Monthly Archives: January 2014

Area Union: City Has Cash, Let’s Get

Commentator

Let’s go back to taking financial advice from the Firefighters.

NOTE: When Act 47 spoke in 2012 about the possibility of dissolving, it was in the context of a Mayor long opposed to oversight looking like we’d keep him “on the job” and oversight bodies exhausted being jerked around by us.

Now we have a Mayor elected on the strength of a promise to ride Act 47 all the way to sustainable recovery by welcoming collaboration. That should address the sass central to the letter.

Quick Note: Be Fixing the Society

Memeshare.net


We join writer and super-spy Dan Simpson en toto:

What is to stop us from dealing with poverty, inequality and diminishing economic mobility? The French now tax companies at an effective rate of 75 percent on the part of salaries exceeding $1.36 million, including sports stars and coaches. Do that, then put the money into education.  (P-G, Dan Simpson)

The Comet would prefer to see that windfall split between education and other market preparation and public works. Yet the voguish counterpoint instead lies somewhere between no, forget it already, and hey, look at Mt. Lebanon.

We can only address that ridiculousness if we’re seen fixing our schools in various ways.

Open Burgh: Before Data, there were Impressions

What is Reality?

Pittsburgh’s forthcoming Open Data policy is going to be unceasingly revolutionary, so please attend to that in all of its forthcoming kaleidoscopic glory. Execute Order 66.

Yet math and computers are hard. Can we blog for a moment about community theater?

PITTSBURGH,  PA – Beginning next week, City of Pittsburgh residents will have access to three regular meetings on Mayor William Peduto’s public schedule including meetings with City Council leadership, department directors, and Act 47/ICA overseers.  (Mayor, Press Releases)

In olden times, the Mayoral branch always had an advantage over City Council. Only the latter did their bickering and dithering in public. Such process can invite scrutiny, when it counts.

Viewing Mayoral meetings with Departmental directors will be superb. One might mistakenly believe it will be easy for the administration throttle public concerns, yet over time the public will get rowdy over sore spots, the meetings will be derided if they do not tackle tough issues, and the administration will be pressured to become more responsive than otherwise.

Minutes from regular meetings between the Mayor and Council members Kraus, Rudiak and Kail-Smith will be a hoot and a half. The inclusion of our incumbent President Pro-Tempore in that circle virtually assures a thorough vetting on all issues, and reproaches if ever there are not. We can learn from these sessions.

Minutes from discussions with our Act 47 Coordinators and ICA plenipotentiaries will be nice as well. It might further inspire virtuous circles in terms of meeting objectives.

Now, back to your regularly scheduled oohing and aahing over the city’s Open Data transformation. We had better refer to the legislation introduced by the Chairperson of City Council’s Committee on Finance and Law today as Open Data Burgh 1.0. An heirloom piece like this is bound to merit some time in the blacksmith’s furnace. We should think many will be eager to wield a hammer.

ELSEWHERE: The Fraternal Order of Police president faces impeachment rumors, according to the P-G’s Liz Navratil. MORE: Businessperson who paid bribes to officials receives solid thwack on the wrist.

NOTABLE EVENT: Thursday, HackPittsburgh Rube Goldberg build challenge.

We Must Inspire the Teachers

Touchstone Pictures

That’s our only shot.

We all want to give children an edge, if we can. Can we here?

“Our issue is equity. That’s the only thing.” (Pgh. Fed. of Teachers President Nina Esposito-Vargas, P-G, Elearnor Chute)

We cannot force the teachers union to accept this; we cannot browbeat them into it. We have none of those levers. We can only persuade them this a fundamentally good idea whose time has come, and one that they can make sure is implemented correctly.  We must focus on building trust in partnering with a District administration where at times, there is not much.

Only the union can make this happen: accountability in classrooms for student achievement, that is, over the long and the broad sweep.

RELATED: Comet, Too Long of a Post, May 2012. Poor timing then for community groups to have raised the issue, in the context of state cuts and sizable furloughs.

Farcical Friday: How Do We Fix Problems?

Texas Watchdog (fixed)


Downtown there are tragedies woven with mock:


[US bankruptcy judge and August Wilson Center conservator Judith Fitzgerald] has also been talking to public entities and private foundations about releasing previously allocated funds or contributing new money to the center. 

So far they have refused to do so, “based upon asserted past failures of AWC to carry out promises with transparency,” Ms. Fitzgerald said in a Dec. 27 interim report to the court. (P-G, Mark Belko)

The reaction to debt accumulation has been reasonable and on-key, until this note:

“Nonetheless, ultimately if there is a complete refusal of the foundations to provide funds and no public agency or governmental financial support sufficient to determine the viability of AWC, it will be unlikely that AWC can survive,” she wrote. (ibid)

Perhaps it is time to get bold and creative.

