Friday, March 30, 2007

Ethics Panel Update: Tracking The Latest

Out Of Town Duties
No Problem

member of the still-dormant Pittsburgh Ethics Hearing Board says that her fellowship at Harvard for the past three months is no impediment to her obligations to the watchdog agency which has yet to meet. The fellowship continues until June.

Kathy Buechel confirms her fellowship there. It took a week of leaving messages by phone and e-mail at both Harvard and in Pittsburgh before I heard back from her. Buechel told me by phone this week that she hadn't responded to the messages last week because she was on vacation. She says she spends two-to-three workdays a week here in Pittsburgh, and weekends as well. It's a nearly 600 mile commute one-way to Cambridge, MA, where Buechel is a Visiting Practitioner at the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations at Harvard University.

"Pittsburgh's Ethics Hearing Board still hasn't held one meeting since its five members were confirmed last July". That was my report in late January, which included a sound clip of Mayor Ravenstahl telling me back at the time that "they are going to be meeting here in the very near future".

It's still true today.

The city's Ethics Hearing Board is supposed to investigate allegations of misconduct by elected officials or city government employees.

Even though David Scott--the only attorney named to the panel--resigned around the end of 2006, Bob O'Connor's appointment still hasn't been replaced. Mayor O'Connor and City Council had decided last spring to revive the five-member panel that's been in the deep freeze since the 1992.

Following my inquiries in late January, the mayor's office said the ethics board would hold it's first meeting the following week. It did not. There was, however, an orientation held for just two members. There weren't enough present for the quorum needed by law to hold a meeting. (PG, Trib, this blog.)

This has been going on since last spring, as you can see here.

We reported in February that Mayor Ravenstahl's office says "he has the executive power to call the meeting".

The other ethics board members--Sister Patrice Hughes, the Rev. John C. Welch, and Rabbi Dr. Daniel Schiff--all tell me they have had no contact from the mayor's office or from each other since my last Channel 4 Action News report. All say that they are waiting for the Mayor to take the lead.

When Buechel did return my call this week, she revealed that the city had contacted her during the same week that I was leaving messages trying to reach her. The city's call was to tentatively schedule her orientation by the law department for today.


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Counterpoints? The Mayor and McNeilly's Lawyers

Skirmishes Over The Settlement

Minutes after the McNeilly news conference (reported here, along with a video link), I received a statement from Mayor Luke Ravenstahl via e-mail. It appears in full at the end of this post.

In the statement, the mayor makes these points:

•"It is important to note that Ms. McNeilly was not disciplined for speaking her mind. Rather, she was disciplined for releasing to the public a police officer's confidential personnel file."

•"Under the Court's decision, a City employee has the right to speak publicly about publicly important matters, consistent with the First Amendment and the State's guiding statutes."

• "... the exercise of such rights is not absolute and must be balanced against the government's legitimate interest in the enforcement of its workplace rules and regulations..."

That third excerpt echoes language in the McNeilly agreement, but the first line does not. I phoned the mayor's spokesman Dick Skrinjar to check on whether the release was intended as the public acknowledgement described in the the deal with McNeilly.

He told me that the mayor's interview with us on Monday was actually that acknowledgment. He added that Monday's remarks, the written statement, and everything the mayor's said on this matter since October comply with the settlement.

So, back I went to check by phone and e-mail for McNeilly's lawyers' reaction.

Tim O'Brien responded that "the mayor's comments are rehash of the city's arguments in court that were flatly rejected by the court. We expect them to comply in good faith with the spirit and letter of the agreement.'

Vic Walczak of the PA ACLU answered via e-mail: "Sounds like the mayor didn't learn much from this civics lesson. But rather than getting a failing grade, like you would in school, here he's costing City taxpayers lots of money. Let's hope he takes a little time to study up on the Constitution before he does something like this again."

Here's the mayor's complete statement:

"I am pleased that we have finally arrived at a conclusion to the McNeilly matter. Entering into a settlement was the option that best preserved the interests of the City, its taxpayers and Ms. McNeilly. A protracted legal battle would only have served the interests of the lawyers, generating additional legal fees for Ms. McNeilly's attorneys. "

"It is important to note that Ms. McNeilly was not disciplined for speaking her mind. Rather, she was disciplined for releasing to the public a police officer's confidential personnel file. That act was prohibited by Police Department rules created to protect the privacy rights of our officers. Chief Harper meted out the discipline he believed to be warranted to manage the Police Department effectively and I supported his decision. "

"Now that the Federal Court has offered additional clarity and guidance with regard to the Police Department guidelines, Pittsburgh has no problem complying. In fact, we have been complying since Judge Ambrose issued her decision. Under the Court's decision, a City employee has the right to speak publicly about publicly important matters, consistent with the First Amendment and the State's guiding statutes. Chief Harper, Ms. McNeilly and I acknowledge, however, that the exercise of such rights is not absolute and must be balanced against the government's legitimate interest in the enforcement of its workplace rules and regulations as needed for government to work properly and efficiently."


