. (P-G, Vivian Loftness)

She praises the building for natural lighting, high ceilings, good natural ventilation, thoughtful social settings — a demonstrably positive place to learn.

This reminds us of some reform notions put forward by the first wave of Save Schenley activists — if the District wants to improve performance, why not take advantage of free federal government programs to serve a breakfast of fresh vegetables everyday, which has shown to increase performance by so-and-so percent?

It’s as though the efforts of the administrators are less about educating children, and more about marketing the District. Which is ironic, because something like Schenley can be hugely marketable.

Once asbestos is abated, the solid materials and craftsmanship in the Schenley High School building will ensure that maintenance, replacement and repair costs are lower than all newer schools with less durable construction.

“Abated” is a key word. The industry standard of asbestos encapsulation would be less costly and every bit as safe as a ponderous removal program — that’s why it’s the industry standard. Take that lower figure ($40-$50 million), and try to shave some more frills off the renovations (does that still include air conditioning? Why, in my day…), and then finally look for some creative funding sources.

That way we get a lot closer to a School District we really want — one that is financially responsible, and that also offers the best of what a first-class city ever had to offer.

Is Penguins Bannergate still leaving a bad taste in your mouth? This is an issue worthy of every Pittsburgher’s consideration.

On Blogging, Part I of MMDCXXIX

One thing we have noticed among bloggers (at least the political bloggers around here) is an unwavering belief in and reverence for the “organic” nature of their blogs, bordering well past the point of superstition.

With extremely rare exceptions, anything that has been written or committed is fine.

Long, ponderous essays are always just what the doctor ordered when they happen to arrive — as are bursts of artistic genius, stale and formulaic mass programming, long periods of dead airtime and biting, unnecessary sarcasm. Issues can be championed and then dropped abruptly; we after all must “leave it to the universe from here on out.” Old blogs die and new blogs are born.

Bleeding edge, yo. Evolution. Rock and roll.


Case in point was the Pat Ford Post Agenda Series. We envisioned seven volumes, but five will do just fine.

Part I: Introductions, Legalese and Anticipation
Part II: The Problems Surrounding Mr. Specter
Part III: Who’s Running Things?
Part IV: Having Fun at Patrick Dowd’s Expense
Part V: Pat Ford

To be sure, other conversations occurred during the meeting, but in a way it was all fluff.


Councilwoman Harris got to asking about the saga of the CAPA school sign approval.

Turns out, the city first granted a temporary one-day permit due to the arrival of visiting dignitaries, then a one-month permit, then three months, and only thereafter did it get a permanent permit. No word on when during this Zoning Administrator Pat Ford’s unilateral determination that it was an Advertising Sign was vacated in favor of Artwork.

Ms. Harris: And if you do have any information on CAPA in a group of papers there, could I get a copy of it?

Mr. Ford: You would not get a copy of my business log, but I would be sure to have — you might want to consult your legal counsel and the legal counsel of the school board before you ask me to start sharing information with you that was subject to discussion between me and Ira Weiss and attorneys.

Councilman Dowd would later characterize this to us as McCarthyistic. “I have names. I have names.”

Ms. Harris: I’m not asking for the information between you and the attorney, but there was a lot that went on with the school board also at that time.

Mr. Ford: Just take a look at the list that I circulated, and you have everybody that I talked to.

Ms. Harris: I know who you have talked to. I mean, I looked over the list.

Mr. Ford: Would you like to just start randomly going over some of these conversations, Councilwoman? [Ewwww!]

Ms. Harris: Over their conversations?

Mr. Ford: Yes.

Ms. Harris: No, I’m not asking to go over conversations. You said that you brought a number of pieces —

Mr. Ford: All of these are my conversation records going back to 2003 chronologic order, tabulated. So if you wanted to know what I said to Mr. Ira Weiss at 12:30 at August 11, 2003, I could pull that out there, and I could share with you and council what we talked about.

This is where the Internet rumors of Mr. Ford’s intense and allegedly damaging hoard of “notes on every conversation he’s ever had” got started.

