Thursday, February 28, 2008

Signs Point to "Yes"

I've been rather busy the last few days trying to shovel out my driveway every 20 minutes, so you'll have to forgive me for being a bit behind schedule on my comments to the whole Bus Station Sign/Zoning Fiasco. I shall try to rectify this.

The real issue here is not whether the sign conforms with zoning requirements (it probably doesn't) or if Pat Ford has the Authority to make that call (he doesn't) or if the Zoning Board of Adjustments should be reviewing this matter (it probably should). No, the real issue, as brought up by Messrs. Otis and Guy-Who-Won't-Shut-Up during the 6 hour gang rape of Pat Ford, is the chain of command and organizational structure of the future Planning & Economic Development branch of the City of Pittsburgh.

Indeed, when Mr. Ford says that he hasn't submitted a URA budget for 2008 because he hasn't finished moulding the organization to suit his desires, I would think that the residents of the City would let out a collective, frightened "Eeep!"

Maybe that's me.

The URA, we will admit, is a strange organization which, probably unbeknownst to most of my readers, has evolved over the last 60 years and now incorporates a bunch of functions that were not part of its original set-up. In other Cities, things like emergency housing repairs or business attraction are more often found in the Mayor's Office instead of an outside Authority.

Now, I will admit that the City process for economic development is a bit, shall we say, Byzantine, so I can understand the need to streamline some of the core processes so that both residents and businesses are not needlessly burdened.

There are benefits, however, to checks and balances in any system, which is why I would be very concerned about any attempt to consolidate Planning functions with Economic Development functions. While there are probably needs for the URA to undertake a more strategic look at its investments, this does not mean that it should be allowed to have carte blanche, as it were, with City Planning.

Ultimately, it will be Council that gets to decide whether City Planning gets assumed by the URA or vice versa or not at all. Right now, there doesn't seem to be the votes for that kind of bold move. In fact, the only thing that I can think of that might cause Council to make that kind of decision would be as a short sighted remedy to a budget hole, transferring the cost of the Department of City Planning off the books to the URA's budget.

In a larger sense, however, while Pat may have at one point been both Zoning Administrator and Director of City Planning (and therefore probably has good advice to give on both matters), he is neither now. He has no more authority (har!) to make City Planning decision than David Onorato has authority (double har!) to make Public Works decisions.

With that said, I thoroughly expect the functions of Public Works to come under the auspices of the Parking Authority, the functions of City Finance to come under the Housing Authority, and the functions of City Parks to come under PWSA.

Or something like that... God help us all.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

ADB News From the Future

A freak wormhole opened up in my garage, right behind my tool box, and out of this rip in space/time drifted a headline from the not too distant future:

Driver of New PA Mobile Liquor Store arrested for drunk driving store

Monday, February 25, 2008

This Post Cost HACP $37,560.38

I didn't want to chime in on the Matt H. story about alleged fiscal mismanagement over at the Housing Authority until I had a better sense of what what actually going on... or at least until sweeps week was over for KDKA. Five days on, however, and I still don't know what's going on... so I feel the need to throw my $.02 in.

First three notes:

(1) I won't purport to know what's actually going on over there at the Housing Authority, because I don't know what's going on over there and I'm not going to say that I do. I can only base my current speculations on my previous activities with them and my years in government. I don't have many facts, just instinct and a priori knowledge. So, everything you read from here on in is speculation. Please keep that in mind.

(2) I won't say that there's anything illegal going on either; I'm not that reckless.

(3) My analysis completely ignores the premise that there is an organizational problem or a bad corporate culture at the Housing Authority.* Although if the alleged fiscal mismanagement was real, you would have thought that it would have filtered up to the top and the executives would have taken care of it. Of course, if the executives had been the ones causing the mismanagement...

Anyway, I'm guessing that the real problem here is less the Housing Authority and more general bureaucratic crap for the following reasons.

(1) Money is not created equal.
(2) You must spend your allocation, lest it be taken back.
(3) You must spend all your allocation, lest you get a reduced allocation next time.

First, Money is Not Created Equal. This is, as I've said before, a confusing premise for people that don't work in Government. Allocations are regularly given from Pot of Money X to be used for Project Y and only Project Y. Project Y may have access to Pot of Money Z, or not, depending on the mandate of Project Y. Let's just say that the whole process of project financing is akin to fitting round pegs in round holes and only round holes.

In concrete terms, HUD gives out money for, let's say, the Housing Authority's Section 8 program. The money for the Section 8 program must be used for the Section 8 program and no other program can be funded by any Section 8 money. Moreover, ONLY Section 8 money can be used for the Section 8 program. The problem is readily apparent: if you try to use other money to pay for the Section 8 program, it's illegal.

