Friday, July 20, 2007

In Plain Sight


Credit goes to the Trib for nailing down the story that the Pittsburgh Penguins--not just UPMC--picked up the mayor's tab at the Lemieux Celebrity Invitational charity golf event. My Channel 4 Action News Report is available here.

There's a backstory here that's worth telling.

Back on July 11th, I'd contacted the mayor's office to ask whether the mayor might be reimbursing UPMC. The mayor was on vacation, but a member of his staff e-mailed me his statement, which I included in-full at the close of this blog entry.

Check out the first sentence of the mayor's second paragraph:

"I attended the Foundation Invitational as a guest of two of our region’s greatest assets: the Pittsburgh Penguins and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center."

At the time, I took the mention of the Penguins as a reference to the Lemieux charity event. We now know the sentence--more than halfway into the mayor's statement--was intended to convey much more: that the Penguins organization had also paid for the Mayor.

A mayor's office staffer told me today she was "surprised we didn't get more questions about that". She said the release had been provided to other reporters as well.

During today's question-and-answer session with the media, the mayor pointed out that the Post-Gazette had already reported on his golfing with the Penguins in a July 6th article.

The PG's reporter tells me, however, he had not taken the information to mean the Penguins had paid for the mayor's first day of golfing. The Trib's reporter had apparently not seen the mayor's July 11th e-mailed statement; he developed his latest story independently.

So, what do we take from all of this? First, there's my embarrassment over the meaning of that second paragraph not jumping out at me. (If a journalist had placed this information in the second paragraph, an editor would have called it "burying the lede".) Second, there's the cold comfort that no other reporter caught it at the time, either. Finally, there's a lesson: just as important questions must be asked precisely, the answers to those questions must be analyzed for their precise meaning.



Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Cat Came Back


Monday, July 16, 2007

Podcast--Ethics Board on Mayor's Golfing with UPMC

I've podcast a seven minute segment of the Pittsburgh Ethics Hearing Board discussing the controversy over Mayor Ravenstahl's golfing event. You can listen to it at this link.

Video of one of my Channel 4 Action News reports is on the Pittsburgh Channel.

Here are some key quotes from the board's discussion that were in my TV reports:

•City Ethics Bd Member Rabbi Danny Schiff : "It seems to me that the mayor is certainly in violation of the codes in front of us. Not only the Pittsburgh city code, but perhaps the state ethics act."

•Ethics Bd Vice Chair Kathy Buechel: "We don't want to stop involvement in charitable activity, but something that's worth $27,000 does, I think, seem to the average citizen, to be a perk. "

•Board Chair Sister Patrice Hughes: "It was such an excessive amount of money...even though it was for a charitable cause."

•Rabbi Danny Schiff: " It leaves the public with an impression that there is a gift being given in order to curry favor with the mayor.">

The mayor's office released this statement from Mayor Ravenstahl:

“I was proud to attend and support, and honored to be invited to, the Mario Lemieux Foundation Invitational, a charitable event that has raised millions of dollars to support cancer, neonatal and medical research. My attendance at the event was entirely appropriate under Section 197.07(e) of Pittsburgh’s City Code which addresses admissions to charitable events. I will meet all necessary reporting requirements under the State Ethics Act, such as Statements of Financial Interests, with respect to my attendance at the Lemieux Foundation Invitational. A question was raised about a gift bag I received at the event. Though the value of the gift bag was arguably nominal, and thus permissible under Section 197.07(c) of the City Code, I will return it.

I attended the Foundation Invitational as a guest of two of our region’s greatest assets: the Pittsburgh Penguins and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. As Mayor, you cannot address matters of City business such as job growth, economic development, and payments in lieu of taxes without talking. During the Invitational issues importance to the City were discussed, including my trip to Harrisburg where I lobbied for state budget appropriations relevant to arena funding, and UPMC’s ongoing partnership with us to contribute payments in lieu of taxes.”


Monday, July 9, 2007

Past Mayors Braved Key Council Hearings

Mayor Caliguiri
Joyce Mendelsohn/Post-Gazette Photo, Dec. 1984

The moment was rare and dramatic.

