Thursday, December 27, 2007

UPMC Drops City Side Agreement for Pittsburgh Promise


I'm on vacation this week, so I first saw this story online from the AP on Wednesday night. UPMC has dropped its condition that the city council approve a side agreement before it keeps its commitment to contribute to the Pittsburgh Promise.

You can read UPMC's news release on its website, as well as its letter to the Pittsburgh Foundation.

I've still not received a copy of the now-discarded proposed city agreement. The news release indicates that the side agreement approved by the Pittsburgh School Board still stands. The school district says that agreement will:

• "Credit UPMC’s contributions to The Pittsburgh Promise for that year against any
potential real estate tax obligation to the District; or,

• Acknowledge UPMC’s right to reduce its contribution to The Pittsburgh Promise for that year commensurate with the amount of the tax obligation to the District. "

If, in what they describe as "the unlikely event that future State legislation permits the District to levy real estate taxes on UPMC and its affiliates", it UPMC will still get what appears to be a dollar-for-dollar credit for the Pittsburgh Promise against any new school district tax. That would be either a credit against any potential "real estate tax obligation" or a reduction in UPMC's contribution to the Promise.

Previously, some blog readers had questioned whether the now-defunct proposed city side deal combined with the school district agreement would have amounted to a two-for-one credit. I've not heard that question addressed, but it is now moot. The school district's potential one dollar-for-one dollar credit to UPMC still stands.

Here are links to:

• the Pittsburgh Public Schools news release,

the resolution approved by the school board,

the formal agreement itself between UPMC and the school district.

The agreement contains a clause that says if such a school district tax credit is determined to be illegal, UPMC will still be able to reduce its contributions to the Pittsburgh Promise, if it's subject to a new tax by the school district.

"9. Legality of this Type of Agreement. In the event that any state or federal court issues a final decision which declares unlawful agreements which are of the nature of this Agreement, this Agreement shall terminate and be unenforceable as of the effective date of said decision, but the Grant Agreement between UPMC and The Pittsburgh Foundation shall not terminate or be unenforceable. "


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Friday, December 21, 2007

Reader Questions on UPMC & Pittsburgh Promise



T
wo readers posted some interesting questions in response to the last post, Podcast--Q&A: Mayor's UPMC Apology. I decided to try combining them here for some conversation.


edheath said...

Ok, now I am confused in a different way, maybe a more coherent way. If UPMC gets a pass from the school board on future, hypothetical taxes on non-profits, and gets a pass from city council on future, hypothetical taxes on non-profits, does that mean UPMC's donation to the Pittsburgh Promise does double duty? In other words, would UPMC be getting two dollars of tax credit for each dollar of donation, one dollar from the school board and one from the city?
(full disclosure, I sent this question to a reporter at one of America's great newspapers)


Ed,

Your question had occurred to me and my first thought was "no"...but then, one can never presume, so I'll try to check. If this were a deduction and not a credit, the answer would be more clear. You can imagine in your own case getting parallel deductions on, say, federal and state tax returns. A deduction would lower the figure of your taxable income, and then you'd apply the percentage tax rate for each taxing body.

Are you suggesting that if there were to be a tax credit, it should be fifty cents on the dollar for the city, and fifty cents on the dollar for the school district? Or are you suggesting instead that only the school district should give a dollar-for-dollar tax credit, and the city should provide none?


char said...


Bob,


I’m confused. Maybe you can help me out.

- Have you actually read the “side deal”, the proposed legislation or both?

- What exactly is UPMC asking for? A tax credit equal to whatever they put into The Promise or a carte blanche exemption from any/all city taxes which might come their way should Act 55 be changed?

- What about Peduto’s point that council cannot legally exempt UPMC from taxes because of charitable giving without offering that same exemption to every other “non-profit”, for-profit or individual tax payer?

Thanks in advance if you know these things.

Char,

-I have not gotten to read the side agreement yet. I've been asking UPMC for it daily, since Tuesday. This afternoon I got an e-mail back from their public relations spokesman saying that he hadn't received it yet himself. The proposed legislation is here, but Mr. Cindrich himself says that he believes City Council will get to see the agreement before voting on it.


-Yes, one way or another, they are seeking a dollar-for-dollar credit for money to be donated to the Pittsburgh Promise, in the event that UPMC is ever subject to city or school district taxation. UPMC and the administration don't like it when you use the word "credit"-- but as the mayor himself noted, that's the language currently in his legislation. The word "credit" also appears in the Pittsburgh Public Service Fund agreement that the mayor cites as a precedent for this proposal.

Advocates do acknowledge, when asked, this difference: what they describe as a PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) in the Pittsburgh Public Service Fund was money that went to the city. Money pledged to the Pittsburgh Promise would go to a newly created non-profit fund, not the city government, and not the school district. Those advocates suggest that--in the big picture--the community benefits, so the effect is the same.

Do they "want a carte blanche exemption from any/all city taxes which might come their way"? Not exactly. They want:

1) a dollar for dollar "credit" equal to what they put into the Promise, should they be taxed, and

2) assurance that the city and school district will not challenge their tax exempt status for ten years. That's because there's a possible scenario in which the state could give them taxing power over any non-profit which failed to meet standards X, Y, or Z. Proving the X, Y, and Z issues could still take a legal challenge. No legal challenge, no liability.

- As you note, critics seem to suggest that the above argument about "big picture" benefits is rhetoric which attempts to mask a violation of state law. As to whether they would have to offer the same exemption to every other non-profit, for-profit, or individual taxpayer--that raises some interesting questions. We're discussing a taxing power which the legislature hasn't granted. If the legislature granted ever the power, could it grant the tax credit or exemption too? Even if the legislature did so, could the courts overturn them?

State law says that taxes must be applied uniformly. The administration's bill proposes a tax "credit" (their word in the legislation, not mine). However, the public comments of the mayor, UPMC, and others also speak interchangeably of UPMC simply decreasing its contribution to the Pittsburgh Promise if UPMC becomes subject to a tax. I haven't heard anyone explain yet why a hypothetical choice by UPMC not to honor a promise to a private charity would legally require a vote by City Council.


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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Podcast--Q&A: Mayor's UPMC Apology


I've posted a podcast of Mayor Ravenstahl's news conference, including his apology to UPMC and his Q&A with reporters following his opening statement. You listen in here at this link.



Here are some breakout quotes:

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl:

• "I do also want to basically apologize to UPMC for the way they were treated yesterday in City Council. I think it's unfortunate... that somebody is willing to give 100 Million dollars to a program that they believe in and to be treated the way that they were in front of City Council yesterday is, i think is... is a shame. And it takes away from the big picture here and what we're all trying to do."

