Friday, December 26, 2008

Reader Comments on Oversight & Sunshine

My Sunshine Law conversations with the Oversight Board is bringing some reactions in the comments section at the end of the post.

Here's recap:

Mark Rauterkus said...
Bob, you're on holiday.

You know, bloggers never take a real holiday, unlike those who are left with jobs in the MSM.

g u i l t t r i p l o o m s

Have a good day. No worries. Be happy.

EdHeath said...
I don't think you "proved" that the ICA is remiss in its notification schedule and process, in the sense that a judge would take action based on what you say here. But I think when a major reporter for major news outlet in town (and I feel safe characterizing you as that) feels there is a problem, the ICA ought do to do more than try to (defensively) explain your concerns away.

The ICA might well be the key to the city's future. The only way I can see Pittsburgh emerging from its twin crushing burdens of debt and pension obligations is through Act 47, specifically a second, more far reaching five year plan. This is especially true since the Nordenberg report (the report on consolidation) was in no way aggressive in its view on county wide consolidation. Perhaps that just reflects the reality of the situation, but it does nothing to help the City with its financial picture. So we need to know and have input into our financial future in the since of knowing when the ICA meetings. It may be inconvenient for them, but it is our future.

Bob Mayo said...

Thanks, Ed. I wouldn't say my anecdotes and e-mails prove anything; they're just snapshots of my experiences dealing with the ICA over time. They're the sort of things that don't make it into a TV news story, but they do provide a window on how the ICA deals with the Sunshine Law. Heck, I have the ICA website bookmarked and check it periodically. Most people don't. As with my blogging about my exchanges with the city's Ethics Hearing Board, this is about spotlighting the spirit as well as the letter of the law. These aren't difficult laws and requests to comply with, but the responses to them can be telling.

Bram Reichbaum said...
I just noticed this post for some reason; I thought the Christmas post immediate followed the billboard post. Great stuff.

If the citizens of Pittsburgh are dissatisfied with the conduct of their ICA, I wonder who they are supposed to take it out on?

Bob Mayo said...


That's the thing about news stories -- and blog posts -- heading into holidays or weekends. Fewer people notice them.

In the past week there have been two examples.

The Oversight Board meeting that was called without public notice became a item in the newspapers on Dec. 24th -- Christmas Eve. The Zoning Board's long-in-coming ruling on the electronic billboard? Word of its release came around 4:30 Friday afternoon, heading into the weekend before Christmas.

Initially, I was told I only had until 5:15 to pick up the billboard decision at the city's zoning counter. I joked that I hoped there wouldn't be a problem with the counter staying open for me past 4:15. In the end, they were able to fax a copy to our newsroom.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Christmas Story with a Pittsburgh Connection

Here's a link to a New York Times Christmas story with a Pittsburgh connection.

"Hard Times, a Helping Hand" is written by Ted Gup, author of "A Nation of Secrets".

In closing, my first link to Cute Overload. The Christmas Caroling Possums:

Merry Christmas!



Monday, December 22, 2008

UPDATE 2: Pittsburgh's Emergency Overseers

ittsburgh's state-appointed Oversight Board is holding an emergency meeting at 9 AM. Here's an excerpt from my e-mail to the board's attorney, chair, and executive director:

A few quick questions:

By what legal definition is the Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008 meeting of the ICA an "emergency"?

How does it differ from a regular meeting?

How much advance legal notice of your public meetings is required if they are not labeled an "emergency"?

What percentage of ICA meetings have been labeled an "emergency" or "special" over the past three years, and for what reasons?

Update 1:

From Pennsylvania's Sunshine Law:

Section 703. Definitions
"Emergency meeting." A meeting called for the purpose of dealing with a real or potential emergency involving a clear and present danger to life or property.

Section 709. Public notice
(a) Meetings. An agency shall give public notice of its first regular meeting of each calendar or fiscal year not less than three days in advance of the meeting and shall give public notice of the schedule of its remaining regular meetings. An agency shall give public notice of each special meeting or each rescheduled regular or special meeting at least 24 hours in advance of the time of the convening of the meeting specified in the notice. Public notice is not required in the case of an emergency meeting or a conference.

In my experience with the ICA (Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority), notice of its public meetings comes late or not at all. The most memorable instance was when it issued a faxed news release in the afternoon, after a morning meeting had already occurred. I believe that on at least one occasion, a public notice on the ICA's website appeared to be dated earlier than its actual posting online. The ICA contracted a media consultant to help handle release of its Fire Bureau study, but -- after three years of requests -- it still hasn't been able to provide consistent notice of its public meetings.

Update 2:

An e-mail exchange with Oversight Board Chair Barbara McNees:

McNees: "Mr. Mahone [ICA's solicitor] can explain the language. This is a year end to clear up approvals. Mostly administrative. Should only take 10 minutes at most. Henry [Sciortino, ICA Executive Director] was to post agenda on web site."

Mayo: "I did some quick research myself, and the material [I've quoted from the Sunshine Law] may prove informative. As a reporter, what I'm asking for is that the ICA honor the spirit of the Sunshine Law.

Now, let's check Post-Gazette reporter Rich Lord's story on this morning's meeting, "City, oversight board near agreement on debt payments":

"The city of Pittsburgh and its state-picked fiscal overseers are close to finishing an agreement on paying off future municipal debt, officials from the Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority said at a hastily called meeting today."

So, as it turned out, this was a newsworthy meeting and not simply "clean up". Continuing from the PG:

"Councilman Patrick Dowd, who has asked repeatedly for the terms of the agreement, attended the meeting and wasn't satisfied with the level of detail provided. He said there was no guarantee that setting aside $45.3 million now would shave $51 million off of future city debt payments, as called for in the city's five-year plan."

Perhaps if the ICA had not treated the "mostly administrative" meeting as "an emergency", members of the general public and representatives of city retirees and employees would have attended to offer public comment as well.

In a followup e-mail exchange, Oversight Board Chair McNees responded to my request that the ICA honor the spirit of the Sunshine Law:

McNees: "I agree. Reed Smith was supposed to have posted in normal manner. Unfortunatley [An attorney for the ICA] had a sudden death in the family and notice dropped through the cracks. We needed to get year end meeting in and most people not available next week."

Mayo: "I'm sorry to hear about [the attorney's] loss. My concern reflects the cumulative conduct of the ICA on Sunshine matters over the course of three years, however, and not simply the current instance."


From: Mahone, Glenn R.
Sent: Tuesday, December 23, 2008 3:33 PM



Please pardon my delay in getting back to you with answers to your inquiry.