A little later:

Ms. Harris: So you are not circulating the rest of it?

Mr. Ford: I’m not circulating my business logs, no.

Mr. Harris: Is that all business logs?

Mr. Ford: But, I also have correspondence, but that correspondence is related to e-mails that were circulated regarding the 6 for 36 deal, not the CAPA school sign.


Dan Deasy said some fine words about Mr. Ford being a hard-working director, and about the questionable need to bid out rights to remove and capitalize on old billboard stock, in what we would later confirm to be an illegal sign-swapping arrangement, given that Lamar Advertising owns almost all of the existing stock in the city.

Deasy also thanked David Onorato (the Executive Director of the Parking Authority!) for being the kind of guy that was “always in touch with the board members and you let us know what was going on. You negotiated, its sounds like, a good deal on the sign.”


Then, He Who Does Not Want To Appear As An Attorney On Television got his turn:

Mr. Dowd: I actually have a large number of questions, most of which are not pertaining directly to this matter. I am curious though, you had made some comments about the CAPA sign, and this was that board for the school system, and I am curious, and maybe that was an important time for city, what did take place in that conversation on August 11, 2003 with Ira Weiss?

This is the example, above, that Pat Ford half-volunteered, seemingly at random, to offer to give to Councilwoman Harris.

Pat Ford drags his big briefcase up on the table.

Button. Button. One strap, other strap. Fiddle fiddle.


Remove. Place. Remove. Place. Unsheathe.

Flip, flip, flip.

A full 30 seconds of physical comedy.

Mr. Ford: What’s the date?

Mr. Dowd: August 11, 2003. You also talked with the chief of staff, Tom Cox, at that time.

Mr. Ford: August 11, 2003. What time?

Mr. Dowd: 12:25 for Tom Cox?

Councilman Dowd, you see, had simply picked out conversations during that time frame involving then-Murphy administration Zoning Administrator Pat Ford, Murphy Chief of Staff Tom Cox, and School District Solicitor Ira Weiss.

We would go through voicemails, phone tag, conversations, the outlines of meetings and random inquiries. Here is our fairest possible reassemblage.

Mr. Ford: At 12:30 Ira Weiss, 412-391-9890. “Re: CAPA sign. The administration is having a change in an opinion. I must call Ira Weiss. The discussion should be discrete and confidential. Discussions will be precedence in setting. We won’t (sic: want) no advertising, and we have no problem with the changing display of art. The events listed will be okay on the board.”

Remember, Zoning Administrator Pat Ford had seen a Coca-Cola advertisement during a test run and interceded to the effect that a permit was necessary. He issued a stop-work order.

Mr. Dowd: 2:15: Ira Weiss, the following day.

Mr. Ford: “2:15, Councilman Gene Ricciardi is interested in preparing an ordinance that will make the sign permissible as originally proposed. Maybe we can split it into art and convenience information. The art is not regulated, and the information will meet the new size requirements proposed by Councilman Ricciardi. The electronic messaging will be permitted by Ricciardi as well, and it is similar to two signs that were already up in the cultural district.”

Note to selves: Get Gene Riccardi’s take on this.

Meanwhile, temporary permits for the electronic structure (for the benefit of incoming dignitaries) — would be asked for and granted.

Mr. Ford: “I told Ira that I was attempting to get a ninety-day temporary occupancy permit for the artwork. I will know at the end of the day today, and we will work with a joint motion with George Specter and send it to Specter for review upon his return, and then we will amend the application for 80 square feet convenience information and 520 square feet of art.

Mr. Dowd: And that day you also talked with Tom Cox, and it says, here, “Tom cox, 2:55 p.m., parenthetically secured deal — exclamation point.

Mr. Ford: Yes. he said — I told Tom Cox that we have a deal with the school board, and that he told me that take baby — he said, Pat, take baby steps and he is okay with the temporary occupancy with the sign. However, he wants no advertising.

So at first it would be considered an Advertising Sign on which there were special restrictions to the effect that no advertising would be permitted. This would embolden Lamar Advertising to plead “modernization” and summarily demand 50 or more LED permits from Ford. (After an unknown interval, higher authorities at the Department of City Planning would vacate Ford’s unilateral ruling and deem the whole thing Artwork.)