• "Believe me, I would have loved to have announced this in my election campaign, but I didn't, 'cause it's bigger than me, bigger than council. This is the future of the city. It has nothing to do with me, or my political agenda, ...it shouldn't have anything to do with council's political agenda."

• "The two biggest questions I got asked when I was running for office was, non-profits don't give enough, and you failed on the Pittsburgh Promise. And guess what, I had the answer to those questions in those debates, but I kept my mouth shut. Because I didn't want to jeopardize this program, just like council did yesterday with their actions."

• "UPMC is very upset right now, and i don't blame them."

• "There are wounds to heal, and I'm in the process of trying to heal them right now."

• "I'm willing to have a discussion with anybody about those concerns, but to publicly humiliate an organization that's going to give 100 Million dollars? They could have walked away right now and said we're done."

• "The program is bigger than process. The program is bigger than communication. The program is about the future of so many people's lives, generations to come. It's not about me. It's not about them. It's about the future for the city."

• "You know, sometimes Pittsburgh just has to get out of its own way. And we have to get out of our own way here We've been given a gift of 100- Million dollars. Literally said 'here", to fund education, to fund a rebirth and revitalization of this city. And we're going to pick it apart? Humiliate them? Embarrass them?"

• "The same people that said this would never happen. Now it's happened. Now they're figuring out a way to derail it again. And, boy, that's not why i got in this business."

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Podcast--UPMC on Pittsburgh Promise Tax Credit Controversy




I've posted a podcast of highlights from reporter Q&A with UPMC General Counsel Robert Cindrich. This happened minutes after he stepped away from his appearance before City Council. You can listen in at this link.



It works well with Quicktime and iTunes, but other media players should be fine. Let me know how it works for you. The audio is from my microcassette; its not top sound quality but it's listenable.

Some highlights:

• "Under that agreement, we would have the right--we wouldn't have to do it--but we would have the right to reduce the amount of payment to the Promise by the amount we would now have to pay in taxes."

• Q: So the mayor's office asked for a tax credit for you that you don't want?

A: "I never saw that language until I walked into Council chambers today, and I think it was an improvident use of the words 'tax credit', because we do not ask for a tax credit."

• Q: City Council doesn't need to enact a law for you to make a choice whether or not to live by your charitable commitments, right?

A: "That's true. "

Q: Then why are you asking them to?

A: "Because if they put this in writing, it will be a statement to us that says even if the law changes, we want you to continue to support the Promise, rather than to pay taxes."

• Q: So that the money that you put into the Pittsburgh Public Service Fund--that the city is being told to use to balance its budget--the city will lose that money as a result of the Pittsburgh Promise program?

A: "Yes."

Q: Pushing the city budget further out of balance in the future?

A: "Yes. It could. It depends on whether they find alternate revenue sources, whether other non-profits will step up to the plate, whether the city begins, as it has, its turnaround."

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

UPMC Sets The Stage For Promise Debate


My earlier post, UPMC's "Essential Condition" On Pittsburgh Promise, can be found here. You might want to read it first.

This morning, prior to City Council's meeting on the UPMC Pittsburgh Promise tax credit bill, UPMC issued this additional statement:


“While we fully recognize and support the right and responsibility of City Council to deliberate on the resolution by the Mayor, we wish to clarify that these provisions are standard in all agreements with the City for PILOT payments, Pittsburgh Public Service Fund payments etc and are not unique to the Pittsburgh Promise. Language of this nature is routinely included by non-profits in all such agreements.


Moreover, the City does not necessarily give up future tax revenue in the unlikely event that it gets the right to tax nonprofits. The provisions provide that if the City collects tax revenues; UPMC’s voluntary financial commitment to the Pittsburgh Promise will be reduced proportionately. The City retains this choice.


We fully support the deliberations and given the magnitude of UPMC’s commitment of up to $100 million, public transparency and the involvement of City Council is desirable.”


The above version of the new UPMC statement is actually a revision; another version was e-mailed minutes earlier, but then a correction was sent out.
Below you'll find a screenshot comparing the two. The revised language is in boldface, the old language is crossed out. I'm providing this view of the both versions because comparing the two may provide more precise insight into UPMC's framing of the agreement submitted to City Council.


[Click to enlarge.]

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UPMC's "Essential Condition" On Pittsburgh Promise

[The full text of the bill appears at the end of this post]

UPMC made a commitment to help fund the Pittsburgh Promise college scholarship program for city school students. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl wants Pittsburgh taxpayers to make a promise to UPMC in return.

The mayor wants City Council to give UPMC up to $100 million in potential tax credits to be able to write off its Pittsburgh Promise contributions. UPMC would get the tax credits should the state ever give Pittsburgh the power to tax large nonprofit corporations.




UPMC spokesman Frank Raczkiewicz e-mailed this statement in response to my questions:

"The side agreement, which in fact is an essential condition of our agreement to provide $100 million, provides that

1. The City and School will continue to recognize UPMC’s exempt status during the 10 year period. The City and School are not prevented from seeking taxes for any properties of UPMC that are not used in activities related to UPMC’s charitable mission.

2. If there is a change in tax law the effect of which is to treat UPMC as taxable for City or School District purposes, then UPMC will get an offset with respect to its donation to the Pittsburgh Promise. We are willing to donate $100 million, but we don’t want to pay $100 million and also have new taxes of $100 million.

3. The side agreement does not give us new tax breaks and it doesn’t reduce any taxes we may currently pay."

Mayor Ravenstahl was not available for comment. His spokeswoman Alecia Sirk says that "in event of changes in tax law or city leadership" the agreement is intended to "make sure the Pittsburgh Promise remains a top priority".

Some city Council members expressed surprise when the mayor's office submitted the bill Tuesday and asked that it be put on a fast track for action with just days left before its current lame duck session ends. The legislation comes up for discussion and a possible vote Tuesday.



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Saturday, December 1, 2007

County Court Clamps Down: Restriction & Confiscation




The following is a news release from Allegheny County Common Pleas Court. It closes with links to the documents pictured here.

COURT ADOPTS RESTRICTIONS ON USE OF ELECTRONIC DEVICES

Pittsburgh, PA – The Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Criminal Division announces the adoption of a uniform policy governing the use of electronic devices on the 3rd and 5th floors of the Allegheny County Courthouse. This policy, which becomes effective on December 3, 2007, applies to all persons and is to be enforced by the Sheriff of Allegheny County.

