Sunday, August 31, 2008

Q&A -- Ford's Lawyer Pressed For Details On Allegations Against Mayor


"I don't know whether or not there's an investigation.
I just know that authorities have contacted my client and he has cooperated."


Here's the Q&A transcript of the impromptu news conference by Pat Ford's attorney, Lawrence Fisher. Once again, the questions come from a variety of local reporters, myself included. Looking for the mayor's news conference Q&A? It's at this link.

First, a brief recap:

URA Executive Director Pat Ford's parting shot in his resignation letter accused Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's administration of 'a culture of deception and corruption'. Mayor Ravenstahl dismisses the claims as absolutely not true. "I was blindsided by Mr. Ford's attack and resignation letter. It was, in my opinion, outrageous, very malicious. On a personal level, I am very hurt, and I'm also very angry and sad", said Ravenstahl. The Mayor dismissed Ford's attorney's words suggesting his administration is under some sort of investigation.

"We have never -- not once -- been contacted, let me be very clear, by any federal investigator, by any investigator of any kind, whether it's me or any member of my administration" said the mayor. He added "we have yet to be asked one question. I know there's been rumors. I've been made aware of the rumors that are out there, but I can only state the facts -- that that has not taken place. We have not been questioned, nobody has been approached."

Minutes before Mayor Ravenstahl entered, Ford's attorney was escorted out of the conference room by the mayor's bodyguard. In his own Q&A with reporters later, attorney Lawrence Fisher appeared to be standing by everything his client has said.

Said Fisher, "well, I'm sorry that he feels that the comments were malicious, but the truth is an absolute defense to a libel action, isn't it?"

Ford's attorney also said "if a public official (Ford) has been contacted by authorities, and has cooperated in matters of mutual interest, you can determine whether there is an investigation or not."

Ravenstahl says that Ford never made these accusations during his time working for the mayor. "They're designed to attempt to attack me and this administration and I stand here confident that that decision and all other decisions that were made were made appropriately" he said.

Fisher says "the reality the situation is that Mr. Ford has made some serious allegations and he has the wherewithal to prove them".

When pressed by reporters, Fisher acknowledged, however, "I don't know whether or not there's an investigation. I just know that authorities have contacted my client and he has cooperated."


Now, Fisher's Q&A with reporters:


Q: (Inaudible)...allowed to be in there?

A: It is my understanding that the mayor called this press conference to discuss my client. I wanted to hear what he had to say about Mr. Ford. Apparently he doesn't want me to hear that in any way other than filtered through the media.


Q: What about -- in this discussion he says he never did wrong, that nothing was done wrong by the administration, and basically said he's being blindsided (inaudible) outrageous, baseless.

A: Well, I'm sure that's the party line and I'm sure a lot of people behind the scenes helped him craft that message. But the reality the situation is that Mr. Ford has made some serious allegations and he has the wherewithal to prove them. And we'd like the rhetoric to get ratcheted down a bit and we can move on. You know, Mr. Ford would like to move on with his life.


Q: What are the specific allegations. I mean, you said there's a "culture of corruption". That's pretty a pretty big accusation to make without anything to back it up. What's actually -- what's he talking about here?

A: Well, he reads the newspaper just like all of us. And we hear about these contracts that are awarded to political contributors, as opposed to the lowest responsible bidder. Mr. Ford is aware of that, just like anybody in the public. And of course, having worked on the inside, he has a unique view which --- you know, it's not his intention to air anybody's dirty laundry. He has stepped aside. He has stepped out of the picture, and now we hope for some honorable treatment by this administration.


Q: Is that what he's saying then? He's saying, no, but he's saying that there was actual -- that contracts went to political contributors, rather than the lowest bidder or the best bidder?

A: It's been reported in the newspaper to that effect. And I don't imagine that you all would report those sort of things if they weren't true.


Q: Does he have any special knowledge? Does he have anything other than what has been in the papers?

A: At this point, Mr. Ford is not going to air this administration's dirty laundry and I'll leave it at that.