Mr. Dowd: You later talked with Ira Weiss at 3:15.

Mr. Ford: Yes, and I wrote, “I will not require a permit. It is art, if there is no name, numbers or letters. I don’t want letters requiring, requesting ninety days for the artwork.

Mr. Dowd: That’s enough. Thank you. That’s sufficient for now.

Boy was it ever.


Lo, and then Bruce Kraus, city council’s fullback, scourge of graffiti artists and champion of civil rights, made allegations and insinuations suggesting that Zoning Administrator Susan Tymoczko and City Planning Director Noor Ismail must be pushing through this Grant Street Transportation Center permit on orders from URA Director and Ravenstahl administration Development Czar Pat Ford.

Kraus produced administration e-mails and organizations charts and media accounts that seemed to attest to that high probability. What they did was agree to disagree.

Kraus inquired why this was never brought before the board of the Parking Authority. What they did was agree to disagree.

Kraus inquired why legal counsel was never sought or acknowledged to assist in this area of alleged grayness or silence in the city code. What they did was agree to disagree.

Kraus inquired why clear indications of displeasure by the Planning Commission, by Department of City Planning and by the general public, were not heeded over this Lamar billboard, but rather a loophole allowing “minor” amendments to duly approved project development plans was exploited for Lamar’s privilege.

What they did was agree to disagree.

Kraus and Ford then would congenially enough discuss Ford’s big plans for sweeping structural reform of our city government. Kraus would complain that City Council was being kept out of the loop in all the big excitement, and would bemoan that in this, as in this electronic sign case, nobody was at the table representing the people — the People! — of the City of Pittsburgh.

Pat Ford would say something about the plans not being ready for wide circulation yet. (Plans which would soon thereafter be put on hold due to Ford’s preemptive media tell-all and temporary self-banishment from city government.)


Next came Shields. Most of it was like this:

Mr. Ford: Right, but I disagree with you, for the record.

Mr. Shields: That’s fine. I didn’t ask you if you disagree with me. I’m not asking that question.

Mr. Ford: Since it’s becoming litigious, I want to make sure —

Mr. Shields: I’m not being litigious.

Mr. Ford: Yes, you are.

Mr. Shields: Excuse me! [This was a bona fide Council President roar.] You are not here to ask me questions or comment on what you think I think. [And we want this on a T-shirt]

Mr. Ford: But I’m here to tell the truth and give my opinion when you give me your question.

Mr. Shields: You know me, Pat, I asked you the question, and your answer was fine, and I got it, and you don’t seek precedent to the commission, but you seek precedent elsewhere. You didn’t look to the commission for precedence in this particular case. Fine. It’s a fact. I’m not being litigious. I’m not suing anyone. I’m asking questions.

They would argue more like this on the laws that were apparently being twisted, stretched or broken to get this LED up, and Shields would wrap up for the moment, but not before Columboing into one more…

Mr. Shields: And how does that square — have you visited — just briefly. Hae you visited the Monroeville case at all?

Mr. Ford: No, I have not.

Mr. Shields: That’s all I have.


Bill Peduto would say some fine words, and allow Ms. Lubineau of City Planning’s Contextual Design Advisory Panel the time to explain why it was that body’s belief large-scale electronic advertising surface might not be the best thing for that end of Grant Street. Tonya Payne would voice the opinion of some of her own constituents’ that the LED is a great idea.

Patrick Dowd would make some allusions to the need for Councilmatic oversight of the URA, and repeat publicly his fervent desire to see a budget for the organization. Bruce Kraus would reiterate his desires that Council be represented in any negotiations involving governmental streamlining or the like.

Doug Shields got more to the point.

Today this city is embarking on a merger of some sort that we’re not privy to between a city department and authority, and I will advise you as executive director, forget it. Don’t bother.

And so on. (See? All fluff.)