In accord with the mandates of Rule 112 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure, this resolution establishes a uniform policy pertaining to the possession of electronic devices in the Court and its environs. The application and enforcement of the Order of Court extend to all occupants of the Courthouse. The Judges of the Criminal Division of the Court of Common Pleas regard this policy as striking an appropriate balance between furthering the safety of all persons involved in criminal court activity and maintaining convenient public access to the Court by the least restrictive means.

The Resolution of the Judges of the Criminal Division has been adopted to protect the integrity of judicial proceedings while facilitating the legitimate use of electronic devices. As a convenience to persons possessing such devices, electronic devices may be brought into the Allegheny County Courthouse subject to routine security screening. However, the use of electronic devices is limited by the terms of the Court’s order.

A copy of the Court’s Order and Confiscation Policy is attached.



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Open Records Bill Roundup



A Right to Know in Pa: Senate bill doesn't measure up
-Inquirer Editorial

...Some exceptions are necessary to protect citizens, but care must be taken not to create loopholes that would cripple the new law. Only Alabama and South Dakota have worse open-records laws than Pennsylvania....


House, Senate advance versions of open records law
-Post-Gazette

...PNA legal counsel Teri Henning said that while the bill isn't all she'd like, "it's a positive step for Pennsylvania in terms of access to open records. It's an improvement and not an insignificant one."

Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park, voted "yes" on the bill, even though he didn't like the fact that it doesn't subject the Legislature itself and the courts to the same strict open records standard that's imposed on executive branch and local agencies....



House, Senate may face open records showdown
-Herald-Standard


Proposals on public records advance ; State panels OK bills to open up records
-Inquirer


Assembly moves toward openness
-Tribune-Review


passopenrecords.org
-A Movement to Lift the Lid on Pennsylvania Government



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Quotes & Clarifications

In the news...




...which brings this to mind this scene from "Friends".


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Monday, November 26, 2007

Major Rulings In Wecht Case

U.S. Attorney Buchanan & Doctor Wecht


A federal judge is barring Doctor Cyril Wecht's defense team from trying to claim during his trial that his prosecution by U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan is politically motivated.

The order by Judge Arthur Schwab sets the stage for Wecht's federal trial in January on charges he used his public office for private gain while he was Allegheny County Coroner. It came as part of a ruling denying a pre-trial hearing on the defense claim there is a political motive behind the prosecution. The 84 count indictment of Wecht includes charges of mail fraud wire fraud, and theft of services.

In a separate court order, Judge Schwab ruled that there is no evidence that FBI Special Agent Brad Orsini falisified any evidence in the Wecht case. The judge refused to suppress evidence against Wecht in 29 boxes seized with a search warrant obtained by Agent Orsini.

Wecht's attorneys declined comment on the rulings.

Judge Schwab also issued an order for a jury pool of 400 potential jurors for Wecht's trial. They'll be summoned in groups of sixty to fill out jury questionnaires, on various dates leading up to the start of Wecht's trial on January 28th.


Here are some quotes from Judge Schwab's court orders:

• "Defendant is precluded from referencing or attempting to interject at trial matters relating to his accusations that this prosecution is motivated by politics."

• "There is no evidence on the record that Special Agent Orsini falsified any...FBI form in the case."

• "This court does not make personnel decisions for the FBI, and does not sit in judgement of its disciplinary proceedings or the punishments it metes out to errant agents."

• "Defendant would, in effect, have this Court find that the discipline imposed by the FBI and OPR was inadequate, and impose an additional sanction of prohibiting Special Agent Orsini from testifying in a court of law and disqualifying him from ever swearing an affidavit. In the absence of legal authority or factual basis, this Court cannot impose such an extraordinary, additional sanction for Special Agent Orsini's past transgressions".

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Requests Redux For Ethics Board

Apple "Pages" Icon


Here's my e-mail back to the Pittsburgh Ethics Hearing Board. In light of board chair Sister Patrice Hughes' response to my original message, I'm restating my requests.

What I'm asking for falls into three categories.

• The first is documentation; Assistant City Solicitor Kate DeSimone had provided board members with a memo about the legal basis for holding closed-door meetings under Pennsylvania's Sunshine Law. While the law department could counsel them that the memo is protected by attorney-client privilege, if--for purposes of discussion--that were the case, it doesn't mean board members couldn't waive that privilege in the interest of transparency. As I wrote in this exchange with Assistant Solicitor DeSimone, "respectfully, since the purpose of the Sunshine Law is 'sunshine', i.e. an open view for the public on the operation of government, I would suggest that the interpretation of how an exemption to the Sunshine Law is being applied should not be confidential." I've also asked separately for any legal citation that justifies holding executive sessions for reasons other than the six spelled out in the law.

• The second is policy. The Sunshine Law does allow the board to hold a "Conference", which it defines "any training program or seminar...for the sole purpose of providing information to agency members on matters directly related to their official responsibilities". The law says a conference "need not be" open to the public. The wording "need not be" suggests that such a conference _could be_ open to the public. The board clearly could legally exclude the public from its meeting to educate its members about the ethics laws of other cities and how those laws are applied. It also could legally open that conference to the public. As a reporter who covers city government, I'm asking them to choose an open meeting.

• The third is compliance with the law. The Sunshine Law spells out that "the executive session may be held during an open meeting, at the conclusion of an open meeting, or may be announced for a future time. The reason for holding the executive session must be announced at the open meeting occurring immediately prior or subsequent to the executive session." The law also narrowly defines the purposes of excluding the public. (See my e-mail for details.) The ethics board had once discussed holding bi-monthly closed door meetings in executive session. If the board were to hold "umbrella" closed meetings covering a variety of topics, the prospect increases for discussion of matters beyond the narrow scope permitted by the Sunshine Law. That's one reason why adopting the legally-required practice of publicly announcing the specific reason for a narrowly-focused private meeting is important.



From: Bob Mayo
Subject: Re: Sunshine Act
Date: November 17, 2007 7:49:49 AM EST
To: Sister Patrice Hughes, Kathleen Buechel, Rabbi Daniel Schiff, Rev. John Welch, Penny Zacharias
Cc: Kate DeSimone, Bob Longo, Roberta Petterson, Bob Mayo


To Chair Sister Hughes & Members of the Pittsburgh Ethics Hearing Board:

Thanks for getting back to me. It's not clear if your response constitutes yes-or-no answers to my specific requests for action, so I'll recap them here.