If the overhead and other challenges of inhabiting the glimmering Downtown facility are too steep, and the debt profile is so stubbornly implacable, then might not the August Wilson Center’s own cultural and logistical assets be protected, the present facility be sold or foreclosed upon and thence repurposed, and the AWC be relocated to a sufficient and sustainable new or refurbished venue? One where it can hew to advancing its missions, perhaps even in the neighborhood which provided that playwright with legendary material, yet still near enough to Downtown and its expansion energies?

The Comet regrets the inescapable impertinence of this suggestion. We are aware of various blind spots in our levels of knowledge and perception about the proper “missions” of the Wilson Center, and its present stakeholders, and what the Downtown “Cultural District” facility and presence means. But shedding an ill-fit structure and adapting to new circumstances might get public entities and private foundations back on board supporting the necessary enterprise.

##

Meanwhile, news in the federal probe into City corruption is hard to come by:

“We have acknowledged that we are doing an investigation of the city of Pittsburgh that has arisen as a result of investigations of” the Bureau of Police and former police Chief Nate Harper, who was indicted and pleaded guilty, [US Attorney David] Hickton said. “I am acknowledging that it is ongoing.” (P-G, Rich Lord)

Yawn.

AP, Telegraph

Look. We can either be gormless and stare at the fountains at the Bellagio until our legs buckle, or we can trust that the US Justice Department before making any further decisions will keep a weather eye on how various parties respond to the transition of power and their own legal calendars. The Comet votes trust. Let’s take wink for an answer.

UPDATE: Indeed, there should be little hindrance.

Moving forward, in terms of triage assessment:

[Public Safety Director Michael] Huss acknowledged taking on responsibilities beyond his job title for much of the past year, such as personnel matters, collective bargaining and policy decisions. 

“You make the decisions that you have to, and you do what you have to do until someone tells you, ‘Don’t do that anymore,’ ” Huss said. “I didn’t think that was going to happen.” (Trib; Harding, Prine & Conte)

To wit:

“As a principle matter, the lack of guiding policies in this instance is I think what was most shocking.” 

“The City of Pittsburgh had virtually no policies, regulations, concerning the management of outside employment by Bureau officers. To me, that was frankly shocking.” 

“In this type of instance, when police officers can use types of tactics, equipment, confidential means, records, data, to assist in the conduct of a private industry, there is a real potential for a conflict of interest to exist. Our courts have addressed it, Pennsylvania law has addressed it, the answer is clear. That active police officers should not be involved in that type of conduct.”

(WESA, Steve Toprani, former Washington County DA and City consultant)

The implications of such statements being stated will continue to develop. There may be all sorts of management tools converging upon the troublesome spots.

Peduto to Governor Corbett: Check it Out! Conservatism!

P-G, Robin Rombach

Pittsburgh is making fiscal sense.

Yes, that is a passing strange report to credit. But this is not just some rumored Sasquatch sighting.

Hang in there…

Mr. Peduto laid out a number of reasons that the city still needs Act 47. Standing in the Zone 3 police station in Allentown, he said the city needs a stronger long-term debt policy that would lay out exactly how much money the city could borrow in the next half-dozen years or so, and a better solution for its pension problems. 

He also believes the city can use Act 47 to negotiate voluntary payments from nonprofits, who own a significant amount of land in the city but pay little to no taxes. (P-G, Moriah Balingit)

And so on. See source material and elsewhere Trib.

First, the City needs to project its borrowing along the present course. Very simple.

With that knowledge, if we begin drawing that thick line on the big graph, and discover nonetheless within 3 or 4 years a habitual need for the big red marker — even along our presently disciplined trajectory forged by bipartisan and disinterested state oversight — then all of our headway and remarkable accomplishments will not have not been quite sufficient to achieve escape velocity.

To see Pennsylvania’s second largest city crater, is generally to be avoided. Mayor Bill Peduto is alleging that the exit ramp for Pittsburgh from Act 47 Distressed Status needs a fair bit more work in the Budget-Balancing Department.

Therefore he suggests to the main arbiter in the general discussion, Governor Tom Corbett, a few items to fix the puzzle which require textbook Act 47 coordination:

  • Tweak Act 111 and Act 205 to address pension spiking
  • Fiddle with the public safety retirement age
  • Utilize state oversight officials as mediators with the super-nonprofits
  • Give the new Mayor time to implement more of what the State has already recommended to secure City finances

Then it’s launch time, around as even more debt get retired in 2018.

In light of what has been forthcoming among a people whose very DNA resonates with the Constitutional right to collectively bargain with employers, this is a bafflingly conservative plan. Even the staff increase in public safety is in line with what the at-times Republican-dominated State overseers have been budgeting for years. It is time to go where that takes us.

P-G, Larry Roberts

“Conservative” does not even demand quotation marks. It is fiscally and conscientiously conservative — though Mayor Peduto elsewhere in his “progressive” vision evinces progressively towering ambitions with with respect to collaborationinnovation and the application of grant monies.

