Thursday, September 18, 2008

Q&A -- Mayor Denies 'Hush Money' In Ford Payment

[Update: a link to video of my Channel 4 Action News report]

Here's a transcript of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's Q&A with reporters about the payment to former URA Executive Director Pat Ford. The impromptu new conference came during a break in the mayor's tour of Bloomfield's business district. During the session, the mayor proclaimed that this is the last time he will answer any questions about whether his administration is under investigation. The transcript shows that -- while a reporter began to refer to Councilman Shields' request for an inquiry by the state Attorney General into Ford's statements -- during this Q&A, no reporter actually asked the mayor whether he is under investigation.

Q (Jeremy Boren): Did your administration reach out to Pat Ford to find out the specifics of what he was alleging in his resignation letter and if not, why not?

A: The answer is no, and didn't really feel the need to.

Q (Boren): Why not? What if he had some legitimate concerns that needed to be addressed?

A: He had every ability to bring those forward and certainly still does.

Q (Boren): But you didn't think it was important to seek them out?

A: I know what happened and I know the issues that have been raised and I'm confident that nothing was done wrong.

You know, again, I said it before and I'll say it again. At no point in time when he was an employee of the City of Pittsburgh or the URA did he mention any wrongdoing or suggest that there was something done wrong. Of course, now that has changed, and I think there's reason that that changed, based on, you know, his employment status, et cetera. So, you know, I said in the press conference, I think they're bogus claims and they're false, and I still believe that.

Q (Bob Mayo): So, do you say that you do know what he was referring to when he made allegations of deception and corruption?

A: There is none.

Q (Mayo): But you know what he was referring to specifically?

A: No.

Q (Andy Gastmeyer): But can you see why the public is skeptical, mayor? I mean, he basically slaps this administration and you in particular, of course, in the face. And then a week or two after this, you go ahead and agree to a deal that not only pays him through the end of the year, but through June of next year.

A: You know, again, the settlement was reached. The URA board was in agreement that it was in our best interest to protect the taxpayers by reaching this settlement so that we avoided protracted and long litigation. It was a relatively small amount of money in comparison to what the legal costs potentially could have been.

And in addition, It allowed us to put this employment issue behind us. Allow (ed) us to move forward at the URA and do what the URA is -- do what the URA's mission calls for, and that's to rebuild this city. To focus on neighborhood issues, quality of life issues, and so it will allow us to do that.

I'm not going to sit here and suggest that it's something that I liked. I'm not going to sit here and suggest that it was necessarily good news. But it was a decision that had to be made. And it was made considering all of the factors and considering what had to be considered to reach the settlement.

Q (Gastmeyer): The attorney general's office is -- may possibly look into this --

A: (Interrupting) Let me answer this question and let me be clear. And I'll answer it today and I'm not going to answer it going forward, because I don't think that it's fair. My political adversaries continue to throw mud against the wall. Continue to suggest that there are investigations happening. Continue to write letters, continue to play politics. And you all continue to carry their water by asking me that question each and every time.

I'll answer it today and I'll conclude by answering it today. The answer is no. I haven't been questioned. Nobody has been questioned. And I think it's unfair and unrealistic for you all to continue to ask that question over and over and over again, without any facts, without anything other than a suggestion by my political adversaries.

So, until you all have facts and can hold my opponents responsible and accountable, so they can throw things against the wall and then you all come out here and carry their water and you ask me the question, and the answer to the question is no. It's been no for three weeks, it's no today. It'll be no tomorrow, and I'm not going to answer it any further.

Q (Mayo): Setting aside the question of an investigation. Editorials (are) criticizing or questioning whether or not this is, in effect, 'hush money'. You had him saying publicly embarrassing things. He winds up getting paid six months more than his contract would have. Did this contract buy Pat Ford's public silence?

A: It did not. I said before, I don't like it, I didn't like it. But it was a decision that had to be made. It was a decision that was made to protect the taxpayers in terms of our financial obligations on the issue. And it was also an issue that had to be considered in terms of moving the URA forward. I didn't believe, nor did the members of the URA board, that any long, protracted legal battle was in anybody's best interest.

We can stand here and debate on what that means, what that would cost. I can tell you it would be significantly higher than what was ultimately reached. Our obligation was to pay him through the remainder of the year. Regardless, there was no way we could have gotten around that. And so it's essentially, despite what's been reported, a six months settlement. And i think when you compare that to what the ultimate cost could have been and the overall benefit to (avoiding) a long legal battle, I think the decision was made and the right decision was made, as bad as it may be. I don't like settlements. I don't like this settlement. But it was something you had to do.

Q (Mayo): But he resigned, effective the end of the year. That was your only obligation to him What did he have going that warranted an extra six months? He resigned, (Why not) let him walk away?

A: He relinquished any ability for him to file any future claims against the URA, which I think is a very important point and why the settlement was reached. It wasn't so that he couldn't talk. I mean, certainly, he wrote a letter that was very damaging. Said a lot of things in that letter. If it was our interest to hush him, I think we would have hushed him before he wrote that letter. That's not what this was about.

Q (Mayo): But he has a non-disparagement clause now?

A: Right, exactly, so he doesn't damage the URA. That happens all the time, Bob You know that. It's happened before in the City of Pittsburgh. It's happened at the school district. It happens over and over again. There are cases in which the city has chosen not to settle. They could have settled then for a reasonably small amount of money, but they fought. And guess what that costs at the end of the --

Q (Mayo): (Interrupting) How would it--?

A: Can I answer the question, or --?

Q (Mayo): I'm sorry, I thought we were straying from the focus of the question, but please complete.

A: I don't remember what I was going to say.

Q (Boren): Is there a reason you didn't address the settlement on Thursday or Friday personally -- answer questions about it?

A: (Shakes his head) I wasn't around. No.

Q (Boren): Where were you?

A: Not available to the media.

Q (Mayo): Again, the point that I was trying to clarify is: if a guy resigns, and his contract us up, what possible basis would he have to sue? If that's all he had, he was quitting, what's he going to sue over?

A: There are potential -- it's employment law. I'm not an attorney, I can just tell you what we were advised to do, based on the recommendations of our attorneys. I'm not going to sit here today and say whether or not we would win or we would lose, What I can tell you is, whether we won or we lost, a potential a long, drawn out battle -- number one, it would have cost us more. And number two, it would have further damaged the URA. It would have further stymied our ability to do development, and make things happen in our neighborhoods. And so no matter which way you look at the issue, it's a difficult issue. It's one that had to be dealt with. It's one that no matter which way you dealt with , it wasn't pleasant. I'll recognize that. I have before.

You know, the important thing now is, I think we have a new executive director. He's a qualified and capable individual that's doing a good job. Has done a good job in his acting capacity. And it's my hope that the authority now can move on and move forward and put this issue behind us.


1 comment:

Mark Rauterkus said...

Bob, Thanks for the time and attention to this matter.