This weekend, I hope to post a podcast of my Q&A with Mayor Ravenstahl on his decision not to rescind the controversial police promotions. The video was to be added to The Pittsburgh Channel website this evening, but at last check it hasn't appeared. If the video isn't available, I'll provide the audio here on The Busman's Holiday blog.
Friday, June 29, 2007
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Meanwhile, credit to Maria of 2 Political Junkies for being the first to publish Police Commander Catherine McNeilly's letter touching on this story.
The commander e-mailed a letter to the editor in response to the Post-Gazette's mayoral report card story. That letter also addresses the promotions controversy.
Channel 4 Action News reporter Gus Rosendale quoted from the commander's letter in his story on Monday. He also reported on the Mayor's comments Tuesday. I've held off on posting the entire letter, while waiting to see if the PG was going to print it. (Predicting publication dates can be a tricky business, as you can see in this post.) Since her letter is now already in the burghosphere, here goes.
With permission from the commander and from Gus, I'm quoting her e-mail provided to Channel 4 Action News. Note that it was sent prior to the latest developments.
[A]n article appeared in Sunday’s Post-Gazette titled “Mayor Meeting Most Goals.”
In this article, the Mayor is "graded" by the Post-Gazette on 38 pledges in 6 categories he made since taking office 10 months ago.
In the category of "Diversity," the Mayor was given a “C” because in September, 2006, he created a “Women’s Commission” intended to bring “concerns of women to the city and improve gender diversity in top staff.” This goal has stalled, however, because his chosen co-chair has moved out of town and, 10 months later, has yet to be replaced.
If the Mayor were truly sincere about his commitment to the “concerns” of women, he had a valuable and unique opportunity back in September, 2006 to tout the Command Staff of the Pittsburgh Police as a “model” of female representation in “top city staff” when 7 out of 12 people (or 58%) who held the rank of Commander or higher were female.
Since becoming Mayor, there have been seven promotions made to the Command Staff of the Pittsburgh Police. Six of those promotions were male. Today, 6 of the 14 people (or 43%) of the Command Staff is female. Sadly, Mr. Ravenstahl missed a golden opportunity, and as of the date “Ravenstahl’s Report Card” was published, the same Command Staff of the Pittsburgh Police is no longer the “model” that it was just 10 month ago.
One of the most recent males promoted to the Command Staff jumped over a number of females (and males) who have rank, formal degrees, higher degrees and well-respected police management training which highly qualifies them for such a move upward – but they were not even considered for such a move.
Additionally, as has been widely reported, the last three promotions have raised concerns to a number of women’s groups in the Pittsburgh area because of allegations of domestic abuse; however, Mr. Ravenstahl will not even address the “concerns" of these women.
My opinion is the Post-Gazette has been much too lenient in giving the Mayor a “C” in these areas. If I were his professor in “Women’s Studies” and he were my student, it would be obvious by this time that he just isn’t getting it - he would have failed my course miserably.
Catherine R. McNeilly
(The writer is a Commander with the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police)
Sunday, June 24, 2007
... and so is this funny satire on YouTube.
As neat as the iPhone is, I'm not sure I'm up for changing carriers just yet. I'm also not sure about spending money that could go towards buying a new desktop computer soon. I'm trying to get more mileage out of the aging hard drive in my iMac, until the next Mac OS X--Leopard--is released this fall.
Leopard itself is promising some great new features and flashy graphics. The one thing I'm not sure I like is the new set of folder icons for music, movies, and other items in Leopard's Home Folder. I've only spotted a glimpse of them, but they strike me as subdued when compared with the eye candy of the new Dock, Cover Flow, and Quick Look.
Thank goodness for electronic filing. I'm not talking about tax returns, I'm talking about electronic filing of court documents in the Wecht case. The policy has saved many trees from sacrificial deaths as quintuplicate copies filed in Pittsburgh federal court.
The Wecht case may be eons from coming to trial, but the parties have already generated 488 court documents. That's documents--not pages. Each of the documents may be dozens of pages, some with attached exhibits running for many pages themselves.