Monday, March 26, 2007

Q-and-A: The Mayor On The McNeilly Settlement

The mayor sends the deal to council

Here's a question-and-answer session with Mayor Ravenstahl on the city's planned deal to end Commander Catherine McNeilly's Whistleblower/First Amendment lawsuit. (You can see video of my Channel 4 Action News story here.) I joined in an interview by KQV's Elaine Effort that was already under way. The mayor was answering her question about what he had learned from dealing this case.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl: It was a decision that the chief made that he felt was appropriate at the time, when the initial investigation was completed and I supported him in that endeavor. As we know now, the judge and the court felt differently. And we respect that, and have moved on, and felt this was in the best interest of everybody to move forward from this point.

Q: Have you signed off on a settlement with Commander Catherine McNeilly?

A: We've introduced legislation to council, yes, to settle the McNeilly case.

Q: It's reported that includes--according to a published report--a mayoral acknowledgment city employees have free speech rights. What exactly do you acknowledge, and how is that different from where we had been before?

A: All the specifics will be discussed once the legislation is introduced to council tomorrow. and I felt more than comfortable making that statement because I believe in it. And as far as I'm concerned every employee has the right--I've said this from the beginning--has the right to voice their opinion on anything related to city government and I fully support that.

Q: Was Catherine McNeilly a whistleblower in this case?

A: Well, once again we've--the case has been well-documented. We've determined at this point that the chief made a decision, the court felt differently. and it was in the best interest of the residents of the city and the taxpayers, it was in my interest, not to line--further line--the pockets of attorneys and pile up legal fees at the expense of taxpayers. So we felt it was fiscally prudent to settle this case and move on.

Q: To clarify, in addition to the settlement with Commander McNeilly, is there going to be a second phase--a second hit to taxpayers for this? Legal bills for her attorneys, separate from the settlement with her?

A: Well, we will-- sure, there will be legal fees associated as well. And it's my understanding that will take place sometime later, separate from this settlement that we have here today.

Q: Why do it in two parts?

A: I believe that's a question the attorneys can probably better answer than I. There are legal questions that--in terms of what those fees are--and we need to make sure that we are paying for only the fees that were encumbered. And we want to make sure that we do so in a very thorough manner, without simply agreeing to a number without having some third party or third entity come in and take a look at what's appropriate.

Q: What's different as we stand here today than back in January, right after the judge granted her that initial ruling in her favor? What's different that has changed your mind?

A: I don't know that anything's changed my mind. When you have and receive a judgement from a judge and she made it quite clear that it looked as if the commander would be successful in this trial, and had to make a decision. And like I said, it's more important for me to protect the financial interest of the residents and the taxpayers of the city, and not simply line the pockets of an attorney, and that's what we made a decision to do. We respected the judge's decision. I've said that then, and I'll say that now, and we look forward to moving forward.

Q: Wouldn't that suggest, though, that you didn't think the city's case was going to hold up? I mean, because you wouldn't have had to pay her attorneys' fees if you had won.

A: Well, we--the chief made a decision based on a rule that was broken. The judge clarified and felt differently, and we said then we respected that opinion, and we're moving on and we'll go from there.

Q: Do you have to have the judge sign off on this? Do you take this agreement into court?

A: I believe that has already taken place.

Q: She's already signed off?

A: I believe that she's been involved in the entire process to this point.

Q: Is it likely that what the city may pay in legal bills, apart from the settlement with her, may be that much and more?

A: I can't speculate on that at this point. I really don't know.

Q: Would it be less than a million or more than a million?

A: No, it will be far less than a million dollars.

Q: Will it be another hundred-thousand?

A: I don't know. I really don't know.


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

End of Story?

Peduto Breaks News

Who would have thought it? Controversy over Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's midnight private jet trip was the knockout punch to take Councilman Bill Peduto out of the Democratic party primary.

The councilman insists the big story of the previous 24-hour news cycle is part of what convinced him that if he stayed in the primary campaign, the race could have taken on a divisive focus on controversies instead of on the issues. He says that's why he chose to get out instead.

At the same time, Peduto acknowledges that he's not disbanding his entire campaign team and that he'll continue to accept contributions. By choosing not to be a candidate in the primary, he preserves his right to run as an independent in the fall.

