Monthly Archives: October 2010

‘Burgh Welcomes 2nd Strip Club This Year!

Hey, West End … race ‘ya till your opening!

The city of Pittsburgh and a pair of businesses seeking to open a Hustler Club in the Chateau neighborhood submitted stipulations in U.S. District Court today that would appear to clear the way for the adult entertainment establishment. (P-G, Rich Lord)

“Stipulations” … as in, we settled with them.

The city would gain restrictions on signage at the club, including bans on the use of the words adult, exposed, naked, nude, nudity, sex, sexual, strip, topless, unclothed, and the symbol “xxx.” Also restricted would be the content of Hustler Club radio and TV advertising in the market. (ibid)

Well, this is almost too much. Granny and grandson could wander in for a coke and be all, “I was not informed!”

ASIDES: Anybody remember watching the film, The People vs. Larry Flynt? Was not Mr. Flynt, founding publisher of Hustler magazine, the protagonist in that bio-pic? Does anyone else remember pulling for him and against the straight-laced, closed-minded, oft-hypocritical “values” junkies who do not value the First Amendment of the Constitution? Yeah, well there’s that.

I feel awful for Manchester. These Hustler Clubs look irredeemably cheesy, and unlike the nearby casino I don’t think the proceeds are even purported to lower our property tax burden.


h/t my new fave nat’l politics blog, GQ’s The Wire with Ana Marie Cox.

Parking Authority Eschews Council-Controller Plan

“Out of hand” is the catchphrase of the season:

“This is the worst example of reckless borrowing I’ve ever seen,” board Chairman Scott Kunka said just before the 3-2 vote of the five-member board. Kunka is also the city’s finance director. (Trib, Bill Vidonic)

I’m told that Admiral Chris of Just Ducky spoke eloquently on the problems the Authority would have encountered in terms of facilities maintenance, and on its own clear lack of necessity or motivation for purchasing these assets at such a serendipitous price.

ANALYSIS: At least it refused to pay for a study it’d just wind up ignoring for its own reasons. Score one for the Authority in terms of financial stewardship right off the top.

NEXT UP: Likely the original Council-President Plan of simply having the City take out the debt will be revisited. That will be interesting. Also, this time next week some real-world pensions facts from PMRS will arrive — which among other things, will clarify what a state takeover would feel like.

MORE: Trib, Bill Vidonic;

Getting Ready to Rumble, while Reflecting on the “Weekend News”.

I’ll handle this. You take the long way.

At 1:00 PM today, City Council President Darlene Harris will gavel in a special meeting which was called by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl by his own right, to discuss a possible state takeover of the city’s authority to manage its own pension funds…

Likely, and possibly backbreaking, budget cuts that would go along with that…

The Harris-Dowd-Rudiak bill presently under consideration which purports to successfully and safely avert that state takeover…

And, unavoidably, on occasion, the Mayor’s rejected parking lease proposal (though expect his rivals to spend more time than him on this subject). There will also probably be trial balloons floated for wholly new or adjusted plans and gambits.

This will all be LIVEBLOGGED by me if I can get a signal in that venerable old room. It will also be cablecast though not webstreamed, so as Don King would say, call your local cable operator, and make sure you’re getting City Channel 13.


On Sunday, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette led off its front page with what was unarguably a political analysis piece (if not an opinion piece) posturing somewhat as a news story.

This was the method it selected to frame a forthcoming discussion about the full scope, magnitude, and alarmingly significant proximity of Pittsburgh’s fiscal nightmare and what if anything whatsoever can be done about it. The prior piece on the meeting in Saturday’s paper also became catalogue of political assertions, spliced and edited together for maximum drama, passable humor and a certain effect.

I hope the coy score-settling is out of everyone’s system finally, and that everybody can check their interpersonal and interoffice drama, not to mention long histories, at the door. I hope the local MSM in the coming days will be suffused with context from economics experts, prominent state officials, disinterested business people and individuals who understand Pittsburgh’s unique and uniquely untenable financial position inside and out. The endless armchair psychoanalysis of our mayor by his direct political rivals, for example, and assumptions based off of assumptions about what might develop serving as story hooks and leads — that all may have outlasted its conceivable utility, that is, utility for exposition rather than for legitimizing one’s unique impression of politically charged moments.

Rich Lord is a special guy to this blog. His talent is enormous, yet conjoined with so much stagecraft and such extravagantly directed suspicion, he better resembles a blogger at times. Clearly that’s a compliment but with stakes this high it’s just an alarming observation.

If Lord were to be offered a regular column on the opinions page of the Post-Gazette, and were he to accept it, that would be super fantastic — cheers would go up from all corners of this region, and I would be sponsoring the parade. If he were to start writing and getting paid for his own editorial-friendly web presence on PG+, which is only $2.99 per month and packed with content already, that would be just one more reason to join.