Reverend Burgess: And I think the last thought is this, we are not just new members of a council. In many ways we are a new council in composition. We are learning. We are growing. We are learning each other. We are learning to function as a body, but I will say that this kind of deliberation I think will be consistent with this council. We are a council that is completely interested in process, in collecting information and are willing to spend time both in the public eye and in private doing due diligence and research and learning information.

And I thought that the information gleaned today was exceptional. It will help us to go forward. I think that this public hearing will also generate other public hearings and other post agenda conversations.

Conversation would die not long after Ravenstahl development czar Pat Ford threw himself at the mercy of the State Ethics commission. Except on the blogs, as of yet.


You may remember that citizen Patrick Dowd filed a protest appeal of the zoning decision with the city Zoning Board, and that Councilmembers Shields, Burgess, Kraus and Peduto joined it. You might also remember that Lamar Advertising sued all five council members for improperly waging a conspiracy, and both sides drew their swords in federal court.

The four interceding councilmen would seek to have their attorneys’ fees paid for by the city, since Law Department of the City of Pittsburgh was conflicted and seemingly of little help.

That Law Department would opine that the council members risked forfeiture of their jobs if they pressed ahead and voted on the legislation.

The four would seek a second opinion on the possible conflict of interest and on the consequences of voting about it from who else but the State Ethics commission.

Those four members sent to the commission background information regarding the Lamar litigation at issue, including Pat Ford’s and Solicitor Specter’s involvement in the issue, the circumstances of Ford’s departure, and information regarding other complications that have arisen from Ford’s conduct of his many roles in city government.

The State Ethics commission ultimately took a definitive pass on advising council about the vote to pay legal expenses, but as yet has given no indication about the larger issue of presumed investigations into Pat Ford’s conduct. Everyone is hoping for a speedy resolution, as Mr. Ford continues to collect on his handsome salary, and the city is being deprived of his vision, expertise and industriousness.


The ordinance before me today is fraught with problems. It provides an unfair competitive advantage for the wealthy and will have a chilling effect on the labor movement. It will inhibit the ability of challengers to mount successful campaigns against incumbents.

Also, Lamar Advertising and Liberty Pacific Media told me they didn’t like it.

The title of this bill — campaign finance reform — is a common goal that we can work towards. We, however, must recognize that a title alone does not make good reform. I have judged this book not just by its cover, but by its contents and hereby reject it with this veto.

A piecemeal debunking of the Mayor’s objections to reform should not be difficult to get across; certainly not while there are a bevy of brilliant examples of cronyism and special favoritism just waiting to be seized upon by resourceful opponents.

In fact, it might be profitable not to dwell as much on defending the bill’s supposed drawbacks (and in so doing, waging the dialogue on Ravenstahl’s terms), but rather to illustrate the historic nature of gains Pittsburgh could have made against public corruption, and the unprecedented extent of special-interest overreaching now being defended with this veto.

Now. If you egomaniacal chuckleheads can just get it together to settle on a respectable challenger, this will be over before most of us know it.

Friday: Slings & Arrows

Lance: To Bill Peduto. The Pittsburgh councilman, saying he’s “burned out,” reportedly will travel the world beginning Monday studying such things as how to use pension funds to revitalize neighborhoods and to learn about tolerance and understanding in Cappadocia, Turkey. Never mind that Pittsburgh’s pension funds are bust and that Mr. Peduto has shown a weak understanding of what government’s supposed to do. Let’s all join hands and meditate together, shall we? (Trib, Laurels and Lances)

If he’s trying to learn “what government’s supposed to do”, you recommend his staying in Western Pennsylvania?

On the “Watch List”: Pittsburgh Stadium Authority Chairwoman Debbie Lestitian says the Pittsburgh Steelers are in breach of contract on their deal — a sweetheart deal to begin with — to develop land between Heinz Field and PNC Park. But her boss, Stadium Authority Executive Director Mary Conturo, appears to be trying to cut another sweetheart deal. So, why have contracts and agreeements and deadlines if they are ignored? This is the kind of garbage that breeds mistrust in government. (Trib, Same Jagoffs)

See, now we’re feeling that. But wait. We thought authority Board Chairs were the bosses of authority Executive Directors. Provided said chairperson enjoys the support of the board. Hey! There’s still nobody from Council on that Stadium Authority, is there? That could be a problem!