I blogged about "Crouching Lawyer, Hidden Attorney" and "Wecht Defense Team Strikes Back". I sat out coverage of the government's response-to-the-response (Document 486), and the defense's request to file a response-to-the-response-to-the-response (also known as "motion to file sur-reply to motion for sanctions", Document 487).
That brings us to Document 488--the judge's response to the flurry over U.S. Attorney Buchanan's call for Wecht's attorneys to be punished.
Judge Arthur J. Schwab has filed a court order referring this side-dispute to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's disciplinary board.
The judge writes:
• the question of whether or not comments by Wecht's lawyers violate court rules "is also of significant interest to attorneys admitted to practice in the state and federal courts of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and to the public."
If the disciplinary board agrees to take over refereeing the sanctions battle, the inevitable Document 489 may move on to other issues in the Wecht case.
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Once again, a federal grand jury is looking into the activities of an Allegheny County official. This time, federal authorities are asking questions about Judge Jeffrey Manning.
The grand jury called at least one attorney--Robert Stewart--as a witness to answer questions under oath about Judge Manning. Stewart's lawyer Tom Ceraso says he believes that federal authorities have been asking questions concerning the judge for about a year. Ceraso says it appears one focus is on whether or not the judge gives favorable treatment to lawyer friends.
You can see my Channel 4 Action News report on The Pittsburgh Channel, and the I'm including links to the stories from The Trib & the PG.
Here's a transcript of a portion of Ceraso's Q&A with reporters on the steps of the federal courthouse in downtown Pittsburgh.
Click the "read more" link to expand this post.
Q: "Explain what brings attorney Stewart here today, what your understanding is (of) what they're focusing on."
A: "That's a great question. You know, I have no idea, I have no insight as what the United States Attorney's office is looking for. I can tell you that with regard to my client--with regard to Bobby--the inquriy is, he did share Steeler tickets with Judge Manning and did what a lot of people in Pittsburgh do in regard to Steeler tickets. But over and above that, in terms of attempting to look at this, in terms of any illegality, I very frankly don't see any."
"Now, as I said before, the United States Attorney's Office may not like the way that business is conducted down the street. That doesn't make it a federal crime. And I'm very concerned that what they're doing is--they're looking at this from a very personal aspect, and not assessing what is occurring. Because, as I said, they're talking about a very, very good judge, they're talking about good attorneys, and I think they're putting them all in a very awkward position."
Q: "Is there any kind of quid pro quo?"
A; "There is no quid pro quo whatsoever. And if you get down and you take a look at Judge Manning's record, and if you take a look at what Judge Manning has done and what these attorneys have done, there simply is no quid pro quo in any of this."
Q: "What sort of items have they subpoenaed from Mr. Stewart?"
A: "Records, checkbooks, checks. Checks back and forth between he and the judge. Campaign material, that type of thing."
Q: "What is Pat Thomassey's involvement here? Because you represent him as well."
A: "Pat Thomassey has no involvement right now. He and the judge are friends. They've done things together. You know, for some reason, there seems to be the atmosphere that you cannot be friendly with a judge, being an attorney--and that is just wrong. That relationship has lasted for a long time. Pat is a very ethical and a very good attorney. He would not expect anything from the judge, and the judge wouldn't give him anything because of that friendship. It just isn't happening. It's an unfair assumption that because they know each other, there's something wrong with it. That's unfair."
Q: "Tell us a little bit about the trips that the two have taken."
A: "They took trips, with another judge, with other attorneys. They shared expenses. They did what people do that are friends. That doesn't make it wrong."
Q: "Is the thrust of their questions such that they are looking for some suggestion that in some way the judge's rulings are influenced by these personal relationships?"
A: "That apparently is what they're looking for. But if they take a look at how this judge has handled himself. I think that anybody that looks at the way Judge Manning has handled that courtroom knows that simply has not occurred. It hasn't occurred, and I don't believe that there's any evidence whatsoever that they're going to going to uncover that there's was ever any favoritism on the part of this judge with regard to any attorney. It just simply doesn't happen if you look at their records."
