So how much would it cost the already broke Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh to buy out this contract because of a Mayoral whim?
Guesses? Anyone? Bueller?
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Monday, June 25, 2007
Every now and then, I have to shake out my head and gather the assorted half-jokes, near posts, and other miscellany that fall out. This is one such post:
With the promotion of Trotsky et al it seems obvious to me that the only way that you can get ahead in the Ravenstahl Administration is to commit some sort of domestic abuse. Heads up Mesdames Costa, Graziano, Tutsock, Onorato, Dettore, Stern, Petite, Ashley, McCaughan, and Specter: you may find yourselve "running into doorknobs" or "falling down stairs" in the near future.
Grant's s word nets $1.6 million at auction. I wonder what that word was. My guess is "solipsistic," but it could've just as easily have been "Scotch."
Fetus stashing? I didn't realize that fetuses were something you could stash, like old Ramen Noodles. I figured that you'd want your fetuses catalogued and organized, not just tossed in the back of the closet.
So Dick Cheney says that he's not part of the executive branch and not subject to executive orders, as he's the President of the Senate. Curses! Dick has foiled the Democrats again. If only they had some power in the Senate...
They're cutting PAT bus routes again in September. This is probably a question for Jim Rohr or anyone else in the Region that runs a 24hr business that needs low wage employees, but how much will these cutbacks affect those kinds of businesses? Perhaps the head of the Allegheny Conference should start looking into that kind of thing. A lot of good a shiny operations center is going to do you if you can't staff it between 11 PM and 7 AM.
OK, that's it. I'm running away to Glacier National Park to live as a homeless person.
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Two points, not raise elsewhere, but should be included somewhere; both are alluded to in the comments section here.
First, is the point raised by Judge Rufus Peckham questioning the "failures" of the appointees that prompted their firings. His Honor requests a metric by which their performance can be judged, and, indirectly criticizes the Mayor for his fig leaf of an excuse. Is the City doing badly? Probably, but how exactly did the Mayor decide that Duane Ashley was to blame? Not enough Ultimate Frisbee fields?
Second, is the point discussed by both me and MattH regarding the contracts of the Authority Executive Directors. I'm sure that most, if not all, of the EDs have some kind of buyout clause in their contracts and the Authorities that hired them would have to pay out big bucks to satisfy the Mayor's whims. Now, that just doesn't seem smart to me to potentially pay a couple hundred thousand bucks just to satisfy a perfunctory urge to have things one's way. Of course, that would come out of the Authorities' budgets, and not the general City coffers. What better way to spend your parking tax revenue, eh?
A final related point, brought up today involves the legality of the Mayor firing the EDs instead of the Board of Directors firing the EDs. This ultimately won't be a problem, as the Mayor appoints the Boards, but you could see a situation where the EDs sue their Authorities or the Mayor or the Authorities sue the Mayor. The whole thing is ripe with legal drama, with independently minded authorities pitted against elected officials.
A final, final point is that the general consensus on Grant Street seems to be that this was a poorly planned hatchet job by the Mayor. One too many Soprano episodes, perhaps?
It may be morbid, but somebody's gotta start laying odds on who's ultimately going to get canned following Luke's orgy of forced resignations. Some folks are going to make it out, while others are are going to be out on the street. Here's the latest line and commentary:
Job: Public Works Director
Why he's going to stay: It's no secret that the Costa Family pretty much has their collective hands in every level of government. To fire Guy would be to toss a live hand grenade into the Pittsburgh Political establishment... or biting a hand that fed you, either way.
Why he's going to be fired: Currently, Costa is the odds on favorite to be the first on fired. The suspicion is that he has irked mayoral ally Jim Motznik enough to warrant a firing; the further suspicion is that Motznik himself wants the job. Oh yeah, and there was that whole Koch T-Shirt/Redd Up Crew faux pas that wasn't handled that well.
ADB Odds of being fired: 2:1
Job: Bureau of Building Inspection Chief
Why he's going to stay: Ron's been with BBI for about 7 years, if my memory serves me correctly, and is a hold over from the Murphy administration with a ton of experience in his position. Ron runs a tight shop and his staff seems to be responsive to public needs.
Why he's going to be fired: As part of the new "fast track" development process, Ron may not be moving fast enough.
ADB odds: 4:1
Job: Acting City Solicitor
Why he's going to stay: By all accounts I've heard, George Specter has been a competent civil servant and is, to use a borrowed phrase, "a stand up guy."
