Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Pittsburgh Promise: Notes & Quotes

This blog post provides some key quotes from Superintendent Roosevelt's and Mayor Ravenstahl's informal Q&A with reporters about the status of the Pittsburgh Promise.
You can also watch my Channel 4 Action News report at this link.

After they spoke with reporters, I sought comment from several Pittsburgh area foundations about the Pittsburgh Promise. Only The Heinz Endowments replied. Here's what it has to say:

"The Heinz Endowments and some other members of the foundation community are aware of the public statements made by Pittsburgh Schools Superintendent Mark Roosevelt and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl about a plan to create a Pittsburgh Promise program, and their hopes that foundations would be contributors. We are awaiting a detailed proposal and possibly a formal meeting involving foundations, school district and city government officials."

"We at the Endowments look forward to getting details on the proposal as soon as possible, since the amount of money required to properly fund the program will be significant. It is important for the public to know that in the past several years, the Endowments and many other foundations have made significant increases in grants to the Pittsburgh Public Schools, with much of the funding going to help Superintendent Roosevelt implement his Excellence for All academic reform plan. We need to consider those commitments as we explore requests for funding new programs."

Now, to see the quotes from the superintendent and the mayor, click the "Read More..." link below .


Superintendent Mark Roosevelt :

•"Neither the mayor nor I have backed off this one iota. Why not just hear me clearly: we will have the money in place to serve the kids this year. I mean it's been stated categorically by members of the media that we will not. I wonder where that information comes from."

•"It's been stated that we expect the foundations to contribute all this money. We never said that. That was never our intention."

•"We are in very significant talks with folks about getting the promise funded."

•"It is naive to expect us to be here with everything in the bank and everything done."

•"When Pittsburgh gets this done--and Pittsburgh will get it done--we'll be only the second community in the country to have achieved that, and we'll be by far the largest to have achieved that."

•"When this happens, it will happen because some major players step up in major ways. That doesn't happen overnight."

•On whether they are lining up corporations as well as foundations in support of the promise:
"I'm not going to say-- and it would be unfaithful to discussions for me to talk about who is in line to fund it."

•On whether--without naming names--he can confirm if corporations in line as potential supporters:
"I would not use the expression 'in line'. Again, I would say we're in discussions with a great many people about what is possible here."

•On reporter questions about Pittsburgh Promise funding:
"I don't think asking the question is at all inappropriate. I don't think remarking that it's a big task in front of us is at all inappropriate. I have no problem with that whatsoever."

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl:

•"Failure is to not think big, and that's what we're doing. We're committed to the Pittsburgh Promise and the concept of providing opportunities for our children and I'm not going to give up on that."

•On what specific actions they have taken to fulfill the promise:
"Working with the superintendent to have discussions with a variety of different stakeholders in Pittsburgh--corporations, non-profits, foundations, and we'll continue to do so."

•"The fact that nothing has been formally announced at this point should not suggest that we're not working hard toward fulfilling our goal and we'll continue to do so."

•On whether the class of 2008 will benefit as planned:
"When we made our announcement that was our goal--to provide education for individuals that graduated in the class of this year. Which obviously will take place in may or june of 2008. We're committed to doing everything we can to fulfill that. That's the pledge that we've made, and going to continue to work tirelessly to do our best to meet that goal."

•"At this point, obviously without funds raised, we would not be able to fulfill it right now. But it's our goal to meet the pledge that we made, to fund it for the students graduating this year and we're going to continue to work to try to meet that goal."

•Q: "How many foundations are you talking to?" A: "We're talking to all stakeholders in the the city of pittsburgh." Q: "How many are receptive?" A:"They're all receptive of the concept."

•"The future of our city is our children and we're all committed to that. It's an effort that's going to take time, it's going to take dialog. We made the announcement because we believed in the concept, and now we're establishing what that means, and how we raise funds, and getting folks to buy in throughout the community."