In my role as a journalist who covers city government, I am asking that ethics board members:

1) provide a copy of the law department's memo summarizing Pennsylvania's Sunshine Law;

2) not attempt to use "executive sessions" for its educational briefings on other cities' ethics laws;

3) use "conferences" for this purpose and open these conferences to the public;

4) adopt the legally-required practice of announcing the specific reasons for each executive session at a public meeting immediately prior or subsequent to the executive session.


Would you please clarify: are each of these requests granted or denied?


Also, you responded "that information can be shared and discussions can be held [in Executive Sessions], but no decisions can be made during these sessions".

As you know, the Sunshine Act has six specific justifications for holding an "executive session" which, by the law's own definition, "is a meeting from which the public is excluded". (Section 703, Definitions; Section 708 a, 1 through 6, Executive Sessions, Purpose.) They are discussions of: personnel matters, labor relations, property purchases, litigation, confidential investigations & deliberations, and academic admission or standing.

For the sake of clarity, I'll add this yes-or-no question:


5) Is it the board's position that it can use executive sessions to exclude the public from meetings for any reasons other than these six specifically and narrowly defined in the law?


I'll again quote the 2003 publication from the Governor's Center for Local Government Services entitled "Open Meetings/Open Records: The Sunshine Act and the Right to Know Law". It notes on page 9:

"The concept of a meeting where members are simply informed and do not discuss issues ignores the basics of group dynamics. Members are all too likely to ask questions, pose possible responses by the municipal government and debate various courses of action. The court decisions cited above do not provide any support to the theory that so-called "informational sessions" are anywhere authorized as closed meetings by the Sunshine Law."

The same publication notes on page 6:

"The reason for holding an executive session must be announced at a public meeting occurring immediately prior or subsequent to the executive session."

...and...

"The appellate court stated even though it is in the public interest that certain matters be discussed in private, the public has a right to know what matter is being addressed in private sessions. The reason stated by the agency must be specific, indicating a real, discrete matter that is best addressed in private."


6) If the answer to question 5 is yes, will you please provide specific citations which contradict the guidance in the Governor's Center publication?


I look forward to your responses.


Thanks again.



Bob Mayo
Reporter
WTAE-TV



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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Ethics Board Response

Sister Hughes, chairing an Ethics Board meeting.


You may recall my recent requests to Pittsburgh's Ethics Hearing Board.

Here's a response from the panel's chair, Sister Patrice Hughes.
On Monday, I'll be sharing with you my message back to her.


From: Sister Patrice Hughes
Sent: 11/13/2007 05:58 AM PST
To: Bob Mayo
Cc: Kathleen Buechel, Kate DeSimone [Blog note: DeSimone is an Assistant City Solicitor.], Rev. John Welch, Rabbi Daniel Schiff, Penny Zacharias
Subject: Sunshine Act


On behalf of the Ethics Hearing Board, I thank you for your prodding us to examine carefully the PA Sunshine Act as it refers to Executive Sessions. We are now very aware that information can be shared and discussions can be held, but no decisions can be made during these sessions. As ethical persons, we shall conform to the law.

Let me also thank you for the coverage that you have given to our meetings. You are keeping the public informed and adding to our credibility.


Sister Patrice Hughes



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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Twanda Carlisle's Resignation Letter


H
ere's Twanda Carlisle's letter of resignation from Pittsburgh City Council filed with the City Clerk's office Tuesday afternoon. You can click on the image above to enlarge the view.

The letter makes no mention of her no-contest plea or the criminal charges in the kickbacks case against her, except for a reference to her salary having been frozen through "court proceedings".

In the letter, she thanks council members, staff, and residents of her council district and asks for prayers and support.


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Monday, November 12, 2007

Crouching Lawyer, Hidden Attorney, Part 584: ...The Tale of the Snake



As I've said before: "following the Wecht case is like watching a martial arts film. As you read the court papers, you'll witness gleams of razor-sharp prose and rhetoric from lawyers on both sides."

Here then, are the first pages torn from the latest exchange. Clicking the images below will enlarge them.

From the prosecution:

"...In the fourth century, B.C., Aristotle first identified the logical problem of circular reasoning in Prior Analytics. Over two thousand years later, Wecht's lawyers have finally perfected the art of begging the question. To support the grave accusation that Mary Beth Buchanan, the United States Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, targeted Wecht for prosecution because of his political affiliation, Wecht's lawyers cite as "evidence" their own accusations that she did so. Rarely is the rhetorical snake so clearly seen swallowing its own tail as in this passage from p. 8 of Wecht's motion..."


From the defense:

"...the United States Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan ( Ms. Buchanan) evidently decided she did not, after all, want any part of a factual inquiry regarding whether her prosecution of Cyril Wecht, and associated failures to prosecute similarly situated Republicans, was motivated by political considerations on her part. Thus, Ms. Buchanan has now moved to strike the cross-motion of the defense for discovery and evidentiary hearings on the specific issue of whether she engaged in improper selective prosecution. In doing so, Ms. Buchanan attacks the views of Dick Thornburgh, who was the Attorney General of the United States under Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush, as faux facts and lies being disseminated on the ECF filing system in this case..."


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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Clinton, Scaife: "So Happy Together" -Newsweek



Here's some national news of local interest in the Newsweek that hits newsstands Monday.

According to a PR Newswire release:

POLITICS: "So Happy Together" (p. 31). Investigative Correspondent Mark Hosenball reports that the Clintons' billionaire archenemy, best known as the man behind a "vast right-wing conspiracy" that Hillary Clinton said was out to destroy her and her husband, Richard Mellon Scaife, is recently eager to endear himself to the former president. While Scaife isn't ready to sign on to Hillary's campaign-he's still a Republican. But Scaife's lawyer, Yale Gutnick, says Bill Clinton and Richard Mellon Scaife are now members of a "mutual admiration society."


In the story, Mark Hosenball (with help from Michael Isikoff) writes:

Clinton, pouring on the charm, greeted Scaife like an old friend. "President Clinton believes in redemption and moving forward," says spokeswoman Jennifer Hanley. Ruddy says they talked about Clinton's charitable work and avoided opening old wounds. After receiving the full Bill treatment, Scaife left with a new outlook on the man he had once set out to crush. Scaife isn't ready to sign on to Hillary's campaign—he's still a Republican. But his lawyer, Yale Gutnick, says Bill Clinton and Richard Mellon Scaife are now members of a "mutual admiration society." Cue the apocalypse.