This is why you can have a surplus of funds in one project and a deficit in another, causing a budget crunch in the first and rabid spending in the second; you may have a lot of money, but you don't have the right *type* of money.

OK, but why do you have to spend the extra money in the first place? Well (Point #2), You must spend your allocation, lest it be taken back. The problem for local governments is that when they request an allocation from the Feds/State they usually have to tell the Feds/State that they're going to actually *do* something with the money. You can't call up Washington and just say "I want money for 'stuff'"... well, I suppose you could, but they'd laugh at you.

Now, there are plenty of other organizations throughout this great land of ours that want this allocation that your local governments have gotten their grubby little hands on. Local Governments are oftentimes relieved, even joyous, that they get a chance to spend other people's money. The problem, obviously, is that you've encumbered a valuable resource that could be used to do something, anything else. If the Fed/State government doesn't see that the money is actually being used, it will, therefore, take the money back.

This is generally bad because (Point #3), You must spend all your allocation, lest you get a reduced allocation next time. From an organizational standpoint, it does not pay to be *too* efficient. If you didn't spend all of it, you were padding your budget at the beginning and therefore, the logic goes, defrauding the government. You need to spend nearly to the penny, what you said you were going to spend, but preferably more. Underestimating funds needed for a project is forgivable; overestimating funds needed for a project is greedy and inexcusable.

So, at the end of the year, you buy a giraffe.

And yes, this is like a Dilbert Cartoon. Don't laugh, it's not funny, it's HACP.

So, here's my guess at what happened over at the Housing Authority: (1) the Authority ended up with a pot of money that they had no other acceptable use for and (2) they needed to spend the money lest they never get the allocation again or lest they be forced to give it all back.

Admittedly, this is a ass-backwards way of looking at the world, but it is, from a bureaucratic vantage point, fairly reasonable... and if you know the Housing Authority, you know the meaning of Bureaucracy (and ass-backwards, for that matter).

*Anybody remember Stanley Lowe?

Friday, February 22, 2008

Business Casual Friday - Bonus

Once again, we're too tired to post anything of substance. Ergo, we present the following:

Baby Got Back
(in the style of Gilbert & Sullivan)

EXTRA BONUS! Special appearance by Kevin Kline.

This post is sure to offend someone.

Business Casual Friday

In honor of this post referencing this post about this site's favorite ex-pat, pseudo-academic, we present this week's Business Casual Friday Offering:

The Hipster Olympics

You can watch it, if you're into that sort of thing.

I mean, I saw it before it was cool.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Road to Nowhere

Well we know where we're going
But we don't know where we've been
And we know what we're knowing
But we can't say what we've seen
And we're not little children
And we know what we want
And the future is certain
Give us time to work it out.
-- Talking Heads
Sometimes, the Pittsburgh Business Times scoops the competition on the really good stories:
The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is moving forward with plans for elevated toll lanes above the Parkway East and plans to make an announcement on the project in the next two weeks.

Turnpike Commission CEO Joe Brimmeier said the organization is putting out a request for information from private investors for the project, which would likely start near Churchill or Penn Hills and come toward Downtown, bypassing the Squirrel Hill Tunnel.
Bypassing the Squirrel Hill Tunnel?

I mean, I'm no traffic engineer, but the way that I see it, the function of the Squirrel Hill Tunnel is to go "through" Squirrel Hill. I also realize that I am unfamiliar with non-Euclidian geometry, but to my simple mind, there are only four ways around Squirrel Hill: under, over, around, and through. Not to say that none of these options are impossible -- all things are possible with money -- but this all seems infeasible, considering the massive engineering that will be necessary to build the necessary interchanges, flyover ramps, tunnels, and so forther. That doesn't even begin to take into consideration the economic impact on the City's investment in Frick Park, Nine Mile Run, and Summerset, and the established homeowners in Squirrel Hill.

Admittedly, this plan is probably better than the proposed Mon-Fayette Expressway, but only in the way that being punched in the stomach is better than being kicked in the head.

Of course, this all has nothing to do with the fact that the chair of the State House Transportation Committee is Joe Markosek, a Monroeville Democrat.

But PennDOT is always thinking ahead. We've already snagged a preliminary proposal for the future of transportation in the Commonwealth:

Primary Education

About six or so weeks ago -- well before Super Tuesday -- I was at a party with a guy sporting a very obvious Hillary button. While not in the conversation pit myself, I did overhear him say the following:

If Hillary doesn't win Super Tuesday, Pennsylvania becomes a battle ground.
... or words to that effect. I was, I will admit, in the process of throwing back my seventh Railbender, so he could have just as easily said that Edmund Hillary wasn't going to win the Superbowl on Pennsylvania ground, which would have made sense at the time, considering he had just died.