•"This isn't something that government can fund, this isn't something that one foundation can fund, or one non profit can fund. It's going to take Pittsburgh as a whole to get behind this concept, and that's really what we're trying to do right now."

•"We remain committed to it and we remain optimistic that the future of our children will be put first, and that the leaders of Pittsburgh will join us in that endeavor."

•"I don't know that there's any hold up. I think that we're continuing to have discussion and nobody said that we're going to be standing here at the end of August with all the money in the bank. We've never made that commitment. We still have time to raise the funds before the end of next year and we remain committed to doing so."


Saturday, August 25, 2007

Open Government, Open Records: You're Invited!


Team 4 Investigative Reporter Jim Parsons and I have been working on a special event and you're invited to join us.

We think you'll find it interesting, whether you work in the news media or you're someone who wants to learn more about your rights as a Pennsylvania citizen to access public records.

It's a Forum on Open Government & Pennsylvania Open Records Law Workshop on September 15, from 1 to 4 p.m. in the William Pitt Student Union on Pitt's Oakland campus. The event is co-sponsored by the Pittsburgh Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and the Pennsylvania Freedom of Information Coalition.

I'm on the local SPJ board, and Jim's on the board of the PaFOIC. It turns out that both organizations were working on similar programs, so we decided to pool our efforts and invite the public to join us. The event is free and you don't have to pre-register, but please RSVP if you can.

You can learn more about it by checking out Pittsburgh SPJ's website, and using the "click here for details" link in the top banner. If there are updates to the program, we'll provide them there. The Pennsylvania Freedom of Information Coalition's (PaFOIC) website is a great place for exploring the subject.

In the days ahead, I'll be posting links to articles and information of interest on related topics here on The Busman's Holiday.


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."


Sunday, August 19, 2007

Dogged Reporting, Hard-Hitting Questions

My blogging has slowed in recent weeks, in part because of a project I've been working on.

It's something I'll be able to let you know about this week: an event on September 15 for anyone with an interest in open government and open public records. In fact, you'll get an invitation. Check back in a few days.

In the meantime, here's a YouTube video spotlighting a relentless reporter that I thought you'd enjoy.


Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Hands Across The Burghosphere

ou'll notice something new in the right column of my blog's home page this month. What's the widget for? It's 'Hands Across The Burghosphere'.

Readers of Pittsburgh area blogs can join in by using the link to support the work of a local non-profit--Pittsburgh Action Against Rape. The widget posted on participating blogs will be tracking the amount of money raised.

As you can read on the organization's website, Pittsburgh Action Against Rape has been serving Allegheny County since 1972 and is one of the oldest rape crisis centers in the nation.

The online event is the brainchild of The Burgher, the creator of The Burgh Report. The Burger took the initiative in creating it and inviting local bloggers and their readers to take part in 'Hands Across The Burghosphere'.


Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Thumb Blogging

I've gone too long without blogging. It's been a holiday from "The Holiday", so to speak. I'm breaking the ice with this note which I'm posting via GMail on my BlackBerry. The tradeoff with this form of mobile blogging is that there are no graphics. (The image above was added later. ) There's also the factor of typing with your thumbs that comes with writing on a BlackBerry. Instant electronic access may be addicting for some, but thumb-typing certainly isn't so for me.

I have a couple of SPJ (Society of Professional Journalists) projects coming up that will be taking some of my limited free time; my solution may be to start blogging about them as they develop.

I may also experiment with some shorter and more wide-ranging posts. Over the years, I've always enjoyed reporting on city government and that's certainly been reflected in my choice of posts here. But I really never planned on those city-related topics to dominate here to the extent they have. So, while not backing away from that, I do want to make an effort to add to the mix.

I recently offered a couple of my fellow Channel 4 Action News reporters the invitation to share guest blog posts here. There's been some interest, but no takers so far.

I've managed to type this out while waiting for my Crispani order, so this wasn't a bad use of time.