Monday: Governing amidst Chaos

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The land bank debate heats up:

Rev. Burgess, who tried unsuccessfully to pass land bank legislation a year ago, is a critic of the current proposal by freshman Councilwoman Deb Gross of Highland Park. Councilman Dan Lavelle of the Hill District also has raised concerns. Both fear that the bill does little to ensure input from the affected communities. (P-G, Brian O’Neill)

It sounds like there is an agreement that the goals of land banking are widely sought, but the question is whether a standard board comprised 4 mayoral and 3 Council appointees will sufficiently address community concerns per exploitation and accountability.

The Comet has not yet learned Councilman Burgess’s notion of a superior and more equitable governing framework. His 2012 legislation authorized the creation only of an “advisory committee” comprised mostly of executive branch and Authority personnel.

But Pittsburgh shall work it out. Even more interesting in O’Neill’s column was Rev’s bit about planning revival from Homewood’s “prosperous edges” rather than “heart.”

For also in Homewood news:

“Normally in community planning, people who don’t live near other people are making suggestions for what should happen there. We thought clusters was an easier, cleaner way to focus. And it’s like the concept of how to eat the elephant — one piece at a time.” (P-G, Diana Nelson Jones)

Opportunistic corporate gentrifiers have several extremely positive roles to play in the next Pittsburgh. The Comet suspects however that to rebuild our neighborhoods properly, we may really have to “dive in” without these. It has not seemed to be their strongest suit.


State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale is conducting an audit of Pittsburgh Public Schools under the hospitable protection of Mayor Bill Peduto.

The office of State Attorney General Kathleen Kane, in case you missed it, asked six specific questions of the court-appointed August Wilson Center conservator to clarify the whole situation and the conservator’s understanding of it before any determination on moving to a receivership. *-BREAKING: Judge is unmoved. Maybe we missed our cue to make a bigger stink, or maybe this is it.

State financial overseers are likely to approve whatever transition buyout and position eliminations schemata will emerge from City Hall, even though fundamentally, no one can know how many of which subsets of employees will take something before it is enacted. So we cannot say whether it is a huge budget saver or simply a wise and modest expenditure compared with the unpredictability of going without.

Finally, the large field of candidates for the Democratic nomination for Governor of Pennsylvania debated in Pittsburgh yesterday. Today slight and steady frontrunner Allyson Schwartz, a seemingly less-progressive candidate, picked up the endorsement of former Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy.

Making Murphy potentially important, once again. Being the gentleman, scholar, player and technology enthusiast that he is, we cannot fathom why he is not engaging in one way or another on social media? Let’s elevate the conversation.

54 thoughts on “Monday: Governing amidst Chaos

  1. BrianTH

    “Rev. Burgess put it this way: If he were to take half of the South Side Flats, Squirrel Hill and Shadyside and turn their collective future over to the people of Homewood and the Hill District, those in the prosperous communities would howl.”

    Of course in places like Squirrel Hill and Shadyside, people can just buy properties and do what they want (subject to local zoning and other regulations). So putting a process in place by which tax-delinquent properties could be cleared and sold off could be pretty much just extending what is already taken as a given in neighborhoods like Squirrel Hill and Shadyside.

    So the question is therefore whether this would just be a high-bidder type process, or if the Land Bank would try to pick winners and losers for policy reasons ala the URA. Only in the latter case would Burgess's concern as stated really make sense.

  2. MG Guy

    Curious. PG just reported that Mike Gable has been hired to head city DPW. But the PG article below from last March reported that he retired at reduced pension, age 58, with 18 months to go to full pension. (Mike Radley, Parks and Rec. director, also retired at that time.) Interestingly, Ravenstahl dropped out of the mayoral race just a few days before the retirements.

    Wonder what changed Gable's mind, and will he stay longer than 18 months?