Today's meeting was not an "emergency", as defined under the Sunshine Act, and it should not have been so noticed. I understand that my Partner [...] prepared a notice of special meeting and sent the notice for newspaper publication in last Friday's paper; however, the notice was not published as requested. We were so notified on Monday. [...] is out today due to a death in his immediate family, and I do not have all of the details. As you may know, the Sunshine Act requires, among other things, no less than three day's notice of the first meeting in each calendar or fiscal year. Special meetings require 24 hours notice, and emergency meetings, as you might expect, require no notice.

In the absence of sufficient time to notice the 12/23 meeting as a "special meeting" following the failed publication, and in the spirit of the Sunshine Act, we emailed the notice to representatives of the major media in the area.

See the Sunshine Act for more details on Regular, Special and Emergency meetings. Most Authority meetings are regular meetings. The Authority has held special meetings, but I do not recall any emergency meetings. The minutes of each meeting are posted on the website, including meeting notices. Both will indicate whether the meeting was regular, special, or emergency.

We can return to courtesy emails of meeting notices to major media.

Let me know if you need additional information.

Glenn R. Mahone
Reed Smith LLP

My response:

Mr. Mahone,

As you'll see in reviewing my e-mail exchanges with Chair McNees, I've already quoted to her the same passages of the Sunshine Law that you've quoted to me.

I'm glad to hear that there is no emergency ("a real or potential emergency involving a clear and present danger to life or property") as defined by the law.

I've lost exact count of the many times over the past three years that I've complained to Mr. Sciortino about the public notice practices of the ICA.

I note that the ICA e-mail notice sent to some -- but not all -- local news organizations includes the city government beat reporters for the PG and the Trib but excludes me, despite my numerous requests as our station's reporter covering city government. It was also sent on less that the 24 hours notice you cite in the law.

While a copy went to the assignment desk at WTAE, no fewer than four staffers at the Tribune-Review were included in your e-mailing.

Also missing from the list are KQV Radio, which covers city government, The Associated Press, The New Pittsburgh Courier, The Pittsburgh Business Times, Pittsburgh City Paper, KDKA Radio and WDUQ Radio.

(In updating your media e-mail list, you should note that WPGH TV's news department ceased operations a few years ago. Also note that the city hall reporter for the Trib is , not . )

In quoting the Sunshine Act, you omitted the passage which says the ICA " shall give public notice of the schedule of its remaining regular meetings" when it "give[s] public notice of its first regular meeting of each calendar or fiscal year, not less than three days in advance of the meeting". I don't recall the ICA ever giving public notice of the schedule of its remaining regular meetings at the start of the year. Does it intend to begin doing so in 2009?

Bob Mayo

This final exchange of e-mails with Chair McNeees -- from more than a year ago -- illustrates my past requests to the ICA. It was preceded and followed by many similar communications with Executive Director Sciortino:

From: Bob Mayo
Sent: Thursday, August 16, 2007 10:26 AM
To: Barbara McNees
Subject: Next ICA Board Meeting

Dear Ms McNees,

Is there any word yet on when the ICA board will hold its next meeting?
I'd submitted a question via the ICA's "contact us" web form a couple of days ago, but hadn't heard back.
Who can provide information about [this. How] far in advance will the ICA be giving notice to the general public and to the media, and by what means?

Thanks for your help.

----- Original Message -----
From: Barbara McNees
Sent: 08/20/2007 09:09 AM AST
To: Bob Mayo
Subject: RE: Next ICA Board Meeting

Henry Scrotino has been on vacation. Sorry for the delay. We have not scheduled a meeting yet for the Fall. I will make sure we give plenty of advance notice.



Friday, December 19, 2008

Lamar Loses on Electronic Billboard

It's a big defeat for that huge, partially completed electronic billboard in downtown Pittsburgh; a ruling that appears to kill the nearly seven-million dollar project.

The city's Zoning Board has denied Lamar Advertising's appeal, asking for permission to finish the LED sign, as well as a electronic message ticker.

In its ruling, the Zoning Board says:

-Lamar must have been aware of the city's prohibition of such sign,
-that Lamar "cannot credibily claim that it acted in good faith" in getting a permit.

This is a split decision by the three-member Zoning Board. One member ruled against Lamar, and one did not. The third member recused himself from the vote, because he's done business with Lamar.

The bottom line: the ruling against the electronic billboard prevails.



"Oh, Burgher, Where Art Thou?" -- Another Pittsburgh Blogger's Gone

[UPDATE 1: The Burgher responds at the end of this post.]

Suddenly, another one is gone.

The Burgher -- the anonymous blogger behind The Burgh Report -- unexpectedly pulled the plug on his/her blog last night. Thus ends what was Pittsburgh's premier local political blog. The Burgher not only provided a unique focus on local government and politics (with the help of Bram R, The Admiral, Char, and others). The Burgh Report's comments section provided spirited exchanges and entries that deserved to be blog posts of their own. The Burgher's blog was to local politics what PittGirl's blog was to Pittsburgh pop culture.

I was off the e-mail/BlackBerry/blog-reading grid last night and this morning, and didn't find out until I was leaving for work. There was a two word parting message from The Burgher in my in-box, linking to the farewell post.

Like PittGirl, The Burgher nuked the archive of his/her blog when he/she shut down. All that remains is a YouTube clip from The Usual Suspects. (If you've never seen the movie, rent it first. Otherwise the clip will spoil the movie and you won't get the reference.)

Readers and fellow bloggers are paying their respects at:

The Pittsburgh Comet

2Political Junkies

I've e-mailed The Burgher asking why he/she is gone. Is it because of a threat to the blogger's anonymity? I'll update this post later, if I learn more.

Update: here's The Burgher's e-mailed response:

You have to choose your enemies wisely because they will come to define you.

At some point you have to realize that certain caves are too dark for your flashlight. Either changes caves or get a bigger flashlight. I couldn't get a bigger flashlight in my current situation.

I could do a thousands posts detailing how a former D-III placekicker is unqualified -- ethically and professionally -- to be the Mayor, but I've come to the conclusion that the best way to move Pittsburgh forward would be for me to direct my energy elsewhere.

Maintaining my anonymity was too much stress to deal with.



Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Notes on Mayoral Candidate Carmen Robinson

Channel 4 Action News Reporter Sheldon Ingram has interviewed Carmen Robinson about her candidacy for Mayor of Pittsburgh. Here's a link to his story.

Blogger Matt H has more biographical information, including early campaign material and details of Robinson's lawsuit years ago against the city. It's on The Pittsburgh Hoagie.

During a Q&A with reporters today, Mayor Ravenstahl said that he "has no knowledge" of Carmen Robinson and no comment on her candidacy. He says he'll focus on doing his job and "the things he can control".

Mayor Ravenstahl: "We're focused on what it is we need to focus on and we'll continue to do so. We'll tell our story regardless of who it is we'll tell our story against."

Bob Mayo: "Will there be a debate between you...?

