Lamar 4 Requests Opinion from State Ethics Commission

The five page document contains a succinct history of the entire affair involving the controversial LED sign permit, with frequent references to press accounts, legal opinions, meeting transcripts and court transcripts, all included as appendices.

Although the letter sent this afternoon to the Ethics Commission is not the previously rumored letter to the State Attorney General requesting an investigation, the Ethics Commission has the power (and the obligation when warranted) to trigger investigations by the Attorney General.

Although today’s letter never mentions URA director and Parking Authority chair Patrick Ford by name, nor any gift-giving to public officials by Lamar Advertising, it should be noted that the same Ethics Commission is presumably already engaged in the preliminaries of an investigation of Ford and Lamar.

Here is a sampling of what seem to be some of the more notable selections. All of the emphases are our own.

Serious issues regarding process surfaced when the matter came to light in a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story (02/12/08) reporting that Lamar had secured a no-bid contract from the Parking Authority to place this LED on its new building without the consent of the Authority’s Board. Under Chapter 161 of the Pittsburgh Code of Ordinances, contracts in excess of $30,000 must be bid prior to being let.

This is an argument against the permit that has not yet been raised with such precision.

Aside from the no-bid contract, there were other problems, specifically the fact that the permit was in direct violation of the city’s zoning code which limits billboards at this location to 500 sq. ft. It seems clear that the zoning code required a higher standard of review and that Lamar should not have been given an administrator’s exception.

There were a number of other procedural matters and questions which are illustrated in a legal opinion rendered by City Solicitor George Specter. It is notable that City Council had to wait for this opinion for almost two months. Accordingly, it was very difficult for Council to determine a clear, lawful course of action.

As a result of this controversy, the Council convened a Post Agenda session on February 27, 2008. Enclosed is a copy of the transcript of that 6-hour meeting. Notably, much of what we were told was later proven false.

The Comet will be excavating and analyzing key portions of that post-agenda session of Council, starring the one and only Pat Ford, over the coming week.

It is noteworthy to add that on March 26, 2008, Yarone Zober, Mayor Ravenstahl’s Chief-of-Staff, sent an e-mail to all Council Members and others that there could potentially be “abuse of power” and “undue influence” by the Council members who joined Mr. Dowd’s appeal. He further stated that the City’s Law Department should determine if there was actual undue influence or any irregularities on their part. These allegations are nearly identical to those included in Lamar’s complaint.

See how easy this is? That which is noteworthy is clearly identified as noteworthy.

We firmly believe that the law had been broken and as public officials, we had an obligation to intervene in the ZBA/Lamar matter. Without legal counsel, we could not act in the public’s interest.

We have grave concerns about the legal opinion rendered by the City Solicitor’s office. Owing to a variety of factors, we cannot have complete confidence in said opinion. Once the issue of a potential conflict of interest was raised, we chose to refrain from any further discussion or votes on Council Bill #2008-0308.

We believe that Lamar’s settlement of the ZBA appeal, the removal of their lawsuit against five Council members and Judge James’ rulings affirm that there was no conflict of interest on this matter. As such, we believe that our actions surrounding Council Bill #2008-0308 did not constitute a conflict of interest as defined by our City Code and/or our Home Rule Charter.

Gravity aside, this letter seems far more reserved than it easily could have been. Anyone hoping the request will instigate more vigorous actions than the issuance of a legal opinion will have to rely on the voluminous supporting materials contained in its appendices, and on the interest and initiative of the Ethics Commission and its attorneys.

We are advised than within two weeks of its receipt of the letter, the Commission must either announce its intention to issue an opinion based on existing precedent, or if none can be found, call for a public hearing to further explore the matter and set new precedent.

That would be one ballgame worth the price of admission.