Why he's going to be fired: If the conspiracy theories swirling around Grant Street are to be believed, the last thing that the Mayor's Office wants is "a stand up guy." If Luke & Co. are planning on doing something, let's say, "not within the standards of, generally held, legal conduct" they're going to want a legal counsel that will give them the OK to do it. Think a yinzer Alberto Gonzales: a loyal General Counsel that can double as a fall guy.
ADB odds: 3:1
Job: Citiparks Director
Why he's going to stay: Two reasons: (1) He's black and (2) It's fucking Citiparks and no one cares.
Why he's going to be fired: It's fucking Citiparks and no one cares.
ADB odds: 10:1
Job: Emergency Medical Services Chief
Why he's going to stay: Heck, I didn't even know this was a political bone of contention. I would have assumed that this would have been just another "work-your-way-up" kind of Civil Service job. Besides, I can't actually complain about the EMS service, considering I haven't used it in 20 years.
Why he's going to be fired: Considering that the Police & Fire jobs were apparently plum assignments and are potential union pleasing jobs, the Mayor could see the opportunity to shore up a few extra votes.
ADB Odds: 8:1
Howard A. Stern
Job: City Information Services Director
Why he's going to stay: Again, another job that I didn't really think was a politically sensitive position... unless, of course, the City is still smarting over the PeopleSoft fiasco.
Why he's going to be fired: He's white. He's a guy. He has a job that no one really cares about. However, if he is replaced by a minority or woman, suddenly the mayor shows that he really cares about workforce diversity... even if it is just a token appointment.
ADB Odds: 5:1
Job: Executive Director, Urban Redevelopment Authority
Why he's going to stay: As far as I can tell, Jerry's taken every opportunity to (in public) back the mayor's development decisions. He seems to be falling in line quite nicely to the Ravenstahl "Vision" for the City.
Why he's going to be fired: The URA Executive Director is probably one of the most powerful unelected positions in City Government... and the office is currently held by a lifelong public servant, not a Luke appointee. That kind of responsibility can't be trusted to mere "mortals."
ADB Odds: I was going to give him 2:1 odds, until I saw this article indicating that Mr. Dettore is questioning the Mayor's authority to demand his resignation, which, according to the article, has to come from the (mayoral appointed) URA board. While I love to see a good Bureaucrat vs. Politician throwdown, I'm upping the odds to EVEN.
David G. Onorato
Job: Executive Director, Pittsburgh Parking Authority
Why he's going to stay: Four words: County Executive Dan Onorato. Firing brother Dave would make the Ravenstahl/Onorato joint conferences even more awkward.
Why he's going to be fired: Parking tax is still at 50% and someone needs to take the blame... someone that's unelected, that is.
ADB Odds: 20:1
Job: Executive Director, Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority
Why he's going to stay: Greg, like Jerry Dettore, has been at his authority forever and is intimately involved with every aspect of the organization, including the horrendously complicated EPA/ALCOSAN/DEP/LMNOP consent decree. Besides, there's a whole lot of political strings to be pulled over at PWSA.
Why he's going to be fired: If there's an authority in this list that has been generally held to need a good kick in the ass, it's PWSA.
ADB Odds: 10: 1
Phillipe R. Pettite
Job: Manager of Commission on Human Relations
Why he's going to stay: The irony of firing the black guy who's in charge of assuring that hiring policies are equitable would just be too much, even for this administration.
Why he's going to be fired: He might not "equitable" enough to the right people.
ADB Odds: 5:1
So, that's my take on it. The smart money is on Jerry and Guy, but Barbaro is still a long shot... which despite being a horse, and dead, does not rule him out in this game.
Sunday, June 17, 2007
Imagine waking up in the morning, having the radio alarm switch on, and finding out that you may or may not have been fired. Bleary-eyed you frantically search through last night's news to find any mention of your name. Finding none, you rush to the office to see if your stuff has been neatly packed into a small cardboard box and left for you on the sidewalk to be picked up.
In this case, yours truly was fortunate enough not to be a "top administration official."
Having had all weekend to soak this all in, let's pick up on some of the details:
First, this is the fourth or fifth major administrative shakeup in the last year and a half starting with the initial changeover from the Murphy to the O'Connor Administration, depending on how you're counting. That kind of involuntary turnover doesn't really seem healthy in an organization that's supposed to (in theory) be planning long turn.