Audit targets Pittsburgh 911 call glut. (Trib, Jeremy Boren)
Audit says EMS overextended. (P-G, Rich Lord)

Lamb talks about this all the time. Data analysis leads to new policy prescriptions leads to tangible improvements both in terms of efficiency and results. How many more of these can we expect out of our former Prothonatary?


Council, Mayor to set budget based on performance goals. (P-G, Team Effort)

The office of Patrick Dowd provides some embellishment:

“I think we can all agree that accountability, which is the cornerstone of an innovative, productive and forward-thinking government, rests on a foundation of clear priorities with realistic goals,” said Patrick Dowd.

“In the past, we have failed to implement best practices in budgeting, including obtaining stakeholder input, establishing policy priorities, and creating clear implementation objectives. I am pleased that today we are taking a positive first step,” added Councilman Peduto.

“Our government is one of accountability, responsibility and performance. Sharing our goals with Council and the public is a critical part of working toward a collective vision of what Pittsburgh can and must be,” said Mayor Ravenstahl.

Everyone in the same boat.

“This agreement is timely because it coincides so nicely with City Council embarking on its Town Hall Tour in preparation for the 2009 budget process,” added City Council President Shields.

“I am one to always applaud open and substantive dialogue and this agreement will give us the opportunity to fully participate in the process,” concurred Councilman Bruce Kraus.

Council is touring? Is it running for something?

Council members Tonya Payne and Jim Motznik also voiced their support. “This would be a great way to improve government efficiency, make good budgetary decisions and enhance employee performance,” added Councilwoman Payne.

Councilman Motznik echoed those words: “Inviting city departments, including Council and the Mayor, to submit strategic goals and objectives prior to submitting a budget will give us the opportunity to be transparent and efficient during the 2009 budget process.”

That rounds out everybody mentioned in the press release.


Night construction keeps Downtown up.
(Trib, Jeremy Boren)

This is a tremendous little story. Three cheers for Kristen Ash and also for Highmark. You are the Pittsburgh Comet / Chicken Tonight Corporate Citizen of the Week.


The Pat Ford Post Agenda Series, Part V: Pat Ford


Mr. Ford: Councilwoman, I’m very actually refreshed that you actually are allowing me to do this, and I have prepared some comments, fairly lengthy, to go over the history of this, because sitting in the audience and listening to this, it’s unfair to the public, it’s unfair to the new councilmen, and it’s unfair to Susan and Noor to try to respond to all of the questions, and they did so admirably, when one question, when you get to the meat of it, might be based in a precedence in 2004 or a decision that was made in 2007 or a discussion that was made in 2006 to arrive at the decision that Ms. Tymoczko made to approve the LED at the Grant Street Transportation Center evolved from a history of events.

“A decision that Ms. Tymoczko made.”

And I will be the first to tell you as a zoning expert, qualified as an expert in the court of law, that you never look at the zoning ordinance as a snapshot in time. It’s a dynamic piece of work. Interpretations will evolve. Interpretations become precedence, and you will find a case history and not being an attorney, you will find that to be true.

That is an assertion. “Interpretations will evolve” is a passive-voice construction.

Being involved in this case, Councilwoman, in the twenty years that I have been in this business of development, this issue regarding the evolution of LEDs in the City of Pittsburgh has been the most highly researched, scrutinized, studied, reviewed, negotiated, argued, debated and approved case I have ever been involved in in the twenty years I’ve been in the development business.

Hyperbole is always a red flag.

A little later:

But involved in the decision in the discussion that started out with 2003 with Murphy and evolved to the approval of this Grant Street Transportation we have had attorneys, elected officials, councilmen, mayors, authorities, community groups, residents, school boards and special interest groups all participate in the original interpretation, and it’s been a very dynamic interpretation, but a determination that has legal basis, and I would be more than happy to go into that, and in fact, since you’ve given me the opportunity, Councilwoman, I will, to lay the groundwork for that.