Mayor Ravenstahl: "I'm sure you guys will make your requests. We'll take a look at it. It's early... "



Thursday, December 4, 2008

Chelsa Wagner Not Running for Mayor

I'm on vacation this week. That — combined with last week's holiday — has meant a break from blogging. Here's a quick update, though: State Representative Chelsa Wagner has announced that she's not running for Mayor of Pittsburgh.

The Post-Gazette's headline: "State Rep. Wagner says she won't run for mayor ".

The Trib's headline goes a step further with "Chelsa Wagner not interested in mayor's office", which may overstate the case.

Wagner's statement twice uses the phrase:

"not run for Mayor at this time" [emphasis added].

The Burgh Report
has posted a link to the entire text.

As I write, there's no reaction yet from the anonymous Draft Chelsa Wagner fan blog.

When former President Clinton came to town for Mayor Ravenstahl's political fundraiser last week, I called Representative Wagner, Council President Doug Shields, and Councilman Bill Peduto for updates on the field of potential challengers to Ravenstahl.

My note to our newsroom from last Wednesday:

-Chelsa Wagner has not decided if she'll run. May decide over this coming weekend and tell us her decision next week.

-Doug Shields: hasn't decided yet. Flattered that some people have asked.

-Peduto: not running for mayor. Will run again for his council seat.

Today's Post-Gazette story closes with this update:

"Council President Doug Shields has said he's not currently in a position to make a run."

You'll recall this past summer Mayor Ravenstahl himself declared a Shields candidacy.



Monday, November 24, 2008

Cleveland Looks to Pittsburgh

Here are some thumb-blogged notes for a Monday:

Cleveland media's looking to Pittsburgh for lessons on development and

I was about to post this when the mayor's acting press secretary
Joanna Doven sent out the link. I came across it in Google News
searches while waiting for a court hearing to start.

By the way, in between blog posts you can check my Twitter updates at this link:

Sent from my mobile device


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

To PittGirl: Moving Forward

Someone recently said to me of PittGirl, "I know who she is!" I didn't even ask.

"You know, she said if her identity were ever revealed, she'd stop blogging", I answered. The person assured me of having no intention of going public with the suspected information.

We left it at that.

The sad farewell of PittGirl to the Burghosphere reminds me of the rumor I heard as a child; it was spreading on the playground of Saint Basil Elementary School in Carrick. "There is no Santa Claus" -- some of my classmates seemed to take a self-satisfied pleasure in the momentary power of their bearing this news.

I remember being struck far more, though, by fellow grade-schooler Chuck Rodatis' impressive rebuttal to those who spread doubt about how Santa got into everyone's homes. "He doesn't come down the chimney", said Chuck. "He has skeleton keys."

I look forward to the retconning of PittGirl's story line and hope for a reappearance of "Jane Pitt" in the new year.

[Additional PittGirl reading: Dennis Roddy in the PG; Woy of Have a Good Sandwich with the best roundup of Pittsburghers' reactions.]



Saturday, November 15, 2008

PG: "City Ethics Panel Skirts Law With Private Meeting"

From today's Post-Gazette:

The task of the city's ethics board is to "advance transparency and accountability" in city government, according to a rewrite the board approved yesterday of city rules on gifts, tickets and charitable events.

That being the case, it was ironic that the board met behind closed doors to discuss the new rules.

Sister Patrice Hughes, the board's chair, said the five board members were "very careful" not to debate the regulations, which they were given in advance. "All it provided was clarity. There were no decisions made" in private, she said.

City Solicitor George Specter, who also sat in on the closed-door session, said the board members have been getting "input from various aspects of the city" on the regulations and were merely "discussing their thoughts" about them.

Those explanations didn't pass muster with legal experts at the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association, who monitor open meetings and open records matters statewide.
It was 13 months ago this week that I began my persistent exchanges with Ethics Board members and the City Solicitor's office over this:

Pittsburgh's Ethics Board is still refusing to release its secret memo from the City Law Department. The secret? The Law Department's advice on how to obey Pennsylvania's Sunshine Act--the law mandating that meetings be open to the public.

You can track the serpentine tale by clicking this link. Tracing the entries backward or forward, I think it will give you some insights into the history there.

At the time, the most interest the PG could muster in the Sunshine Act as interpreted by the City Solicitor's office was in this satirical turn.



Thursday, November 13, 2008

"Quiet Windfall For US Banks"? - Washington Post Notes PNC & National City

There's a reference to the PNC - National City deal buried deep inside a Washington Post article. The story is about a controversial change in bank rules that the Post reports some people think may be illegal.

It's a fascinating piece of reporting, but the explanation of the rule change is itself hidden deep in the story:

Section 382 of the tax code was created by Congress in 1986 to end what it considered an abuse of the tax system: companies sheltering their profits from taxation by acquiring shell companies whose only real value was the losses on their books. The firms would then use the acquired company's losses to offset their gains and avoid paying taxes.

Lawmakers decried the tax shelters as a scam and created a formula to strictly limit the use of those purchased losses for tax purposes.

But from the beginning, some conservative economists and Republican administration officials criticized the new law as unwieldy and unnecessary meddling by the government in the business world.

Here's the Post's PNC - National City reference:

Over the next month, two more bank mergers took place with the benefit of the new tax guidance. PNC, which took over National City, saved about $5.1 billion from the modification, about the total amount that it spent to acquire the bank, Willens said.

Now, the Post's reporting of the behind the scenes controversy in Washington:

In the midst of this late-September drama, the Treasury Department issued a five-sentence notice that attracted almost no public attention.

But corporate tax lawyers quickly realized the enormous implications of the document: Administration officials had just given American banks a windfall of as much as $140 billion.

The sweeping change to two decades of tax policy escaped the notice of lawmakers for several days, as they remained consumed with the controversial bailout bill. When they found out, some legislators were furious. Some congressional staff members have privately concluded that the notice was illegal. But they have worried that saying so publicly could unravel several recent bank mergers made possible by the change and send the economy into an even deeper tailspin.

"Did the Treasury Department have the authority to do this? I think almost every tax expert would agree that the answer is no," said George K. Yin, the former chief of staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation, the nonpartisan congressional authority on taxes. "They basically repealed a 22-year-old law that Congress passed as a backdoor way of providing aid to banks."

The Post story also provides reaction from some experts in the field:

The guidance issued from the IRS caught even some of the closest followers of tax law off guard because it seemed to come out of the blue when Treasury's work seemed focused almost exclusively on the bailout.

"It was a shock to most of the tax law community. It was one of those things where it pops up on your screen and your jaw drops," said Candace A. Ridgway, a partner at Jones Day, a law firm that represents banks that could benefit from the notice. "I've been in tax law for 20 years, and I've never seen anything like this."

More than a dozen tax lawyers interviewed for this story -- including several representing banks that stand to reap billions from the change -- said the Treasury had no authority to issue the notice.