Q: "Based on their inquiries to Mr. Stewart, Mr. Thomassey, how long has this probe been going on?"
A: "It's been going on an awfully long time, with a lot of innuendo, and I see no end to it at this point. It's continuing to go on."
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
As covered in this earlier post, U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan is urging the judge presiding over former Coroner Cyril Wecht's public corruption trial to throw Wecht's lawyers into jail and suspend them from practicing law in federal court.
She's accusing Mark Rush and Jerry McDevitt of having "repeatedly lied to the court, lied to the media, breached their ethical obligations as lawyers and flaunted the orders of this court.
Wecht's lawyers argue that if their talking to the media deserves punishment by the court, that the U.S. Attorney's office could be subject to the same thing. In their response to Buchanan, McDevitt and Rush tell the judge:
• "The Motion is baseless. It is a hatchet job that is not worthy of the United States Attorneys office. We respectfully request that it be denied in its entirety. "
• "The prosecution's initial media blitz put Dr. Wecht in a devastatingly negative light..."
"The Motion seems to be utterly blind to the fact that if defense counsel's statements are regarded as sanctionable, the Government and its representatives are surely subject to the same or greater sanctions in light of their own conduct" ... "and their eagerness to put this case in the media spotlight at the earliest possible moment." "...Dr. Wecht reserves the right to file a cross motion for sanctions as appropriate..."
They also write that the prosecutors:
• "...are not attempting to jail counsel for telling lies. They are attempting to do so because it is the truth they fear."
Former U.S. Attorney general Dick Thornburgh is a member of Wecht's defense team. He's filed an affidavit under oath backing up statements made by McDevitt and Rush to the PG that triggered Buchanan's motion. Thornburgh says Buchanan had wanted to have Wecht arrested because she claimed he was "a flight risk to Israel". He also swears he had to go over Buchanan's head to a Justice Department official in Washington in order to keep Wecht from facing a 'perp walk' before news cameras. Click the image below to read that page from his sworn statement.
The Post-Gazette has already posted Thornburgh's complete affidavit online.
Wecht's attorneys say their public comments are protected free speech. The U.S. Attorney's office had no comment Friday on the latest filing by Wecht's lawyers.
Friday, June 15, 2007
"Ravenstahl Wants Department Heads To Resign".
(I've also reposted this blog entry to repair some software-related missing text.)
When he launched his first multi-player shakeup, I blogged that "the mayor hints he's not done, saying there could be 'perhaps a reshuffling of the entire fifth floor.' "
Looking back, we now see that late April was an especially eventful week for Mayor Ravenstahl. That Monday, he made his much-discussed trip to Oakmont to meet Tiger Woods. That Friday, he removed then-Press-Secretary Dick Skrinjar from his role as the mayor's top communications advisor .
At the start of May, I noted that it was unusual to vacate such a high-ranking post without having someone waiting in the wings. Days after the change, the Mayor said Skrinjar's permanent replacement would be in place within four weeks. So far, it's been more than six weeks and the mayor says he's more than a hundred resumes have crossed his desk. The city website now lists December 31st, 2007 as the last day to apply.
Councilman Jim Motznik tells me: "I've heard the rumor of the street that I wanted to be the public works director and the mayor has offered me the position, and that's not correct. I haven't been offered the public works director job, and I'm not interested in it."
Last night, after 7 pm, the mayor's office issued this news release:
[PITTSBURGH] June 14, 2007 Mayor Luke Ravenstahl asked for resignation letters from current City of Pittsburgh departmental directors and board chairs of the Pennsylvania Water and Sewer Authority, the Urban Redevelopment Authority and the Pittsburgh Parking Authority today in an effort to take a new look at how our city departments and authorities can better serve Pittsburgh. All directors not appointed by Mayor Ravenstahl have been asked to serve the City in an acting capacity and are encouraged to reapply for the position in order to prove they are the best person for the job.