NEWSWEEK: Media Lead Sheet/November 19, 2007 Issue (on newsstands Monday, November 12)


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Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Ravenstahl, DeSantis, & Peduto: Notes & Quotes



Appearing here in three parts:
notes and quotes from day-after-the-election interviews.

["Wake Up Cat: The Morning After Election Night" can be found here.]



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Part 1: Ravenstahl


Mayor Luke Ravensthal:

Is his 2-to-1 margin of victory enough to ward off challengers in less than two years?


• "My thoughts are focusing on governing. I'm a believer that good government equals good politics, and that's what we'll try to do over the course of the next year. And 2009 will take care of itself when it approaches. But I'm a believer that if we continue to do what's necessary, and deal with the issues that are of importance to the residents, that will all take care of itself."

What he has to say to those residents in the only two wards to go for DeSantis:

• "Focus on this issues. I think if they do that, they'll realize that we have an administration that's working for them. I know, just reading some of their comments, they're focused on perhaps my age and my youth and inexperience. And I understand that, that's part of being a 27 year old mayor. But I just ask them to give me the opportunity over the next two years, and judge us on how we're able to achieve."


The political climate ahead:

• "I anticipate that while we'll focus on government and try to, as I said earlier, talk about the issues that are of importance, the reality is that the May of 2009 primary is, what, 18 months away? So that will always creep into the discussion. But I can tell you that I'm more prepared to handle that type of situation, just based on the last couple of months here."

What he's learned from the mistakes to which he referred in his victory speech:

• "I've learned that every decision that you make is something that is of public record now, and everything you do as mayor is vetted in the light of day. And I'm comfortable with that now. As I mentioned last night, mistakes have been made. We've moved on, we've learned from them. I like to believe that we're a better administration as a result of it, and I'm a better mayor as a result of those decisions over the past 14 months. And it's my hope that those issues are put into the past and we're able to move on an focus on a new day and turn the page, and talk about the issues, and go from there."

On being elected as mayor in his own right:

• "I think that was the most exciting thing for me last night. I never had the opportunity to run for mayor citywide before. This was it, this was the first time. And so, you don't know how voters are going to react to you. To receive the overwhelming support that I did last night was really, really exciting. And it really validated what I believed to be broad support.

On the goodwill of Pittsburghers:

And the people of Pittsburgh have been great from day one here. When I took office they have embraced me. And they've continued to embrace me through some of the tougher times we've had as an administration. And we're grateful for that, and I'm looking forward to hopefully doing good things for them over the next couple of years."

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Part 2: DeSantis


Mark DeSantis:

On the margin of his 2-to-1 loss in Tuesday's election:


• "To get one-third of the vote in a city where it's 5-to-1 democratic is actually quite an accomplishment. Apparently we got one of the highest vote totals as a republican candidate since 1965. So these are accomplishments. We're disappointed. We wanted to win. This race from the beginning was about getting 51 percent."

His role from this point forward?

• "I need to think about that. I'm always going to be involved in public affairs. I love this city. I'm going to be deeply involved in the future of this community, and personally involved. As to whether or not that's political office, I don't know yet."

If he doesn't run again, what would be his advice for the next republican to run for mayor?

• "Start sooner."

• "...I would say, if you are a republican and you're going to run in the city, you can win. It's just going to take more than five months. It's going to take a year of effort."


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Part 3: Peduto


Councilman Bill Peduto:

Do Tuesday's results make it worth it for anyone to get into the 2009 Mayor's race?

• "I think--definitely, in the sense that you couldn't the numbers that DeSantis got, plus the other candidates, without over one-third of the democrats voting for these other candidates. Certainly the numbers are at an historic high for a republican and a historic low for a mayor, a democratic mayor."

• "I have to work with the administration to push an agenda next year on reform. I think that Luke has the opportunity to join me, and to be a partner with me in that. By doing the right thing, I think he's also doing the politically correct thing, because he's taking away issues which could be critical differences."

On cooperation and competition:

• "I have a very advantageous position. I can push an agenda that I think that this city needs. And the mayor is in a position where he--both politically and policy-wise--should be supporting it. So, I think that's going to be the interesting thing to watch in the next year."

• "And I'll tell you this, too. If I do decide to run, I'm going to run without a net. I'm going to give up my council seat and I'll run for mayor and put everything I have into it. And if I lose, I'll be out of politics. But if I choose not to run for mayor, I will run one more time for city council."

When will he have to decide?

• "After the presidential race is over. That said, conversations are always continuing. So, in many ways the race for 2009 has already begun. But in putting together the actual campaign and the structure itself--in 2008."

• "This past year... I had to withdraw when over 4 out of 5 people in the city of Pittsburgh said Luke was the better choice. Those numbers have dropped significantly. What was 4 out of 5 is now less than 2 out of 3. Where's it going to be a year from now? That's what I'll gauge it upon."

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Wake Up Cat: The Morning After Election Night


"Wake Up Cat" from YouTube.


Our cat Sky, practicing his pounce.

A
friend e-mailed this video to me last weekend. It seems especially appropriate, since I hoped to get some extra sleep this morning after putting in some long hours for election night.

My wife and I had tried to slowly adjust our cats' mealtimes to match setting the clocks back by an hour. Even so, it doesn't seem that they were ready to accept the idea of sleeping-in past their breakfast time.

I swear, the "Wake Up Cat" video seems like someone placed a sleep study camera in our home.

If you're interested, here's a second link to the video by animator Simon Tofield of Tandem Films.


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Saturday, November 3, 2007

Paper Chases, Pennsylvania Style


Here are some interesting twists involving proposed changes in Pennsylvania's open records law.


Open records law: Maimed but breathing

The Morning Call, Editorial

"For instance, e-mails would be excluded. As open-records advocate Timothy Potts put it, in the 21st century, that's like exempting paper."



Politicians fight against openness

Editorial, The Daily Review
And, in a true revelation of how these politicians view the public, agency officials would be allowed to deny any request they deem “harassing.”

Citizen: “I’d like to see how much of my money you spent on travel last year.”

Public official: “Stop harassing me.”



Public records bill comes under fire
Philadelphia Inquirer
"HARRISBURG - The proposed new open-records law for Pennsylvania declares that any document created by a public or government agency shall be considered an open record.

Unless, of course, it falls under an exempted category. That list runs six pages."



You can read more about the issues at PassOpenRecords.Org and The Pennsylvania Freedom of Information Coalition .



Finally, there was an attempt to keep from public view this vital state secret: the locations where Pennsylvanians can vote in Tuesday's election.

