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.”

12 comments:

Char said...

Bob,

Maybe you can wrangle an invitation to the following non-public mayoral "forum":

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/07197/801968-53.stm

This is an event that should interest the entire city. A podcast or some type of reporting of the event reaching a broader autience other than WDUQ listeners would serve the public well.

EdHeath said...

Well, I think we have to say the Mayor did not walk away from the tournament with $27,000 or $9,000 of anything. He can't apply the value of the donation to his tax return, and he is probably right about the value of the gift bag, in addition to the meals and rounds of golf (which he failed to mention); relatively nominal. Keep the bag. Do I think he showed poor judgment in golfing on the day of an important council hearing? Yes, but that does not rise to the level of an ethical lapse. Sure, the donation required to enter the tournament is a large, scary number ($27,000), but since the Mayor did not make the donation, never had his hands on it and can gain no value from it, that dollar figure should *not* be used in consideration of the ethical issue. I am not sure, but I suspect UPMC and/or the Penguins will include the cost of the Mayor's spot in the golf threesome as part of their community philanthropy. Still, this Mayor has a habit of accepting first and forgetting to total up sports tickets later. And the fact that this event was closed entirely to the general public (as far as I could tell from the Lemieux foundation website) casts a negative spin in the sense of the Mayor preferring to golf with celebrities and the elite rather than to address a difficult and thorny issue of domestic violence and the police. Its heartening that he is discussing payments in lieu of taxes and all, but frankly its getting harder and harder to trust anything this Mayor says about his activities associated with the rich and famous.

Anonymous said...

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

Who going to argue with a nun? Not me. I learned that in 2nd grade.

Anonymous said...

I just hope he actually cooperates with the Ethics Board investigation. He seems to easily brush off the press when he does not feel like responding to them. However, I do not believe Sister Patrice Hughes will take 'no comment' as an acceptable answer.

Anonymous said...

Here's my question: what was Sy Holzer/PNC doing with the foursome if it already included UPMC, the Penguins, Luke and Dan Onorato? Or were the Penguins the host on day one and UPMC the host on day two? I'm confused.

Bob Mayo said...

Char...

I would presume the debate will be open for all media to cover, even if the audience is restricted. I'm on the road at the Moonda trial, so I haven't seen any releases on this. WDUQ does offer online audio...

http://www.wduq.org/news/newsaudio.html

... but I don't know if they format any of it as podcasts.

Bob Mayo said...

To Anonymous of July 16, 8:38 PM...

The PG's Rich Lord reported that:

On the day of the hearing, according to UPMC, the mayor golfed with George Huber, formerly the health system's senior vice president of corporate relations, and Robert Kennedy, the vice president of government relations who was city operations director before leaving for the health care giant in 2005. Mr. Ravenstahl said the Penguins captain, Sidney Crosby, was their celebrity partner."

...and...

"On the first day, the mayor said, he golfed with Penguins President Dave Morehouse, Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato, PNC Bank President Sy Holzer and former football great Joe Theismann. Mr. Onorato also was a guest of UPMC."

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/07187/799709-53.stm

Anonymous said...

Thanks Bob. I'm not a golfer but that's a fivesome on the first day and that isn't normal in a golf outing, is it?

Bob Mayo said...

To Anonymous of July 17, 6:08 AM...

I'm not a golfer either. Googling the term "fivesome" shows that it does exist.

http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&client=safari&rls=en&q=fivesome+golf&btnG=Search

Here's one in the glossary of Leaderboard.com:

http://www.leaderboard.com/GLOSSARY_FIVESOME

Here's a page on the site "PGA Professional" that mentions it under "Group Lessions".

http://www.pgaprofessional.com/golf_lessons.html

Infinonymous said...

A couple of points that seem to have been overlooked:

(1) There is a relevant tax issue, but it doesn't involve deductions. Mayor Ravenstahl might be obligated to identify the value of his participation in this event as income on his tax returns.

(2) UPMC gave the mayor a substantial benefit it received in exchange for a substantial payment to charity. Had UPMC donated $1,000,000 to a charity, received a $200,000 house in return, and given that house to the mayor, would anyone object? Would anyone try to squeeze that past the ethics code?

The value of those two days at Laurel, especially in the rarified context of the Lemieux event, exceeds $1,000. (It also could be valued at $9,000, because that is what some paid to be there, and no non-celebrity was able to play for FMV, but FMV is probably the most appropriate yardstick.)

Mayor Ravenstahl reportedly believes that cameras should be installed where they are likely to reveal improper conduct (and, perhaps, to deter wrongdoing) in the city. Based on those criteria, I nominate the door to his office and the hood of his car. Both are city-owned locations, so there should be no problem arranging installation.

EdHeath said...

Well, Infinonymous, maybe I should flip flop again. I believe the Mayor may be trying an claim an absolute exemption from the city ethics code based on attendance at a charitable event. In which case, value will not matter at all. If there is a relevant “value” issue (1), then *my* feeling is that it is most clearly looked at from a tax perspective, because that shows where the relevant values for donations go. By the way, as I recall, people who receive gifts do not pay taxes on them, so the Mayor is in the clear on that. What I had in mind is the IRS rule that if you attend an event for charity, like a golf tournament, and you make a donation to attend the event, the event’s organizers are obliged to provide you with the, well, as you say, the Fair Market Value of the golf passes and meals and favors handed out. That is the amount used to reduce the total of any deductions you claim. And that is the amount the Mayor should report. Is it $1,000 or more? Was an over night stay part of the package? If so, the Mayor better scramble, because he is in trouble. In his typical fashion, the Mayor is saying the only value he took away is a gift bag, which he will return. I don’t think that is going to fly, but what should the Mayor report? I am only trying to find a “fair” way to evaluate what the Mayor does report. And by the way, of course in your example (2), everyone would object.

Infinonymous said...

I doubt this constitutes a gift as defined by the IRS. Just as Luke was "working" when he was flying in Ron Burkle's jet (not that he was lying when he denied it, because he is too naive to understand that he was working; I assure you Mr. Burkle understood that the flight to NYC was "official business"), this benefit was associated with his work. I leave the resolution of this issue to a tax lawyer.

Regarding the "everyone would object" expectation: Have you read any of the 'hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil' messages on this board, the Hogue board and others?