Second: timing. As I said above, this story broke late Thursday night to the general public, which indicates that this information was conveyed to the Directors late Thursday afternoon. That seems like odd timing to me for some reason.
More importantly, however, is that the Administration isn't waiting until November to make these changes. Bob O'Connor *refused* to publicly announce any candidates for directorships until after the General Election, at least lending a token nod to the fig leaf of two party government in Pittsburgh. For some reason, the current administration can't wait the 4 1/2 months to get new blood in.
It makes one wonder what the significance of the timing is and what the Administration has in mind going forward that can't wait until November. Indeed, this would seem to indicate that the Mayor's Office wants to be even more involved in the day-to-day policies of the departments. Actually, the only way at this point that they could possibly get more involved would be to come downstairs and do our photocopying for us.
Third: who got the axe. There's been rampant speculation that this mass firing is just a cover for a couple select firings and that most of those canned will be brought back on. Guy Costa seems to be the popular target in this rumor, but he and Parking Authority Executive Director David Onorato are so politically connected that to fire them would seem to be the equivalent of shooting oneself in the foot.
One notable exception left off of nearly every "not fired" list was Housing Authority Executive Director Fulton Meecham, who was appointed in the waning days of the O'Connor Administration.
Fourth: the "National Search for Qualified Candidates". There's two things here (1) the City still has ridiculous numbers of jobs that still have not been filled since the Great Murphy Budget Purge and (2) Qualified National Candidates have difficulty fitting in to Pittsburgh's (admittedly arcane) Political Networks.
Fifth: when the mayor says he's disappointed with the direction of the City, which has led some to state (rather cynically) that the Mayor is not satisfied with the level of toadying. Of course, it's very difficult to ascertain what "direction" the Mayor was hoping to go at this point.
As a bureaucrat, this whole this will be a real pain in the ass: we're used to the quadrennial changes in staff and priorities, but repeated shifts in staff and management just waste a whole lot of time as we desperately try to figure out what the new priorities are and who's now in charge.
Perhaps the cold silence of forced retirement might be a blessing after all.
Friday, June 15, 2007
ZOBER: The Departmental Directors will no longer be of any concern to us. I've just received word that the Mayor has dissolved the council permanently. The last remnants of the Old Administration have been swept away.
RICH LORD (Post-Gazette): That's impossible! How will the Mayor maintain control without the bureaucracy?
ZOBER: The Mayor now has direct control over the City. Fear will keep the departments in line. Fear of this Administration.
MICHAEL HASCH (Tribune-Review): And what of the Rebellion? If the Rebels have obtained a complete technical readout of this Administration, it is possible, however unlikely, that they might find a weakness and exploit it.
UNNAMED SITH LORD: The plans you refer to will soon be back in our hands.
DOVEN: Any attack made by the Rebels against this Administration would be a useless gesture, no matter what technical data they've obtained. This station is now the ultimate power in the region. I suggest we use it!
ZOBER: Enough of this! No further questions!
Thursday, June 14, 2007
I don't care if the Mayor tried to crash an American Express event at the Oakmont Country Club in a misguided attempt to meet Tiger Woods. Seriously. When I was his age, I crashed (or at least attempted to crash) many events at which the security was equally impressive, if not more so.
By the way, and for those of you that were unaware, the Secret Service does not look kindly upon gate crashers. They will fuck you up. I am not kidding. Do not fuck with them. They put nobly things in places that only your doctor or a friend with a safety word dares to probe.
Still, I wasn't the Mayor of a major metropolitan area at the time... or even the mayor of Pittsburgh.
What gets me about this whole event is that, if you believe the rumors, Luke was just trying to meet Tiger Woods. If so, the whole course of events is 100% unacceptable.
Now, if I was Mayor (and, God and several thousand rigged ballot boxes later willing I will be), I would have realized that there would have been a far more simple way to realize this goal:
Step One: Have the previous Mayor die.See, if Bob O'Connor were still alive, he'd have Dick Skrinjar on this assignment so fast it would have made your neck snap back like the 18th hole at Oakmont.
Step Two: Have the local public golf course renamed after former Mayor.
Step Three: Invite Golf celebrities to help re-dedicate the local public golf course. If they protest, say that there will be free golfing lessons... for children... homeless children... with cancer, or something. Golfers are notorious suckers for stuff like that.
Step Four: Meet Tiger Woods. Get photo with said Mr. Woods... and maybe Ernie Els if he looks lonely.
I don't know what that metaphor means, though. I think it has something to do with a Birdie or a Mulligan, or a 4 wood, or something...