“All Directors are admirable colleagues of mine who have been working very hard,” said Mayor Ravenstahl. “However, I am not satisfied with the condition of City government. As Mayor, I owe it to the people of Pittsburgh to build our government with the best people who are capable of doing the best job. Leadership may need to change, but I am making a tough decision in order to ensure that this City is heading in the right direction.”
A national candidate search will take place effective today in order to put the best possible team in place to serve the city. The process will take a period of time. The market will dictate the level and scope of applicants and in turn create the timeline.
The following directors were already appointed by the mayor: City Planning Director Noor Ismail; Fire Chief and Public Safety Director Michael Huss; Police Chief Nathan Harper; Personnel Director Barbara Trant; Budget Director Scott Kunka."
Thursday, June 14, 2007
Here's a YouTube link to the entire video of Mayor Ravenstahl answering my questions about his encounter with Tiger Woods. You can check out a transcript later in this post. The mayor insists he didn't know he was heading for a $900-a-ticket private event when set out on his quest to meet Tiger. When pressed, he acknowledges that he called ahead asking for a chance to see Woods but that no one returned his phone call. Ravenstahl says he just wanted to meet him--both as a golf fan and in his capacity as mayor--and that he now wants to put the matter behind him.
Note: During my interview, the mayor criticizes KDKA's coverage of the story. Those comments weren't included in my broadcast report, which focuses on the mayor's direct account of what happened. Because they appear in the unedited interview, I should note that Jon Delano reports he did offer the mayor the opportunity to comment and that the mayor declined.
Click on the "Read More" link below to read a transcript of my Q&A with the mayor.
Bob Mayo: "..The flap over the visit to Oakmont for that pre-U.S. Open event with Tiger Woods. What's your answer to what exactly happened that day?"
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl: "Well, I wish to put this matter behind me, first of all. And my recollection of the situation, being that I was there, is much different than what has been reported from KDKA."
"I was there. I was invited to have lunch. I was invited and given a T-Shirt. I was invited and given a badge to walk along. At no point did I, as was suggested, crash any party, sneak in to any event."
"(I) had discussions with everybody. The only thing that I was asked not to do was ask Tiger Woods for an autograph, which I certainly didn't."
"The sources that are referenced, I think the fact that they are anonymous at this point is troubling to me."
"For example, Gerry Dulac from the Post-Gazette, he was quoted as saying that he was there with me. I spent time with him that day. The events that took place that day are nothing as was reported by KDKA."
"So, it's been frustrating in many ways. And you know, when you're the mayor of the city, and you live your life under the microscope, you understand that type of activity is going to happen."
"I just wish I would have had the opportunity to discuss the issue prior to the story being run, so I could have given my side of the story. But KDKA chose to go in a different direction and I think that's unfortunate."
Mayo: "The Trib reported this back in early May, so KDKA apparently wasn't alone in this. Just to clarify, some people said, oh, you invited yourself. Did you invite yourself, or did the U.S. Open invite you, or did American Express invite you?"
Mayor Ravenstahl: "I went to Oakmont that day in an attempt to meet Tiger Woods. At the time I got there, I didn't know that he was going to golf and American Express people were going to be invited. So I simply went there to say hello, welcome him to Pittsburgh, spend five minutes with him. Didn't know that he'd be golfing in the afternoon with the people."
"Once I found that out, and once I was invited, certainly I accepted. But I did not go out there knowing that American Express had the opportunity to go with him that afternoon. That was never my intention. My intention was simply to say hello, welcome him, and spend, you, know, a minute or two with him."
Mayo: "You had called ahead, but hadn't heard back--you showed up?"
Mayor Ravenstahl: "Yeah, I called personally and hadn't heard back, and so I went out and showed up, in the hopes of spending a couple of minutes with him. At which time I was asked to park here, and come on in and have lunch, and it really went from there."
Mayo: "So that's the point at which you were invited, after you showed up?...
Mayor Ravenstahl: "Absolutely, right...."
Mayo: "...They said, stay, come in?"
Mayor Ravenstahl: "...Yep, absolutely."
Mayo: "The other thing would be, were you there as the mayor, were you there as an individual fan?"
