Monthly Archives: June 2009

This is What the Overlords Look, Sound Like

Just so you’re aware if you ever run into one. Apparently big chief overlord George E. Cornelius, the state Secretary of Economic Development, was personally working the halls yesterday. And Council President Shields says he got a call late yesterday from the Governor’s chief of staff — so we’re clear on who the real overlord is.

“Part of the plan is a pathway out of Act 47 oversight for the city. We want to see that happen by the end of the term of this plan” … Dean Kaplan


*-UPDATE: By a 6-3 margin (Dowd, Harris & Shields voting no), Council passes an Amended & Revised 5-Year Recovery Plan with 30 amendments from the previous version, all of which are either crucial or meaningless depending on who you ask. Public safety labor leaders are not happy at all and the politicos aligned with them are not particularly happy either. But we have a plan and Pittsburgh will not crash into the sun, the end, unless Doug Shields sues everybody.

Follow along with my coverage via Twitter. Updates will appear in reverse-chronological order, most recent appearing on top of the screen. Keep refreshing. I’m sure @bobmayo will be providing coverage as well.

The changes that the 9 councilors are attempting to include in Pittsburgh’s 5-year Recovery Plan can be found HERE. Overnight reportage has been quite interesting: see the Trib’s Jeremy Boren and the P-G’s Rich Lord.

Monday: Stay Cool When it Gets Hot

First of all, there’s Wednesday:

Allegheny County Council will be voting on an amended version of Councilor Amanda Green’s legislation forbidding LGBTQetc discrimination in employment and housing, between 5 and 7 PM at the Allegheny County Courthouse.

Amended version, you say?

Anyway, the ordinance was heard in the Government Relations Committee last week and an amendment offered by County Councilmen Burn, Macy and Robinson added a complicated loophole that will give some religious organizations preferential treatment by allowing them to discriminate.

Essentially, it creates a registry… (PghLesCor 1)

We know our friend Sue the blogger is known to take a harder line than most, but here is the ACLU’s response to these developments:

There are a number of problems with Section 215-31(H)(1) of the proposed ordinance. These problems are so endemic that this section should be removed from the ordinance in its entirety. First, the language of this section creates a preference for some religions over others… (PghLesCor 2)

Four (4) problems are identified — some of which point toward unintended consequences, most of which concern the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

I have thoughts:

1) The ACLU has interest and experience in seeing substantive legislation get passed and progress get made, right? I would not expect them to throw roadblocks in front of a new proposal for just any old reason.

2) I think we all remember the individual who spoke at the public hearing who was born “gender ambiguous”, and the real travails of that person finding a job and a place to live. We in the United States do not stand pat on a simple right to life, but also stand upon rights to LIBERTY and THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS. Hard to pursue those without a roof over your head, a fair shot at gainful employment, and loving companionship come what may. Remember that not all of Allegheny County is dense with options for homes and jobs if one’s nonconformities are abruptly “discovered” by an employer or landlord.

3) Religious and religiously-minded organizations have rights of their own, but once they start employing people, taking part in the regulated economy, accepting public resources … well, even sorting through the applications for the registry sounds dicey. When it comes to fundamental individual rights, I’m more comfortable Keeping-It-Simple-Stupid.

Looks like this one got a tad over-processed in the old sausage factory. Maybe Democrats should capitalize on their majority and enact their immensely popular stated agenda with less fuss.


Might want to pin this one to the cork board:

A pair of juvenile detention centers at the crux of a bribery scandal in Luzerne County also were charging counties like Allegheny and Butler too much for their services, according to a state audit. (P-G, Karen Kane)

Oh, man.

Counties were billed $314 a day for secure treatment and $255 a day for shelter services. Auditors determined the fees could have been $64 and $60 less, respectively. Mr. Zappala contended in his response to the draft audit that the lower numbers do not allow any profit margin. (ibid)

That, together with a few conspicuous expenditures, is what we know before any “extensive” audit is performed. Perhaps this proposed “extensive” audit might even develop into a “comprehensive” one.

Meanwhile, in DeWeeseville:

A state grand jury is poring over the contents of a recently discovered box of files from a Capitol office, a find that has triggered renewed prosecutorial interest in longtime state Rep. Bill DeWeese, D-Greene. (P-G, Roddy and Mauriello)

So what’s up?