The (real) Associated Press story:

HARRISBURG (AP) (October 26, 2007, 2:31 a.m.)- State officials have decided not to publicize their list of polling places in Pennsylvania, citing concerns that terrorists could disrupt elections in the commonwealth.

...inspired this (satirical) column by Rich Lewis:


More great ideas for protecting us from terrorism
By Rich Lewis, Sentinel Columnist
After discussions with my colleagues over at State, it is clear to me that our long-standing practice of putting the names of cities on highway signs is imprudent in these dangerous times, and so I am ordering all such signs removed immediately. To further thwart potential terrorist activity, we will erect special “Distractor Signage” close to densely populated areas. For example, signs on the outskirts of Philadelphia will say, “PHILADELPHIA 200 MILES OTHER WAY.”


The Sentinel's editorial takes a more serious tone:

Secrecy officials’ default mode
By The Sentinel
"Fortunately, Gov. Ed Rendell on Friday stepped in and reversed the policy. Noting that withholding the information was a violation of the state’s open records law, he also correctly acknowledged that the information is easily obtained from county elections offices — making the Department of State’s move not only outrageous but pointless."

"But it is yet another indication that those running the state operate in a culture of fear and secrecy. Concealing information is second nature to them."



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Thursday, November 1, 2007

My Requests To The Ethics Board



[The following e-mail was first sent on October 14, 2007. It was my follow-up to the story described in this blog post one day earlier.]



• From: Bob Mayo
Subject: Requests To The Ethics Board
Date: October 14, 2007 6:47:32 PM EDT
To: Sister Patrice Hughes
Cc: Bob Longo, Roberta Peterson, Bob Mayo

Sister Patrice Hughes
Chairwoman
Pittsburgh Ethics Hearing Board


Dear Sister Patrice,


I'm writing to you in my role as a journalist who covers city government. This e-mail concerns the Pittsburgh Ethics Hearing Board proposal to hold bi-monthly closed-door "Executive Sessions". Among the board's stated uses of these sessions would be to educate its members about the ethics laws of other cities and how those laws are applied. At Friday's meeting, you noted that Assistant City Solicitor Kate DeSimone had provided board members with a memo which serves as the legal basis for these closed-door meetings.

The city law department refused to provide me with a copy of that memo, which outlines its synopsis of the Sunshine Act, so I did some research on my own.

Here's my understanding of the law.

The Sunshine Act has six specific justifications for holding an "Executive Session" which, by the law's own definition, "is a meeting from which the public is excluded". (Section 703, Definitions; Section 708 a, 1 through 6, Executive Sessions, Purpose.) None of them apply to the educational and informational meetings the board is considering.

The Sunshine Act does provide for a "Conference" meeting of the board, which it says "need not be" open to the public. (Section 707 b, Exceptions, Conference. Section 703, Definitions. ) The wording "need not be" suggests that such a conference _could be_ open to the public. As a journalist who covers your meetings, I formally request that you do open the meetings, and I request that you forward this e-mail to your fellow board members for their consideration.

As you know, Kate DeSimone says that her boss "advised against" releasing the memo in question. Respectfully, since the purpose of the Sunshine Law is "sunshine"--i.e. an open view for the public on the operation of government--I would suggest that the interpretation of how an exemption to the Sunshine Law is being applied should not be confidential.

The assistant city solicitor was acting in an official capacity in advising the board, and members would be adopting an official meeting practice based on that advice. I ask that the board members individually reconsider and provide us with a copy.

I also request that the board adopt the practice required by law: announce at every open meeting--immediately prior or subsequent to an executive session--the specific reasons that the public was excluded.


The Sunshine Act, section 708 b (Executive Sessions, Procedure) states:

"The executive session may be held during an open meeting, at the conclusion of an open meeting, or may be announced for a future time. *The reason for holding the executive session must be announced at the open meeting occurring immediately prior or subsequent to the executive session*. If the executive session is not announced for a future specific time, members of the agency shall be notified 24 hours in advance of the time of the convening of the meeting specifying the date, time, location and purpose of the executive session."

A 2003 publication from the Governor's Center for Local Government Services entitled "Open Meetings/Open Records: The Sunshine Act and the Right to Know Law" notes on page 9:

"The concept of a meeting where members are simply informed and do not discuss issues ignores the basics of group dynamics. Members are all too likely to ask questions, pose possible responses by the municipal government and debate various courses of action. The court decisions cited above do not provide any support to the theory that so-called "informational sessions" are anywhere authorized as closed meetings by the Sunshine Law."

The same publication notes on page 6:

"The reason for holding an executive session must be announced at a public meeting occurring immediately prior or subsequent to the executive session."

...and...

"The appellate court stated even though it is in the public interest that certain matters be discussed in private, the public has a right to know what matter is being addressed in private sessions. The reason stated by the agency must be specific, indicating a real, discrete matter that is best addressed in private."

The Governor's Center publication is available online at this link:

http://www.penntrain.net/NewFiles/Boards/SunshineAct.pdf


Section 703 of the Sunshine Act defines a "Conference" as "any training program or seminar, or any session arranged by State or Federal agencies for local agencies, organized and conducted for the sole purpose of providing information to agency members on matters directly related to their official responsibilities". The same section defines an "Executive Session" as "a meeting from which the public is excluded, although the agency may admit those persons necessary to carry out the purpose of the meeting".


To recap, I am requesting that the ethics board:

-provide a copy of the law department's memo;
-not attempt to use "executive sessions" for its educational briefings on other cities' ethics laws;
-use "conferences" for this purpose and open these conferences to the public;
-adopt the legally-required practice of announcing the specific reasons for each executive session at a public meeting immediately prior or subsequent to the executive session.

I also ask that you please forward this e-mail to your colleagues on the Pittsburgh Ethics Hearing Board.


Finally, here's a link to a post on my blog, in which I discuss my difficulties in getting a specific citation of the law from the law department. There's a link to an online copy of the Sunshine Act at the end of the blog post.



Thanks for your time and attention to these concerns.


Sincerely,


Bob Mayo
Reporter
WTAE-TV




This next e-mail was sent three days later.




• From: Bob Mayo
Subject: Requests To The Ethics Board
Date: October 17, 2007 4:08:14 PM EDT
To: Sister Patrice Hughes, Kathleen Buechel, Rabbi Daniel Schiff, Rev. John Welch, Penny Zacharias
Cc: Bob Longo, Roberta Peterson, Bob Mayo




Dear Ethics Board Members,

The e-mail below [Blog note: I'm referring here to the October 14th e-mail] was originally sent to Sister Patrice on Sunday. I've since learned that she is out of town for a few weeks, so I'm passing this along directly to you as well. I didn't want too much time to pass before your next meeting without giving you the opportunity to review it.

