Category Archives: controller

Wednesday Roundup

The TRIB’s Eric Heyl, donning his consultant-to-the-mayor hat, is entertaining as always.

Editorial Aside: But this time he’s way off base. The Comet sees no need for holding up the Planning Commission any further, on account of traffic studies. We would, however, strongly urge Don Barden to mitigate the Carnegie Science Center’s legitimate lighting concerns.


Meanwhile, the P-G editorial board strongly endorses Mike Dawida for city controller. We know this because they used the word, “strongly.”

Editorial Deconstruction: Some members of the ed-board were no doubt taken in by Dawida’s rowdy maverick shtick, of which we are also a fan. However, we wager that other members calculated that endorsing Dawida would not hurt Michael Lamb — but would rather hurt his rival Doug Shields — all while putting some daylight between themselves and the froofroo progressives.


The P-G’s Rich Lord submits a tiny little article about city automobile repair, with huge implications — not just for the race for controller, but for city-county consolidation.

On the same pages, Joe Smydo reports that Pittsburgh Public Schools are “re-thinking special ed logistics,” all without mentioning the words “Roosevelt,” “Tezca,” or “Cave-in.”

Interview: Michael Lamb

“I decided to run for this office before he got sick — I actually talked to Bobby about it.”

That would be Mayor Bobby O’Connor, and this was sometime around June of last year.

“He was very open about it” Lamb says.

So, does that mean back-slaps, and cigars all around?

“No, no.” Lamb laughs. “At the time, Tony [Pekora] was the only other guy interested. He said I should probably talk it over with Tony.”

Since the tragedy that befell the O’Connors, had he ever thought about switching gears, and running for Mayor right now in ’07 instead of City Controller?

Not really, he says. “You have an incumbent, in a multi-candidate field — well, I might have given it more thought.”


“The city code says there should be fiscal audits of every department every four years” Lamb explains. Some departments, he says, have not been audited in over ten years. He claims there have been years when they have not audited a single department.

He doesn’t remember City Council ever having been audited.

We asked if he was sensitive to the intense budget cuts at the Office of Controller. He admitted that conducting the audits to meet the letter of the charter is out of the question right now. And he also allowed that the annual report takes a lot of manpower and energy.

Still, he insists, “There just hasn’t been leadership for the basic stuff.”

We asked for his priorities on day one, and he kept harping on two themes: improved information systems, and greater city / county collaboration.

The controller’s office and many city departments are not even using the same accounting software, he says, and that makes it hard to function.

He has encouraged city government to make some upgrades, but, he says, “I’m dealing with that resistance.”

Is “that resistance” what he would call a “Pittsburgh thing”?

“I don’t want to say it’s not disciplined,” he begins, “but there’s a failure to stay ahead on the tech curve.” He describes a city that reacts to stress by falling back on what is familiar — even if it fails to address the actual problem.

He suggests that the city piggy-back on some good and flexible software already utilized by the school board. He says that will save not just the cost of a new system, but a ton of work.

That brought up the subject of School Board audits. “Clearly the Controller is the Controller of the school boards — but we still need permission to do any kind of performance audit.” He recommends making a more persuasive case to the school board for these, asserting that these have been shown to save the schools money in the past.

We asked if something similar was going on with the Pavement Management System. He says in that case, when the city could no longer afford to pave all those roads, it solved the problem by generating the full list, and then picking and choosing off that list.

“Once you start picking from the list, though, it becomes a lot easier…” and he kind of trailed off.

This gets him on the subject of data-driven decision making, on which he is passionate.

“When I talk about the kind of government I talk about on the stump …” he talks a lot about a government Pittsburgh can be proud of … “the key is having a government where the decisions are data-driven.

Okay, we asked. Aside from science. Will you use the office to advocate for anything in particular?

“I will tell you this. We will not do an audit without advocating a collaborative effort,” usually between the city and the county. Although they may wind up recommending against collaboration in a given review, he doesn’t seem to think it’ll happen that often.

Even on issues of diversity, he recommends a merger between the two redundant offices charged with assisting qualified minority contractors, at the city and county level. He thinks this would be much more efficient for the interested businesses.

Given the city’s looming fiscal crisis, we asked, where exactly in the budget he would begin to look for savings?