Where was I? Ah yes:

This random (to you) dude's prediction seems to be coming true, much to my dismay.

As of today, Hillary and Obama are split either 1,112 to 1,117 or 1,351 to 1,262, according to the NY Times. With 161 and 228 delegates, respectively, Ohio and Texas are the next big prizes on March 4th. After that, the only two contests that break triple digit delegate counts are Pennsylvania (188) and North Carolina (134).

Because of the complex way that the Democrats assign delegates (at-large, district, party leaders, and super delegates), there is a very good, nay nearly odds-on, probability that votes are going to be split, whether 60/40, 40/60, or even 50/50.

Based on the most optimistic number above, so far Obama needs 674 delegates to clinch the nomination. If he wins all the delegates from all the states between now and Pennsylvania, he wins 690 votes.

What's even more frightening, I suppose, is that there are only 1,191 delegates left to count which, if split 50/50, would leave just under 600 delegates/candidate (not including Washington, who hasn't gotten their stuff together yet, apparently).

So, I ask you, what is more disturbing: (a) the fact that Puerto Rico may determine the Democratic nominee or (b) the fact that the denizens of the Great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania are about to suffer through nearly a month of an a half of Obamania, Hillar-ity, and the outside chance of Gravel-opment?

OK, maybe not the last one.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

George Bush Maintains Record High Approval Levels Amongst Supporters

Great President or Greatest President?
U.S. Fraudulent Research Group polled the 750 remaining Bush supporters from February 10 to February 19, 2008. Margin of error is +/- 3 pts.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

King Friday XIII Abdicates Throne in Favor of Son

The Neighborhood of Make Believe was quiet today as residents woke up to the news that long reigning despot King Friday XIII had stepped down in favor of his Son Prince Tuesday.

Friday, 81, who had been King of the Neighborhood for over forty years revealed his intentions at 3 AM local time via a pledge call during an airing of Rick Sebak's "Sandwiches That You Will Like" on the local NMBP mouthpiece WQED.

"It is with abject sadness and an overwhelming sense of history that I make this pronouncement to my subjects. It is the chronological imperative of our neighborhood to pursue purity of the ideals of Make Believe."

Longtime ally of the King, Mayor Maggie of Westwood, wished the King the best and thanked him for his many years of service.

Prince Tuesday immediately held an emergency cabinet meeting, and released a statement saying that the matters of government would continue "correct as usual." He is expected to be coronated as King Tuesday I within the week.

The resignation comes as little surprise to observers of NMB politics. The King had not been seen in public since February 2003, leading many to speculate that he had succumbed to the ongoing effects of Puppitis, a hereditary disease of the NMB ruling family.

Friday's rule had been a long and troubled path, fraught with intrigue, deception, and possible crimes against humanity.

His father, King Friday XII was ousted in a U.S. backed right wing military coup in the early 1950s. Friday XII died within days of the coup under mysterious circumstances. The younger Friday was seen as a more acceptable choice to the business interests of the Neighborhood and the military junta. The new King assumed the outward appearance of a monarch, but in actuality he was little more than a puppet.

In 1963, however, fearing that he would suffer the same fate as his father, the King escaped to Canada forming a government-in-exile. With the backing of the USSR, Friday assembled an elite guerrilla fighting squad and, in 1966, returned to liberate his neighborhood.

Residents of the neighborhood were, at first, overjoyed to see their monarch restored to the throne, but it soon became apparent that his years of exile had left him bitter.

The King immediately nationalized The Factory, placing Cornflake S. Pecially as his Minister of Production and Commerce, tasking him with creating a five year plan to rebuild the Make Believe Economy. The King took control of the transportation system, building a neighborhood-wide trolley system, and of the communication system, building an elaborate "phone cage" which was declared to be a technological triumph.

Despite vowing to stamp out nepotism, his niece, Aberlin, was given a highly paid position in his government, with little or no real responsibility.

Beyond the seeming rampant mismanagement, however, lay the disturbing case of the Frogg Family who were "relocated" to Westwood, never to be heard from again. Similar stories were told of Bob Troll, Chef Brockett, and Bob Dog who disappeared under similar mysterious circumstances and were effectively expunged from the Neighborhood records.

In 1983, based on faulty intelligence, the King nearly went to war with the bordering neighborhood of Southwood. The King's Secretary of State Colin Powell made a dramatic appeal to the United Nations Security Council, presenting the NMB's evidence for war against Southwood. In the end, Lady Elaine Fairchild uncovered additional evidence that the parts in question were actually to be used as bridge building materials.