10 thoughts on “Lamar 4 Requests Opinion from State Ethics Commission

  1. Anonymous

    pay the damn LEGAL bill and let’s get a citizens petition to have the attorney general conduct an investigation OF ALL OF THESE stupid ass goings on. Look, these Council Members who stood up for THE LAW AND THE LEGAL PROCESS deserve a break and some PUBLIC SUPPORT INSTEAD OF DITHERING HERE IN THE BLOGS.The LNMAR 4 have been beat up, intimidated and they have their own political limitations as well. How’s bout we, the people of Pittsburgh take the responsibility for getting to the bottom of all of this!So here is a petition. Copy, paste, circulate, get signitures. Mail petitions to the PA attorney general.Tom CorbettPennsylvania Office of Attorney General16th FloorStrawberry SquareHarrisburg, PA 17120It’s an of the people by the people for the people thing. Get the AG to get to work and clean up this mess.PETETIONWE THE UNDERSIGNED RESIDENTS OF THE CITY OF PITTSBURGH HAVE SERIOUS CONCERNS RELATED TO THE FUNCTIONS OF OUR LOCAL GOVERNMENT. WE HAVE NO CONFIDENCE THAT LOCAL AUTHORITIES CAN FAILY AND WITHOUT PREJEDICE INVESTIGATE THE MATTERS BELOW. THE CITY GOVERNMENT HAS ACTED TO ALLOW AN ILLEGAL BILLBOARD OWNED BY LAMAR ADVERTISING TO BE ERECTED. THE DIRECTOR OF THE URA, MR. PAT FORD IS ON LEAVE AND UNDER INVESTIGATION BY THE STATE ETHICS COMMISSION AS A RESULT OF AN IMPROPER RELATIONSHP WITH A LAMAR LOBBYIST.MR. FORD, AS PLANNING DIRECTOR AND THE URBAN REDEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY HAS ALSO HAD INTERVENED ON BEHALF OF A LOCAL REAL ESTATE COMPANY HEADED BY A CONVICTED FELON TO ALLOW ILLEGAL BUILDING PERMITS TO BE ISSUED. MR. FORD RENTED AN APRTMENT FROM THIS AME CONVICTED FELON’S AND HAS REFUSED TO DISCLOSE WHAT, IF ANY, RENT WAS PAID. THE DEPARTMENT OF LAW HAS ISSUED CONTROVERSIAL LEGAL OPINIONS AND HAS FAILED TO PROVIDE THE COUNCIL WITH OPINIONS IN A TIMELY MANNER ON THE LAMAR ZONING CODE VIOLATIONS AND OTHER MATTERS. THE LAW DEPARTMENT NOW ACCUSES OUR REPRESENTATIVES OF CONFLICTS OF INTEREST BASED UPON THEIR OBJECTIONS TO THE CITY CODE VIOLATIONS BY LAMAR. WE DEMAND THAT THE PENNSYLVANIA STATE ATTORNEY GENERAL CONDUCT A THROUGH AND COMPREHENSIVE INVESTIGATION INTO THESE MATTERS TO DETERMINE IF THE LAWS OF THE COMMONWEALTH OR CITY CODE WERE BROKEN. WE DEMAND THAT THE ATTORNEY GENERAL INVESTIGATE WHY A STATE AUTHORITY, THE PARKING AUTHORITY OF THE CITY OF PITTSBURGH, ISSUED A NO BID CONTRACT, WITHOUT BOARD APPROVAL TO ALLOW LAMAR TO ERECT AN ILLEGAL BILLBOARD ON PUBLIC PROPERTY. MR. FORD WAS CHAIR OF THE PARKING AUTHORITY AT THE TIME.WE DEMAND THAT THE ATTORNEY GENERAL INVESTIGATE WHY THE PITTSBURGH STADIUM AUTHORITY SOLD PUBLIC LAND TO THE PITTSBURGH STEELERS WELL BELOW MARKET RATE ($0.80 A SQ. FT.) WITHOUT STADIUM AUTHORITY BOARD APPROVAL.WE DEMAND THAT THOSE RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY AND ALL LAW BREAKING IN THESE MATTERS BE BROUGHT TO JUSTICE AND RESTORE OUR FAITH IN OUR INSTITUTIONS OF GOVERNMENT IN THE CITY OF PIITSBURGH. NAME ADDRESS ZIP CODE

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  2. Anonymous

    BRAM PLEASE POST ENTIRE LETTER WITH OUT EDITORIAL COMMENTI would like to see the the letter as is.

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  3. Anonymous

    copy and pasted petition. will gladly circulate this. makes sense too. it is our city! lets use citizen power to get to the bottomof this.

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  4. Char

    Now aren’t you glad you got your copy of the Sign-Is-Not-A-Sign Post Agenda for posterity? I knew that thing had extreme historical significance the moment I watched it!

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  5. Bram Reichbaum

    ANON 2:33 PM THE ENTIRE LETTER WAS POSTED AT THE BURGH REPORT UNTIL RECENTLY. JUST NOTICED IT WAS TAKEN DOWN. MAYBE THERE WAS A REASON. WE ARE LOOKING INTO IT.Thanks for reading.

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  6. Anonymous

    Thanks for posting the letter in it’s entirity. Wow. What a letter. Reads like something John Adams wrote (see McCoullouhs great book!) lol.The letter is very illuminating. It tells a great story. It tells it well.The LAMAR 4 are the best politicos this town has seen in a long time.

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  7. TheHamburgular

    There is only one reason that this letter – this issue – is even being discussed right now: Pat Ford. It is time for Mr. Ford to voluntarily step down. It is time for him to apologize for not follwing proceedure, for needlessly causing the city to use its resources and personnel to address the problems caused by his selfish acts. Mr. Ford should apologize to the people of Pittsburgh for compromising the credibility of numerous city agencies and for failing to be a steward of the people. Bram, you must call for his resignation.If Mr. Ford will not voluntarily step down, then it is time for Mr. Ravenstahl to act. If the mayor lacks the courage to act, then it is the responsibility of the electorate to ensure that he is not afforded another opportunity to lead city government. This story has never been about a sign. This story is about what it means to serve the public. As you review the legalise and examine the facts, be mindful of this truth.

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  8. Bram Reichbaum

    That’s something to think about.What gives me pause is when you say “selfish acts”. Mr. Ford has been consistent in his insistence that he at all times was following orders. This strikes me as more true than false. In fact, we can assume he was recruited to his host of positions in city government because he more than anyone else was considered ideally suited to carry out those styles of missions that a few decided needed doing. The synergy of effort, to put it kindly, was part of the attraction of utilizing his talents so broadly.What good would it do Pittsburgh to throw Mr. Ford under the bus, only to keep the rest of the governing infrastructure in place so it can be more clever about fulfilling its missions in the future? Or do you think that the governing infrastructure will have been “duly chastised” if it sacrifices the person of Pat Ford at this late stage of the game? Hard to say.

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  9. Anonymous

    “Ford has been consistent in his insistence that he at all times was following orders.”Was Mr. Ford following orders when he came out with his ridiculous assertion that he was blowing the whistle on the Housing Authority?

    Reply

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