Sources close to the investigation say the documents appear to suggest widespread campaign activity inside Mr. DeWeese’s Harrisburg and district offices during state work hours. (ibid)

Act 47 Recovery: Still a Struggle for Unity *

*-UPDATE: This arrived at about 1:30 AM this (6/30) morning:

Um, fabulous. Now back to yesterday (6/29):

Note the verbiage. “Lacks a commitment” from the Coordinators to support the amendments. When I receive the e-mail blast I may update this post.

Another note: Some of you will recall that The Post-Gazette got queasy over these adult negotiations regarding our city’s well-being. Part of this attitude stemmed from an a belief that the Council “gave away its authority” at some point or another; most of it came from skepticism about the amendments’ costs. I can only reiterate what I wrote in my long Act 47 post — few of them sounded anything like the budget-busters some insist on maintaining that they are. Many of them simply mandate forms of operational discipline and professionalism — many look to be cost-savers, though those effects have not been exhaustively determined.

Now, if it comes to the point where an agreement is not actually reached tomorrow: here are the funds the Act 47 Coordinators may consider petitioning the Secretary of the DCED to withhold in escrow from Pittsburgh until such time it does adopt a new Recovery Plan:

* 2007 and 2008 Main Street Grants: $1,000,000
* 2009 Main Street and Elm Street Grants: $500,000 anticipated
* 2007 HRA Grant: $2,070,550
* 2008 HRA Grant: $6,711,600
* 2009 HRA Grant: $5,000,000 or more anticipated
* 2007 Enterprise Zone Grant: $95,000
* 2009 PEMA Grant: $3,000,000
* Future DCED grants
* RCAP funds
* Liquid Fuels funds
* Recycling grants
* Support for BBI training, energy conservation

For what it’s worth, I personally cannot imagine that Act 47 would withhold money for training in the Bureau of Building Inspection (BBI) for example, given their own alarming reports on the subject. Councilman Dowd asserted that “the vast majority” of the above fall into the category of U.R.A.-distributed funds. It is not known to me at what time the U.R.A. would be regularly scheduled to be in receipt of such funds, or at what time they would thereafter disperse them.

Bus Tours Provide Food for Thought for Entire City

Northside United and its allies are making the case for a community benefits agreement to go along with a subsidized development project while hosting bus tours of the development zone and of nearby communities.

Post-Gazette reporter Diana Nelson-Jones sums up last Wednesday’s experience as well as I can HERE.

The argument the coalition is making is neither simple nor absolute, so I highly recommend the two videos below (especially if you’re not interested in reading). Both attempt to respond to the popularly held counter-arguments against pursuing CBA’s.

Introductory presentations were made at the Letter Carriers Building. Here is Janice Parks, from the Young Men and Women’s African Heritage Association:

Speakers took turns along the way, in the buses and during stops outside. Here is Ronell Guy, from the Northside Coalition for Fair Housing:

In addition to several residential communities, the tour featured the industrial park near Route 65, the site of the new casino, a stop at some of the green space between the stadiums, and a playground.

Here are some of my own observations:

As the bus wound through the streets of Pittsburgh’s North Side, I was struck by how many doorways and windows are boarded up compared with how many have doors and glass in them. It’s possible the tour route was designed for that effect, but the frequent and obvious signs of blight reminded me of my own North Side neighborhood of Deutschtown or East Allegheny. I thought we were the exception rather than the rule on the North Side. Now I’m not so sure.

Upon approaching Rivers Casino-area construction, one of the other tour narrators noted dryly, “Tell me if anyone sees a female, or any minority working these jobs.” In what seemed like a 300-400 yard stretch driving past active construction, this blogger could not find one, and nobody else called bingo.

Councilman Bill Peduto, Council nominees Robert Daniel Lavelle and Natalia Rudiak, and staff representing State Rep. Don Walko attended the tour. Rudiak mentioned to the Comet that she “did a little research”: turns out her home in Carrick (the Scranton of Pittsburgh) is worth roughly $30 per square foot. This came by way of contrast to the $10 per square foot rates to be found on Pittsburgh’s North Shore.

About four or five times during the tour, the tour guides had to point out, “this is where [somebody] recently got shot”.

The tour often summoned to mind old displacements and grievances stemming from the construction of Route 65, the construction of Allegheny Center, the construction of the Veteran’s Bridge and the construction of already established subsidized developments in the area. While passing beneath some railroad trestles on the way out of the Shore area, intermittent past promises from city government to beautify the entryways and egresses were recalled to some cynical amusement.

There were brief speeches from folks with organized labor, from the green movement, and one from a consortium of neighborhood ministries who spoke of a new public safety effort called the Holy Ground Campaign. The Mattress Factory provided bottled water on a hot day.