Tom Corbett should be amenable to this strategy for that reason alone: as far as the State and the taxpayers are concerned, it is a conservative plan.

Tom Corbett should be amenable to this strategy for some more reasons: it makes sense, it wounds no parties unduly, it avoids debt spiral and colony collapse, and it could provide a blueprint for how disciplined Act 47 municipalities can turn the corner on red ink. Progress here could help stem the coming tide without a rash of futile court-mandated tax hikes.

Tom Corbett should be amenable to this for a final reason: the man has serious ties in Pittsburghvania. If he fumbles it, this it is a missed opportunity and a fair tragedy. If he moves it along and it works out nicely, this is a heck of a legacy builder come what may.

The dynamics are a little odd, with a Republican and a Democrat. Unfortunately.

Governor Corbett might be forgiven for thinking, “This sounds worthy of support, but if I stick my neck out and work on doing this right, will Peduto thank me? Will Pittsburgh thank me? This year?

The Comet cannot answer that. We can however firmly resolve to thank him ourselves. We will thank him every bit as often as it needs being thanked for.

_____

RELATED: Allegheny Institute. Disagree as to its favoring the ICA over Act 47; the former though a stern warden has its own redolent difficulties, meanwhile the latter is built better for creativity.

Pittsburgh, Forever! New officials sworn in.

Haggard and Halloo

Mayor-E….. Mayor Bill Peduto more or less perfectly trod that tricky line line between stating his positive intention that the City is going to work hard, deal squarely and in good faith, say its prayers, eat its vitamins and be a real American — without looking askance as though to say, “For a change folks, am I right?”

Peduto before speaking more or less bathed himself in former Mayors — Ravenstahl, Murphy, and fitting representatives of O’Connor, Calijuiri, Lawrence. It was nice how outgoing Mayor Ravenstahl stayed through the entirety of the program. Seemed not even to have any entourage.

There was a reminder late last week in the Toprani report of some of the scandalous issues that helped bring this leadership transition to pass in the way it played out. As we remind ourselves of what is on the record and remember the scope of failures in oversight and culture, we will find a lot of characters in that story besides Mr. Luke Ravenstahl. He was a character — and that’s for sure! — but Pittsburgh was truly the main character, and it was an anti-hero my friends. Pittsburgh did all that, and now Pittsburgh is looking itself in the mirror and getting psyched for change.

First would needs come some sort of montage. Peduto delivered on the montage. Next comes the bell, and if it’s a good movie, a whole lot of punishing rounds.

Check out what somebody at the Tribune-Review did:

It’s lovely! It’s also interesting, in that stupid kind of way. “New wealth generations today; office stale.” “Much place know, especially take love reform. Many measure sustainability!”

Three cheers to Chris Potter of ye olde City Paper picking up on a signal in regards to Councilwoman Deb Gross earning the Chairwomanship of City Council’s Zoning and Land Use Committee, in this stage of development along District 7’s own Allegheny Riverfront and proposals by the Buncher Company.

It looked like new administrative transition legislation was introduced in Council. Do any of you journalists know the last time Council submitted legislation at its initial swearing-in and organizational meeting? Submitting legislation is merely handing over an envelope, it takes weeks to process preliminarily — but I wonder how bold a stroke it is in terms of prodding the City to attention. Are we looking at a Kraus Means Business meme? Funny how that could overlap.

There has been some meditation on “New Pittsburgh” and “Next Pittsburgh,” not to mention #NewPittsburgh and #NEXTpgh.  Let the Comet proffer at this time a focus on

#MOARpgh

Pittsburgh deserves MOAR Pittsburgh. As long as this community is feeling all high-minded and civic and whatnot, let those of us who publish or broadcast, yak, fiddle or entertain, devote a certain MOAR of our time, sweat and treasure to Pittsburgh — whether that be the region, or the municipality, or a cherished neighborhood or community.

And as we in our many informal and commercial forums examine, deliberate, and contemplate Pittsburgh, let us not only feel that weight of intergenerational responsibility to build and sustain, but let us exult MOAR in the lifting of it. Let us host forums wherever we are hosting forums with excitement and optimism. And as we do so, let us be sure the general welfare of the Pittsburgh community and its denizens and constituents inhabits our hearts.

We “do Pittsburgh” in all ages, usually quite well. The Comet simply proposes that we all according to our capacity “do Pittsburgh,” and do it right, just a little MOAR for a couple years — and see how it feels. Give the weighty aspiration of the project a full head of steam.

Because heaven help us if our Mayor has to do it alone.

BRUCE KRAUS WINS COUNCIL PRESIDENCY

Rebecca Droke, P-G

Ayes 7, Nays 2 (Burgess, Harris)

Natalia Rudiak will pitch Tuesdays as Finance Chair.

“When I think about what today means… it is spring in our hearts.”