Today, rumors are circulating that King Friday XIII is on his deathbed and transfered the crown to his son in order to forestall a possible succession crisis.

Image Hosted by

King Friday XIII with Commerce Minister Cornflake S. Pecially (Right) and unnamed Party aparatchik (center)

Monday, February 18, 2008

Mayor Declares War Against Snow

Expects "Total Victory" in 6-8 weeks
Informer Banned Throughout Municipality, "
a licky boom-boom down"
Mayor last seen yelling at the sea
Punxsutawney Phil missing

This Office will be Closed in Honor of Presidents Day

We will be out of the office all day today buying carpet.

So, while we're off trying to decide if berber or pile will look best in our '68 VW Van, please take this opportunity to read the following:

And while you're at it, try to avoid any entangling foreign alliances.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Mayor's Office Scenario II

So, I went back and thought again about my assertion that the Mayor's Office is methodically and actively trying to appear more competent than it really is by restricting the flow of information. I still think that analysis holds water, but I've come up with a different, competing theory that would also explain the, seemingly, irrational behavior we're seeing at 414 Grant Street.

[I must say that this all came to me the other night, as I was talking about economic development with a very bright colleague and former schoolmate, in a way that one of those "Magic Eye" pictures resolve themselves suddenly into a boat.]

Let's start with a few axioms here that I've kind of hinted at elsewhere on this site:

(1) All politicians want to be re-elected.
(2) Luke only has a two year term before he has to face the voters again.
(3) There are only certain things in his purview (land use policy being the most obvious example) that the Mayor can have swift, decisive control over.

With those axioms in mind, it becomes readily apparent why the Mayor's Office seems to be not only controlling information, but trying to push things ahead fast (e.g. Casino and Arena) and trying to circumvent the normal, established procedures.

Simply put: the Mayor needs to have a whole bunch of "wins" under his belt before he faces the voters again in 2009. It doesn't really matter if the policies or programs are *good* or *bad* just that they are *done*, and can be used as evidence that Luke is a "can do, take charge kinda guy."

The quote by the Mayor in the Trib about the appeal to Commonwealth Court by One Hill regarding the Arena (h/t Bram) is very telling:

"I think it's unfortunate, and I don't necessarily think it's productive," Ravenstahl said. "I'm not sure what they feel their actions will achieve. To me it was something that wasn't necessary. I think the planning commission acted appropriately, and I believe the court will find the same."
If you read carefully, you'll see he's not talking about the effectiveness of the plan, but rather the efficiency in getting the plan in place.

The problem, of course, is that good policy rarely comes out of such a narrow view. Good policy directions for the City will have to be broad and far reaching, lasting over the course of many Mayoral administrations. The short term, narrow goal of re-election is not going to result in good policy decisions... which is bad news for the residents of the City.

[Personally, I think that the new agreement with City Council is just a preemptive move by the Mayor to define objectives, thereby narrowing the scope of what a "win" means.]

So, while I still think that the Mayor's office is trying to hide everything, I will also concede that there is an interest in trying to ram policy forward before the next election.

One does not necessarily preclude the other.

Business Casual... er... Saturday.

We were a bit busy the last few days with Valentine's Day and what not, so we apologize for the inconvenience and the thoughtless offering of a wrapped box of Whitman's Sampler. We hope this makes it up to you:

Pictured above, the iconic "Lucy in the Field with Flowers" from the MoBA collection.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Pittsburgh Valentines

Obviously, I didn't win the "Reception with the Mayor" for the Pittsburgh Valentine's contest. I can't image why. Here are some of my submissions:

Roses are read,
Winter is gray,
Cleveland sucks.
I though that one was a winner.
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways:
5% amusement tax
$52 individual local services tax
1% employee wage tax
10.8 mill real estate tax (city)
13.92 mills real estate tax (school)
2% real estate transfer tax
45% parking tax
1% RAD tax
10% poured drink tax
I suppose that one had too much math.
Yinz are just super
Yinz are just great
But would yinz please tell me,
Why dem Bucco's are third rate?
Probably too controversial.
Pittsburgh. Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
You're hazy, humid, and filled with sweaty fat guys with no shirts.
Doesn't scan, and the meter is off.
Stan, Guy, love the show.
Sorry. I had been drinking.

Maybe next year.

Writers Guild of America, DC (WGADC) Hails End of Writers Strike

Washington (AP) - Members of the Writers Guild of America, DC (WGADC) hailed the end of the end of the three month long writers strike which has crippled Television, Motion Picture and Political entertainment.

As part of the new contract, Political writers will now have more control over their stories, the explicit permission to slant their coverage to the left, the ability to commit acts of terrorism by not supporting the president, and up to 20 delegates in the Democratic Convention.