There's one precedent for a Pittsburgh mayoral candidate running sucessfully as an independent against the endorsed Democratic candidate: Dick Caliguiri. But there's also an important difference; Caliguiri, like Ravenstahl, had the advantage of being an incumbent. Caliguiri ascended from council president to become mayor when Pete Flaherty joined the Carter Administration. In his fall race, the power of incumbency likely gave him more clout than his ad-hoc " Pittsburghers for Caliguiri" party.

(Am I dating myself here? I was just getting started in radio news back then. I remember the endorsed mayoral candidate, Tom Foerster, giving a gracious concession speech the night he lost to Caliguiri... as his campaign manager, Dr. Cyril Wecht fumed: "other people may forget what Dick Caliguiri did here; I will not forget.)

There's already a debate under way in the blogosphere over whether withdrawing from the primary race now preserves Peduto's right to run in the fall. His answers to my questions during his news conference suggest that he believes it does give him that option.

Even if Peduto should opt not to run in November, getting out now may benefit him later. Any campaign funds raised this year and not spent would provide him a financial base to become the leading challenger in 2009.

One more thought: Bill Peduto was a staffer to former Councilman Dan Cohen, who was once regarded as a potential rising star. Cohen bucked the party and mounted a challenge to incumbent Congressman Bill Coyne which included some sharply negative direct-mail campaigning. Cohen lost, and his luster may have been tarnished by the reaction to that negative campaign. He is now in private law practice. Perhaps Councilman Peduto is taking insight from the experience of his mentor.


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

UPDATED: Mayor Ravenstahl Q-and-A On The New York Trip

"...Nothing is illegal that was done and the trip was appropriate."
-Mayor Luke Ravenstahl

UPDATE: The Pittsburgh Channel now has raw video online of the Mayor's Q&A. Video of my Channel 4 Action News report is also now available with this Pittsburgh Channel story.

The world of new media brings new twists: the Trib has extensive video highlights on YouTube, showing the mayor face reporters' questions about his New York trip. Given that, I'll forgo my audio podcast and give you the details in digital ink. If you click on the "Read More.." link at the bottom of this post, you'll see my transcript of most of the Q&A session with Mayor Ravenstahl. The "Q"s come from a total of four reporters who took part in the eleven minute exchange. The reporters' initials follow the "Q" in lower-case.

Q-re: Mayor, did you lie to to the Tribune-Review reporter when he asked you if you went to New York City?

A: I had a discussion with the Tribune-Review reporter at which time he asked me if I went on business to New York City with the Penguins at which time I said no. Certainly I wish I would have clarified and continued to answer the question from there. But it was the only question asked, and we went our separate ways. But if I could have been more clear at that point it would have been, I think in everybody's best interest, mine included, at this point.

Q-jd: (Do you) regret going to New York and missing meeting with leaders in the Hill District?

A: I don't regret going to New York because it was an opportunity for me to further a relationship with Mr. Burkle. It's one that I was very grateful for, for the opportunity to do. It was my intention to be back in time for the meeting, but logistically, it didn't work out, and my chief of staff was there. That meeting was the beginning of a discussion with the Hill District. I've since reached out to those folks, and we were represented there, and we'll continue to have discussions with the Hill District. So, certainly that's a meeting I wish I would have been at, but logistically, it didn't work out.

Q-jd: So you thought you were going to be able to do both?

A: It was my intention to be back, yes. But unfortunately, the flight, I was on the flight back during the meeting and didn't get back in time.

( Editor's Note: the meeting took place at 8:30am the next morning at County Executive Dan Onorato's office.)

Q-bm: Did you accept this as mayor of Pittsburgh, or as a candidate, or in what capacity?

A: It was a political conversation between myself and Mr. Burkle. Understand that the two months previous, we had many opportunities to talk business, and talk about the Penguins' arena deal, and talk about specific numbers. And we both agreed at that point that there's nothing further to talk about in terms of the Penguins. And had the opportunity to speak politically with him about politics, my own mayoral race, some presidential politics. And really look to build a relationship with him, which is one that I'm grateful I've had the opportunity to begin.

Q-bm: Is it appropriate, after just striking a $290-Million dollar deal involving a public facility, that you hit him up for political advice and take a free jet ride?

A: It wasn't--everything will be documented on the political campaign contribution report, once it is filed with the elections department. So, it is appropriate. Nothing I did was illegal. Nothing that I did cost the city taxpayers a dime. And so, for that reason, I would simply say that nothing is illegal that was done, and the trip was appropriate.