Note also the phrase “participate in the interpretation”. It should mean that not everyone who inadvertently played some small part in the evolutionary kabuki would know anything about what was going on at the level of operations and policy.

And not being an attorney, you will find that to be true.


Mr. Ford: In an overview to provide context to this, LEDs came to the forefront in the City of Pittsburgh I will argue, and again my history only goes back to when I came here to Pittsburgh in 2002, with the approval of the CAPA school sign.

Here is Pat Ford’s story:

1. The CAPA school installed a large LED sign Downtown without a permit.

2. Zoning Administrator Pat Ford issued a stop-work order, and issue of the sign was referred to the Zoning Board of Adjustment.

3. When CAPA did a test run of the sign, it had a Coca-Cola advertisement on it, so it was considered an advertising sign at the ZBA.

4. “Ultimately, this was not called a sign, and I don’t believe a permit was ever issued for the CAPA School sign, and I would have to have my zoning administrator clarify that for me, because I think the ultimate decision was we classified that sign as a work of art, because it is not showing advertising on it, and, in fact, they are showing what is being conducted in the facility.”

5. Lamar sees this unfolding at CAPA and applies for 55 LEDs: “Summarily, the public doesn’t know this, nor does council probably realize this, but summarily Lamar actually applied in the first round for 55 LEDs. They paid their fees and they came to me with their attorneys in tow, and they plopped fifty-five applications for LED billboards all across the city and demanded that I give them administrative approval. I’m no idiot. I knew this was an issue that I had to take to my supervisors.”

6. Tom Cox of the Murphy administration directs Pat Ford to “negotiate the best deal possible” to avoid litigation, desiring to allow no more than six Lamar LEDs to be approved.

7. Pat Ford negotiated the “6 for 36 deal.”

Mr. Motznik: (out of turn): What is that?

Mr. Ford: The 6 for 36. That means that the most I could negotiate, and this is, in fact, what I negotiated in that first agreement and approval, was that an average of six billboards would be taken down for every one LED that would be put up. So we could put up — I would allow them to install one LED.

8. Between mid 2004 and early 2006, under Mayor Murphy and Mayor O’Connor, a second batch of six LEDs were allowed by city zoning administrators without review.


Questions about this story:

1. A Cola-Cola advertisement? Really? This actually happened? The entire city was okay with this electronic sign going up, until the city Zoning Administrator happened upon it and noticed a Coca-Cola advertisement during a test run? And this will somehow become critical to the deconstruction of why a Zoning Administrator is now entitled to approve certain LEDs on his or her own?

2. Between Pat Ford, Tom Cox, and Mayor Murphy, was there no one who suggested, “Hey! Do we have anything to fear from this Lamar lawsuit? Let’s ask our solicitor!”

3. Could Pat Ford’s handling of this early situation with Lamar have played a role in the circumstances under which he resigned from the Murphy Administration?


Skipping ahead to Q&A with Bruce Kraus:

Mr. Kraus: The zoning administrator, according to your words today, made the call, but, according to information — to approve the sign, but according to the information that I have, they were being directed by the director of the URA, I’m only saying from what I have here, who was previously the chairman of the board of the Parking Authority whose board never heard or approved of this sign, and it never went before the board, and then the license and the permit was then signed and notarized by Ms. Tymoczko. Would you call that a vetted public process?

Mr. Ford: I have no idea what you are talking about, because that is just hearsay. I don’t know who — who is telling you this?

Mr. Kraus: You said that this sign was approved by the zoning administrator.

Mr. Ford: Correct.

Mr. Kraus: These are your words. So they made the call to approve the sign, and under information that I have from Art Victor, who’s the operations manager of the administration, he’s telling me that planning and zoning — or planning and permitting answer directly to you, and you are the director of the URA and previously the chair of the board of the Parking Authority, and this never went for their board for approval, and then it came back to Ms. Tymoczko, who she then signed the permit for the occupancy and building and notarized the agreement. Would you call that a publically vetted process?

