Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Pat Ford Update: Federal Prosecutors Interview Blogger

U.S. Attorney Buchanan, Alecia Sirk & Pat Ford

I was going to blog an update on the State Ethics Commission review of Pat Ford case and what Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has to say about Ford's desire to return to the Ravenstahl administration. But before we get to that, there are some major new developments.

The PG reports that a local blogger has been interviewed by two federal prosecutors, an FBI agent, and a HUD investigator about a range of city government dealings related to Urban Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Pat Ford. The Post-Gazette story describes blogger Bram Reichbaum of The Pittsburgh Comet and The Burgh Report as a pivotal figure in bringing to light the gifts received by Ford and Ford's wife, former mayoral press secretary Alecia Sirk. The gifts were from Lamar Advertising executive Jim Vlasach, who is Ford's friend. They came to light during the controversy over Ford's approval of Lamar's planned downtown electronic billboard, which was initially okayed without going through normal city review procedures.

The PG's Rich Lord reports:

"Mr. Reichbaum said he went to (U.S. Attorney Mary Beth) Buchanan's office after a conversation with her in which she indicated interest in city matters about which he has written on The Pittsburgh Comet and The Burgh Report, two blogs."

Ford's been on paid leave since April 9th, pending the outcome of a Pennsylvania Ethics Commission review of those gifts. The review was requested by Ford himself and the URA board.

As I posted here, Ford expects to hear very soon whether the State Ethics Commission has decided to close its review of his case or launch a full investigation. Ford's attorney Lawrence Fisher has said "it remains Pat Ford's fervent intention to return to his responsibilities as URA director as soon as his good name is restored by the State Ethics Commission."

Tuesday I asked Mayor Ravenstahl if Pat Ford can come back on board quickly if the ethics commission clears him. The mayor responded:

"I'm going to wait until they come back with their decision. We'll take a look at what that decision is and then make our decision accordingly. I'm not going to speculate on what ifs at this point."

"But of course, when that comes back and my understanding is the same as yours that it should happen perhaps this week, then we'll take a look at it, analyze it, and deal with it when the decision is made."

The State Ethics Commission cannot discuss investigations, but one commission official has again outlined for me their standard procedures for all cases. From those practices, we can glean this:

• There will be no announcement to the media of the Ford decision.
• If the Ethics Commission staff recommends that the matter should be closed, the staff will make that recommendation to a single commission member.
• The member's decision would then be voted on by the full ethics commission in a closed executive session.
• That executive session can be held via phone at any time or in person on the same day as the ethics commission's next public meeting on July 21st.
• Ford himself (and his attorney) would be notified sometime soon after next week's meeting.

• It's up to the ethics commission staff to determine whether there is reasonable cause to go to a full investigation.
• The commission itself does not take part in a decision to launch a full investigation.
• If a formal investigation is launched, Ford will be notified within 72 hours of that action.

Ford's attorney Lawrence Fisher tells me that he expects the ethics commission review will conclude no later than this Friday, based on his reading of the state code. He says the law requires that they notify Ford if the case is not going forward, but does not set a deadline for doing so. The 72 hour deadline only applies to notice of the launching of a full investigation.

Fisher says that when Ford is cleared, he will issue a public statement on Ford's behalf.

If you'd like to catch up on this story, you can read these links to my past blog posts on the topic.

Pat Ford Ethics Review & Paid Leave Update 2

Pat Ford Ethics Review & Paid Leave Update

Sirk's Attorney Calls E-Mail "Bogus"

Billboard Back Story: Brewing Controversies

Also of interest:

Chessboards & Mushroom Clouds At City Hall

City Government Shakeup

Sirk On Blogging No More


1 comment:

EdHeath said...

You know, clearly some blogs and some bloggers have better access to the sort of information that most of us (ordinary citizens) don't have. I have been party to one or two sort of (non exclusive) leaked information things, and mostly I did nothing with the information. Partly that was to avoid exactly the sort of situation Bram finds himself in.

My preference in blogging is to voice my opinion, maybe do some small amount of research, and advance ideas and see what people think of them. I'm not a self publishing newspaper, so I don't believe I am protected by shield laws. I don't have a research department nor the time to ask for reactions if I accuse someone of some specific wrong doing based on exclusive information I have received. My blogging is opinion blogging, and if someone wants to tell me my opinion is wrong, that’s fine by me.

There have been occasional debates about anonymity in blogging. I understand and respect the history of it, but I think that anonymous bloggers who gain inside access to government figures use the resulting information at their peril (obviously that’s not the case with Bram). Pat Dowd thinks that no comments should be anonymous. Since the current version of the popular software “” allows people to choose “handles” (nicknames) when they comment, it is not possible to force people to use their real name when they comment, much less when they post an essay/story on a blog. But as computer use gains ever more acceptance, maybe something will evolve to separate open, transparent debate blogs from scandal/gossip/muck-raking blogs.