Q-bm: Is it using your public office to leverage political support?

A: Understand that when you run for an office of mayor, as a candidate, i'm going to be going to Philadelphia to raise money, i'm going to be going to Washington DC, I'm going to be going to Harrisburg to raise money. So, it's not uncommon for candidates to travel to different cities to meet influential people, and to attempt to raise money and gain political support. And so, it was an opportunity that i'm grateful for, and ideally can continue to have a good relationship with Mr. Burkle.

Q-re: I don't care about where you go, but I'm more concerned about the fact that, with the Heinz Field incident, when we questioned you about that, you weren't truthful about that. You weren't truthful to ( Tribune-Review reporter ) Mr. Boren about your trip to New York. What about your integrity? What does this say about your integrity? What do you say to the people of Pittsburgh about your integrity in light of these two situations?

A: We can agree to disagree about our conversation, and myself and Mr. Boren can as well.

Q-re: That's twice, now.

A: I understand that you may feel that way. This is something that, when I'm asked a question, I've been honest with the media, from day one.

Q-re: You weren't honest with me...

A: I was honest with you...

Q-re: You weren't honest with Jeremy Boren.

A: I was honest with you: I told you I was never arrested at Heinz Field.

Q-re: Come on, you're splitting hairs.

A: That's fine. In your opinion, I'm splitting hairs.

Q-jd: But are you spitting hairs? Are you trying to draw distinctions in these words. He asks you whether you go to New York...

A: I regret, I told you here, I regret, I wish I would have just volunteered the information. But understand, you know, I have a job to do, you folks have a job to do. i have to protect, sometimes, private conversations which took place. Had this been city business, it's something that I would have volunteered when the question was asked. It wasn't asked that way. So, in hindsight, certainly I do wish I had the opportunity to just tell the story right then and there, but it didn't work out that way

Q-jd: So, what did you talk to Ron Burkle about?

A: That was a private conversation that will remain between myself and Mr. Burkle.

Q-jd: But it was political?

A: Correct.

Q-jd: No conversations at all about the Penguins?

A: No, not at that point we didn't. The commissioner was on the plane as well, so he and I had the opportunity to further our relationship. But there was no further discussion at all about the Penguins, whatsover.

Q-jd: You just cut a multi-million dollar deal with the owner of the Penguins, he's on a plane with you, his private plane, and you don't talk anything at all about the Penguins?

A: We honestly didn't, no.

Q-bm: Isn't that a bit too cozy, I mean, the taxpayer money in the deal, and you're--

A: It's not, it was not an official business trip. It was a trip for me and Mr. Burkle to talk politically. And that's what we did, and that's what will be documented. No city taxpayer dollars were used. It was not abuse of the office. And i stand behind the decision to go to New York. Now, had I wished I had presented it differently, i would have.

Q-jb: Where did you spend the night in New York?

A: At a friend's house.

...Later in the Q&A....

Q-jd: Luke, I want to be clear: in your view, you did not lie to the Tribune-Review?

A: Again, it was something I wish I had volunteered more information, but the question that was asked of me. You know, you understand, when you ask a question, I answer a question, and that's what I did. Could I have gone further and said , 'no it wasn't business, it was political'? Certainly I could have done that, and I wish I would have, because we wouldn't be standing here today.

Q-jd: But the question was specifically--

A: The question was specifically, did you go to New York City with the Penguins on business. And the answer to that question is no.

Q-jd: And what's the correct answer?

A: The correct answer is I went to New York City with Mr. Burkle on a political trip. And I just wish I would have said that at the end of the sentence. But I didnt' do it, and if anything was wrong it was just the fact that I didn't continue. But once again, it's something that you look back on now, and it is what it is.

Q-jd: Are you worried about your credibility?

A: I'm not. I know that I make decisions that are in the best interest of the residents of the city of Pittsburgh. I would argue that this has, other than the meeting of the Hill District, has no real effect on how city business operates, and nor did the Heinz Field incident. These are incidents that involve me and not city business. And I believe and I know, in fact, that when we make decisions in city hall, they're in the best interest of the residents. And they will have the opportunity to decide that and talk about the issues in the upcoming election.

Q-jd: Were there any violations of the city ethics code?

A: I don't believe so.

Q-bm: The city ethics handbook, which I printed out here, allows complementary travel for official purposes, but doesn't appear to allow gifts and favors of that sort for non-official purposes.

A: This was a political trip, and will be documented on the campaign finance report. Understand, if you look and pull any candidate's finance reports, it's very common for them to use individual's planes, for example, to go to other cities to raise money. And that's simply what I did in this case. And so it's not uncommon at all for a candidate to do that. I was acting in the capacity of a candidate for the office of mayor of city of pittsburgh.