Mr. Ford: Mr. Kraus, I have no idea what conversation you had with Art Victor, and I don’t want to comment on hearsay between you and Art Victor.

Mr. Kraus: It wasn’t hearsay. It was his words written.

Mr. Ford: Is that recorded?

Mr. Kraus: It’s in an e-mail.

Mr. Ford: It’s hearsay.

Mr. Kraus: Well, then I guess your records could be hearsay too.

Mr. Ford: Absolutely. Those are just my recollections of meetings, absolutely.


On another subject to Councilman Kraus:

Mr. Ford: I want to answer your question fully. So if I may, going back to your first question, the plan is necessary, and that’s why Mayor Ravenstahl has gotten $350,000 from DCED to lay the groundwork to prepare a city-wide comprehensive plan. So we are well on that track. Where we are still up in the air, and we are grappling with this is how we are going to prepare a comprehensive plan and move forward in the future and how are we going to administer our development services.

Do we use the existing department structure that we have in place which is a Department of City Planning that has a zoning and community development? Do we do it with the URA? Over the past twenty years the Department of City Planning has been completely emasculated.

Mr. Kraus: By whom?

Mr. Ford: Under Act 47, and I would go back during the Murphy administration…


Mr. Ford: So what’s happening is, Mayor Ravensthal wants to prepare a comprehensive plan. He wants a vision, and at the same time he wants to streamline development administration. So how do we do this with the infrastructure we have in place?

Do we move some of the zoning into BBI? Do we move some of the finance here? Do we move planning into the URA?

These are conversations we are having internally, and the mayor has even said as much, and at the time when I think that, quite frankly, we have a plan in place, this council is going to be the first person we are going to come to to get your take on that.

Mr. Kraus: That hasn’t always been the history, and I hope that is the history we will now build…


Mr. Kraus: South Side Works, an incredible development but shattered it by a consortium of people that were openly and publicly invited to the table to participate in that process. Every community group was at that table. And I’m asking how we would then fold the Department of Planning into an authority that we have no oversight on, limited oversight, I should say, and still protect that planning — the people of the City of Pittsburgh and the planning process?

Mr. Ford: That’s a very valid concern, sir, which is why the administration, the mayor has not been in any rush to do that. We’ve been talking to other department heads. We’ve been talking to finance people. We have been talking to everybody you can possibly imagine.

You will learn as you work with me, just like these councilmen have and these councilmen have, you guys’ game is tight, Mr. Shields’ game is tight, I’m not going to come here and unload a proposal that I can’t defend. I’m not going to do it which is why you haven’t seen anything, because my game is not tight there. I want to make sure that I have every single question that all the state and city laws are vetted before I come to you with a proposal.

Mr. Kraus: Are offices being moved or any structural changes taking place?

Mr. Ford: Yes, but those are strictly administrative…


All that work. All that vision.

One inquiry from a blogger about a Christmas gift from a Lamar executive, and the next day, Pat Ford requests and is granted a paid leave of absence from his job at the URA, and relinquishes his roles elsewhere in city government. By all accounts, the big plans come screeching to a halt.

We didn’t even write the article yet.

Is the State Ethics commission actually in the practice of awarding Good Housekeeping Seals of Ethics to city development czars with vast, unprecedented responsibilities? Are we just cooling things off?


Mr. Ford: Summarily — and again I want to take full responsibility for this, having been involved in this since 2003. It was the advice and the counsel that I have given three mayors as to why we have gone down this path, mine solely. I proceeded to negotiate the best deal as possible. I only thought I was doing my job trying to get as many billboards taken down, reducing visual blight and creating opportunities to bring cool new technology to the City of Pittsburgh, and at the same time when the opportunity arose to get some money for our authorities who desperately need it to maintain our infrastructure and our cost and/or maintenance, and unsightly billboards need to be removed or surrendered in order to access that technology.

The City never lacked access to the technology. It lacked interest.

If Pat Ford or the Mayor ever wanted to assist Lamar Advertising in earning a permit for a particular LED advertising display, all they had to do was be represented at public hearings before the mayor’s own Planning Commission to state their case, and manage the political consequences.