Until then, however, I think the public might better be served by placing an experienced, well-educated, fresh set of eyes — and preconceptions — on this narrowly urgent set of issues. There must be something Marcellus-related happening today. Sometimes if you’re too close to too little for too long, you become a part of the story.


The Lyricists: John Lennon and Paul McCartney

The Stanza:
Think of what you’re saying

You can get it wrong and still you think that it’s alright
Think of what I’m saying
We can work it out and get it straight, or say good night
We can work it out


Lots to discuss (and probably more shrapnel yet to fly) and little time to help get you started, but essentially Mayor Ravenstahl is proposing that everybody just have it out already this coming Monday.

COVERAGE: P-G, Rich Lord; Trib, Jeremy Boren; WDUQ, Larkin Page-Jacobs; KDKA-TV, Harold Hayes.

GUT INSTINCT: Yes! Time is a factor, the mayor is fundamentally not comfortable with the new hottness, let’s do this.

Bondage gets Council’s Immediate Thumbs Up

The plan was unveiled just yesterday. That was swift.

Where is the outside, independent and expert analysis of the 30-year plan‘s figures and assertions? Where are the 4,726 community public hearings? Who was advising Mr. Lamb and the bill’s sponsors on this matter? Won’t somebody please think of the children? (Post-Gazette)

Liveblogging the Death of the Lease Deal

As I tune in, it is still the public comment period. Tons of fire fighters and police officers are yelling at the Council not to play politics with their pensions and not to kill the Mayor’s deal, at least not yet. The last public commenter is…

Alan Lazowski, LAZ – He was surprised over these last two weeks that Council wasn’t happy about the deal. “The infrastructure world was surprised.” He says he met with Council members, named each one individually, and understands their concerns. Maybe there needs to be some changes or modifications. Maybe look at a revenue-sharing arrangement. We need time. We need you to table this plan.

Then we get to the meeting, and the vote to reject or table for later the 50 year LAZ / JPMorgan parking facilities lease:

Patrick Dowd – We’ve had a lot of testimony on this issue in many formats. [On your alternative?] “The city would be lucky to have a partner like Alan Lazowski” … who is passionate about his business and earnest about his desire to help the city. Mayor deserves credit for getting us here. My vote today is a decisive rejection of false choices and Chicken Little approaches. Believes in city’s ability to control its destiny and solve its problems. A loss of control for 50 years is too long; he’ll have grandchildren watching it. Some have said in the media it’s a choice between the lease, a loss of control; and a state takeover, a loss of control. Those are two lousy options. The Mayor has said up until yesterday that he’d consider options. Still, over all this time, Mayor and his team dismissed “out of hand” his alternatives. One time the Mayor even sent three law firms to do that. His asset transfer / bond idea now is exactly the same as Mayor Tom Murphy’s sale of city water assets to the Water Authority, which was bemoaned at the time. He’s looked at engineering reports for our Parking Garages and … yeah, they need maintenance, but we shouldn’t sell our house or soul over it — certainly not to JPMorgan, who is awful. This can only work if the Mayor joins with this Council. This vote will be a vote to maintain the city’s control [the more you tighten your grip, Tarkin…].

Theresa Smith – We need to wait until the facts come back from the state and until all the plans are all on the table. Doing anything less would be irresponsible. Everyone here talks about making data-based decisions, what is this then? Ms. Harris I know you’ve been a big union supporter so I guess this is directed toward you.

Darlene Harris – I’ve been a union supporter for 35 years. One thing I’ve learned is not to privatize. Doesn’t believe the state takeover’s an option either.

No further discussion! Hm! (Very disappointing!)

Ayes 1 (Burgess); Nays 7; Abstentions 1 (Smith). Pittsburgh’s $452 million payday has been successfully, resoundingly vanquished.

Monday: The CPRB; the CELDF; & the PMRS

The Citizens Police Review Board has suffered a rash of conclusive indignities recently. Whether it was the matter of once-controversial new board appointees winding up mundanely and anti-climatically confirmed, or the universally respected Judge Wettick neutering it by invoking the Criminal History Record Information Act in the city’s and the Chief’s defense, or the outright unfortunate situation of its legal counsel being handcuffed by executive red tape (that one guy just has the worst luck getting his invoices approved!), it is being shown to be even more powerless than we have grown accustomed to seeing it — and that’s saying much.

Add to that the frustrations surrounding officers who now stand accused of excessive force, assault and battery in the Jordan Miles affair in Homewood remaining in paid limbo now for a tenth month with no investigatory conclusions forthcoming, and of the city being unable to enforce disciplinary policies on its cops even when it would clearly like to do so, and one has to start wondering wherein our problems lie.