Q-re: Will you reimburse Mr. Burkle, then?

A: Whatever's appropriate, whether it's to document it as an in-kind contribution or to reimburse Mr. Burkle. That's a question that my campaign will have answered and do whatever is appropriate.

Q-re: And the return trip back that Kevin Kinross paid for, you'll pay--

A: I already did.

Q-jd: Luke, can you explain how this whole thing came about? Was it spur of the moment?

A: Somewhat. We'd had a discussion Tuesday, and he offered to get to know me better, and thought it was an opportunity for me to go to New York and have a discussion and talk about the future of the city, my political future, and some presidential politics. And so it was an opportunity when you look at Mr. Burkle, and how influential he is on a national level in the Democratic Party, it was an opportunity that I'm very grateful for.

Q-jd: Did this occur before the press conference or during the hockey game? When did it come about?

A: Well, the offer was first given to me at some point Tuesday afternoon, at which time, so--

Q-jd: ---before the press conference?

A: Correct. It was before the press conference. But I---

Q-jd: --was it after you had concluded your deal with the Penguins?

A: Absolutely. Our deal with the Penguins was concluded Thursday evening in Philadelphia. So the deal had been done for four or five days at that point. I didn't even accept the offer, to be quite honest with you, until sometime during the game. It's something that was offered earlier, and then made the decision later on to accept it.

Q-jd: So you get to New York around midnight, because you were at the hockey game.

A: That's right. That's about right.

Q-jd: You get to New York around midnight, you go out and have dinner.

A: Correct.

Q-jd: What time did you get to bed?

A: We probably, sometime after 2 a.m. Between 2 and 3 a.m. I would guess.

Q-jd: And you were planning to be back in time for this meeting with the Hill District folks?

A: Yeah, I was at the airport bright and early, and hoped to get a flight before the 8:51 that we were able to get on. But unfortunately, logistically, it didn't work out that morning.

Q-jb: Who did you have dinner with?

A: Mr. Burkle and some of his friends.

Q-jb: Were there any celebrities there?

A: No. Other than me. (chuckles.)

Q-re: Sienna Miller wasn't there?

A: No, Sienna wasn't there.

Q-jb: With whom did you stay? Kevin's friend, who was that?

A: It's Kevin's friend.

Q-jb: I was wondering what his name was.

A: I'm not really sure, to be honest with you.

Q-jd: In Queens...?

A: I'm not really sure where it was at, to be honest with you.

Q-re: So, you didn't stay in a hotel?

A: No.

Q-jb: Did Mr. Burkle supply limousines from the airport to...?

A: We were not in limousines. There was transportation.

Q: Okay. It was cars?

A: Yes.

Q-jd: So, if you had it to do all over again, would you go on this trip?

A; If I had to do it all over again I would, because it was an opportunity for me to meet Mr. Burkle. If I could have answered the question better yesterday, I certainly wish would have done that as well. It was an opportunity for me to go there. I've stood here for the last 15 minutes and answered any questions you've had. And it was one that I think, in the long term, in terms of my political future, it's something that I'm very fortunate to have an opportunity to have a relationship with Mr. Burkle and thankful for it.

Q-jb: Would you take a contribution from Ron Burkle?

A: No, I will not.

Q-jb: What did you have for dinner at the hotel?

A: Laughs. I'm not---

Q-jd: You had a couple drinks?

A: I had a couple drinks.

Q: Are you going to pay for the dinner, too?

A: We'll take care of it. We'll take care of everything that's appropriate.


Thursday, March 15, 2007

Controversy Over Mayor Ravenstahl's Online Presence (Updated)

Whose Space?

(There's updated blog content later in this entry. )

It's been buzzing-about in the burghosphere for the past 48 hours, here, here, and here, for example. Some people are raising questions about what appears to be cross-pollination between the content of "Luke For Mayor" website and the official city website and photo gallery. Now the examples are quickly being removed.

The PG's Early Returns appears to be be the first of us in the mainstream media to publicly note it, albeit online. (Update 1: I stand corrected: The Trib has it here, and in the print edition. ) I've been tracking this, but the arena news of the past two days had taken precedence. My screenshot below is one example.

(Click on photo to enlarge.)


Here are some items gathered for this story which didn't make it into my Channel 4 Action News report, due to time constraints. (Video link here).

Quotes from Mayor Luke Ravenstahl:

• "I shared those concerns, and made sure when I was made aware of it that that wasn't the case. And any questionable photos--from what I understand--that were on the campaign web site have been removed."