I remember Mayor Dick Caliguiri attending a City Council hearing about his controversial plan to merge then-separate Police, Fire, and EMS departments into three bureaus under one new Public Safety Department. The change was strongly opposed by the police and firefighters unions, whose members packed council chamber as he spoke. I clearly recall Mayor Caliguiri sitting opposite the council members, fielding their questions about his plans as a standing-room-only crowd of opponents rumbled with sounds of disapproval. I was a radio reporter covering council at the time. Below you'll find clippings from the Pittsburgh Press and the Post-Gazette describing what Mayor Caliguiri said and did that day.

Here's a link to my Channel 4 Action News report; it includes video of Mayors Murphy, Masloff, and Caliguiri in rare policy debate appearances before City Council.

Click image to enlarge.

Click image to enlarge.

The Press and PG reports were front page stories, the second items down from the mastheads. Click 'Read More' if you're interested in seeing the rest of the clippings.

PG article, part 2. Click image to enlarge.

Press article, part 2. Click image to enlarge.


Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Mayor Golfs During Hearing

The following post is based on my TV report
for Channel 4 Action News At Six.

Mayor Ravenstahl and his administration had refused to reveal where he was during the city council hearing dealing with the controversial police promotions--a hearing that some women's leaders had urged him to attend. Now that the answer to the question of his whereabouts has come to light, the mayor is facing some criticisms.

The Mario Lemieux Foundation now confirms that Mayor Ravenstahl was playing golf at the private Mario Lemieux Celebrity Invitational at Laurel Valley Golf Club.

Last week the mayor would not explain why he did not accept the invitation to hear 150 women speaking out against the promotion of three police officers with alleged histories of domestic abuse. On June 29, 2007 I asked "just for the record, where were you at the time the hearing was going on?". The Mayor answered "where I was and what I was doing is no reflection on why I wasn't at the hearing".

Jeanne Clark, the activist who gathered petitions for the meeting, told me "think about the person that we elected to that office, Mayor O'Connor. I cannot imagine Bob O'Connor blowing off the women in this city in order to go play golf".

Mayor Ravenstahl responds in a written statement that the golf outing is a charity fundraiser for cancer and neonatal research.

He says says what he describes as unfair criticism "smacks of crass politics and yellow journalism and disappoints me greatly".

In the June 29th interview, the mayor told me. "I didn't feel that my presence there would have been advantageous to the cause. It could have potentially become a political situation, which I didn't want it to be".

Ravenstahl says mayors normally don't attend council hearings, and that the issues are of critical importance to him.

Clark answers that "actions speak louder than words: the mayor keeps telling the women of this city that he understands about domestic violence, he's going to have zero tolerance, he couldn't even be bothered to be at the hearing or watch it on television".

Mark DeSantis, the republican candidate for mayor, tells me "it's poor judgement. Him not going to that hearing is just simply poor judgement. Playing golf instead of going to a hearing the cause of which was the poor handling by the city administration itself shows a complete lack of judgement".

(Note: this post was first filed via mobile Blogger, with links and images added later. I'm now in Akron, Ohio to cover closing arguments in the Donna Moonda murder trial.)



Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Googling David White, The Mayor's Choice

UPDATED: added quotes from Mayor Ravenstahl.

David White, Mayor Ravental's choice as Director of Public Affairs, has made news before--and for much more than being the mayor's athletic trainer at North Catholic High School . White has been UPMC's Community Relations Manager and also headed the 2005 Senior Olympics staged in Pittsburgh.

•Here's a 2004 Post-Gazette story (with a photo) profiling White as "The Force behind the Senior Games". It appeared as part of the paper's "annual Dozen Making A Difference, focusing on 12 people in our community who are working to improve our health".

•This Pittsburgh Business Times story from 2003 that describes his "enormous energy and talent" as "the point man for a major regional event".

•In 2005, a Tribune-Review reporter talked with White about the games' accomplishments under his leadership.

•A University Times item in 2003 also described his work at Pitt and his role in the Senior Games.

Mayor Ravenstahl describes White as a "longtime friend of mine of mine and my family's." The mayor says he "got to know him when I was in high school. And stayed very close with him, and was impressed with the work that he was able to achieve with the Senior Games."