The Band: Alien Ant Farm

The Year: 2001

So You Know…

As I commented over at the H Spot, I don’t believe this means he still doesn’t have five votes to do things The Bill Peduto Way forever and ever amen … it means they (the Council) still don’t have five votes to pass a Recovery plan on Tuesday, period. Tuesday is the last day to get a plan done the “normal”, unadventurous way.

By my math Having a Plan On Tuesday is losing as of last reportage by a 1-3 margin. That leaves five votes which are hypothetically amenable to vote for a Plan regardless of the several outstanding hangups about it, and one of those is the Finance Chair.

However the Finance Chair is the one most likely to be swayed by the three differing and unique arguments (Payne, Dowd, Shields) arising from the three known no votes. And the Finance Chair is also the one most likely to have a shot at persuading several out of the final four to go along with him. ^

CONCLUSION: I think a whole lot depends on the Coordinators’ actions on Tuesday, if there are any. Pittsburgh could get served a real wake-up call.

^-RECONSIDERATION: That is, unless Bruce Kraus was serious and has already made up his mind about voting for something without all contained in the Council’s originally introduced packet of amendments. Then it’s more like 1-4 already.

Friday Surprise: ARNET RESIGNS *

My first thought upon learning this news was, “HOLY CROMULAN CHEESE!”

Pittsburgh school board member Heather Arnet is resigning Tuesday. (P-G, Joe Smydo)

Arnet had served a bit less than half of one term. She cited a need to tend more closely to the Women and Girls Foundation, which she had just recently represented before City Council regarding the Pay Equity Study. One has to wonder whether having become a lightening-rod for criticism from others on the School Board to the point of what she had characterized as “slander” had anything to do with it as well.


Mayor Luke Ravenstahl will appoint Ms. Arnet’s replacement, and that person will serve until December 2011, Ms. Colaizzi said. (ibid)

Hmm. Who lives in that district of the East End who might be suitable?

*-UPDATE: Colaizzi and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, through his spokeswoman, pledged to work together to pick a replacement. Ravenstahl does not have any particular candidates or qualities in mind, and wants an open application process, spokeswoman Joanna Doven said. (Trib, Tim Puko)

Friday: ?????????? ***

Here we go again:

Amid a reshuffling of city boards and commissions this week, the Ravenstahl administration dismissed the author of a Zoning Board opinion that blocked a controversial electronic billboard proposed for the city’s Grant Street Transportation Center with the support of the administration.

Alice Mitinger, a lawyer with expertise in zoning issues who had been appointed to the Zoning Board of Adjustment by the late Mayor Bob O’Connor… (P-G, James O’Toole)

David Toal, the ZBA member who had removed himself from the Lamar proceedings in order to avoid a conflict of interest, has also been replaced.

In light of the fact that the zoning board’s decision against Lamar was upheld in the Court of Common Pleas this week, this may be a good time to ask Mayor Ravenstahl himself whether it is now appropriate for the half-constructed digital billboard on the public building to begin coming down — and if not, at what point would that become appropriate.

No, I do not know whether Lamar Advertising simply may reapply for the same zoning variances and special exceptions it sought previously through this newly constituted panel.

In terms of precedent, I know UPMC initially had its application for beautiful signage atop the USX Tower formally rejected by the Planning Commission — yet successfully reapplied for it the following week, after He Who Must Not Be Named delivered a strident presentation in its favor. However, that instance of reapplication for an identical project may in fact have been less-than-perfectly permissible.

I can practically see the attorneys warming up in the bullpen.

Here is Judge James’ minimalist 5-page opinion. Click to enlarge:

Below is the Zoning Board decision now affirmed by the ruling above. It is comprised of Alice Mitinger’s decisive 17-page rejection preceded by Wrenna Watson’s 2-page dissent in favor of an approval.

Contrast Watson’s two references to “the totality of the circumstances” on document pages 1 and 2 with Mitinger’s item #10 under Conclusions of Law and Decision on page 14. (Item #9 on the same page is also worth a gander.)

APROPOS: “Autocracy Accusations”, KDKA; “Boogeyman Politics”, WPXI

*-CHIMING IN: Madison knows Mitinger and is still ticked; Infinonymous analyzes some of the replacements.

**-UPDATE: Lamar is weighing its options. Isn’t everybody? (P-G, James O’Toole)

***-ADDITIONALLY: Dok Harris gets his statement on. (P-G Early Returns)

R.I.P. M.J.J. P.S.A.

That was the beginner course. This one is a little more advanced. Good luck!