Q: Did he or the city provide the photos to the campaign?

• "No, absolutely not. And I'm not sure if they were the identical photos. Once again, we and I have stressed again this morning that (there should be) absolutely no interaction between government office and campaign-- made sure that that didn't happen, and it hasn't happened, and it will not happen in the future."

• "(I) made sure that it was handled right away. Certainly it's not something that I will condone, and (it's )something that unfortunately happened, and we dealt with it and moved on."

Quotes from Councilman Bill Peduto:

• "There are rules that you have to play by, and certainly there's a lot of powers in the incumbency, without really reaching into the wallets of taxpayers in order to fund your campaign."

• " seems to be a little bit of an abuse of power."

Q: Does the list of his "priorities for a new Pittsburgh" on his city council website amount to political content at taxpayer expense? He answers that the list dates back to early 2006, long before the current political campaign.

• "No, it's a message of here's 'why you elected me, here's what i'm going to fight for, here's what you hold me accountable for'."


• One of the sequence of photos on the city government home page shows the mayor marching in a parade in front of a banner with a blue-and-white logo that reads " Luke Ravenstahl, Mayor". (You can see it at the top of this blog post.) The same distinctive blue-and-white logo appears on signs posted in his campaign headquarters' window.


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

New Pittsburgh Politics Online

A snapshot of the "Luke for Mayor" site

ayor Luke Ravenstahl's campaign website has come alive. It's just one of three fronts that Ravenstahl supporters have engaged online. In addition to the campaign website, there are now:

YouTube postings of Ravenstahl campaign ads,

a blog by Matt H, one of the mayor's more vocal online supporters.

Jeremy Boren of the Trib did a story about YouTube video and the mayor's race, which inspired me to revisit the topic here.

During my scanning of local blogs, I came across some posts by a college student who blogs under the name Agent Ska. She identifies herself as the one who shot video of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl at local democratic committee meetings and posted it on YouTube under the name PittsburghDemocracy.

It was obvious in her posts here and here that she was wrestling with the media attention her YouTube video had drawn, and whether it was meant to suggest she had edited the video in a way that had distorted its meaning. She makes it clear in her blog that she is an active Peduto supporter; Jeremy Boren writes that "video clips submitted by the user PittsburghDemocracy try to catch Ravenstahl saying something controversial or embarrassing". While that clearly is the case--and while anti-Ravenstahl bloggers have highlighted the video--the clip itself appears unaltered.

Since Agent Ska is a student and not used to the media spotlight, I recently sent her the following e-mail to answer the questions she had been posting about our coverage.

Dear Agent Ska,

Please don't feel that our doing a story about your YouTube video was meant to suggest that you did anything to alter your video's content. Your clip from the committee meeting started with the question from the audience and continued with the mayor's answer for a minute-and-a-half. That's longer than many TV news reports. I didn't see any editing in your clip that would suggest "inaccuracies"; it was raw video.

The starting point of our WTAE story was that the mayor made the remark, it was now on the 'net, and people were talking about it. It was generating comments on local blogs. My question to the mayor was not about how your video was cut, it was a question about what his "boss" remark meant; he described as a being a joke.

It was the mayor--not me--who said "If the clip would have continued, you would have seen Dan was the next to speak". In my story, we followed your clip with our photographer's video because it offered a different camera angle. Our photographer was shooting wide during the mayor's comment, and was in a position to zoom in to Onorato for his reaction. Your original YouTube clip itself did include the mayor's complete answer, in which he said that he's pressing for continued bus service in city neighborhoods.

The mayor told me that he hadn't seen your YouTube clip himself; I think his comments were in response to what people had been saying about their interpretation of the significance of the clip.

I know from reading your posts that you're politically active, but I haven't seen anything in your raw video clip to suggest it was altered in any way. It appears to be the entire exchange, from start-of-question to end-of-answer.

Your taking the time to go out, gather, sort through, and upload all of your video reminds me of my college and early radio days of working with audio-- an unpaid labor of love. I think you deserve credit for working hard at it and caring about what you do. The fact that you went out of your way to dig up the Onorato video and post that on YouTube too is testimony to that.

I'm sending you this as an e-mail, but if you'd like, I'll post it on my blog. Let me know.

Best Wishes,

Bob Mayo


Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Face Off: Peduto & Ravenstahl on the Pens

Reporter Q&A
on the arena talks impasse

I’m posting this as a long-form Question & Answer feature; my Channel 4 Action News report is based on this material. Some questions were off-mike, and are approximated here. The answers are direct quotes. Click the highlighted "Read More" immediately below.