He wants that decision to be “data-driven” in itself — he is stubbornly messianic and serious about this. But we pressed him, and here’s how he broke it down:

“You need to have someone asking questions. How do you buy smoke-busters for offices in a smoke-free building?”

Lamb also points out that over 70% of city workman’s comp is collected by firefighters. Yes, he agrees, that’s a dangerous job, but how about the police? Public works, even?

He shrugs. “My guess is it’s about training.” He even joked wryly that although it’s a wonderful thing to have brave firefighters, maybe ours are a little too brave.


Speculation abounds that Michael Lamb is running for Controller as a stepping stone toward running for Mayor in ’09. But with all these reforms on his plate — surely he would rule that out?

He says something about the office of controller being a good challenge for him, for the foreseeable future.

“I’ve actually stood for office in every municipal election this century” he sighs. “I’ve had enough.”

“Besides,” he says, “I have a feeling that by 2009, this current mayor will be doing some things — he’ll be well on his way.”

Interview: DaMon Macklin

DaMon Macklin is desperate not to be pigeon-holed as the African-American candidate for Controller. It is true one of his central campaign planks is to “demystify” the bidding process for city contracts, and to be far more pro-active in encouraging qualified minority-owned businesses.

But it seems more accurate to pigeon-hole Macklin as the youth candidate.

He received a Bachelor’s in Finance from Slippery Rock University in 2005. He got a job as a loan officer for the North Side Community Development Fund, but after a time, he got laid off.

He applied to many companies, and got called back to second and third interviews — but never crossed the finish line. He tried opening his own company, but Pittsburghers thus far have been resistant to trust the new kid on the block.

“This is an old city, pretty much run by an old guard.” he says. “People tell me, go to another city, you have these credentials, you’re feisty!”

“We have some of the brightest minds in this city, with all the colleges and universities,” Macklin laments, “but when you graduate, it’s like, Happy Trails!”

Stubbornly refusing to abandon the city that he still loves, he decided to channel his emotion into politics.

He admits that on the campaign trail, people are leery of voting for someone they see as running for a job. But he’s hard on “lifetime politicians” who aren’t performing — let alone political dynasties. “You’re telling me your family is the only one that knows how to think?”

“Look around the city, you see blight, despair, no hope. I wanted to get to the bottom of what was going on.”

“If you look at the qualifications of the people who are in office…” Macklin frequently reminds audiences of his finance degree. “You talk about experience — but we’re moving backward.”

Macklin sees doesn’t see public office-holding as a career. He thinks people should be popping in and out of the private sector more frequently. “I want to do a service, lay a foundation, and pass it on.”

“I want to help Ravenstahl — if he fails, that’s a hindrance on me.”


Macklin plainly states that “small businesses are getting murdered.” That’s the focus of his reform measures, in terms of seeking out and awarding city contracts — he wants to cater to smaller businesses, minority-owned or otherwise.

“We invest heavily into structures,” Macklin asserts, by which he means buildings of all kinds. “What I want to do is invest into people.” He wants to have a person in the Controller’s Office that specifically deals with community issues.

On fiscal policy, Macklin is a pragmatist. He says the biggest problem we face as a city is a declining tax base, and so would recommend lowering some taxes and offering phased tax-incentives to attract big business.

At the same time, with the budget crunch we face, Macklin says we need to utilize the tax base we do have to generate more revenue. “Take a look at the occupation tax — it should be on a graded scale.”

He also recommends a commuter tax, and cites Philadelphia as an encouraging example.

Macklin is also a big one for government transparency. “No one likes an auditor — but every city council person needs to open their books.” He also wants to watch closely that the city gets its fair share of revenues from the new casino.


Despite his veiled threat to skip town if the May primary doesn’t work out his way — remember, every time a young professional leaves Pittsburgh, an angel dies — Comet readers should be pleased to hear that Damon Macklin scored a local job in his field. He acknowledges his underdog status in this race.

“I put myself into the fire,” he explains. “I wanted to learn, and to experience. Pittsburgh does sort of have a mentoring problem,” which he looks forward to addressing, either way.

Interview: Tony Pokora

Tony Pokora lost the party endorsement for City Controller to Michael Lamb by one vote. The Burgh Report even ran a Dewey Defeats Truman update in Pokora’s favor, but that was before provisional ballots were counted.

