Thursday, August 28, 2008

Ford Letter Q&A: "Inappropriate Affairs & Activities"

The transcript below is now complete.

Check this link for the video of my Channel 4 Action News report.

Here's my Q&A with Pat Ford's attorney Lawrence Fisher on Ford's resignation letter in which Ford --a former member of the mayor's inner circle -- attacks the Ravenstahl administration.

Q: What action is Pat Ford taking and why?

A: Pat Ford has resigned from his position as the executive director of the Urban Redevelopment Authority. In other words, he has reached the inevitable and invariable conclusion that he will not return to that position with the city.

Q: He does much more than make that statement in the letter. He says some bigger things in the letter about his opinion of the way he was being treated by the Ravenstahl administration -- and his opinion of the Ravenstahl administration. What does he have to say about the way he was treated and about the administration?

A: You have to bear in mind that Pat is a public servant now for two decades, and he has served not just this administration but administrations before. And it has been disillusioning at best to see the way this administration hung him out to dry over a red herring. You know, this state Ethics Commission preliminary inquiry, which is terminated, and yet there has been no discussion of Mr. Ford's future by the administration. For five months now, he has been dangling in the wind. And this administration has seen fit to sit idly by while he and his wife are pilloried in the press. Enough is enough, Bob.

Q: ...What things are Pat Ford referring to when he says that.. "I do not support the actions of what I believe to be a failed administration"?

A: You read the newspapers as well as I do. We're reading more and more now about contracts awarded to bidders who were not the lowest responsible bidder. And that sort of situation, where political contributions to the mayor seem to be rewarded in the awards of contracts, is a culture of corruption that Mr. Ford wants nothing to do with.

Q: ...Had Pat Ford ever felt pressured to take any actions to benefit political contributors of the mayor?

A: I feel that Mr. Ford was uncomfortable in his position as URA Executive Director at times because his boss Yarone Zober and the mayor certainly engaged in behavior he found to be unacceptable, inappropriate and not what he wanted to be associated with.

Q: What would the mayor and the mayor's chief of staff have been doing that was "unacceptable and inappropriate"?

A: I think you'll have to ask the mayor that question. Mr. Ford has extricated himself from this situation, which was the right thing to do, based on the advice of counsel.

Q: In the statement he said "I no longer desire to return to a position where I'll be forced to serve as a scapegoat for the inappropriate affairs and activities of others". How has he been forced to serve as a scapegoat, and for what inappropriate affairs and activities?

A: Look at the Grant Street Transportation Center billboard debacle. Look at that and tell me Pat Ford isn't a scapegoat in that whole thing. If anyone thinks that a couple of cigars and neckties helped to purchase a multimillion dollar billboard deal, they are sorely naive. Mr. Ford was doing what he was told to do with respect to that sign, with respect to that billboard, and all of a sudden he's on paid leave pending a state ethics commission (review). That's the epitome of being a scapegoat.

Q: Does Pat Ford allege now that there were "inappropriate affairs and activities" on the part of the mayor or Mr. Zober as regards the billoard?

A: I don't believe so. In fact, that's the entire point here. (It) is that there was nothing inappropriate about that. That billboard is an attribute (sic) to this city. And it has been politicized to the point of ridiculousness and Mr. Ford is the one taking the fall for it. No more, Bob.

Q: So, what inappropriate types of "inappropriate affairs and activities" is Pat Ford referring to?

A: I think you're going to have to let time tell, when it comes to those questions, Bob. While I understand your journalistic integrity in asking those questions, we're not in position to provide you with more specific answers.

Q: Are you providing any investigative bodies with information on those issues?

A; You know, it's a tricky wicket when you talk about investigations of the nature that I think you're talking about. Mr. Ford doesn't want to do anything which would in any way upset or interfere with such investigations. As you know, the proceedings regarding federal grand juries are secret. And so it would be inappropriate to say anything other than what we have said before. Which is that Mr. Ford has cooperated with authorities regarding matters of mutual interest.

Q: Is there a federal grand jury investigation of the activities of the Ravenstahl administration with which Mr. Ford is cooperating?

A: As I said before -- it's all I can really say -- is that Mr. Ford has cooperated with federal authorities regarding matters of mutual interest. To specify any further would not only be in poor taste, but poor judgement in my view.

Q: ...He speaks of a lack of vision and says that he has "no desire to perish along with Luke Ravenstahl's Pittsburgh" What does that mean?

(The following portion was freshly posted to the blog at 7:39 AM.)

A: It seems self evident to me that Mr. Ford feels that this administration is going down the drain -- and he he doesn't want to be part of that spiral downward. And so, you take it for what it is. You take his words at face value and I think common sense tells you what that means.