Q&A with Councilman Bill Peduto

Q: Who's at fault in the latest developments?

"Well, obviously, the fault goes to the mayor. You know, when Tom Murphy negotiated the deal for the Pirates, when he negotiated the deal for the Steelers, when he built the convention center, he didn't go to Governor Ridge and ask Governor Ridge to take on the responsibility. when Rendell ran Philadelphia and built the stadium for the Flyers, he didn't go to Governor Ridge. The responsibility is with the mayor. In any american city with any sports franchise, the mayor takes on that responsibility. What we're seeing now is the lack of experience in the inability to get this deal done."

Q: Under their plan, the state and slots revenue would be the source of the funding. given that, wouldn't it be appropriate for the governor to take the lead?

" Still under Philadelphia, there was state money that was being used to build the Spectrum. And Heinz Field, and with PNC Park, there was state money to build those; or the convention center, obviously, a lot of state money. No. Leadership requires that a mayor be strong and be able to get a deal done. "

Q: So, what specifically and personally are you saying that Luke Ravenstahl should be doing that he's not doing now?

" Well, there's of couple things. First and foremost, he needs to sit down with the Penguins, sit down down with Mario and get this deal done. No more negotiating with three different parties--just get the deal done. Secondly, what lost the trust with the trust with the Penguins to begin with is when left the agreement with Isle of Capri to support Plan B, and somehow that trust has to be rebuilt."

" I'm willing to offer to mediate in order to get this done for the City of Pittsburgh. But I don't think the mayor will take me up on the offer because of politics, and that's unfortunate. The team trusts me, and knows that I will negotiate in good faith with them. And I know that we can get a deal done that will be better than Kansas City."

Q: Do see any fault at all with the Penguins here? Are the Penguins playing with these public officials to try to get more taxpayer money?

" You get to the point of an impasse, there's no more playing or negotiating that's going on. You're basically saying you're at the point where you cannot talk any further. The Penguins have nothing more to gain. They're adding more into it. And the concern of "well, just let them go' is a major concern, and we shouldn't really be looking at it in that way. If the Penguins leave, there is no new arena. There is no major tenant to be contributing. And we're going to set with an empty arena in the Hill District that is not going to spur any new development. "

Q: And you individually fault Mayor Ravenstahl for a personal lack of leadership?

" No, I think that what you're seeing now is what happens when you don't have somebody who has experience. This should have been led by the mayor from the beginning. This should have been continued by the mayor in order to get the job done. But the mayor was not prepared because he hasn't had the experience to do it in the past."

Q: Have you reached out to the Penguins yourself?

" Yes, and I've reached out again yesterday to their former lobbyist. The Penguins have had no communication with elected officials, other than the mayor, the county executive and the governor since the beginning of the year. And again, I reached out, and I'll reach out again today directly to help to mediate this."

Q&A with Mayor Luke Ravenstahl

Q: Your response?

" We are continuing to negotiate, myself, the county executive, and the governor. And we're going to continue to work with the Penguins., and I will be very active in those talks, as I have been from the beginning. And I believe a cooperative spirit is one that we need-- a cooperative spirit to sit down and have those discussions. And I'll continue to do that, and continue to lend myself to those discussions as I have over the last two months. "

Q: Are you talking directly to the Penguins, as Mr. Peduto says you should be-- that the failure of you to do that is what's putting this franchise at risk?

" I can tell you that I've had numerous discussions and will continue to do so. I'm not real sure what my opponent is referring to, but I've been very proactive in these discussions. In fact, took a trip to New York, earlier in January to have discussions. So I'm not real sure what he is referring to, but we've been very proactive and I've been involved in all the discussions and will continue to do so."

" This is a partnership. I do not agree with the notion that this is an issue that the mayor singlehandedly address. This is an issue that myself, the county executive, and the governor have to work together to achieve. And to suggest otherwise, I don't think is appropriate. And so I'll continue to work with those two to reach out to the Penguins, and ultimately reach a deal."

" Because no one of us--myself, the county executive, nor the governor--can do this alone."

Q: What he's saying is, why haven't you talked directly to Burkle, why haven't you talked directly to Mario Lemeiux?

" Well, I can tell you that I have."

Q: What is the difference betwween now and the negotations that led to Heinz Field and PNC Park, that make it appropriate for the governor to be the lead party here, as opposed to the mayor?