WGADC, the third leg of the Writers Guild of America after Writers Guild of America, East and Writers Guild of America, West, had been in a particularly bad position given the 2008 presidential election. Spokesman for the WGADC, David Gelman, head writer for CNN says that the end of the strike could not have come soon enough.

"At first, we figured that the strike would last two, three weeks maximum, but then we hit a stalemate. And while we were picketing, we missed Iowa, New Hampshire, and even Super Tuesday. It's a shame that all this happened without the writers."

Ken Mehlman, former RNC chair and lead negotiator for the interests of the major news outlets, the DNC, and the RNC, also celebrated the end of the strike.

"Are we happy that it's over. Yes. Is it what we wanted 100%? No. But it will have to work for now."

NewsCorp and the RNC had pushed for and exemption for coverage of Sen. John Kerry and a mandatory use of the infamous Howard Dean scream, but these demands were quashed early on. Eventually, both organizations felt that compromise was more important than losing more viewers to open shop media outlets like NPR.

Striking political writers can now get back to the 2008 Presidential election, which both critics and audiences alike have roundly panned. Wolf Sisbert, political commentator for CNN says that it's good that the strike is over.

"At the beginning of the season, you had some really strong characters: the radical libertarian, the war vet, the mill worker's son, the crazy old man, the woman and the black guy, among others. You could see some of the story lines starting to develop, but when the strike hit the producers had to act fast. The producers resorted to pretty much cliche stories, when there was real opportunity for character development. Sadly, some of our favorite characters including the Mexican and the crazy New Yorker were the first to be let go. Now, the writers are going to have to deal with a fairly dull Republican race and a standard Black Man/White Woman "Jungle Fever" plot."

Sisbert added, "Still, the writers could come up with something good."

Late reports from Washington indicate that the Al Gore character will be developed in the next few weeks, and Mike Huckabee will get wrapped up in a terrorist plot to destroy the Little Debbie Snack Cake factory.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Things I Find Interesting - Part III

So, there's this big article in the electronic version of the PG, hidden right after the jump outlining an impending crisis in the finances of Allegheny County.

As the state prospers under Mr. Rendell's surplus projections and the city recovers from financial despair, the economic forecast and health of the county's finances is an increasingly debatable issue among politicians and local government experts.

Some say the county with its ongoing deficits is steadily sliding into a major financial crisis, much like Pittsburgh did a few years ago, because its costs of operation are either going up or remain unchanged, and yet it continues with little or no new revenue...

Mr. Onorato cut 200 jobs to balance the 2008 budget, the second time in five years that he has eliminated jobs to cut costs...

In years past, county leaders have relied on annual or periodic updates in property assessments to provide additional revenue without increasing tax millage. Mr. Onorato calls that a "back-door tax increase" and refuses to follow that path...

Those choices have limited the amount of additional revenue the county has available year after year.

In challenging his critics to embrace a new era when the county does not rely solely on property tax increases for new revenue, Mr. Onorato continues to weather a political firestorm over his push for the two new taxes and the $19.9 million payment the county received from state gambling revenues. The gambling money was supposed to be for airport debts and Mr. Onorato used it for the first payment on $42 million the county spent to help build the passenger terminal at Pittsburgh International Airport.
And so on. For the record, Mr. Briem of Pitt doesn't seem as alarmist as his colleague Mr. Strauss over at CMU.

However, the dirty little, unsubstantiated secret, whispered and murmured in the back of County Offices is that Allegheny County is, effectively, broke, but some fancy footwork (I dare not say "cooked books") has made it seem that they're operating in the black. The rumor continues on to say that the breadth of the problem is even worse than the City's own financial crisis, but they've been very good at concealing it.

From my own personal experience, I've heard many criticisms of County Government including "they hire too many consultants," "they have too much middle management," "they provide services inefficiently or ineffectively," and "the guy in charge is a third rate CPA who wants to be governor." I cannot speak for the veracity or validity of such claims, but considering how many people have independently voiced them to me, I cannot easily dismiss the sneaking suspicion that something is wrong in the County Office of Budget & Finance.

Above all, I find that interesting.

Things I Find Interesting - Part II

Saw this in the PG earlier today as well:

Pittsburgh City Council President Doug Shields said today that council will review a decision by city planners to permit a 1,200-square-foot LED sign on a Downtown garage and bus station that's still under construction.