If it appears that I've used an incorrect e-mail for any of the board members, please let me know.

I look forward to your feedback.

Thanks.


Bob Mayo
Reporter
WTAE-TV



That evening, I received this response from an ethics board member.


From: Rabbi Daniel Schiff
Subject: RE: Requests To The Ethics Board
Date: October 17, 2007 9:38:21 PM EDT
To: Bob Mayo, Sister Patrice Hughes, Kathleen Buechel, Rabbi Daniel Schiff, Rev. John Welch, Penny Zacharias
Cc: Bob Longo, Roberta Peterson, Bob Mayo

Dear Bob:

I am sure that I speak for all on the Ethics Hearing Board when I thank you for your keen attention to this matter and for your exhaustive research. I know that we will want to consider your points carefully.

Please be aware that Sister Patrice, our chair, is currently in Israel. Kathy Buechel, our Vice Chair is also out of town for the next week. I believe that Penny may also be travelling.

Consequently, you should not expect any response to your email within the next week to ten days. After that, we will have to deliberate on the questions you have raised, and that might not allow us to respond until after the next meeting.

I just wanted you to be aware of the movements of my colleagues, so that you do not interpret any failure to respond in a timely fashion as a lack of concern about the issues raised. As I indicated - in public - at the last meeting, we certainly desire to maximize public access to the Ethics Hearing Board and its deliberations.

Best,

Rabbi Danny Schiff


Earlier this week I spoke by phone with Sister Patrice Hughes, who is now back in town. She notes that the next meeting of the Pittsburgh Ethics Hearing Board is scheduled for Friday, November 9th.



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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Why Don't You Just Tell Me Who You're Going to Vote For?




Over at 2 Political Junkies, Maria blogs about "Two Bizarre Phone Calls". The second call she describes:

"...was a recorded message that purported to be a poll. It went something like this:"

"We have a mayor's race. If you are going to vote for Ravenstahl press 1, DeSantis press 2, Olivia press 3, Scott press 4, if you want to keep your choice private press 5. There's also a controller's race. If you're for Lamb press 6, etc."

"OK, When the message began, I was excited. Maybe someone was conducting an independent poll!"

But then, she says:

"There was no pause to vote for mayor before controller and at the end it said to press zero to leave your email address if you wanted the results of the poll."

"At some point in listening to the message, I thought that it sounded a bit like Mark Rauterkus."

"I pressed 2 for DeSantis at the end of the message but that didn't allow me to also press 0."

"Was it you, Mark?"

Her story reminds me of this scene from Seinfeld--the one in which Kramer is plagued by wrong-number calls for Moviefone, and he tries to stand in for the automated recording.

In the comments section of Maria's post, the mystery of this phone poll is revealed.

Speaking of surveys, The Post-Gazette's Early Returns and The Burgh Report's Admiral Richard K. Turner recount how a mayor's race poll on KD Radio's website was hacked by a city goverment employee in order to favor Mayor Ravenstahl. The mayor's spokeswoman Alecia Sirk is quoted as confirming "it was a crazy tactic for supporting the mayor" that the city worker launched at home on his own time.

To paraphrase Yogi Berra, this just goes to show that online polls aren't worth the paper they're not printed on.

In pre-internet days, some Pittsburgh controller's office employees were suspected of repeatedly calling in to skew KQV's Phone Vote. That poll has also always been easy prey for those who "vote early and vote often".



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FEMA Wants Answers On The Yukon


[The following is a long-form version of my TV report.]

Channel 4 Action News has learned that the federal government wants the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) to look into the city's uses of the GMC Yukon paid for with a federal Department of Homeland Security grant. Those uses included transporting Mayor Luke Ravenstahl for personal as well as city business, until he learned of restrictions imposed on the use of the undercover investigative unit police car.

The grant appears to limit the car's use to anti-terrorism efforts, specifically the surveillance of Pittsburgh locations that are potential terrorist targets. Federal guidelines say: "failure to comply may result in the withholding of funds, termination of the award, or other sanctions".

The Federal Emergency Management Agency-- part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security---tells Channel 4 Action News: "FEMA headquarters has asked PEMA for a full accounting of the situation including what actions pema has taken and what actions they plan to take."

The federal grant that paid for the car is for the "Buffer Zone Protection Program" (BZZP) . It's meant to "make it more difficult for terrorists to conduct surveillance or launch attacks on critical infrastructure and facilities."

After a police sergeant's repeated complaints up the chain of command, Mayor Ravenstahl stopped using the Yukon. Among his personal travels in the police vehicle was a trip with friends to a Toby Keith concert at the PG Pavilion in Washington County.

FEMA tells Channel 4 Action news that "the concert was not an allowable use of the vehicle." Spokeswoman Marlene Phillips says "FEMA headquarters expects the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) to look into the situation, report back to FEMA headquarters on its finding, and to take appropriate action." She says "it's part of PEMA's responsibility." Earlier this month, PEMA told Channel 4 Action News that the agency was simply "a channel" for the funding.

After Mayor Ravenstahl stopped using the Yukon, Police Chief Nate Harper still asserted that he can assign the vehicle for things other than those specified in the Homeland Security grant. On October 3rd, he asked reporters: "Are you saying that then I should let those vehicles sit, not utilize them, and leave the officers stand by to wait for a vehicle? we aren't going to do that".

FEMA tells Channel 4 Action News that "general use vehicles are not an allowable expense." Spokewoman Phillips says "this was an authorized purchase of a surveillance vehicle under the BZZP program. Under BZZP, allowable expenses include vehicles purchased for surveillance of critical infrastructure."

Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Maria Finn tells Channel 4 Action News "this matter is under review and we will continue to work with FEMA. Pending the outcome of the review, PEMA will take those results into consideration and determine appropriate actions, if any".

Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Mike Huss says "we've talked with PEMA since this first came out, where the mayor realized that the vehicle was purchased with homeland security monies. I immediately contacted PEMA and advised them of this situation and have been in contact with PEMA since this happened. They're aware of it. We've discussed it. They've asked us to maintain a log on use of the vehicle and these types of things. It's under their purview to look at the situation and take what action it feels necessary."

U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan has said previously that her office is reviewing the situation. Her office says she has no comment on the status of that review.