Mayor Ravenstahl: "Probably a little bit of both. You know, I'm certainly a big golf fan, and I there as the mayor, as well, to welcome him to the city. And when I had the brief opportunity for a minute or two, I did welcome him as the Mayor of Pittsburgh. And so, I guess I was there as a golf fan, certainly, but as the mayor as well."
Are there more pictures of Mayor Ravenstahl's Tiger Woods encounter?
Maria of' 2 Political Junkies suggested I take a second look at the YouTube video I mentioned in my last post. When I tried, I discovered it's been 'removed by the user'.
Meanwhile, Pittsburgh's premier site for satire, The Carbolic Smoke Blog, is busy scouring its own photo archives on this topic.
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Two Snapshots From The Video
A reader of 2 Political Junkies turned up this YouTube video from the day of the encounter between Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Tiger Woods. Above are the two fleeting glimpses of the mayor in the crowd following Woods. They last for only seconds.
The Trib's 'Whispers' first reported on this back on May and Jon Delano gave the story new life with fresh details this week.
PG's Dulac Says Mayor Had Invite To Tiger Event?
Here's another version to check out. The Post-Gazette's Gerry Dulac said in a PG online chat in May that "Mayor Luke did not crash the party, as you suggest, but he was there -- with an invitation. And the party was getting to walk the fairways when Tiger played a practice round. I know, I saw him there and walked a couple holes with him. He's a big golf fan." It's the fourth question-and-answer down from the top.
The Burghosphere is hopping with discussions about this.
Saturday, June 9, 2007
(Prologue: Following the Wecht case is like watching a martial arts film. As you read the court papers, you'll witness gleams of razor-sharp prose and rhetoric from lawyers on both sides. I'm highlighting some quotes here today but later I may post some of the court filings themselves, as I did in the McNeilly case. E-mail me if you're interested, and watch for a new post when Wecht's lawyers file their response in court.)
There are major developments in the battle between federal prosecutors and lawyers for former Coroner Doctor Cyril Wecht. U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan has filed a court motion seeking sanctions and suggesting Wecht's lawyers deserve to be jailed or banned from practicing law in federal court.
She's accusing Wecht's lawyers of having:
• "repeatedly lied to the court, lied to the media, breached their ethical obligations as lawyers, violated the rules of the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, and flaunted the orders of this Court."
The motion charges that:
• "On or before June 6, 2007, Mr. Rush and Mr. McDevitt committed their latest, and perhaps most egregious, act of professional misconduct, displayed on the front page of the June 7, 2007, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette... In one fell swoop, Mr. Rush and Mr. McDevitt made improper extrajudicial statements about plea discussions and the merits of the case that were both knowingly false and substantially likely to prejudice the case, all the while violating some of the most basic and fundamental principles of professionalism."
At issue are statements by Wecht's lawyers Mark Rush and Jerry McDevitt, who are defending Wecht against public corruption charges. Wecht's lawyers claim the prosecution is political. In the latest court papers, Buchanan argues that the attorneys falsely told the Post-Gazette that her office was trying to reach a deal in the case because Buchanan was facing questioning by Congress.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Stallings signed and filed a sworn affidavit with the motion in which he not only rebuts the claims by Wecht's attorneys, but pledges "If I ever came to believe that this prosecution, or any prosecution I was involved in, was motivated by political considerations rather than justice considerations, I would resign from my post as Assistant United States Attorney."
Wecht's attorneys tell me:
• "We deny the allegations and look forward to putting forth the true set of facts before a tribunal about their conduct in this case."
They quote from a 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in the Wecht case that strikes down local federal court rules limiting the speech of attorneys. That opinion says:
• "Here, it is undisputed that Wecht’s attorneys are willing to speak about the case and that Local Rule 83.1 limits their ability to do so. To the extent that an occasion arises in the future where defense counsel desires to make public statements about the case, we believe the media and public have a legitimate interest in those comments not being inhibited by overly restrictive limitations."
Wecht's attorneys also say:
"The very first time we speak, they run into court and ask the judge to throw us into jail and suspend our licenses to practice law in federal court."