  3. Bram Reichbaum

    The mission of Talent City is to provide a level of assurance (because it felt necessary) that such folks as Gable are not receiving Directorships only or “mostly” because of their political activity.

    Gable was on the committee from Ward 10 back in 2008. I cannot speak to more recently.

  4. BrianTH

    This gets to the hope I had mentioned earlier–it would be quite useful if some knowledgeable people would provide interested members of the public with a review of some of the major Talent City outcomes. Certainly political connections could be part of that review, but so should qualifications.

    And incidentally, I thought the way the Talent City process was supposed to work, they would give a short list to the Mayor, and he would make the final selection. Is that happening, and do we know who is on the short lists in addition to the people being picked?

  5. Anonymous

    Mike Gable is a great guy and had the one qualification that nobody else did. A vote in the District 7 special election. He was promised this job last summer to vote for Deb Gross.

  6. Anonymous

    Bram. Gable is a committeeman in Morningside as recent as November when he was shoving slate cards down voters throats and placing Gross yard signs in neighbors yards without permission. Mine included. I like you and look to your opinion quite often on local politics but quit sticking up for tees people. It's just hurting your street cred. I'm excited for a new Pittsburgh to but let's not turn a blind eye to an administration getting it's feet wet by revisiting past mistakes. Gabel is a friend of the Costas and towed the line when he was told to back Bills candidate in November. Similar to Grant Irvin, our new sustainability coordinator who ran around at MACC meetings with a Gross sticker on. I asked about the president attending meetings and being political and how that could affect our 501C3 status but was ignored. Are they good people, most likely. Are they receiving positions because they took direction for the new machine, you bet your butt. Time to pay the piper I suppose.

  7. Anonymous

    Infinite thanks for pointing that out. Maybe Ceoffe and Gabel are old committee buds and he's hoping to get his street paved in the Spring. Orrrrr maybe he is really above the petty politics of Pittsburgh as he so frequently suggested during the campaign. I guess we'll never know.

  8. Bram Reichbaum

    To be clear, I have to rely on old news articles to figure out who is an ACDC committee person. And this is the first I'm hearing about Gable's alleged skullduggery, and from an anonymous source, same as with Ervin. I appreciate the spirit of your comment but try and cut me a break on stuff I can't intelligently comment upon.

    Politicians have a hard time calibrating expectations. This is known. I still sense things are moving in better directions. When Gable starts directing DPW to do more work for his friends and contacts, or when Ervin makes Morningside more sustainable at the expense of other parts of the city, that should become noticeable and that's when my hackles will get raised. It's still very rational to assume that the reason Peduto, Gross, Gable and Ervin are all enthusiastic about each other is commonly held values.

  9. Anonymous

    Rationalization (also known as making excuses) is a defense mechanism in which perceived controversial behaviors or feelings are logically justified and explained in a rational or logical manner in order to avoid any true explanation, and are made consciously tolerable – or even admirable and superior – by plausible means.

  10. Bram Reichbaum

    Since Anon 11:21 is a fan of Wikipedia, here is a list of logical fallacies which apply to Anon 3:39 and/or 11:21's argument: appeal to probability, affirming the consequent, argument from ignorance, argument from personal incredulity, (I'll let argument from repetition slide for a few days at least), argumentum ad hominem, begging the question, shifting the burden of proof, circular cause and consequence!!, correlation proves causation, ecological fallacy, false dilemma, fallacy of the single cause!, false attribution, incomplete comparison, mind projection fallacy?, nirvana fallacy, post hoc ergo propter hoc, psychologist's fallacy!, regression fallacy, wrong direction and thought-terminating cliché.

    And when one points a finger at somebody else, three fingers wind up pointing back at oneself.

  11. Anonymous

    You don't need Wikipedia to see what's happening. It appears they got the job because of the political affiliation? Two known supporters of Gross suddenly end up with high paying positions and that doesn't seem odd? Those are just the ones that we know of to date. Not to mention all the campaign staffers that are now walking the 5th floor on Grant Street. I find it hard to believe that Bill ran a campaign about a new era in Pittsburgh yet Talent City keeps suggesting old Pittsburgh relics for the short lists.