He said he did not believe the sign is allowed under the zoning code without votes of oversight bodies, perhaps including the Zoning Board of Adjustment, the City Planning Commission, and possibly council. "We'll start looking into it and decide what can be done," he said.
OK, whatever. That's not that interesting unless you're into the Pittsburgh Sign Project, but I think this part makes it a little more interesting:
The decision to approve the sign, backed by Urban Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Pat Ford, was made as part of a deal with Lamar to remove six traditional billboards from the area. Ms. Tymoczko said today that those billboards are at 2200 Smallman St.; 36 and 1101 11th St.; and 929, 1108 and 1139 Penn Ave.
Well, maybe not that interesting, until you read this anonymous comment left here a few days ago:
[S]omehow Pat Ford, executive director of the URA, now must approve anything in the Department of Planning. The Council is wondering why Ford, who's not a city employee has oversight over a city department. The morale in Planning is very low.
Now, that I find interesting.

Things I Find Interesting - Part I

Saw this in the PG today:

The Riverlife Task Force filed an appeal today challenging the city planning commission's Jan. 14 approval of the Majestic Star casino design, including the controversial 10-level parking garage being built behind it.

The task force and others in the local design community fear the massive 3,800-space garage has the potential to overwhelm the glass and steel casino itself and mar views of the city skyline from Mount Washington, the South Side, the West End Bridge and the Fort Pitt Bridge.

During a hearing Jan. 14 before the planning commission approved the design, Clifford Levine, an attorney for Riverlife, had argued that accessory structures, such as garages, are limited to 20 feet in height under city zoning laws without a variance from the Zoning Board of Adjustment. The garage is 119 feet high.
Those of you that are sstrong of memory may recall that Mr. Levine used to be the chair of the zoning board of adjustments back when Tom Murphy was mayor.

And who, exactly, is on the board of directors for the Riverlife Task Force, you might ask? Why it's a veritable cornucopia of movers and shakers in Pittsburgh, including, but not limited to, female billionaire philanthropists, former directors of City Planning, former directors of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, riverfront Developers, Steelers Presidents, Former Editors of the Post Gazette, current Allegheny County Executives, and current Mayors of Pittsburgh.

You'd think that such a board would be more circumspect in its criticism of the casino, especially considering the last two members listed... but they aren't.

I find that interesting.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Friday, February 08, 2008

Business Casual Friday

In honor of the Rominator's withdrawl:

Mitt Ad + Laugh track = Comedy Gold

Thursday, February 07, 2008

This Post Was Not Cleared by the Mayor's Office

So this is what Early Returns had to say a few days ago:

Assuming the mayor comes back to the office Monday, he may find it harder to connect with a council that is incensed at a new administration policy regarding communication with city departments.

Council members have traditionally contacted department directors, assistant directors and division commanders or supervisors directly in their efforts to get neighborhood needs met. They view their power to drag managers into the field to look at graffiti, crumbling retaining walls, tumbledown houses or spalling bridges as a key tool of their offices.

Early this week, council members started getting e-mails telling them of a new policy. Requests by council members or their staff to meet with managers have to go through the mayor or Chief of Staff Yarone Zober. Superdirectors Art Victor and Mike Huss need to be involved if public works or public safety staff are involved.

Members are trying to buck the order, by contacting city underlings directly in spite of the edict. But the good soldiers in the ranks are afraid of reprisals if they attend any unauthorized meetings with council members, and so are refusing to talk without Mayor's Office approval.

(ER notes that this seems a lot like the media relations policy instituted when Mayor Bob O'Connor took office in 2006 and his spokesman Dick Skrinjar told managers not to talk to reporters without his approval. That policy remains in force under current spokeswoman Alecia Sirk, though it isn't always rigorously enforced.

Under Mayor Tom Murphy, reporters could call department heads directly and get answers to factual questions, on the record, without anyone's approval.)

There's talk of a council revolt, which could take the form of refusal to act on bills the administration wants, or even the subpoenaing of managers. We at ER don't think it's going to come to that, but it certainly has soured relations between the administration and the new council.
There's relatively very little that we can add to the description, except to say that it's true, in our experience. (Although it's refreshing to not have to screen the hundreds of calls from Rich Lord, Jeremy Boren, and Jon Delano all day.) Not sure, however, how this impacts the related entities (including URA, PWSA, HACP, PPA, etc.), but I'm guessing that they are similarly affected by this policy.

This authoritarian information control, however, does seem to be part of a general pattern coming out of 414 Grant Street. First there was the above referenced media blackout, then there was the blocking of the blogs, now there's this. That's even setting aside the old Internet access block by the previous administration. Perhaps it's a coincidence, but...

Well, let me go back a second.

In July of 2006, I wrote a post about the effects of the purging of B.J. Leber et al. from the O'Connor administration. It read, in part
If you are quick witted, you'll probably see where we're going with this: the O'Connor administration has made a significant shift away from a collegial model to a more authoritarian corporate model...