Pokora just lost his court challenge against those ballots. “First of all, nothing in the rules says you can even use provisional ballots” he said. “But the judge said, there’s nothing in the rules that says you can’t.” He also challenged them on the grounds of failing to be secret ballots. Yet the judge ruled that they were cast in secret; never mind they did not remain secret for very long at all.

“I wasn’t going to get anywhere.” Pokora laughed the whole thing off, with a wave of his hand.


Pokora fared better in court when he sued to restore some employees to the Office of Controller. The state oversight board had wanted the Mayor’s office, City Council, and the Controller’s office to lead the way in terms of financial sacrifice.

Yet the brunt fell on the Controller’s office, he says, because “we’re not afraid to stand up for the public’s rights.” Though he won back about a dozen employees, he still only has about half of what the office had under the last Controller, when Pokora was deputy.

His opponents are demanding all kinds of studies and audits, Pokora says, which is great — if they had the staff available. He is particularly critical of suggestions to audit school boards; he says this is outside the purview of the Controller’s office, and the school boards would just keep their books closed tightly. “It makes you wonder if some of these guys really know what the Controller does” he said.

So far as those audits Pokora’s office does perform, he is always surprised what makes news. An “oh-hum” audit involving the police department drew every local reporter, he said, whereas a long-overdue census of the city Urban Redevelopment Authority didn’t merit a peep.

“The City did not even know what property it owned,” he said. “And did not care for them at all. We should find ways to get rid of these properties before they become even more of a liability — offer the neighbor a bigger yard.”

Pokora would steel the city for tough financial sledding, sooner rather than later. “This will be the high mark” he says of the current budget and its $60 million surplus. He points out that even $9 million of that was garnered from an ill-advised refinancing of our regular debt payments.

By 2009, Pokora estimates, the city will begin feeling the crunch in earnest. We asked him to comment upon a long quote from Mayor Ravenstahl’s campaign advertisement “Financially Sound Pittsburgh,” and he responded, “Well, saying we’re turning the corner, I don’t agree with.”

If Tony Pokora has a reformist streak, it comes into play with tax-exempt organizations like hospitals and universities. He is in favor of taxing these outfits just on their profits — but that will have to be legislated at the state level, and over the objections of a seemingly large, well-organized nonprofit community.

“As a Catholic, I really resented the Catholic Diocese getting involved in that” he said of the umbrella group of non-profits that has banded together to oppose any mandates. “No one’s talking about the Church, or the Little Sisters of the Poor.”

He advocates getting creative with how these institutions can make contributions; colleges and universities, he suggested, are well-positioned to fulfill part of the Pittsburgh Promise of college education for every student.

We asked if levying a commuter tax had to be part of the equation. “It would never pass the state legislature” he said. But ideally, you are for it? “I’m saying, it would never pass the state legislature” he repeated with utter certainty.

Pokora insists new or higher taxes are not the answer — he would in fact like to strip several “nuisance taxes” — but he did agree with the Act 47 board’s initial prescription for a $165 occupation tax. The state overrode them, and capped it at only $52. He does defend collecting that sum all at once; he argues the savings would otherwise be frittered away on bookkeeping.


With a labor background that ranges from organizer to local AFSCME president, Pokora is proud of his endorsement by the Allegheny County Labor Council, which could easily have failed to come to agreement in a five-way contest. He’s also proud of the police, fire, and EMS endorsements. We were far more impressed with his endorsement by the Democratic African-American Ward Chairs, and asked how that came about.

“Some of my opponents don’t have as good a record when it comes to women and minority hiring” he said. “Plus, all the candidate forums are out in Homewood or what have you. There are some really impressive young people coming out of the black community these days,” and he named a few.

The conventional wisdom is that Tony Pokora is the only candidate that actually wants to be City Controller. We asked him about running for Mayor one day.

“Why on earth would anyone want to be mayor?” He laughed the whole thing off, with a wave of his hand.

The Race for Controller

This from the web space of Tony Pokora:

Tony Pokora calls for the City Controller candidates to schedule a series of three debates in Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods.

“Ideally, all three debates would be televised,” Tony added, “but realistically, we’re working to get one Controller’s debate on the air in May.”

You’re telling me these guys all don’t want to be on television!?