Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Mayor Before Ethics Board: Notes & Quotes

ayor Luke Ravenstahl came before Pittsburgh's Ethics Hearing Board to answer its questions about two corporations paying his way at a charity golf outing.

Board members do not accuse the mayor of breaking the law. They wanted a public dialog with Ravenstahl about the implications of UPMC and the Pittsburgh Penguins picking up the $9,000 tab for his playing at the Lemieux Celebrity Invitational.

The price for a threesome playing two days in the Lemieux charity golf event was $27,000. The Penguins--who struck an arena deal with Mayor Ravenstahl and other government officials--paid the mayor's way for one day. UPMC--which has business and regulatory dealings with the city--hosted him for the other.

Board members questioned whether the public might perceive an appearance of impropriety, even though the city's ethics law clearly provides an exemption for accepting admission to charity events. Ravenstahl says that exemption applies here.

Republican candidate for mayor Mark DeSantis issued a statement charging that Ravenstahl "continues to cling to the letter of the law in an effort to defy its spirit".

Video of my Channel 4 Action news report is on the Pittsburgh Channel website.

Here are some notable quotes from Mayor Ravenstahl's appearance before Pittsburgh's Ethics Hearing Board and from interviews afterward.

Ethics board chair, Sister Patrice Hughes:

• "...these facts might appear on some level to compromise the impartiality of decisions you might make on contracts or other matters."

• "...would the public think that you might be beholden in some direct or indirect way to those who invite you to such an expensive and exclusive event?"

Mayor Ravenstahl:

• "I am proud to have been a participant, and i gladly accepted upmc's invitation. The only thing of value i received was knowing that i played a small part in seeing the work of the foundation will continue."

• "In fact it wasn't a gift. The $9,000 that you reference was given to the Lemieux foundation. In no way did I directly benefit from that."

• "While i recognize the need for close scrutiny of public official, we must allow them to part of the community in which they serve."

Ethics board member, Rabbi Daniel Schiff:

• "...UPMC provided you with the benefit of being at this rather exclusive event, is that an appropriate way to understand it?"

• Schiff: "...a larger benefit monetarily might be of concern." Mayor Ravenstahl: "I would only argue I-- it would be different if I'm receiving the monetary value of the event. This was not a gift to me. I received nothing from UPMC."

Hughes, after the meeting:

• "I think that we pretty much agree that the charitable exemption applied."

Ravenstahl, afterwards:

• "I thought it was a tremendous opportunity for me to restore the faith in the residents of the City of Pittsburgh. That nothing wrong was done there. That my attendance was appropriate."

• "There's no quid pro quo in my administration, and there never will be. So, I will continue to attend these charity events. I will continue to participate. I think it's the mayor's responsibility and duty..."

• "I interact with people who do business in the City of Pittsburgh on a daily basis. That's not going to change. That's healty. But I do want to stress that there's no quid pro quo. There was not with UPMC and there will not be with any organization in the city."

Republican mayoral candidate Mark DeSantis on the mayor's appearance before the ethics board:

• "It's a sad state of affairs that it has to happen at all, number one. But let's hope that the mayor acknowledges the fact that he made a mistake and it was bad judgement. It just reflects bad judgement on the part of the mayor."

•"It's not just understanding the spirit, the letter of the law. It's understanding the spirit of the law, and avoiding even the appearance of impropriety."

• "He took a gratuity for attending a charity event. I have nothing wrong with the mayor or anyone else, any public official attending a charity event. Just don't take your gratuity."

• "You should not accept gratuities from those organizations as mayor, period. No gratuity whatsoever, from any organization that's doing business or seeking to do business with the city."

1 comment:

EdHeath said...

Bob, this is a paste from the last page of the Ethics Handbook, in a section of frequently asked questions (FAQ):

Q. Can a City employee accept complimentary admission to charitable, civic, political or other public advents?
A. Yes, with limitations. No City official, City employee or agent of the City may accept more than $250.00 per calendar year in the aggregate nor may they accept more than $100.00 per calendar year from any single person, agent or other interested party. (City Code § 197.07)

This is an excerpt from a story from one of your competitors (sorry).

"City attorneys determined the Mayor did not receive a round worth $9,000, but received 18 holes of golf, which is valued at $246.75.

According the City Attorneys Office, they followed IRS policy in terms of reporting the value of the item, in this case a round of golf."

Actually, maybe the Mayor received $493.50, two days or rounds of golf.

Obviously this is no longer an issue, but I really think the Ethics Board essentially let the Mayor lead them around. I think that they really dropped the ball on this, by letting him get away with saying that he had received nothing. Did he receive a lot? Maybe not, you can certainly make the assertion that the Mayor was in technical violation of the Ethics Code. Maybe not the case, because of vagueries in the Ethics Code, but the assertion. And maybe we don't want the Mayor to skip charitable events, but he needs to be open about what value he received.

This Mayor typically does not admit negative behavior until forced to. Unless someone holds his feet to the fire, he is not going to grow up anytime soon.