Ravenstahl tells me that he is "very impressed with the work he did as a community relations manager with UPMC. And really felt it was a natural fit, in the transition from his work in UPMC in the private sector, to come over here in the mayor's office and work for me. I'm honored that he chose to walk away from UPMC, which is the largest employer in this region to come and work for my administration, and so I'm excited about the opportunity."

White's connection to the mayor dates back to Ravenstahl's high school education at North Catholic. "That's right. He was my athletic trainer in high school, yes. (He) got my off the injury table and back out onto the field as quickly as possible."

The mayor confirms that they've remained in touch over the years, sharing social contacts, including playing golf and running together. "He's been a close friend of mine and my family's, and when I would like to get away from the job, or spend some private time, he's always been a close friend of mine, and I think that's important to have. Somebody, and as many people as possibly can in your administration that you trust, that you know that are confidants of yours, and that's certainly what he is."

Ravenstahl also said that "as a result of his experience in the senior games and his work at UPMC, there are a lot of relationships in the Pittsburgh area that he was able to build over time. That will be helpful to me as well. This position is one that will be more interactive with the constituents of the City of Pittsburgh, whether that's neighborhood organizations and community groups, business leaders or business organizations, other governmental agencies." Ravenstahl says White "will be conduit and the sharer of information among all of those organizations."


Sunday, July 1, 2007

Ravenstahl Q&A Podcast: Decisions & Responsibility

Here's the link to a podcast of my Q&A with Mayor Ravenstahl on his decision not to rescind the controversial police promotions.

I asked the mayor if he feels he has any personal responsibility for what went wrong in the process. Ravenstahl answered that "it's clear my directors and chiefs have to share all information with me. Understand that they have a job to do and sometimes it requires them to make decisions without first consulting me. But decisions of this magnitude and this type of activity are certainly something that...I think it's clear to everybody--and we all understand--that this is something that I should have been briefed on and made aware of before this decision."

Seeking clarification, I asked if he was saying that he does not feel he was at fault or wrong in any aspect, but rather had decisions made below him and presented to him. He answered "Correct. I felt comfortable in the decision made on Commander Trosky and take responsibility for that decision and stand by it. The other two, again, is a different matter, and one that we have already discussed".

Jeanne Clark of the National Organization for Women was unimpressed, saying "He's not exactly shown himself to be a profile in courage. We're hearing big talk, but we've seen very little action."

When asked, City Council President Doug Shields told me "Harry Truman set the bar and the buck always stops, unfortunately, at the chief executive's desk."

Mayor Ravenstahl says that if he had demoted the controversial officers from their recent promotions, the city would have faced a losing court battle while standing on thin ice. He calls it a difficult decision and says that he's disappointed, angry, and frustrated to be in this position. He told me "I had to make a determination whether to protect the taxpayers' money or--knowing that we would lose--take a stand and say that this is not going to be tolerated. There are other ways that we can take a stand."

Clark said in my Channel 4 Action News interview that "we're talking to lawyers to find out what we can do legally, because the FOP are not the only ones who can sue."

Ravenstahl says he has reprimanded Police Chief Nate Harper for not informing him of the histories of Lt. Charles Rodriguez and Sgt. Eugene Hlavac, though the mayor reaffirms that he stands by the promotion of George Trosky to Commander. "I wasn't informed on the issue. I let the chief know about that. I was not happy; I am not happy. I'm angry with the way this played out. I'm angry with the black eye that this has given the city and the police department, and it was unnecessary," Ravenstahl told me.

Shields says "obviously citizens who are concerned about domestic violence and other issues beyond police matters are upset with the mayor as well. He's going to have to do some bridge-building here."

The mayor declined to reveal where he was during City Council's hearing on the issue. He pointed to his private meeting with members of the City-County Women's Commission the previous day and suggested that his presence in council chamber might have detracted from the hearing's focus.

Mayor Ravenstahl is promising a policy of zero tolerance for domestic abuse, and new city policies and procedures to address the issue of how officers are promoted. He told me he intends to work closely with women's organizations to deal with those issues. He says his goal is to "restore faith in government, change the policies and procedures that are currently in place, which are outdated, to say the least. And at the end of this horrible and black-eye situation, come out with a good, sound policy as we move forward, and insure that this doesn't happen again."

Note: Any trouble listening to the Podcast? E-mail me to let me know.