Saturday, March 29, 2008
City Council Launches Multi-Pronged Attack, Mayor Takes Another Hit
City Councilman Patrick Dowd will introduce legislation on Tuesday to give council and the city controller seats on the city’s pension fund board. And that’s just the start of things to come. Seems there are other boards with either no council representation or where a council member was chosen by the mayor instead of council’s president. Dowd thinks a change is in order.
“Historically, for some number of years, the powers of council have sort of atrophied. Council has not necessarily exercised its authority the way it should in order to maintain the proper checks and balances in the system,” said Mr. Dowd.
Boy, Mayor Lukie is going to be pissed. Who knows who he’ll threaten this time.
The all-out war which has erupted between council and the mayor came on quickly. In fact it was just Valentine’s Day when all parties came together, kissed and hugged, traded compliments and literally signed a peace pact. The document they signed was spearheaded by newly-elected Dowd who thought it might be a good idea to start off the new session with a written list of common goals and agendas, a pledge to work together and play nice.
I guess you can’t blame Dowd for trying, even though we in the blogosphere did so harshly and often. We told him his olive branch was a waste of time. We harped that the mayor and his cronies were a scourge upon the land, not to be trusted. But in retrospect, I suppose having the record show council did make an effort was not such a bad move after all.
As it turned out, the fragile truce was shorter-lived than even the cynical blogosphere prophesized. Its first crack appeared on Feb 15th, only one day after its signing. Heavy snows blanketed the area and Councilman Bruce Kraus found himself and his district to be the object of childish political payback. Kraus had just won his council seat from mayoral buddy Jeff Koch. The mayor had taken pity on jobless Koch and hired him as Super-Duper Street Cleaning & Snow Plowing Consultant Guy. When the big snow hit, Koch coincidentally redirected salt/plow trucks away from Kraus’ district and over to areas where his own friends lived.
Then, only 3 days later, council learned the mayor and URA Development Czar Pat Ford had silently approved a 1200 sq ft LED billboard for a Downtown garage, completely circumventing lawful zoning process, completely ignoring the public’s right to a hearing, just plowing ahead (no pun intended) without one word of any kind to council, the parking authority or anyone else.
On February 26th, another newly-elected councilman who ran on a reform platform, took his first shot at trimming excess from the city budget. Rev. Ricky Burgess thought he was doing his job and fulfilling promises to his constituents when he offered legislation to cut 30+ city take-home cars assigned to folks who really didn’t need them. Even though the mayor’s city vehicle was not on the cut list, many assigned to his political posse were. So the Lukester dispatched the city solicitor to inform council it would be illegal for them, as legislators, to legislate any car cuts. And just to be sure he had their undivided attention, the mayor then threatened to nuke council’s department budgets in case they hadn’t listened good enough.
Meanwhile, Councilman Dowd had been trying unsuccessfully to review copies of budgets from other departments and authorities. The Urban Redevelopment Authority’s budget, in particular, had eluded Dowd until mid-March when he found at that time they didn’t have an approved 2008 budget to give him.
Something did finally come from the URA and Dowd’s preliminary review found a number of troubling items…… not the least of which was a $2.8 million development loan repayment which should have been paid to the city but was diverted to the URA instead. “My money, your money ….. what’s the big deal?” was all URA Exec Director and Head Mayoral Henchman Pat Ford had to say of the brazen money grab.
As if council wasn’t freaked enough by Administration antics by this time, an organizational chart surfaced showing an illegal reporting structure among the mayor’s top directors. Followed by rumors of (more) bizarre behavior by the mayor on St. Patrick’s Day. Luke supposedly walked the parade route a second time because he didn’t get enough attention on the first go-round. And after the celebration, our Commander-In-Chief purportedly got into a bit of a tiff with police (not his first) who tried to ticket his illegally parked car in front of North Side bar.
So …….. It seems council has decided enough is enough. They gave peace a chance and it bombed. It’s now time for war.
Patrick Dowd will lead the charge to expose our woefully underfunded pension and our out-of-control, under-no-one’s-authority authorities to the light of day.
Ricky Burgess’ attack on take-home vehicles is just one small salvo lobbed at the tip of an ugly iceberg. Elimination of institutional nepotism, political patronage, disproportionate allocation of city resources and finances is the good reverend’s real calling.
Bruce Kraus is the point man on the battle over a sign that is not a sign. Which is really a battle to insure we are governed by the rule of law. Not by the changing whims of a Boy King. Or by the threats and coercions of mob-like forces among us.
As Finance & Law Committee Chair, and with his many years of experience dealing with the inner-workings of Pittsburgh’s dysfunctional government, Bill Peduto is well-positioned to serve as intelligence officer and tactician.
Scrappy Council President Doug Shields has toughened and grown into a formidable general. So far this year he’s made good calls on when to hold, when to fold, when to bluff and when to simply tell them all to go to hell.
These are some decent advances made by a new council majority, in just the first quarter of 2008, which is hopefully the next-to-the-last year we’ll have to endure Ravenstahl and Company.