Several other tax lawyers, all of whom represent banks, said the change was legal. Like DeSouza, they said the legal authority came from Section 382 itself, which says the secretary can write regulations to "carry out the purposes of this section."

Good work by Amit R. Paley of the Washington Post. I recommend reading the whole story.

Also this week: "National City was close to bankruptcy, PNC says" in the Post-Gazette:

National City Corp., the Cleveland-based bank being acquired by PNC Financial Services Group, may have faced bankruptcy if it didn't find a buyer.

In the Detroit Free Press:

Without a "definitive transaction" to provide liquidity, the Cleveland-based bank "would face additional regulatory actions, including intervention by the United States federal banking regulators, and/or be required to seek protection under applicable bankruptcy laws in the very near future," PNC said in a regulatory filing Monday.

National City, once among the nation's top 10 subprime lenders, accepted PNC's takeover bid after five straight quarterly losses tied to failed home loans that totaled more than $3 billion. National City's stock plunged 87% this year.

At, this AP story: 'PNC pledges $28M to charities in National City bid', promising to increase charitable giving in areas National City serves.

Pittsburgh-based PNC Financial Services Group Inc. said Wednesday it expects to surpass National City's current annual charitable contributions and community sponsorships with $28 million of support in 2009.

And in today's Trib:

National City Corp. is not receiving government money -- but tried to. The struggling Cleveland-based bank applied to the Treasury for money but was told Oct. 19 it would not receive any, according to a recent Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

Five days later, National City agreed to merge into PNC Financial Services Group in a $5.6 billion deal. PNC, in turn, will get $7.7 billion -- more than enough to cover the acquisition -- from the Treasury in exchange for preferred stock.



Friday, November 7, 2008

Whect Updates

Judge says he has decided he will not set a trial date at this time.
Pre-trial conference is over.

I'll correct typos on thumb blogging posts later today.

Sent from my mobile device


Move 2nd Wecht Trial to Erie?

Prosecutors just said they will file a motion to move the retrial of Wecht to Erie.

Says they will provide extraordinary documentation -- including (web) links -- of the "absolute saturation of the media" in the Pittsburgh division that would "prohibit" picking a jury here or trying the case here. They argue they would be "unable to find an unpolluted jury".

Sent from my mobile device


Notes From the Ongoing Wecht Pre-Trial Conference

Prosecutors Assistant -- US Attorneys Leo Dillon and James Wilson -- indicate intent to drop 27 "honest services" counts, leaving 14 counts in a new trial for former Coroner Dr. Cyril Wecht.

New Judge Sean McLaughlin indicates he is likely set a new trial date today....though motions by attorneys could delay that. The prosecution thinks the "speedy trial rule" clock could run out on December 24.

Wecht's defense attorneys indicate they will ask the new judge to revisit motions denied by Judge Schwab.

They believe rulings by the new judge in their favor could end the case.

Judge orders government to file motions on revised indictment by next Friday, November 14th.

Sent from my mobile device


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Court Fight Over Maternity Ward Voting Returns

Notes from my Channel 4 Action News report for 11 PM:


Cliff Levine, Democratic Attorney:
"I think if people understood what was going on in court today, I
think they'd be pretty shocked."


Eileen Yacknin, Activist Attorney:
"(The women are) hospitalized suddenly in Magee right now. They've all asked for the opportunity to obtain emergency absentee ballots in order to be able to vote tonight."

Cliff Levine, Democratic Attorney:
"We have a couple of hours here to get a vote in, and we had nine pregnant women that the Republicans were vociferously arguing to prevent their right to vote. I frankly thing it's outrageous. "

Ron Hicks, Republican Attorney:
"There's got to be certain protections in place, and part of that is, is there really in fact an an emergency. we don't know if there's really an emergency, we're relying on really just paper."


Chuck Perego, Attorney & Notary:
"I called my secretary at home, she was kind enough to go to my office and get my notary seal, and she met me at the lobby of Magee Women's Hospital. We went up and interviewed the nurses and had them resign the affidavits."

Q&A with Ron Hicks, Republican Attorney:

Q: "Do you think these women in labor at the hospital were posing as other voters?"

Hicks: "Well, i don't know. i don't know what the circumstances are here."

Sent from my mobile device


Pregnant Emergency Voter Update

The court now has notarized statements from the pregnant women at Magee hospital.
They have to get their ballots to them by 8 pm. It's 7:37 at this writing.

Sent from my mobile device


Election cases in court tonight

There are some disputed cases involving some patients in hospitals who want emergency absentee ballots to vote tonight. They include at least one veteran at the VA hospital and some pregnant women who are delivering their babies at Magee and Montefiore Hospitals.

Dems are arguing affidavits signed by doctors or nurses comply with the law. The Republicans are arguing that the document must be notarized.

Sent from my mobile device


Friday, October 31, 2008

Mayor & Wife Are Now Proud Parents

Here's the news release from the Mayor's office:


(Pittsburgh) October 31, 2008 -- Erin and Luke Ravenstahl announced today that their proposed solution to Pittsburgh's declining population has arrived. A joyful and grateful Erin and Luke are pleased to announce the birth of their son, Cooper Luke Ravenstahl.

The healthy baby boy arrived this morning at 9:24 a.m., weighing 7lbs., 14oz. and 21 inches long. The Ravenstahl's are thrilled to share their blessed news with all Pittsburghers.

"This is the happiest day of our lives," said Mayor Ravenstahl. "Both Erin and Cooper are healthy and doing great."

Date: October 31, 2008
Contact: Joanna Doven

Sent from my mobile device


Ashley Todd Leaves Jail, Won't Talk

Here's a link to Tara Edwards' story on Channel 4 Action News last night.



Thursday, October 30, 2008

"B" Hoax Update: Ashley Todd

Ashley Todd is getting out of jail and getting out of town. She waived her preliminary hearing and will be allowed to leave the state without posting a cash bond. WTAE Reporter Ari Hait tells us Todd must provide proof every two weeks that she's getting psychiatric care. If she eventually clears Allegheny County's accelerated rehabilitative disposition program (ARD), her record can be expunged.



Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Followup on Burgess Call for McCain Campaign Apology

Here's a quick followup to Tuesday's posts, which were copies of e-mails I'd received.

Pittsburgh Councilman Reverend Ricky Burgess charged that last Thursday a McCain-Palin campaign official in Pennsylvania had been feeding reporters a version of the Ashley Todd hoax that was "far more explosive" than details confirmed by police at the time. Burgess called for an apology from the Republican ticket.