[T]he most disturbing development of this change is this: the Pyramidal model allows actors to make policy with little oversight within their particular sphere, as they can block the flow of bad information to the Executive. The result is sufficient latitude to reward particular interests or pursue particular policies that, one may argue, could be criminal. Multiple levels of oversight and conflict help to minimize this problem.

So, effectively the concentration of power in the hands of a small clique of "Pols" in the Mayor's Office, following the purge of the "Wonks" will probably lead to a more explicit series of policies that reward O'Connor favorites/patrons/friends and a lessening of policies that seek to innovate the City of Pittsburgh. Alternatively, the Mayor's Office will be able to ruthlessly pursue its agenda without fear of being stymied from within.
Let's carry the analogy forward: Ravenstahl is consolidating information around his office, allowing the administration to make policy and decisions with little oversight from Council and the Public.

Well... why?

If you are suspicious, you would think that the Mayor's office is trying to hide something. If you thought something like that, you obviously have the political subtlety of a cross-dressing brick through a window.

In my hastily assembled opinion, the Mayor's office is not trying to hide something; it's try to hide everything.

You see, it has been remarked to me frequently that certain employees of the City feel that directives out of the Mayor's Office has been erratic, confusing, and bad. To put it another way, as someone on the elevator asked me the other day "Do they know what the hell they're doing on the 5th Floor?" I get the feeling that the Mayor's Office is trying to hide the fact that they don't, in fact, know what the hell they're doing.

By restricting access to both members of the media and Council, the Mayor's office can effectively control the perception that it does, in fact, know what the hell it is doing, even though it may not actually know what the hell it is doing.

Pay no attention to the Emperor with no clothing behind the curtain.

So, if anyone wants to *ahem* anonymously circumvent the filters, I'm perfectly willing to let my fellow Bureaucrats use this site to vent their frustrations and/or dish dirt.

I mean, that's what I'm doing.

Gott Mitt uns?

So, by now everyone knows that Gov. Romney has suspended his campaign in order to spend more time with his wives. For those that are counting, that leaves two Republican candidates and Ron Paul.

A couple questions and thoughts on this matter:

(1) Now that their favorite candidate has dropped out, will Messrs. Limbaugh, Hannity, and Coulter commit political seppuku, will they man up and admit their mistakes, or will they throw major right wing temper tantrums?

(2) Since he has a virtual lock on the nomination now, will McCain try to satisfy the evangelical wing of the party (e.g. Huckabee supporters) or will he ignore them and start "rushing to the middle" with 8 months to go before the general election? If the latter, will that alienate more base Republican than it attracts moderate Democrats and independents.

(3) Barring any convention surprises or a resurgence of Gov. Huckabee or a Zombie Reagan attack, it looks like this will be the first time since 1960 that a sitting Senator will be elected President, and only the third time in history.

Fun stuff.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Super Tuesday Predictions

Here are my predictions for Super Tuesday:

(1) I will eat pancakes.
(2) I will flash my breasts for beads.
(3) I will try to make a "Hurricane," but fail miserably.
(4) I will pass out in a pool of, what I will believe to be, urine.
(5) Tomorrow I will long for a steak and wallow in latent Catholic guilt.

Or were you expecting election predictions?

Monday, February 04, 2008

Pitt study: Third of popular songs depict drug, alcohol use

Eric Clapton, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, The Ramones, Rick James, Tom Petty, The Eagles, Johnny Cash, Sublime, The Grateful Dead, The Rolling Stones, AC/DC, George Thorogood, Ray Charles, Black Sabbath, Neil Young, Billy Joel, Bob Marley, The Doors, Led Zepplin, Pink Floyd, The Who, Stone Temple Pilots, and Captain Renault reportedly shocked, SHOCKED!


Here we go again:

When the Mon-Fayette Expressway was conceived more than 40 years ago, the idea of a high-speed highway connecting Pittsburgh and Morgantown, W.Va., seemed like an urgent transportation and economic development need for southwestern Pennsylvania...

Now, a group of business and political leaders is looking to jump-start the project through a public-private partnership that they hope could raise half of the estimated $3.6 billion cost.

Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato and Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl recently convened a closed-door meeting of more than 60 elected officials and business leaders from all corners of southwestern Pennsylvania to expedite plans to complete the Mon-Fayette Expressway.

For his part, Mr. Onorato, who has always supported the toll road, signed onto this latest effort because of his desire to further redevelop the brownfield left by the demise of manufacturing in the valley, where he has concentrated his efforts in recent years, said spokesman Kevin Evanto.