Pittsburgh's not alone in redding up. File this under things found while googling other things.
The Da Voar Redd Up is a spring cleanup that's been around for 20 years in Shetland.
Where's Shetland? Well, let's check the Shetlopedia. A link there tells us "Shetland is the most northerly Island group of Scotland."
Pittsburgh's Ethics Hearing Board has plenty on its "to do" list.
Friday was the board's second meeting. During that session:
• It made public a letter it received from Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. In that letter, the mayor calls on the panel to examine the case of Redd-Up Crew members who wore campaign t-shirts backing Councilman Jeff Koch while on city time. Board members decided to seek more information on the Public Works Department dress code, as well as a definition of the "political activity" prohibited by law for city employees during work hours.
• Councilman Bill Peduto urged the board to come up with ways to strengthen Pittsburgh's ethics code. Peduto addressed the board during its public comment period. He told the members "there is a great need for this board. You serve as the watchdog to keep ethical behavior within city government--as long as you use the power." Peduto pledged to introduce legislation to strengthen the city's ethics law, based on the board members recommendations.
• The ethics board went into executive session to privately discuss a citizen complaint against a city employee. It's been previously reported that Jason Phillips intended to file a complaint against Koch staffer Eileen Conroy for allegedly making a campaign call from the councilman's government office.
Some ethics board members said once again that they want to emphasize ethics education in addition to enforcement. When questioned by reporters, board chair Sister Patrice Hughes insisted that doesn't mean a de-emphasis of the panel's enforcement duties. "We can subpoena people, we can investigate. No, I don't mean to infer in any way that we are watering down the responsibilities that we have, and our commitment to be very credible servants of this city", said Hughes.
This meeting of the ethics board was moved from City Council Chamber to a room at 200 Ross Street. A check with council's office revealed no conflicting event to explain the move, however. Peduto urged the ethics board to use Council Chamber for future meetings, so they can be cablecast.
Friday, June 8, 2007
Newsweek's Howard Fineman--a former 'burgher--has posted a more than 13-hundred word web exclusive column on Pittsburgh and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. I came across it while checking my Google News bookmarks this morning.
It's headlined "The Politics of Pittsburgh: A city down on its luck has an optimistic young leader. The scene there mirrors our national situation. Maybe we can all learn something from Luke Ravenstahl."
Here's the link, along with some breakout quotes to whet your appetite:
• "The mayor is an interesting accident: 27-year-old Luke Ravenstahl, who ascended from the city council after the death of the elected mayor. Master Luke is the youngest mayor of a major city in modern history. Hey, if nothing else, it got him on "Letterman."
• "Ravenstahl’s challenge, and Pittsburgh’s, are emblematic of our national situation at this key moment. Politically, America also is glorious but beleaguered, maxed out on credit, despised in the world..."
• "A merger of city and county—a move made by many other regions—would extinguish Pittsburgh’s 'voice,' Ravenstahl told me. 'No one would pay attention to urban issues.'"
• "Interviewing him in the vast conference room is a little disconcerting. The walls are decorated with portraits of past mayors of the city, which was founded in 1758. Beneath portraits of men in powdered wigs sits Ravenstahl, with gel in his close-cropped hair. He speaks forcefully, but his words are carefully chosen."
Thursday, June 7, 2007
Pittsburgh's Ethics Hearing Board still plans to meet Friday morning at 10, but it won't be using the City Council chamber this time.
The law department says the meeting's location has been shifted to the large conference room on the first floor of the building at 200 Ross Street.
The ethics hearing board web page hasn't been updated yet.
At last word (Early Returns, third story) , the panel--created 17 years ago--wasn't accepting complaints from the public because it hadn't come up with a complaint form. Allegheny County's complaint form is online at this link, and the state provides its complaint form here.
Saturday, June 2, 2007
My Channel 4 Action News report based on the interview is now also online. (A quick note: let me know if you have any problem listening to the podcast. Because of a temporary tech issue, I had to save it in a different format than I usually use. )