20-year old McCain field representative Ashley Todd later admitted on Friday that she'd made the whole thing up; there was no black robber who carved the letter 'B' -- as in "Barack Obama" -- into her face because she is a McCain supporter. Now, Burgess cites reports on the Talking Points Memo website in making his case that the campaign stoked the later-disproven controversy. TPM quoted KDKA-TV's News Director as saying the McCain campaign's Pennsylvania communications director gave one of his reporters details of the false report -- including the fake quotes from the imaginary attacker -- all before police confirmed any details. KDKA-TV's News Director did not return our call for comment.

Meanwhiile, MSNBC quoted a WPXI reporter who confirmed getting that information from a McCain campaign spokesman as well. WPXI's News Director tells us his station did not air any details of Todd's claims until they were confirmed by police as appearing in a police report.

Councilman Burgess accuses the McCain campaign of "inflaming the divisions of this country." He says "I don't know why they chose to push this story, but it just seems suspicious to me that they would target this story which has a fictional African-American person harming a non-African American person in this city."

McCain campaign spokesman Jeff Sadosky tells Channel 4 Action News:

"The liberal blog post that the councilman cites has no basis in fact. The McCain campaign had no role in this incident. We hope the young woman involved in the incident gets the help that she needs, It's disappointing that Pittsburgh law enforcement time and resources were wasted by her false allegations."

WTAE News Director Bob Longo says Channel 4 Action News confirmed all of its information about what was in the crime report with Pittsburgh Police before it aired the story. The McCain campaign did not comment to WTAE about the case until after our story based on police information had aired.


[The Burgess letter. Click images to enlarge.]


Monday, October 27, 2008

McCain Campaign Responds

A response from McCain campaign spokesman Jeff Sadosky to the call by Pittsburgh Councilman Burgess for an apology:

"The liberal blog post that the councilman cites has no basis in fact, the McCain campaign had no role in this incident. We hope the young woman involved in the incident gets the help that she needs, it's disappointing that Pittsburgh law enforcement time and resources were wasted by her false allegations."

Blog post sent from my mobile device


Pittsburgh Councilman Calls For McCain-Palin Apology

This post is being filed via BlackBerry.

The following open letter concerning the Ashley Todd "B" hoax was released by City Councilman Ricky Burgess:

October 27, 2008

Dear Senator McCain and Governor Palin:

On Thursday, October 23, 2008, there was a report of a robbery, an assault and a mutilation filed by a volunteer for your campaign.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

"She said a man armed with a knife demanded her money. She gave it to him, then began walking to her car, which had McCain stickers on it. She told police that although the robber had moved away from her, he became agitated when he saw her car, punched her in the back of the head, pushed her to the ground and carved a B into her face."

John Verrilli, the news director for KDKA in Pittsburgh, told Talking Points Memo's Election Central that your Pennsylvania campaign communications director gave one of his reporters a detailed version of the attack that included a claim that the alleged attacker said, "You're with the McCain campaign? I'm going to teach you a lesson."

Mr. Verrilli also told TPM that the McCain spokesperson had claimed that the "B" stood for Barack.

The Post-Gazette went on further to say:

"Ms. Todd told police during at least five hours of questioning last night that her attacker said to her, "You are going to be a Barack supporter." She told police the man then sat on her chest, pinning both her hands down with his knees and used what she believed was a dull knife with a roughly 5-inch blade to carve the B."

Your volunteer told the police that she was robbed, attacked, sexually assaulted, fondled and mutilated by an African-American man. However, we all now know that this tragic story was totally fraudulent. I am deeply troubled by the facts of this story. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

"Mr. Garcia took the widely published picture of Ms. Todd with her injuries. He said he took several photographs with a digital camera to document what had happened. He said he only gave copies of the photos to police and Ms. Todd's employer, the College Republicans. One photo appeared on The Drudge Report on Thursday, setting off a storm of media attention."

This much was true: A McCain-Palin official was pushing a version of the story that was far more explosive than the available or confirmed facts permitted at the time.

All too often in the halls of justice around the world, people are accused of crimes they did not commit. That one of your campaign spokespersons would spread such an incendiary story before any confirmation of the facts is both irresponsible and runs counter to our nation's Constitutional guarantee that no one be denied life, liberty or property without due process. Moreover, that a representative of the McCain-Palin campaign would be so careless and in the process of doing so, cast aspersions on African-Americans, is unfair.

On behalf of the City of Pittsburgh and its' African-American community, I respectfully request an apology from your campaign to the city for the conduct of your staff and volunteers. Both of you wasted little time in sending your wishes and prayers to Ms. Todd when the news reports were initially circulated, and so I trust that neither of you will waste anymore time leaving this issue unresolved. I would also ask that you send my personal prayers and well wishes to Ms. Todd and her family. I am certain these are trying times for them.


Reverend Ricky V. Burgess

President Pro-Tempore

Pittsburgh City Council

Blog post sent from my mobile device


Sunday, October 26, 2008

Ashley Todd "B" Hoax -- Behind The Cameras

A post in three parts:
Cameras Over Bloomfield, Elite or Deceit, Anatomy Of A Story

Cameras Over Bloomfield

Let's start with a story I was working on that was eclipsed by Ashley Todd's confession that there was no knife-weilding, "B" carving attacker. it reveals some of the facts available to Pittsburgh Police during their questioning of the of young woman.

It turns out that Todd picked a Pittsburgh neighborhood business district with a heavy concentration of surveillance cameras as the location for her fictional attack.

I confirmed Friday that private security cameras operated by members of The Bloomfield Business Association monitor the stretch of storefronts and sidewalks from the Bloomfield Bridge to West Penn Hospital -- including the site of McCain campaign volunteer's fabricated assault.

Bloomfield Business Association President Ben Foreman tells me the cameras are maintained by organization members in a program funded with help from the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office and other community leaders.

He says that up to three cameras covering the area in question are maintained by Father John Dinello, pastor at St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church, which is across the street from the spot in question. Foreman tells me that Citizens Bank has at least one other camera in the front of its Bloomfield branch, in addition to the one inside the ATM where Todd claimed she'd been attacked.

Foreman could not say whether Pittsburgh Police had checked video from the additional cameras. He describes the crime rate in that area as "very low". Father Dinello did not return calls for comment.

John Carman has since updated the Bloomfield Business Association's website with a post called "B" is for Bloomfield.

Elite Or Deceit?

The Daily Kos' Sean Oliver argues the case that Todd is "a lot more than just a 'low-level McCain volunteer', noting that she was "recruited to join an elite, prestigous College Republican leadership team, the 2008 Field Represenative Program."

Oliver links to College Republican National Committee's Field Rep website, which indicates :

"For the past 20 years, the Field Representative Program has been the cornerstone of the College Republican National Committee. With programs in the Fall and the Spring, we deploy dozens of young, highly trained field operatives across the country to recruit new students to join the College Republicans..."