The point is: being mayor is better than meeting Tiger Woods. This cannot be proven, but it is. Just like Mt. Everest is, or like being beaten by the Secret Service isn't.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Monday, June 11, 2007
I do read those blogs to the left there. Really, I do.
Most of them.
Some of them.
OK, one of them... if I feel up to it.
Mostly, I just rely on my RSS feeder to alert me to something interesting. Like this bit from JP, who's taken a break from his Sopranos fetish just long enough to remove the ball gag, and write a non-gumbah* post:
I received the Pittsburgh Citiparks 2007 Summer Magazine this week. (I don't recall any previous editions, but perhaps it just got tossed in the trash.) I counted no less than seven pictures of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. There is, in fact, an entire page of nothing but photos of the mayor, including a close-up in which he appears to be throwing out the first pitch at PNC Park. Um, what does that have to do with Citiparks?Strangely enough, I was actually musing on the same thing this morning, as I stood at the refrigerator door, secretly searching for a piece of fruit that hadn't yet crossed over the river Styx, but really staring into the vaccuous eyes of the young mayor on his 311 information card tacked to my 1987 GE icebox with a cow magnet.
Funny how these things work.
I have two feelings on the subject.
First, the obvious reason that Luke is continuing to do this is the residual perception that he is still not the "legitimate" mayor, but merely an "accidental" mayor. By plastering his name on every billboard, brochure, sign, flyer, card, webpage, car, bus, plane, and employee, Luke is merely following in the tradition of the Late Roman Emperors who struck coins with their faces on them to legitimize their rules. In this way, Luke is a Petronius Maximus or a Romulus Augustus and should be treated with all the dignity and respect that they were given.
Second, the even more obvious reason is that Luke is going to be on a continual name recognition campaign, at least until he develops some political capital of his own. The use of his face everywhere reinforces his presence and his connection with the office so that voters subliminally connect him with The City.
Now, the alternative conclusion is that Luke is not looking to remain mayor forever, but is, instead, looking to artificially inflate his capital and cash in, in favor of a more lucrative (and probably less time consuming) political job. Indeed, Luke could be the political equivalent of the '90s Dot-Com bust or the '00s Housing Bubble.
Can't much say what that job would be, however. Still, I would say that a cushy State Senate Seat would look mighty fine for a 20 year old.
* I'm German-Irish...
Both the P-G and the Trib ran 500 word articles today about Pittsburgh High Schoolers and their petition to Dan Onorato, Luke Ravenstahl, et al. to make the new arena and casino "Green." I'll sample from the P-G article, because it is the shorter of the two.
Local high school students presented a petition today to city and county officials asking them to ensure that the new Penguins arena and the planned North Shore casino are constructed as green buildings.Terrific work there Mr. Pulitzer. There's an award in there somewhere for you. Glad to see that the P-G is cutting back on all that wasteful "electronic ink"; the cost of that stuff can run into the fractions of cents. I hope someone on staff puts at least as much work into tomorrow's follow up article as I'm putting in here.*
Students for a Greener Pittsburgh, a project started by two students, collected 700 signatures supporting the initiative requesting the facilities be LEED-certified.
LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.
Now, I back when I was young and idealistic, before I was thrown to the ground of reality, beaten with the bat of rationality, and kicked in the groin of no-nonsensicalness, this petition would have been something that I would have done. I would have probably been the first person in line to sign something like this. Now that I am older and more bitter, I can see past the Pollyanna-ish naivete.
Don't get me wrong: I am full in support of Green Building, Sustainable Design, yadda-yadda-yadda, but the petition route smacks of political novices. No one listens to petitions any more than they listen to people yammer on at City Council.**
Instead, these students should be focusing not on the happy, squishy, "save-a-whale," sort-your-plastics-and-glass, green concept, but the cold, hard, dollar and cents "green" concept.
That's right kids: money. Petitions will get you nowhere; money opens doors.
Try showing Don Barden that, by improving his indoor air circulation, his employees will take fewer sick days, and, in the long run, he'll save money. Tell Mario and the SEA that by recycling "gray" water in the urinals and installing high efficiency fixtures, they'll save bundles on operations. Prove to Governor Rendell that the use of "Green" technologies in these projects will be a economic development niche for Western PA, strengthening the economy, and helping to generate exportable goods, services, and technologies. Stop frittering your life away on damned socially aware political science and go get yourself degrees in Environmental Engineering and Economics!***
So, take it from an old curmudgeon, kids: don't hit 'em in their hearts where it's soft, hit 'em in their wallets where it hurts.