" I will tell you, and I think the governor has made this well known, that he has, since the original Plan B, added incentive, and that incentive has come from the state level. And so, without the governor at the table, there's absolutely no way that we could even be in the discussions to keep the Penguins here. So, the governor is the person that has provided the additional incentive to keep team here. And therefore, he is the leader in these negotiations, because it is state taxpayer dollars that are being offered. and so the governor has to be at the table, and the governor is the one ultimately that has to participate in these negotiationsand --ideally with myself and the county executive, through the SEA-- conclude this deal. So, to suggest that there would be one person that could do it without the other two, I just think is inappropriate, and really not applicable at this time."


PA Sunshine: Videotaping Public Meetings

A Look At Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Law

What does Pennsylvania law say about someone videotaping a meeting of a public body?

A thank you to Mark Rauterkus for calling attention in this post to an attempt by the chair of the City Planning Commission to block his use of a video camera. It prompted me to do some checking online and in person.

Here's what I found:

From the minutes of the January 23, 2007 meeting of Pittsburgh's Planning Commission:

" (Chairwoman) Ms. Watson advised the people in the audience that video taping or recording is not permitted at this meeting and requested that the person video taping please stop."

From the agenda for the meeting this afternoon:

“PLANNING COMMISSION AGENDA, March 6, 2007, 2:00 p.m.

E. Director’s Report

...Staff Recommendation on Video Taping...

I wasn’t able to attend the meeting. Earlier in the day, however, City Planning Director Patrick Ford assured me that the staff recommendation was not to ban videotaping, but to establish a written policy. He promised to e-mail that recommendation to me.

Some other background:

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:

Recording Devices
The Sunshine Act allows persons attending public meetings to record the proceedings with recording devices.

This right extends to the use of videotaping equipment. (1) Public agencies are permitted to adopt reasonable rules governing the use of recording devices.

Persons who attend and verbally participate in public meetings must expect to have their statements recorded. (2)

Since zoning hearing board hearings are public meetings under the terms of the Sunshine Act, any citizen has a right to tape record the session.

Individuals speaking at the hearing must expect to have their statements
recorded. They can have no expectation of privacy which would afford them protection under the Federal Wire Tap Act.

1. Hain v. Board of School Directors of Reading School District, 641 A.2d 661, 163 Pa.Cmwlth. 479, 1994.
2. Harman v. Wetzel, 766 F.Supp. 271, E.D. Pa., 1991."

The PA Sunshine Act itself says:

"Section 711. Use of equipment during meetings
(a) Recording devices. Except as provided in subsection (b), a person attending a meeting of an agency shall have the right to use recording devices to record all the proceedings. Nothing in this section shall prohibit the agency from adopting and enforcing reasonable rules for their use under section 710 (relating to rules and regulations for conduct of meetings)."


Friday, March 2, 2007

Police Side-Jobs and Pittsburgh Cost Recovery: New Info

...Since the story aired...

I got a heads-up by e-mail this morning that The Burgh Report blog has posted extensive information and links about how other cities handle cost recovery for off-duty police details.

In working my Channel 4 Action News story last night, I had made calls to other cities for information about how they deal with this issue. None had gotten back to me in time for my deadline, so it wasn't included in the story. I did get some answers after the story aired, and had intended to blog about them this morning.

Cleveland Police spokesman Lt. Thomas Stacho tells me that officers there are authorized to use police equipment, including cars and uniforms on secondary employment details--any "non-deadly' equipment. He says that none of the work is run through the city of Cleveland, that the hiring is all done directly through private employers with no cost recovery by city government. He says the Indians and the Browns both hire off-duty Cleveland police officers directly, without going through Cleveland's police department.

Lt. Stacho suggested I check out Boston for a contrasting example. The police spokesman there tells me that Massachusetts law requires Boston to control what are called "paid details" there. He says Massachusetts and Louisiana are the only two states he knows of with such a requirement. He says a business wishing to hire a Boston police officer for a "paid detail" outside a regular shift must do so through the city. Their pay rate for the "detail" is not overtime, but a different, established, agreed upon rate.

I'm still waiting to hear back from the Philadelphia police public affairs unit.

By the way, while checking out Boston police on the web, I discovered that the police department has its own excellent blog. It uses the blog as a means to quickly and completely inform both the media and the public about crime, public safety, and other police matters.

For any readers who are new to checking out Pittsburgh area blogs, I should note that the burghosphere has been bubbling with detailed analysis-and-opinion posts on this topic for some weeks. The People's Republic of Pittsburgh, for example, has posted not one, but a second and a third installment.

The Post-Gazette's elections blog "Early Returns" has some insights as to why this has become a hot topic in the mayor's race.

I knocked out this post quickly this morning, before making my rounds of news and blog websites, so there may be a ton of other new info out there that I've not read yet.