Somewhere between Pittsburgh’s consenting to host the world with all its tensions and anxieties as part of the G-20 Summit, and our purchase of an insurance policy to cover blithely anticipated legal liabilities connected with seeing that project through, Pittsburgh lost the conceit of having a homey, independent, meaningful review process to which its police are in some way subject. Now even for more humdrum, everyday instances of alleged misconduct, that conceit may not return. Having reached what is hopefully the nadir of our confidence in our current institutional and legal frameworks, it is perhaps a good time for our leaders to take a few sizable steps back and retool our approaches to the general difficulty.


Can anyone read this article and not come away with the impression that Councilman Patrick Dowd’s approach to combating Marcellus Shale drilling impacts in Pittsburgh — i.e. zoning law — is more prudent than Councilman Doug Shields’s extremely well-intentioned, noble, righteous, valiant and ultimately groundless approach, i.e. a municipal drilling ban, which has been offered endlessly and fruitlessly by CELDF?

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund should really think about becoming the Community Environmental Legal Prosecution Fund; it would probably gain a lot more yardage. It sounds as though individual and aggregate aggrieved parties will have under the state Constitution the right to sue drilling industry companies, and maybe even those governments which negligently enable them, once their water or air is poisoned. Yet not before, at least not quite yet via injunction.

Not encouraging. But at the same time, we just listened to a gubernatorial debate in which the leading candidate proudly boasted not of eschewing a drilling moratorium, not of strengthening the Oil & Gas Act to allow for more local control, but for not even deigning to tax the tumultuous extraction of this precious resource from our earth one penny. Can’t even tax it! If the grassroots were ablaze over hindering the gas industry, that would be one thing — but we are sailing into a bitter political headwind. A senseless one, but bitter and merciless.

Best to protect ourselves, our neighbors, and our most important watersheds as best we can, while science and experience make absolutely clear the depredations that are most definitely going to be inflicted elsewhere.


The city’s present Comprehensive Municipal Pension Trust Fund (CMPTF) is run by a board. The Pennsylvania Municipal Retirement System (PMRS) is also run by a board.

One can immediately see some similarities — CMPTF’s Joe King and Rich Ruffalo, for instance, have counterparts in PMRS’s William Junkin and Barry Sherman to represent for fire fighters and police officers respectively. However in the CMPTF, four officials represent for the public sphere (interestingly, Controller Michael Lamb and City Council President Darlene Harris count among them) whereas in PMRS there are six seats allocated to township supervisors, county commissioners, municipal authorities, boroughs, township commissioners and finally to cities. Each subset elects their board representative through its own fashion of statewide civic association.

A board representing that much diversity is an advantage to PMRS in terms of stability, and surely also in terms of incentives. Operating a system that large is advantageous in terms of economies of scale and talent. It speaks especially well for PMRS that its secretary, James B. Allen, has survived the job since 1984, spanning five governors and three recessions.

There is precious little reason for the average ‘burgher to fear the mere management of our public pension dollars being handled by PMRS instead of CMPTF. Their investment assumptions are more conservative, their operations are sleeker and cheaper, they buffer risk and reward better and they demand mature, realistic pensions funding discipline.

The City of Pittsburgh, however, would rank simply as just one among the cities which together are accorded that one seat on the board. That would be a huge come-down for this town from having seven wholly local characters with smaller and more narrow constituencies in control of hundreds of millions of dollars. It’s something to keep in mind no matter what occurs in the super short-term.


On Tuesday, it is looking more likely that City Council will irretrievably reject the parking assets lease deal with LAZ and JPMorgan. Immediately afterwords — in my mind, ironically so — it will open serious discussion of a last-ditch effort to deposit into our pension funds only the bare minimum requisite funding to elude an automatic PMRS takeover on January 1.

Firstly, a necessary CORRECTION: while it is true that updated data from Harrisburg will soon tell us whether we need $220 million at the low end or up to $300 million at the high end to achieve to 50% funding, Councilman Dowd made it clear with Secretary Allen during a late round of questioning that as far as State Act 44 is concerned, Pittsburgh only requires $220 million, which was taken to represent 50% funding at the time of Act 44’s passage.

So then. In reality, the city will mull taking out debt of some $220 million, and mandate by default that the Parking Authority shall raise rates sufficiently, improve management and operating efficiencies sufficiently, and implement everything well enough, quickly enough to guarantee new revenue to meet the payments on that bonded debt (i.e. assume risk) and also zero-out some annual fund balances besides — all in an effort to achieve what will actually turn out be roughly 43% total funding. In a system that will continue to have a $30 million negative annual cash flow.

And then we will pray that the state Legislature — which next year is unlikely to be any better disposed toward cities like Pittsburgh than presently — will not recognize the very same “train wreck” which provoked them to act initially.

I’m certainly going to head into that discussion of the bonded debt route with an open mind. Of course, my mind is not so closed to a PMRS takeover as are some — yet all theses deserve a respectful review.

But can you understand why it’s supremely irritating that a $452 million deal which erases debt and assumes no new risk — which was judged to be of fair and even good value by Council’s own consultant of choice — is not being considered alongside this fresh specimen of public-sector brilliance?