Here endeth the Civics lesson for today.
* And that ain't much, I can tell you.
** City Council, by the way, is going to hell for the Iraq War, for some reason.
*** And get a hair cut! And stay off my damned lawn!
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
Dear Summer Interns,
Back when I lived in D.C., every year around this time, interns would descend on the nation's capital like a plague of locusts and basically take over the workings of U.S. Government until the middle of August. I'm sure that if most of America knew that the country is being run by college students for a quarter of the year, they would rise up in revolt demanding that the pedophiles, perjurers, and other assorted indictees would get back to work.
In Pittsburgh, the same summer ritual happens, only on a lesser scale. Those with sharp eyes may have noticed a marked increase in the number of young, nubile, and attractive persons mingled amongst those of us who are old, squat, and dumpy. These Logan's Run extras are the interns; the trolls are the regular employees.
So for those interns out there, to make your internship more productive, I have cobbled together a list of suggestions to guide you through your summer.
First, your book learning doesn't impress us much. We don't really care about what you learned in such-and-such class about marginally relevant topic "A". Don't try to educate us on it either, no matter how *great* an idea you think it is. Chances are, we already thought about it and we decided it was a stupid idea.
If you decide, however, that you want to impress the bosses with your abject brilliance, be prepared to have your idea ground up to a little paste and spit back at you.
Second, you're at the bottom of the pile. The organizational chart reads like this:
Big boss -> Assistant bosses -> Managers -> Employees -> Other Assistants -> Consultants -> Temps -> Copier -> Coffee Machine -> Interns -> Carbon Paper.
Don't expect to get the good work; expect to get the work that no one else wants because they're too overworked or they just don't want to do it. This is what employers call "experience."
Don't expect to get good supplies either: your desk, computer, pens, etc. were all left overs from the last employee that left. If you're lucky, your chair will not break as soon as you sit on it and your cubicle won't be inside the restroom.
Third, you're probably not used to the rules of decorum associated with business:
* Dress well, but not too well, and certainly not better than the boss;
* Don't wear business attire that makes you look like your mother dressed you;
* Don't use the phrase "do lunch," especially when you're conversing with your other intern buddies;
* Don't be a douchenozzle;
Violating these rules will result in you being endlessly mocked by the real employees and condemned to endless, deathly dull meetings.
Finally, every now and then, an intern with real talent and discernible skills will slip into the system and will not just be a cute piece of ass for the employees to ogle. That intern will be given interesting projects with the expectation that he/she will perform and will, ultimately be able to translate the work into a job offer or a good job recommendation.
If you find yourself brewing coffee, making copies, or "fetching" things for other employees, you're probably in the "piece of ass" category and should probably act and dress accordingly.
That kind of knowledge is worth 9 credit hours.
The Angry Drunk Bureaucrat
So there's this episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where Picard and the Crew of the NCC-1701-D get stuck in a loop of time, forced to relive three days of their lives over and over again until Kelsey Grammer shows up out of a temporal anomaly.
The lawsuit against the Allegheny County Assessment system is kinda like that:
Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge R. Stanton Wettick Jr. today declared unconstitutional the state law that allows counties to use a base-year system for property assessments...Now, keep in mind that this is not the original lawsuit, but the lawsuit against the policy that was developed in response to the lawsuit...
The decision is a blow to Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato, who in 2005 settled on a base-year system after he refused to implement figures from a new reassessment. Those numbers, which would have gone into effect in 2006, would have resulted in assessment increases averaging nearly 20 percent for all homeowners...
The current case was filed in 2005, just 23 days after Mr. Onorato announced the county would move to a base-year system in which property assessments would be pegged to their values in 2002.
The plaintiffs argued the base year would violate the uniformity clause of the constitution because values in some communities are dropping while other's rise, creating an inherent inequity...
At this point it's like reading Joyce... upside down... and on crack. Only more difficult to follow.
Now, here's the bad news to homeowners: there is not going to be a simple resolution to this problem that actually complies the State constitutional uniformity clause. Somebody's going to be pissed no matter what decision and somebody is going to get screwed. No politician is going to take the blame for how screwed up everything is. It's an unwinnable situation: Kobayashi Maru.
But, then that would make the assessment situation like Star Trek II: the Wrath of Khan* and Cheers co-star Kristie Alley.