Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Update On The Mayor's Race Debates

"Commitment 2007"

The Peduto campaign e-mailed a news release on Tuesday noting that
--a week after his initial challenge-- no televised debates have yet been scheduled in the race for mayor. The campaign also released the text of a letter from Councilman Peduto to Mayor Ravenstahl, dated Monday, February 26. In the letter, Peduto invites Ravenstahl to a debate at Sunday's City Democratic Committee meeting, prior to the endorsement vote.


My report on Channel 4 Action News at Six, on February 19th, 2007:

"Mayor Luke Ravenstahl often invokes the name and memory of the late Bob O'Connor."

"But tonight, it's Councilman Bill Peduto who's doing it."

"He wants to have mayoral debates on TV––and plenty of them. Peduto say's it's what Bob O'Connor would do. In fact, looking back to 2005, he says it's what Bob O'Connor did do, as you see in this file video of a debate here in the WTAE studios during the last campaign. With 84 days left before the spring primary, Mayor Ravenstahl's fellow democrat wants eight on-air face offs on the issues."

"Councilman Bill Peduto told me 'Bob and I understood the importance of getting the message out to the people and doing it, not through sound bites, but through standing and debating the issues. And I'm hoping that Luke will join me in having a series of eight televised debates, just like Bob O'Connor and I did.'"

"Mayor Luke Ravenstahl responded, saying 'my initial reaction is, I'd be happy to participate in all the network debates, and be happy to do that. The difference, I would argue now, between myself and that year, is: I'm the mayor now. We have a lot of responsibilities on a day-to-day basis to run the city. But I would be happy to make myself available.'"

"Channel 4 Action News took Peduto up on his call. We've issued offers to both candidates to debate on WTAE-TV. So far, we've heard back from Peduto, who has formally accepted. We're awaiting a formal answer back from the Ravenstahl campaign. Informally, the mayor expressed to me his interest in debating here on WTAE."


Catching Up On The McNeilly Lawsuit

Reading between the lines?

here was word last week of a settlement conference in Pittsburgh Police Commander Catherine McNeilly's whistleblower lawsuit against the city and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. Lawyers for McNeilly and the city were negotiating to see if they can reach a settlement instead of going to trial. All parties made it clear, however, that they're talking at the request of the judge who reversed McNeilly's demotion.

The following is a partial transcript of questions and answers exchanged with reporters as the parties left the federal courthouse after their meeting with the judge. Their answers below may speak more to meeting legal obligations to talk than to actual progress.

Q: “Is the case over?”

Assistant City Solicitor Michael Kennedy: "The court has ordered that we engage in settlement discussions. that is part of all of these cases: we engage in good faith settlement negotiations. we are doing what the court requires us to do in this matter."

Q: “What happened here today?”

Bill Goodrich, Personal Counsel to the Mayor: "We had a talk with the judge. The judge wanted to see what was going on. We're under a court mandate to continue talking with the parties, and until that matter---we have orders to report back to the court."

Q: "What does the mayor want to see happen here?"

Bill Goodrich: "I'm not quite sure what the mayor wants to see has to do with it. I think it's a question of what the litigation shows as to-- and the results of the litigation."

Q: "Are you close to settlement?"

Bill Goodrich: "We are still talking, as ordered by the court. The court has requested that we continue to speak. It was part of the order of court originally that was issued by the court back when the injunction was determined and was issued by the court. And so we will continue as the court wishes.

Q: "What does the mayor want out of all this?"

Bill Goodrich: "The mayor wants to see see that justice is done for all the parties."

McNeilly's Attorney Tim O'Brien: "We discussed with the court what the parties had been doing since we filed the law suit. Basically, the parties have been obligated to --in accordance with the court rules --to engage in good faith settlement negotiations. The parties have complied with that obligation. We're in the process of continuing those negotiations and that's where it stands."

Q: "How many hours or days of negotiations of a possible settlement have taken place?"

Tim O'Brien: "It' s been hard to keep track of that, but quite a few."

Q: "Are you ready to depose the mayor?"

Tim O'Brien: "At this point, in compliance with the court rules, we're still in the process of engaging in good faith settlement negotiations. And as long as those negotiations are going on, that's what we're doing to do."

Q: "Is there a time frame within which this has to be resolved or is this open ended?"

Tim O'Brien: "It's not open ended, but it's subject to a reasonable period of time. As long as there are there are good faith settlement negotiations going on which we are required to engage in, that's what we are going to do."

Q: "Are you satisfied with the progress of the good faith negotiations? "

Tim O'Brien: "Well, we're still at it, so I think we're satisfied with the progress so far."

Q: "What are the odds this will go to trial---ever?"

Tim O'Brien: "Very hard to handicap. As I said, we're involved in good faith settlement negotiations, and as long as that's going on, that's what we're going to do."


Friday, February 16, 2007

The Race For Mayor Warms Up Online

An e-mail news release arrived at 7:14 this morning announcing “Peduto Launches Interactive Cyber Campaign”.

This new Peduto site has links to MySpace and Facebook incarnations, and offers a blog and YouTube videos. It will be interesting to see how quickly the Ravenstahl site responds with new content.