Q: The administration has maintained that the mayor is moving the city forward on development and other fronts. In what says is he suggesting that Pittsburgh is perishing for lack of vision? Are there some examples that he would point to?

A: Well, again, I would point you to the widely published articles in various print media, where we are reading about contracts being awarded to entities where contributions have been made to the mayor. This is not the way government is supposed to operate. And this is not this is not an honorable or a noble undertaking on the part of the administration, to be awarding contracts to entities that are not the lowest responsible bidder. So, that's one of what I think are probably a multitude of examples. And it's certainly not for Mr. Ford to air the dirty laundry of this administration, but to rather rid himself of it.

Q: Without citing specific examples, again just to clarify and put a finer point on some things you were saying earlier -- is he saying that favors are being granted by Mayor Ravenstahl and his administration to political contributors?

A: Let's say first and foremost that Pat Ford has served this administration with dignity and grace. And look what he has to show for it. He is on paid leave, the subject of a bogus state Ethics Commission inquiry -- which has terminated, yet he has not been returned to his position. That, in and of itself, speaks volumes about the way this administration elevates sound bite spin over sound, tight reason.

Q: His letter characterized the culture of the Ravenstahl administration; how does he characterize it and what's the justification for that characterization?

A: I think to some extent he's speaking on behalf of his wife there too, who was thrown out like garbage as his press secretary to the mayor. So you have the way in which another loyal, decent public servant -- Alecia Sirk -- was just discarded, discredited, and disregarded by this administration, without so much as a direct explanation from her supervisor. The ravensthal administration told Pat to tell his wife that she had to resign. That is outside of all known protocol and bounds. It is inappropriate, it is improper, and it speaks to a culturally bereft process.

Q: In what ways is this administration -- to use his phrase --"a culture of deception and corruption"?

A: We have, you and I, I think, talked already about this in the interview. You know, the way that Pat has been treated in the first place -- has been not fair, not honorable, not noble by this administration. And in addition, you have these contracts being awarded to political contributors when the lowest responsible bidder seems to be disregarded in the process because perhaps they didn't continue to the mayor. We reach certain conclusions that I think are common sense to most people when they see things for what they are. But what you have to do, I think, is read between the lines a little bit as well.

Q: Pat Ford notes in his letter addressing (the mayor's Chief of Staff and URA Board Chairman) Yarone Zober: "you personally retaliated against those who tried to support me." Who was the target of retaliation?

A: Mr. Zober in a most despicable act, virtually threatened to destroy people for sending letters to the mayor in support of Pat Ford. Who would want to return to a situation where their boss is actively and openly threatening their supporters?

Q: Are these people who are city employees or people outside of city government?

A: There was an outpouring of support for Pat Ford from all corners of the city. In the form of a letter writing campaign, in the form of telephone calls, in the form of your general, common courtesy. People saying, you know, "this is a good man. This is a decent public servant who has helped the city. Bring him back, take him off of paid leave, put him back to work and end this nonsense". And in response, people were told 'stop doing that. Stop supporting Pat Ford'.

Q: And they were threatened with retaliation?

A: Yes. That they wouldn't get contracts, that they would not be favored by the administration if they continued to support Pat Ford.

Q: Beyond the resignation and claiming the compensation that he believes is due to him under his contract, is he considering any legal action against the city, against the mayor, against Mr. Zober?

A: Pat wants to wash his hands of this administration and move on with his life to greener pastures.

Q: To revisit before we wrap up -- what's the latest specific answer that you've gotten, if any, that you've gotten from the Pennsylvania Ethics Commission...? I know that you'd gotten a letter earlier that you'd characterized as exonerating Pat Ford.

A: What more do we need? What more would we ask for?

Q: You had indicated that you'd hoped you'd get a letter from the full board (commission), generated following its next meeting. Have you requested that specifically? Have they responded at all to such a request?

(This final portion was freshly posted to the blog at 5:24 PM.)

A: The next meeting has not occurred yet. The next meeting is on September 22nd. So, that will come way after the fact and will certainly be a footnote, if anything, in your reporting, I suppose.

Q: In the interest of thoroughness, I've not had the chance to talk (to you) since then. There was a published report that appeared after our last interview that quoted some language from the letter, which you let a newspaper reporter see. [Note: Fisher had previously declined the request to see the letter.] That referred to actions that needed to be taken by the Ethics Commission that had not yet been taken. Which raised the question for me: was there other language in that letter that specifically, explicitly said the preliminary inquiry is concluded, there will not be a formal investigation (of Ford)? Did they spell that out specifically in the letter that you -- that Pat -- did receive?

A: I was to glean that from the letter that Pat received, yes.

Q: But..that was a deduction, based on your knowledge of the rules about timelines (for when a preliminary investigation should end) and so forth?