"...The 2008 Field Team is by far the most ambitious in our organization's history. 50 field reps are deployed from coast-to-coast, equipped with cutting edge technology and innovative recruitment tools to help them accomplish their mission."

The American Spectator looks Behind the Ashley Todd Hoax, with Robert Stacy McCain quoting College Republican sources who say they had: indication she might be capable of such deceit.
"It's just a bizarre, bizarre situation," said one source.
There was "never any inkling" that Todd was dishonest or emotionally unstable..."

The College Republican National Committee fired Todd on Friday.

The New Republic's Jonathan Chait writes "Ashley Todd, We Hardly Knew Ye", a blog post whose illustration evokes "To Kill a Mockingbird":

Chait: "I don't think the actions of one sick volunteer say anything at all about John McCain or his campaign. They do, however, tell us a lot about right-wing yellow journalists, from Drudge on down, who manipulated primitive racial-sexual fears for partisan gain."

The Post-Gazette reports that Todd's friend Dan Garcia was not the one who spread them on the internet.

Mr. Garcia took the widely published picture of Ms. Todd with her injuries. He said he took several photographs with a digital camera to document what had happened. He said he only gave copies of the photos to police and Ms. Todd's employer, the College Republicans.

Pittsburgh Police did not make the photos public.

Anatomy Of A Story

Meanwhile, Talking Points Memo is questioning whether anyone in the McCain campaign worked to feed inflammatory false details to Pittsburgh news media.

Josh Marshall writes:

It is time for the McCain campaign to come clean about what role any of its staffers may have had in hyping or pushing the press to hype the charges stemming from Ashley Todd's vicious and reprehensible hoax.

TPM is pressing its story in four installments, so far:

"McCain Communications Director Gave Reporters Incendiary Version Of "Carved B" Story Before Facts Were Known"

"McCain Campaign Blames Reporters For Spokesperson's Peddling Of Incendiary "Carved B" Story"

"Who Do You Believe?"

"Time for Answers"



Friday, October 24, 2008

Update 1: RECANTED -- McCain Volunteer Says Knife Attack Did Not Happen

Pittsburgh Police confirm to WTAE Channel 4 Action News Reporter Paul Van Osdol: Ashley Todd now tells investigators she made up the story. She will be charged with filing a false report.

UPDATE 1: Here's the Pittsburgh Police news release:

1203 Western Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15223

October 24, 2008


PITTSBURGH - On Friday, October 24th, 2008 Ashley Todd was asked to return to the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police Headquarters to be re-interviewed and do a composite sketch. During the subsequent interview with Detectives, Ms. Todd stated "she just wanted to tell the truth."

At that time Ms. Todd stated that she made up the story which snowballed and got out of control. Ms. Todd stated that she was not robbed and there is no 6'4" black male attacker.

She indicated that she has had a prior mental problems and she does not remember how the backward letter "B" got on her face. She stated that she thinks she may have done it herself because she was the only one in the car.

When she looked in the rearview mirror and saw the "B" on her face she said she thought of Barrack. Once she told her friend the story and once the police were called she had to stick with it.

Todd will be arrested and charged with Filing a False Police Report (M3).
We are conferring with the Allegheny County DA office on what charges will placed against her.

Meanwhile, here are the police news releases from earlier today. Click to enlarge them.


UPDATE 3 -- Questions Raised About McCain Volunteer's Alleged Knife Mutilation

Ashley Todd

Update 3: New Channel 4 Action News video: the Pittsburgh Police spokeswoman says "the victim's statement has a few inconsistencies in it -- and her statement has changed". Todd now is telling police that she was also sexually assaulted, that she "lost consciousness", and that when she awoke she "had a stinging sensation on her face". Earlier updates are at the end of this blog post.

Conservative commentator Michelle Malkin is among those questioning the truth behind the story of what happened to McCain volunteer Ashley Todd here in Pittsburgh Wednesday night. Todd claims a robber carved a "B" (as in "Barack Obama") into her face after spotting a McCain bumper sticker on her car parked nearby.

Malkin writes on her website, in a post titled "Why that McCain volunteer’s 'mutilation' story smells awfully weird":

"Maaaaybe the alleged robber straddled her upside-down while carving it into her face."
"But I’ve got my doubts."

You can read the rest of Malkin's post at this link. Her readers take up the discussion in the comments section. As of this posting, major national liberal bloggers haven't touched the story. Watch for updates at the bottom of this post.

The skepticism appears to be fueled in part by the fact that the wound allegedly made during an attack appears to be remarkably symmetrical, neat, and uniformly minor. And it's backwards -- though it wouldn't appear so when looking at it in a mirror.

My first reaction when I saw the photo of McCain volunteer Ashley Todd: someone mistakenly reversed the image... but, no. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review story reports that "the man then carved the 'B' into Todd's right cheek", as it appears in the photo.

Ashley Todd has now locked down her Twitter account updates, but here's a screenshot of her messages both before and after the reported incident, courtesy of her participation in a College Republicans group blog.

Click to Enlarge

At Steve Huff's True Crime website, bloggers and commenters are also parsing the details of the story.

Let's check out the scene of the incident with Google Map's Street View. Clicking in the image below allows you to zoom in, out, and around in a circle. Two clicks of the clockwise arrow, followed by two clicks of the plus button will show you the ATM.

View Larger Map

The area appears to be part of Bloomfield's business district -- between West Penn Hospital and the Bloomfield Bridge -- and appears to have restaurants and bars nearby.

Among my questions: are there any witnesses? How busy is that area at that time of evening? There does not appear to be a drive-through ATM at that location; where was the woman's car parked in relation to the sidewalk ATM? Was the McCain phone bank office where the victim was working near the scene? Is it clear why the robber stayed around to watch her go to her car instead of running off with the $60? Did she go back into the phone bank office or into any nearby business after the attack? Some news reports say the woman drove to a friend's home; how far is that from the scene? Other reports say the woman declined treatment at the scene -- is that correct? Who offered treatment and at what point? Another report says the attacker said "you're with the McCain campaign"; is that an accurate quote from the victim to police of the attacker's words? Does she know how he knew she was with the campaign, and not simply a person with a bumper sticker?

Two More Snapshots of Google Street View. Click to Enlarge.


The Smoking Gun includes more posts from Todd's Twitter account at the bottom of its website's story.

Andrew Sullivan weighs in here with his "Joe The Mugger?" post.

Update 2:

Huffington Post now has this entry by Jeffrey Feldman dealing with The Drudge Report's spin on the story. You can also read his analysis on Frameshop.



Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Twitter: To Tweet Or Not To Tweet?

Pittsburgh PodCamp 3 was a great experience. The event this past weekend was an opportunity to learn more about blogging, podcasting, and other social media.

It also convinced me to try dabbling in Twitter.

Quoting Wikipedia:

Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that allows its users to send and read other users' updates (otherwise known as tweets), which are text-based posts of up to 140 characters in length.