  12. Bram Reichbaum

    On a scale of 1 to 100, how qualified are they? Ninety what? Seven? Eight?

    And again — this is just me — I hardly care about eliminating cronies only for its own sake. Good people attract good cronies. I want a higher caliber and more diverse array of crony, and I demand that the croner instruct her cronies to do things the right way rather than the wrong way.

    Pittsburgh's Open Data ordinance is being discussed in Council right now. If the new Director runs DPW like a low-caliber crony, we'll be able to start throwing rocks at him faster, harder and more accurately than ever before. Pound for pound, that's more confidence-inspiring than anything Talent City could dream or aspire to accomplish.

    1. Frank Yehlan

      Defend this, Bram: A $13,000 raise in September of 2013 for a one Donald Sand. Remember him? Yes, that’s right. Sand received an almost 30% raise from $24/hour to $30.60/hour for…what?

      1. Bram Reichbaumbramr101 Post author

        I’m sure I don’t know. His salary may be an open record but his job responsibilities and performance, not. He’s the one that works for the County, right?

  13. BrianTH

    Again, it seems to me the case Anonymous at 12:09 is trying to make is at best incomplete without more information.

    As a premise, I will state that I don't think there is anything inherently wrong with campaign staffers or other political supporters getting positions in a new administration. Of course those people should be well-qualified for their job, and there shouldn't be a requirement than in order to get a job you did provide such support. But a rule actually banning such appointments/hirings would have perverse effects, including effectively prohibiting people interested in participating in government from also participating in the political process (which should be their right), and also preventing people in government from benefiting from the information and experiences that can be gained from participating in the political process.

    Just to give one example, people who participate in the political process tend to have a lot more meaningful contact with a much wider variety of people about important public issues. It doesn't seem like a good idea at all to me to suggest no one who actually makes public policy should have those sorts of experiences.

    So before condemning a particular pick, I think more has to be done than pointing out that they participated in the political process in favor of the person picking them. I'd also want to see a thoughtful review of their qualifications for the job in questions, and perhaps an informed comparison with the alternatives.

  14. Anonymous

    I have to agree, it's kind of touching seeing the Kampaign Kids turn up at community meetings in their suits and ties. It's great to get fresh blood in the system–Lord knows some Grant Street fixtures' red cell counts are low–but the newbies do seem like fish out of water; veritable NIPpers at this early stage of New, Improved Pittsburgh (NIP).

  15. Shawn Carter

    Since Anon 11:21 is a fan of Wikipedia, here is a list of logical fallacies which apply to Anon 3:39 and/or 11:21's argument: appeal to probability, affirming the consequent, argument from ignorance, argument from personal incredulity, (I'll let argument from repetition slide for a few days at least), argumentum ad hominem, begging the question, shifting the burden of proof, circular cause and consequence!!, correlation proves causation, ecological fallacy, false dilemma, fallacy of the single cause!, false attribution, incomplete comparison, mind projection fallacy?, nirvana fallacy, post hoc ergo propter hoc, psychologist's fallacy!, regression fallacy, wrong direction and thought-terminating cliché.

    And when one points a finger at somebody else, three fingers wind up pointing back at oneself.

    Wow, the entire defense manual.

    I appreciate it!


  16. Anonymous

    Something tells me that the KampaignKids weren't the only ones that applied for those jobs. I'm also sure the others that applied just weren't….. Qualified.

  17. BrianTH

    Apparently as yet we have no direct insight into what Talent City is producing.

    But here is a hypothetical. Talent City sends Peduto a list of three candidates, all of which it believes are well-qualified for the job. One of the three candidates also worked on Peduto's campaign, and from personal experience Peduto thinks that person is hard-working, intelligent, empathetic, or some other generally-good attribute.