"[Mr. Onorato] believes development in the Mon Valley needs a road connection like this highway," Mr. Evanto said. He added that Mr. Onorato was especially drawn to this effort because of "the possibility of what public-private partnerships can bring to the table."
Now if Onorato was being intellectually honest about this, he'd point out that the areas that are being "served" by the Mon-Fayette aren't the brownfields or old mill towns in the Mon Valley, but the land developers in Fayette County. In fact, a close examination of the route shows that the road will avoid or cut through a lot of the communities that would have benefited from such "help."

I do not believe it to be a coincidence, however, that the preserved Carrie Furnance site is situated next to the proposed MFX: a perfect blending of antiquated technology and antiquated city planning.

Now, if the Ravenstahl administration actually thought about this plan for a second, they'd realize, apart from encouraging sprawl, that such a road would detract from the ongoing and planned developments in Nine Mile Run, Hazelwood, Southside Works, and the Pittsburgh Technology Center. If they were engineers, they would probably realize that the interchange at Bates Street alone (connecting the Parkway East to the MFX) is going to be ridiculously cumbersome, an eyesore, and a traffic nightmare.

But, far be it for rationality and logic to stand in the way of our young mayor and his 3rd Rate CPA "big brother" getting potential campaign contributions from highway contracting firms and housing (bubble) developers.

It's like they're saying "Eat this Shit! It tastes better than any other Shit you've ever eaten!" and they have testimonials from other shit eaters saying "Yes! You'll love this shit! It's the best shit ever!" and they have people that say "We'll raise the money to make sure that you'll have all the shit you can eat for life! You'll never have to worry about running out of shit again!"

And I'm saying


Still, I sort of understand the whole Mon-Fayette expressway on the bureaucratic level: it's a Golden Turd.

Let me tell you a story which continues on my scatological musings:

Back many, many moons ago when I was in college, one unremarkable day there were signs posted in the dorm alerting residents that one of their brethren had left what can only be described as "a massive shit" in one of the stalls and inviting whoever it was who left the giant crap to "seek medical attention at once" for "there is no way anything that size should come out of a human being."

As we were curious youths, we immediately sought out the offending stall and, sure enough, the most massive piece of shit we had ever seen sat there before us.

Word quickly spread through campus about the massive dump left in our dorm and it wasn't long before select residents were leading tours through the bathroom showing off, with pride, our giant brownie loaf.

After several hours, however, the smell wafting out of the bathroom was almost too intense. Residents started leaving and people started complaining about the stench. Still, no one wanted to flush it because no one wanted to be the guy that had flushed King Dookie down the drain. We didn't really want the shit, but we couldn't bear to part with it.

Eventually, some RA took it in his hands (not literally) to dispose of the waste and that was the end of that.

I think every bureaucrat has his or her own Golden Turd: an awful, stupid, vile project that, for whatever reason, no one wants to flush.

And that's a good metaphor for the Mon-Fayette Expressway, in my opinion.

Warning: The previous post contained foul language and should not have been seen by younger readers.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Local Blogger Loses $1,000 Superbowl Bet

"Respectable Businessmen" on way to collect money
Kneecaps expect confrontation with Louisville Slugger
Tom Brady expected to be "whacked"

An Even Greater Musical Performance from the 20th Century

I'll see your video, spork, and I'll raise you:

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Rick Santorum Sees Shadow

Rodent emerges from stump to announce endorsement of Mitt Romney, six more weeks of campaigning

Image Hosted by

Friday, February 01, 2008

Ann Arbor Urban Development

Found an interesting article out of Ann Arbor, Michigan (City Motto: "Gateway to Washtenaw County"), in which the City Council rejected plans from two developers following resident complaints and now a City Council member wants to make consulting with neighbors more than a recommendation for developers: :

[City Council Member Sabra] Briere's proposal would require developers to notify any residents within 1,000 feet of a project. That would mean providing a complete description of the project as well as information about how to express concerns about it. The petitioner would then provide a report at least seven days prior to a Planning Commission public hearing.

The report would list all the details of meetings that were held and concerns expressed by residents. The developer would list what steps would be taken to address residents' concerns. If developers aren't willing to address some concerns, they would have to explain why.
It's an interesting theory, and one that plays into the goings on in the Hill District/Northshore. While this may be seen as a big headache and cost for developers upfront, it may pay dividends in the long run. As one of the interviewees in the article states, "Realistically, the developer is going to have to [engage the community] ahead of time or play catch-up afterwards."

It is important to note that the Ann Arbor proposal does not bind the developers to addressing the needs of the neighborhood, but rather it documents the process of engaging the residents. There will, of course, be times that community demands are unrealistic (cf. rainbow farting unicorns), but the developer will have an opportunity to explain why such demands are unreasonable or overly burdensome to the project.

Business Casual Friday

Alrighty folks, here we go with another Business Casual Friday:


If you haven't seen the MST3K episode... well, you should.