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King vs DeSantis



Pittsburgh Firefighters Local 1 President Joe King has written a union "HotLine" letter attacking Republican mayoral candidate Mark DeSantis.

He says the letter is being distributed to firefighters union members, retirees, and firefighters widows. The letter constitutes an unofficial endorsement of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, though it doesn't use those words.

King writes that Mayor Ravenstahl would review the safety impact of any plan to close fire stations before taking action on the study. The union president's letter alleges that DeSantis would reopen the firefighters' contract and "implement the recommendations, without even reviewing the impact this new study/plan would have on safety"-- a claim the DeSantis campaign denies.

The campaign's spokeswoman responds that "Mr. Desantis said he is open to the possibility of closing fire stations", but that he also "said he would not compromise public safety". The campaign notes that DeSantis has not seen the details of the draft study prepared by a consultant to the oversight board, and cannot comment on its recommendations directly.

The Ravenstahl campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

The King letter states that Local 1 has "not officially endorsed a candidate" for mayor, and says "there are important issues we need to discuss with Mayor Ravenstahl". The union president writes, however, that "I do know this Mark DeSantis is not the person I welcome discussing or negotiating new contract terms".

King's letter also says DeSantis "was directly affiliated with Rick Santorum". The DeSantis campaign says that suggestion is "patently false". The spokeswoman acknowledges DeSantis made a $400 contribution to the former U.S. senator's campaign in 2000 and a $250 contribution in 2006. She says that DeSantis has also made contributions to Republican U.S. Senator Arlen Specter, and to local Democrats Doug Shields and Valerie McDonald Roberts, and that DeSantis hosted a fundraising reception for Democrat Michael Lamb.

By the way, there's a spirited debate over the significance of campaign contributions under way at Bram Reichbaum's blog, The Pittsburgh Comet.


(Click the image of the letter below to enlarge it.)

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Mind Boggles



(Click image to enlarge.)

You can read more via Google News. Eventually, it will move to Google News Archives, with other stories filed under the keywords FEMA, fake, & reporters.



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Thursday, October 25, 2007

"Ain't No Sunshine"


From the Society of Professional Journalists. ( H/T to PassOpenRecords.Org . )


For Immediate Release:


SPJ National President Clint Brewer and National Freedom of Information Chairman David Cuillier sent a letter Wednesday to Pennsylvania lawmakers to oppose amendments to the state's open records law (H.B. 443) currently before the legislature.

If passed with the amendments, the bill could make Pennsylvania one of the most secret states in the nation. Below is the text of the letter:

Oct. 24, 2007


Hon. Josh Shapiro
105B East Wing
PO Box 202153
Harrisburg, PA 17120-2153


Dear Hon. Shapiro:

The Society of Professional Journalists, the largest association of working journalists representing news media outlets, college student journalists and journalism educators, writes to voice its strong opposition to the amendments added to the open records bill (HB 443) and urge you to send the measure back to committee for discussion and reconsideration, or vote it down outright. The bill as amended, ironically, would make Pennsylvania one of the most secret states, if not the most secret state, in the nation.

We support several provisions in the bill, such as putting the burden on the government to prove why a document should be kept secret, and allowing the requestor to choose the format of the record if it is available in print or electronically. Also, some of the exemptions are acceptable, such as for open investigations and medical records. However, we find the bill lacking and deviant from most other states in several ways:

First, the bill exempts far too much material that is routinely provided in all but a handful of other states, including e-mail, 911 tapes, agency audits, disciplinary and discharge records in government employee personnel files, and the addresses and birth dates of people included in government records. These exemptions will not protect people from privacy invasion and identity theft, but will only allow malfeasance to go unnoticed.

Second, the law should apply to all records, regardless of when the records were created, and should not pertain only to records created once the law is passed. We know of no states that grandfather in secrecy when updating their open records laws. It just doesn’t make sense. When women were provided the right to vote in 1920, the law applied to all women, including those born before ratification of the law.

Third, the ability for an agency to deny a request because it is deemed by an official as “burdensome” or an attempt to harass the agency is overly broad, vague and likely to result in blanket denials. Also, many states require a response within three or five days, not 10, and the ability to provide the record 20 days after the determination further delays access beyond reason.

Fourth, the public records office executive director should be appointed by the State Ethics Commission, which oversees the office, not by the governor. The more hands-off the person is from the agencies regulated the better.

Many more changes are needed to the bill, in conjunction with those who know how this legislation will work in real life. This bill has promise, but it needs more work and the revisions should be done in the light of day with full transparency and input from the citizenry and affected groups. If it does not go back to committee, then the bill should be voted down in the House. Although we speak on behalf of thousands of journalists, we do not see open government as a “media” issue. Studies show that about two-thirds of public records requests are submitted by businesses, a quarter by citizens, and about 6-10 percent by journalists. This is a public issue. Those framing the legislation ought to look at what is reasonable and what works in other states. Otherwise, Pennsylvania will be the poster child of secrecy and the courts filled with citizens litigating over legislative language that is vague, confusing and unworkable.


Sincerely,


Clint Brewer, National President
Society of Professional Journalists


David Cuillier, National Freedom of Information Chairman
Society of Professional Journalists

(Original link at SPJ National website.)


PS: Coming soon, I hope to provide an update to
this post
by sharing my recent letter to Pittsburgh's Ethics Hearing Board.


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Monday, October 22, 2007

UPDATE: Your Reactions To The Mayoral Debate?



(UPDATE: Miss what everyone's talking about? Now you can watch the entire Ravenstahl-DeSantis debate online. Click here for the video on The Pittsburgh Channel.)



First, a thank you. In my last post, I'd asked for your suggestions about what issues you'd like to hear the candidates address in tonight's mayoral debate on WTAE-TV. The question--and resulting responses--about which I've gotten the most feedback was submitted by The Burgher, of The Burgh Report blog.

It was his/her suggestion that I ask Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Mark DeSantis about the most difficult moment they've faced in their lives outside of politics. Observers of the debate told me they felt The Burgher's question did draw the candidates into a spending a moment apart from their prepared talking points. So, thanks and credit to The Burgher for that.

Thanks also to others who e-mailed suggestions; I tried to weave them in with the issues I wanted to cover during my turns at questioning. We never get to fit in everything we prepare. I do think there was some interesting give-and-take between the candidates.

I'm curious to hear your take on the debate.

Feel free to post comments addressing the issues and the candidates' remarks.

I'm told the most dramatic moment of the evening was when Marie Osmond fainted... but that was on "Dancing With The Stars", ten minutes after the debate ended.

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