    Would it be wrong of Peduto to select that person? They may be no more qualified than the other people on the list, but isn't the important thing that they not be notably less qualified?

  18. Anonymous

    Yes, it would. You can rationalize however you want. But a process that results in Peduto campaign supporters and committee people is nothing more than, well, a process that results in Peduto supporters. Maybe they were smart enough to dress it up and put lipstick on the pig, but that almost makes it worse. Besides, this whole notion that somehow Ravenstahl filled his appointments with long time stalwarts of the machine and committee people is just flat out wrong. Seriously, look around at his top officials and board and commissions. If you actually got off your high horse you would see how wrong you are. Maybe the reality is that the long time people that felt entitled to running Grant street were a little offended they didn't control all these things under Luke. Bill got them back in.

  19. Bram Reichbaum

    You know since we have a city residency requirement, we can't be that shocked that occasionally we see a name resurface. If we hired somebody brand new and from outside, they'd be screaming murder about how dare we overlook real Pittsburghers and “institutional knowledge,” only louder.

  20. Anonymous

    Or, the person hired from the outside could actually move into the city and live here as opposed to tout her ethics and integrity only to skirt the law and dance around the requirement. If you want the job, move in. I don't even care if her husband moves in, but actually move here. This issue is really exposing the hypocrisy of the Peduto administration and the poor government advocates that keep covering for him.

  21. Anonymous

    Bram, occasionally, really? There haven't been that many official hires yet but let's look at what we have so far. New Pittsburgh = Costa, Lestitian, Valerie, Gable, Kunka (maybe), and I'm going to put my money on Huss. The others I am aware of that were not previous Grant Street fixtures, are former campaign staffers or vocal supporters of the administration that already hold leadership roles in Pittsburgh. The residency requirement aside, not one and please correct me if I'm wrong, but I haven't heard of one person that has been hired that isn't either being recycled back into government or had an existing political relationship with Mayor Bill.

  22. Bram Reichbaum

    Lots of Pittsburghers had existing political relationships with Bill. That's why he won by those margins.

    Do we imagine many folks who opposed him or that did not have a passion in the latest election are applying to work for him? If so, what do the former say when it arises, “So, what did you find compelling about Luke or Jack's vision? Why do you think we should leave Act 47 right now? Why don't you like Community Benefit Agreements?” Again, we have an employee residency requirement in a smallish city in which only 1 out of 100 people care about local politics, and out of these probably only about 1 in 10 have a job they'd care to leave for this. Not a target-rich environment for political or City Hall virgins.

    I'm not aware if Lam, Sanchez-Ridge, or Porter go back a ways with him. One would think Kunka and Huss did not, in a politically supportive sense. And to be clear (only because there appears to be a little confusion in spots above) the ONLY position filled so far through the Talent City process has been Gable at DPW.

    I can see it would behoove me to go after Bill more often on points where I find disagreement. Okay, noted. But this mountainous molehill over inviting qualified and passionate people who share his vision to join his team, just strikes me as sour grapes.

    My fault for not giving you more to discuss.

  23. Anonymous


    I really think you challenge the Peduto administration on keeping Kunka on. He literally represents everything that was bad about the last administration.

    He was the face the face of the administration on the city parking lot issue when the Ravenstahl administration tried to do a long term lease of them to raise short term revenue.

    He was the person on the parking authority that kept the board from fully implementing the will of council (and hence the people) on providing more monies to the pension fund.

    He may be smart, he may know money; but, he should not be a part of the “new” or the “next” Pittsburgh (or whatever term the Peduto team is using now to describe his administration).

    Talent City has proven to be a joke that just gives this administration cover for its hires/appointments. Full openness would dictate that at least the names and backgrounds of the top three candidates for positions be released so that the public whom Peduto is serving could make better judgements about the effectiveness about Talent City and the quality of the final choice.