Updates are displayed on the user's profile page and delivered to other users who have signed up to receive them....As of July 2008, over 2,200,000 accounts were registered.

The following exchange of "tweets" captures my experience so far.

Donnchadh @bobmayo Bob, what is Twitter and why am I on it? 8:25 AM Oct 20th from web in reply to bobmayo

bobmayo @Donnchadh , it's texting morphed into micro-blogging. The why part? I'm still learning. 2:51 PM Oct 20th from web in reply to Donnchadh

I get the sense that it can be a interesting communication tool. I'm just not sure how -- or if -- it will click for me.

Please comment here, e-mail, or tweet me with your observations on how Twitter does (or doesn't) fit into your online and real world lives.



Monday, October 20, 2008

Problem Listening to the Costa & Victor Q&A Audio? Try This Video

UPDATE: Check out the video file version of the Costa Q&A and let me know what you think. Because this blog is my personal hobby, I don't use WTAE's raw video -- the audio is from my personal recorder. The "video" is simply a screenshot of Costa with a brief title caption. Meanwhile, the audio files are working again -- but service could go down if the host's bandwidth limits are exceeded. My original posts continue below.

A few minutes ago I discovered that the audio links in my last blog post are no longer working. What went wrong?

I was using an older Google service called GooglePages to host the mp3 files. It seems that the size of the audio files aren't a good match for bandwidth limits of that free service. When I tried to check the files directly, I got the error message you see above.

Maybe I should add video captions to the audio files and upload them to YouTube.


Friday, October 17, 2008

Guy Costa: "I feel blindsided" (Now with Q&A audio)

Guy Costa

UPDATE: Now you can click the Play Button the audio player above to hear Public Safety Director Costa's Q&A with reporters. There's a brief sound effect to mark the spot where there was a brief break in the interview before the questioning by reporters resumed.

Next, here's Operations Director Art Victor's Q&A, in the audio player below his picture. Please let me know how this approach to adding audio to the blog is working for you.

Art Victor

Finally, here's a link to my Channel 4 Action News report.

Public Works Director Guy Costa notified the Mayor's Office last year when his office discovered four middle managers in Environmental Services were improperly getting overtime pay for which they aren't eligible.

Costa knew those four were to be suspended today -- but he was stunned when his family told him they'd heard on TV that -- unbeknownst to him -- he's was being suspended too. The Ravenstahl administration appears to believe that the buck stops at the top of the Public Works Department. The Mayor's Operations Director Art Victor says "in my opinion, and having looked at all of the details, I feel that he should have acted more swiftly in taking action to deal with the situation".

Director Art Victor says, however, that he agrees with Costa that the way word of Costa's one-day suspension got out is wrong.

Victor said of Costa, "he's a consummate professional. He certainly understood. He said if he was in my shoes, he more than likely would have done the same thing."

Some quotes from Costa's comments to reporters:

• "I'm very disappointed on how this was dealt with. Not the suspension, it was how it was dealt with. My family should not be able to watch TV and see the night before that i'm being suspended -- and it's not right."

• "It was handled improperly by someone in the Mayor's Office. I have an idea who it is, and I'll deal with that in the future. but, the part that's frustrating me is how it was dealt with."

• "I give my blood and sweat to this department and to this city, as you know. I'm always out there working, doing my best. I can accept responsibility, but it's how it was handled."

• "I get a call from a reporter saying 'you're being suspended', and I ask the administration and they say, 'no, you're not being suspended'. And it's kind of embarrassing then when they come back and say you are being suspended."

• "I feel blindsided. I've given nine years to this department, and it just isn't right. "

• "I want to emphasize, I'm okay with the suspension, I'm not happy or okay with the way it was dealt with."

• "I would hope that the Mayor would discipline the person who leaked this information to the news media. It wasn't right for my 18 year old son to see it on the news, or my wife to see it on the morning news, and all my friends and family to see it on the news, without me being notified first."

• "I hope the mayor -- I think he knows who it is -- and I think he should ask for that person's resignation."

• "Once we found this audit, I approached the administration. what it's telling me now is, I should have swept it under the carpet. but I would never do that, and i love this city..."

• "I'm going home and think about what my future's going to be."

Costa refused to identify which member of the Mayor's Office was responsible, but closed by telling reporters:

• "The time will come. I don't know why that person did what they did, but you know the old saying, payback's a bitch."

Trib coverage is here and the PG's story is at this link, with an UPDATE here. By the way, the Trib's Jeremy Boren broke the details of the overtime story way back in February.



Thursday, October 16, 2008

Are You Interested In Blogging?

You might want to check out this free local event this weekend.

I'm going to attend and I hope to learn more about creating blogs, podcasts, and social media.



Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Blogosphere, Politics, Gifts, & Mainstream Media

"A Simple Question: Yes or No?"

In the age of raw online video and blogs, newsmakers can no longer easily dismiss reporter questions by repeating the same answer, say, twelve times in three minutes. The clip above illustrates the point. If you weren't curious about the senator -- or where he gets his suits -- you likely will be after watching this exchange.

The reporter pressing the hardest is Rachel Stassen-Berger of the Pioneer Press. Here's an updated partial transcript:

Reporter: ...Is there a reason the Senator won't say whether or not somebody else bought some suits for him?

Spokesman: Rachel, we've reported -- the Senator has reported every gift he has ever received.

Reporter: That wasn't my question, Cullen.

Spokesman: The Senator has reported every gift he has ever received. And we're not going to respond to unnamed sources on a blog.

Reporter: So, Senator Coleman's friend has not bought these suits for him? Is that correct?

Spokesman: The Senator has reported every gift he has ever received.

Reporter: Why can't you say that? Why won't you give us an answer -- yes or no -- on that?

Spokesman: He's reported every gift he has ever received.

Reporter: We haven't asked whether or not he's reported every gift he has ever received -- and I will take his word that he has reported every gift he has ever received. Has he ever received a gift of suits?

Spokesman: He's reported every gift he has ever received....

What's going on here? From The Columbia Journalism Review, headlined:

"E-gads! A blog!?!"

Blog. Say out it loud. Blog!

If you say it right, it almost sounds like a nasty word. (It’s got that hard plosive at the end.) It sounds especially nasty if you find a way to slip it into the right sentence.

Like this one:

“We’re not going to respond to unnamed sources on the blog.”
That’s part of what Cullen Sheehan, campaign manager for newly endangered Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman, had to say yesterday at a cringe-inducing press conference.

You can read more of CJR's take at this link.

David Brauer of the Minnesota Post also has more on the interesting intersection of the blogosphere, politics, gifts, and the mainstream media.



Ethics Code Update Coming?