A: And the content of the letter, of course. And of course, also communications that I'd had with the State Ethics Commission director on several occasions prior thereto.

Q: Is there anything lacking at this point from the Ethics Commission that Pat Ford is still seeking...?

A: At this point I think it's all water over the dam. You know, beyond the point. Mr. Ford now has resigned and he will move on with his life, rid himself of this highly politicized environment in which he's been pilloried in the press.

Q: The last time we had spoken there was a question at the time about federal authorities looking into issues that Pat Ford had raised about the Housing Authority. Other than him cooperating, giving information concerning the review of the Housing Authority which he had publicly acknowledged before, has anything come up to indicate that any -- whether federal or state -- anyone is examining Pat Ford right now? That he's the subject of any sort of review by any body other than what you indicate is a now concluded review by the state Ethics Commission?

A: We have no information whatsoever that Pat Ford is either the target or the subject of any investigation.

Q: And again, as you've indicated a number of times during this interview, however, he is cooperating with federal authorities in any reviews that they're conducting? And you don't want to go beyond describing what federal investigations might be going on concerning city matters, other than what you've alluded to earlier in the interview?

A: Except to correct you and say that my comment was that he has *cooperated* with authorities regarding matters of mutual interest.

Q: Past tense?

A: Correct.

Q: So there's nothing -- no current activity in which investigators are calling upon him for any ongoing cooperation?

A: I'll leave it it to what it is. Your phraseology "cooperating" indicates...

Q: So it's the tense of the verb can make a difference? I should keep it in past tense?

A: Well it (the question's phrasing) indicates that there's some ongoing interaction between Mr. Ford and authorities, which I'm not prepared to discuss.

Q: You can't address if there is or there is not?

A: Correct. I can only say what I've said before.

Q: So that doesn't rule out the technical possibility there may be something currently; you're silent on that point because legally that's the correct thing to do?

A: The appropriate way to deal with it, yes.

[There's a pause in the interview for the photographer to record additional video.]

Q: I had asked you when he reached this decision, you said last night. That prompted this question: was there anything specific incident that happened that triggered his decision to write this letter?

A: I think the last straw was when Yarone Zober started threatening his supporters. There is no way that Pat wanted his friends who supported him to be subject to retaliation by the administration for doing so. So the quickest, the easiest way to end that was to resign. And also, I think for the good of the city. You know, this story has dragged on for so long now. And when supporters are being threatened and the city is mired in that's really not -- there's nothing to it. There's nothing to it, there's no substance to it. We keep talking about it. You keep coming back to my office. We keep discussing this red herring, and so, enough is enough.

Q: The published reports over the weekend had raised the question about the (Pat Ford) legal defense fund and whether or not sending letters to people in the development community might be inappropriate, given what was then still his position. Obviously he's resigning, so going forward that won't be an issue, but do you have anything to say about the issue raised in those published reports about whether or not soliciting contributions to the defense fund (from) people in the development community was inappropriate?

A: Think about this, Bob. Give this some thought. People in the community reached out to Pat and said "how can we help". Pat didn't solicit anything. Pat's wife didn't solicit anyone. People solicited Pat and said "how can we help? We feel sorry for you. We feel sorry for your situation, we feel sorry for your predicament". There was this outpouring of support. This outreach in the community to which Mr. Ford's wife responded by saying "if you want to help, you can contribute to a legal defense fund". That was leaked to the media. That information was leaked to the media by this administration. Why would this administration leak information to the media to create a false impression about Mr. Ford? That speaks to the culture of corruption in this administration.



Anonymous said...

Denver News from Harrisburg,
Finally the truth is coming out about the inadequate affairs of the Ravenstahl administration. Here at the Democratic Convention Pennsylvanians have been asking for the mayor, just as they did for the Veterans Parade, and other important events which he has no problem not showing up for. The total lack of respect for showing up as the leader of Pittsburgh is making Pittsburgh look really bad all accross the nation. He finally showed up at the Convention on Tuesday and was gone Wednesday, before the acceptance speech. Being a delegate is an honor and privilege that he obviously has no respect for, just as he has shown for former colleges and employees. I certainly hope that the other elected officials of Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania will finally take on the task of investigating the allegations made here. Pittsburgh has been suffering under this corrupt administration and I believe it is the obligation of the attorney general, district attorney and the press to look into this matter further. Pittsburgh doesn't need anymore corrupt leadership and it's time for the other elected officials to serve the people that elected them to get to the bottom of this. It's not only " a time for a change" in this country but looks like "time for a major change" in the state of affairs of Pittsburgh politics.
Former Burger

John Riegert said...

Bob, great info. Thanks for posting it.