    Burgess, Harris and Kail-Smith should be ashamed of themselves for the way they conducted their interviews of candidates.

    Harris, more so than others since she chooses which City code she will follow and which one she will disregard.

    All of the candidates that were asked about their residency should have simply replied it is none of your business who is living in my house/home — because it is not their business. Next, these geniuses will be challenging the residency of the mayor because he was not born here.

    I have met a lot of these folks and they are highly talented regardless of the charges of political favoritism. Most gave up or put on hold highly productive/high paying career to come here and do good things for our City. Perhaps, it IS time to review the whole anachronistic residency requirement so that we can get MORE people of this quality in terms of knowledge, skills and abilities.

  24. Anonymous

    Speaking of recent hires, campaign supporters, political connection, qualifications and the like, here's Bill's Chief of Staff's latest Facebook post:

    “Kevin Acklin
    Options for this story

    God rest the soul of K9 officer Rocco, who faithful served with his fellow officers and died in the line of duty. I just had the sacred honor to kiss him goodbye and thank him for his brave service.
    13 hours ago”

    And just for historical kicks, here's another invocation of “sacred honor”, from the last sentence of the Declaration of Independence:

    “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”

  25. Anonymous

    This reminds me of the Roberto Clemente statue outside PNC Park. The base of the statue features
    dirt, designated as “hallowed”, from four different ball fields where Clemente once played. I'll go for Lincoln's assessment that ground from Gettysburg is
    “hallowed”, but Three Rivers Stadium?

  26. Bram Reichbaum

    Anon 7:48 – If Kunka was the face of the administration, I was the butt. I can pinpoint the exact moment at which I came to understand the problems with the parking lease, and that moment came late.

    The key factor as to whether Scott Kunka can remain an effective Finance Director is whether or not City Council (or even a significant faction of it) retains confidence in him.

    From what you know about his ability to “be smart” and “know money”, that sounds to me like a better chance than it did a day ago.

    I agree with you on residency, but we just put that issue to the democratic test and we are in the minority.

  27. Anonymous

    Unless I'm mistaken, there seems to be some confusion over residency. As far as I know, the only city employees that have to be city residents in order to apply are Fire Department. All others have to move within city limits after being hired.
    As far as the Solicitor issue, it could set a dangerous precedent that would allow Police to move out of the city, so long as they maintained an apartment in the city.

  28. Anonymous

    The code says that upon appointment the person must be a resident. That probably means when they officially get the job (not just being named to the position). With regard to the solicitor, this entire thing is a sham. I can't believe the backlash the Peduto administration is dishing out over this issue. There isn't a single rational person on the planet that would believe that Sanchez goes to USC after work, eats dinner at her house and then drives back to Shadyside to sleep. She has a husband and three kids in USC. Completely and utterly ridiculous.

  29. Anonymous

    It is completely utterly easy to verify and is done easily.

    1. Does employee have a residence in the City

    2. Did employee change driver's licence and voter registration to that address

    3. (Most important) Does the employee have bills and mail supporting the fact that they live there and not just using it as a crash pad. Key to this electric, gas & water bills that are indicative of a person or persons living there

    4. Conduct interviews with neighbors

    5. Conduct surveillance as required


  30. Anonymous

    The Home Rule Charter requires that a city employee be domiciled in and not merely be a resident of the city. (There is a legal distinction between residence and domicile.) A person can have multiple residences but only one domicile. There is long established case law that barring the commencement of divorce proceedings that a married person's domicile is with his/her spouse. There is also case law that looks at where one has a property tax homestead exemption to determine domicile.