Both Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Councilman Bill Peduto have had what I’d describe as placeholder websites for some time.


Back Up, Back Up, Back Up

Hard Drive Woes

’ve not been posting this past week because my free time for computer tinkering has been dominated by problems with an older hard drive. It’s not supposed to make potato-chip-like crunching sounds, is it?

They warn that all computer hard drives will eventually fail, but over many years and computers I’ve not had it happen yet. This one appears to be headed that way. My attempts since my last blog post to back up all of the files on this drive have been foiled by freeze-ups. (That seems like an appropriate parallel to this week’s weather, doesn’t it?) I’ve picked up a program called “Data Rescue II” which should help me do the job.

I’m hoping to coax another half-year out of this several-years-old iMac until models with Mac OS Leopard start shipping. We’ll see.

Moral: I resolve to be much better about backing up my data than I’ve been over the past year (or two).


Friday, February 9, 2007

A Quick Ethics Board Update: [(5 -1)-2]

Two members attended an orientation hosted by the City Solicitor at the Mayor’s office.

From this morning's Trib (10th down):

"Pittsburgh's Ethics Hearing Board met for the first time Thursday, more than a decade after it was created, but it couldn't form a quorum."

From the PG:

"The city of Pittsburgh's Ethics Hearing Board tried to meet yesterday for the first time in recent memory but did not have enough members present to take any action."


Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Ethics, Security, & A Podcast

Some Random Notes
Of Interest

Pittsburgh's Ethics Hearings Board (video link) meets this week. Here are a few items to bring things up to date since the last post on this topic.

• On February 1st, we aired this story on Channel Four Action News:

"...This afternoon Councilman Bill Peduto announced he's convening a meeting of the board at noon next Friday. Two hours later, Mayor Ravenstahl's office said he's convening an ethics board meeting at four, next Thursday."

"Peduto says he has power as a councilman to call the Ethics Board together. 'Absolutely. because I was the one who worked with Bob O'Connor in order to get the board back and activate it. My predecessor, my former boss Dan Cohen, was the person who wrote the ethics rules for the City of Pittsburgh. it's an issue i've been involved with for 12 years'."

"Mayor Ravenstahl's office says he has the executive power to call the meeting."

"It's not clear if the ethics board will attend both the Thursday and the Friday meetings."

• The next day, an Ethics Board member told me that Peduto had cancelled his attempt to convene the board this coming Friday. Our assignment desk later confirmed this with Peduto's office, which said that more members would be available to attend the meeting on Thursday.


There's a funny new "'I'm a PC', 'I'm a Mac'" ad. Take a second to check out the latest one here.

Dennis Roddy's latest podcast is his best yet. This edition of his audio journal explores the story of Molly Jean Dilts, who was the subject of his story in Sunday's PG.


Saturday, February 3, 2007

A Page Torn From My Graphic Novel

his is not a pipe.” by RenĂ© Magritte. Quoting Wikipedia, “Ceci n'est pas une pipe ...seems a contradiction, but is actually true: the painting is not a pipe, it is an image of a pipe.”

Graphic Novels in Wikipedia


Thursday, February 1, 2007

Ethics Panel: February Thaw?

Deep Freeze Since 1992

he panel that's supposed to spearhead the city's ethics standards hasn't held one meeting since its five members were confirmed last July. My story on the situation aired last night.

Pittsburgh's Ethics Hearing Board has been in a deep freeze since 1992; for years it didn't have any members at all. The board is supposed to investigate allegations of misconduct by elected officials or city government employees. When the controversy over Twanda Carlisle's office practices peaked last year, the councilwoman's colleagues and the O'Connor administration said they were going to move quickly to follow the city's ethics law and revive the ethics board. Check out last spring's coverage on the Pittsburgh Channel.

Repeated checks with the Mayor's Office since last fall brought assurances the ethics board would meet soon. That was the answer from Mayor Ravenstahl when I asked again on Tuesday: "we just internally discussed; they are going to be meeting here in the very near future."

Two ethics board members refused to answer my questions about their failure to hold a single meeting. Two others were not returning my calls. I discovered that the fifth member--the only attorney on the panel--submitted his resignation to Mayor Ravenstahl weeks ago.

The resignation leaves a rabbi, a nun, a presbyterian minister, and a consultant to the Alcoa Foundation on the ethics board. During the past half-year, they haven't elected a chair or vice-chair, as described by city law. (You can see the city's Ethics Handbook here.)

Late Wednesday afternoon, ethics board member Sister Patrice Hughes did return my call. She says she's surprised that they still haven't been called together. Sister Hughes says ethics board members did make attempts to contact Mayor Ravenstahl. She said "apparently it's not a top priority right now".

The Mayor says "I think the transition period between the O'Connor administration and my administration is one reason, as well as the other issues that we face on a daily basis".

The Mayor's spokesman Dick Skrinjar now says the ethics board will meet sometime next week. He couldn't name the time or place yet, or say whether its organizing meeting is covered by the Pennsylvania's Sunshine Law. Sister Hughes told me she had not been notified of those meeting plans.