Ethics Board File Photo

Jeremy Boren reported in this morning's Trib that Pittsburgh's Ethics Hearing Board today planned "to discuss publicly for the first time its recommendations to overhaul the section of the city's ethics code that lays out seven exceptions for when it's OK for public officials to accept gifts or favors".

That indirectly prompted this question from Bram Reichbaum over on The Burgh Report -- what happened? The short answer: nothing just yet, but something is in the works. A longer response, in the form of my e-mail to Bram R, follows.


I can tell you that the City Ethics Hearing Board has taken no action yet.

I spoke with Vice Chair Kathleen Buechel. (A dentist's appointment delayed my arrival until after today's half-hour long ethics board meeting had ended, but I crossed paths with her on the fifth floor of the City County Budiling as she was leaving Council' s offices. ) Buechel tells me they decided to delay releasing anything until after they've had a chance to further consult with the City Law Department. She anticipates they will hold a special meeting sometime between today and the next regularly scheduled meeting in November.

Of course the recommendations of the working group will face a vote by the full ethics board. Those final recommendations will then be submitted to city council for consideration.

PS: Thanks for asking -- I needed a fresh blog post.



Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Ethics Commission to Pat Ford

Click to enlarge.

Patrick B. Ford
c/o Lawrence H. Fisher

Re: File No. 08-032

Dear Mr. Ford:

The State Ethics Commission has received allegations that you violated Sections 1105(b)(6) of the Public Official and Employee Ethics Act, 65 Pa.C.S. 1105(b)(6) when you failed to report, as a gift, the receipt of an audio theater sound system from an individual who was an employee of a company seeking to obtain the approval from the City of Pittsburgh to erect an electronic billboard.

It has been determined that the value of the item received was below the threshold for reporting purposes. As such, no further action will be taken in relation to this specific issue.

Our review of this matter only relates to the above noted issue and does not constitute a determination as to any other course of conduct.

Very truly yours,

John J. Contino, Esquire
Executive Director

Sent from my mobile device


Ford's Attorney: PA Ethics Panel Letter Clears Ford

(I'll post the PDF content later. Here's attorney Lawrence Fisher's message to me.)


The attached letter validates Mr. Ford's ethical integrity as maintained by him throughout this sordid political affair. Today we reach the same conclusion that should have been apparent from the outset, and point out that a purely political process was perpetrated under the guise of an ethics review. It is a shame that months of state resources were wasted in a failed attempt to destroy the reputation of Pat Ford with an obviously false ethics charge.

In addition, the URA and Mr. Ford have formally executed documentation in connection with the settlement they reached back on September 11th.

Lawrence Fisher

Sent from my mobile device


Monday, September 29, 2008

Teacher, Wordsmith, Madman Wake

Blogger Emeritus Chad Hermann's long goodbye to the burghosphere was honored with the sort of full page treatment in Sunday's Post-Gazette once reserved for Kaufmann's Department Store ads for "The Time of the Roses" sale.

(A search of Google News Archives helped me dig up this ad, along with a quirkily prophetic 1964 PG article -- "Perhaps Machines Will Read Things Like This" . Clicking the images will enlarge them for you. What a wonderful twist that, after 44 years, the article was in fact read by a "machine" and placed in Google's digital library. But I digress.)

Mr. Hermann, a respected writer and former educator, recently gave up writing his "Teacher, Wordsmith, Madman" blog. In the Post-Gazette, he says:

I grew weary of the game and the genre and everything that went with them. Even as I remained confident that TWM still kept those early promises, I feared that its company with the kind of shrill, toxic, intolerant crusading that these days so often passes for blogging would diminish it by association. If certainly not by comparison.

...and ...

I wanted TWM to be a window. And I hoped the blogosphere would be a gleaming, gaping city of them. Turns out it's just a long, dark hall of mirrors, stretching out to infinity.

In its final months, Hermann's "Teacher, Wordsmith, Madman" blog became increasingly consumed by his distain for presidential candidate Barack Obama. Here's a link to a Google search of his blog that provides some examples.

Judge Rufus Peckam writes about his Carbolic Smoke Ball colleague in a post at the Pittsburgh Men's Blogging Society.

Commenters at The Burgh Report are joining in the virtual wake, as is Ed Heath at Cognitive Dissonance in Pittsburgh and Beyond.

Heath writes:
Hermann’s piece on today’s PG’s “Next Page” was absolutely vintage Hermann. He titled it “The Out Post”. I suspect he might have titled it the “Last Post”, but apparently part of the reason he stopped blogging is because he seemed genuinely stung when his flippant criticism of Randy Pausch was so negatively received (he said he received three death threats).

Actually, Hermann describes getting "death wishes", not threats, in three readers' mean-spirited responses to his take on the Randy Pausch phenomenon:

That's right. Death wishes. A trio of anonymous comment-thread posters on other blogs -- they couldn't muster courage of conviction enough to e-mail me directly -- took exception to my suggestion that Randy Pausch had been overcovered, that the merits of his lecture had been overstated, and that most people now loudly proclaiming to be inspired by him will, 10 years hence, struggle to remember his name. For these sins, which seem to me no more than the untimely utterance of the obvious, I was wished dead or dying. (Sample: "Perhaps I'm blinded by my ... hatred of Chad Hermann, but that ... is exactly how I picture him when I imagine him dying of stomach cancer.")

This was one of the signs that it was time for me to quit.

Did Hermann's choice not to open his blog to comments contribute to the downward spiral of his relationship with his critical readers? Perhaps if he had published selections from the better of the "impassioned, respectful e-mail exchanges" he also described, it would have cleared the air and inspired a civil discourse. Then again, maybe it would have hastened a descent into blog hell.

That brings to mind a related topic.

The reader comments on The Burgh Report blog have developed into a active forum in recent months. (This link will show you an overview of all comments there, if you have an RSS Reader.) Sometimes the comments there can make for interesting exchanges. At other times, I wonder if the blog has been targeted by election season activists hoping to hijack the site.

By my recent count, the rambling reader called "Monk" was responsible for no less than 71 out of a sampling of 263 comments at The Burgh Report. Sometimes they stack up several at a time. It makes me long for a blogger version of an old radio talk show rule for callers -- "one call per show per week."

I moderate comments here, but don't have the time to keep up the pace that allows for immediate reader interaction. That -- and my ground rules -- mean that comments on my blog are few and far between.

When Kate Phillips of The New York Times spoke at the SPJ Regional here in Pittsburgh this year, she mentioned the challenges of keeping up with moderating reader comments for The Caucus, the NYT's political blog. The busier the blog, the more daunting the task, it seems.

I hope Hermann does come back with a fresh start -- and that he and his readers get to engage in a healthier discussion.

As for his current dark view of the blogosphere, I've always compared the quality of blogs to typing -- it all depends on who is at the keyboard. They are what we choose to make them.