    Does anyone really believe that the new city solicitor is going to move her family of five from her $1/2 million plus, 3,541 sq. feet custom built USC home into a one bedroom condo in Shadyside? If she isn't engaging in a residency sham, and if she isn't being disingenuous in her interpretation of the law… This raises huge issues, the “Chief Legal Officer” of the City of Pittsburgh who is ultimately in charge of enforcing city domicile status of city employees and with enforcing the integrity of the Police Department through her over-sight of the Office of Municipal Investigations and who is also ultimately charged with upholding the integrity of the competitive bidding process/city contracts, has placed herself in a position where she can be black-mailed by corrupt cops and city contractors. Way to go!!!

    All city employees who wish to move out of the city should be heartened by the selection of solicitor. If the person in charge of enforcing the requirement that city employees be domiciled in the city isn't domiciled in the city herself, all city employees should now feel free to move wherever they choose.

  31. Anonymous

    I fear that Peduto just lost a critical union bargaining chip. Can't dangle the residency requirement waiver if it's already cashed in to staff the cabinet. If anyone thinks this discussion is lost on the unions, think again.

  32. Anonymous

    I think that the Solicitor's actions and her response to City Council's questions are insulting to both Council, City residents and other City employees. How stupid does she think that Council is that they will blindly accept her interpretation of the law and her compliance with the law? How many city employees, who are paid far less than the Solicitor have to truly struggle to come up with tuition money to send their kids to private schools, so that their kids can obtain an education and so that they can be in full compliance with the City's residency/domicile requirements. The Solicitor's actions and audacity are a slap in the face to the entire city work-force who is in compliance with the legal requirements of their employment. Her audacity and arrogance that she thinks that she is getting one over on Council and on the taxpayers is appalling.

  33. Bram Reichbaum

    Anon 2:37 above and 3:13 below:

    We keep hearing that even in the event there is any question, she has time to move her domicilic life fully in. Pittsburgh is allowed to recruit people, and this is how it works. There are homes available in Pittsburgh, many quite nice.

    I do not understand why you think she is not in the process of sacrificing to live and grow here right now, but instead being a disingenuous sham, of what will be the most obvious kind if she does not follow through.

    Do you want her to have shopped for, made an offer on and closed on a new home, all in the last two months, and before City Council even confirms her nomination? Seems prohibitively unadvisable, in her new sector of work. What if she's not confirmed for some reason? What if it takes a while to find the right home fit? That's why there are processes, ordinary ones.

  34. Anonymous

    Apparently, she has had time to shop for and to close on the Shadyside condo that she is claiming as her residence. It is hard to believe that someone would plunk down $100,000+ for a one bedroom condo for only a few months. The real estate closing cost in the City are quite high and in almost all cases, it would not be cost effective to purchase rather than rent for a limited time period (if that was indeed her intent). Perhaps, her story would be more believable if she was only temporarily renting an apartment alone until she could find a house, but it appears that she feels that she's met her city domicile requirements by merely purchasing a one bedroom condo but continuing to have her husband and three school aged children live in USC. She admits that she goes to the USC house every night after work.

    Two people need to be above reproach, Caesar's wife and the City Solicitor. She has acted in a manner that will likely cause Council and the rest of city government to not only question her domicile status but also to question her legal opinions. (It is had to believe that anyone who got through the first year of law school, let alone a seasoned attorney, doesn't understand the distinction between legal domicile and residence.)

  35. Anonymous

    Your story and Lordes story keeps changing Bram. Is it now being argued that she only bought the one bedroom condo until she finds a house? I just want to be sure I know what the party line is. Because otherwise it is pretty ridiculous to believe she will move her family (even after one daughter graduates) into a one bedroom condo.

  36. Bram Reichbaum

    This clearly isn't the party line, 7:57. Because first of all, you are right you have not heard it before. And secondly I know for a fact that I don't have any idea what LSR's past, present or future intentions and plans are… These are just “But what ifs?”. You Anonymouses are the only ones that possess special psychic truth powers.

  37. Anonymous

    The bottom line is this, many a person have lost their city job in the past getting caught doing what she is doing. The test is this, ask yourself if Luke was the Mayor would you still be defending this????


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