Q: Has Mr. Ford been in contact with any -- with agents from the federal government, the state, the attorney general? Has anybody contacted him about this administration?

A: On that subject I'll say only what I've said before: Mr. Ford has cooperated with authorities on matters of mutual interest.


Q: What does that mean? You've got to define that better than just -- what authorities, and what do you mean "cooperated"?

Q (from a different reporter than in the question above): In light of the mayor's statement that he flat out denied that there was, that anybody from his administration had been contacted about any investigation. He just denied that in the news conference a few minutes ago. He said that's flat out wrong. There's nothing going on. Nothing. He's never been contacted, nobody in his administration's been contacted. So, who's telling the truth here?

A: Mr Ford is -- has cooperated with authorities on matters of mutual interest. That is the truth.


Q: So Mr. Ford has been contacted by investigators?

A: Authorities, yes.


Q: Can you tell us who?

A: If I could say more, I would. but, you know, these are sensitive matters. And it is not our intention to interfere with an investigation.


Q (Two reporters overlapping):
(1st )Yeah, but you said you wanted to lower the rhetoric, and here you are...
(2nd) So, there is an ongoing investigation? You get said there's "the investigation".

A: Well if, if a public official has been contacted by authorities, and has cooperated in matters of mutual interest, you can determine whether there is an investigation or not. I don't know whether or not there's an investigation. I just know that authorities have contacted my client and he has cooperated.


Q: So it could be a case where they've talked to your client and haven't talked to anybody else yet?

A: Well, I think it's been reported by Mr. Lord that others have been contacted by authorities as well. I mean, this is nothing new.


Q: Are you referring to anything other than the allegations that Pat Ford raised about the Pittsburgh Housing Authority? That is to say, are you referring to anything within the Ravenstahl Administration?

A: I am going to stand by my statement. Unfortunately, I wish I could say more. However, this is a sensitive matter and It would not be appropriate for me to elaborate beyond what I've said, which is that Mr. Ford has cooperated with authorities on matters of mutual interest.


Q: Did Mr. Ford resign because he cut a deal with investigators?

A: Mr. Ford has resigned because it was the right thing to do. And because he had had enough of being hung out to dry by this administration.


Q: This administration said they were waiting for the state to make a decision and backed him.

A: I beg your pardon?


Q: This administration has said that they were waiting for the state to make a decision and have backed Mr. Ford throughout, until this point.

A: Between that expression and the reality of situation lies an eternity.


Q: You would have us go out and report that there's some sort of investigation going on, there's some sort of suggestion of corruption here. And yet you make no specific allegations. You've suggested that perhaps there were contracts that were awarded that were improper. But yet you've offered nothing concrete. What are you talking about?

A: Andrew, read your own newspaper. I wouldn't have you report anything. It's not, it's not, I wouldn't be so presumptuous as to have you report a thing. You report what you report. I read what you report. And you have reported that there were contracts given to political contributors who were not the lowest responsible bidders.


Q: So, is there anything that Pat Ford has personal knowledge of, other than the published reports about the specific contracts recently awarded by the URA since his departure?

A: It is not our intention to stir up a hornets' nest here. I came here to listen to what the mayor had to say. I didn't have that opportunity, regrettably, and for whatever reasons only the mayor knows. I presume you asked him why I wasn't allowed to listen to what he had to say.


Q: He said you weren't invited.

A: I was not invited. Well, how rude.


Q: He said your earlier comments were outrageous and very malicious. As a lawyer, does that sound like the kind language one would use if they were preparing to, say, pursue libel against you and your client?

A: Outrageous and malicious?


Q: Outrageous and very malicious.

A: Those were -- that's the phrase that he used? Well, I'm sorry that he feels that the comments were malicious, but the truth is an absolute defense to a libel action, isn't it?



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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Q&A Transcript -- Mayor on Ford: "Outrageous, Very Malicious"



[UPDATE: This is the final version of my Q&A notes from Mayor Ravenstahl's news conference on the Pat Ford resignation letter controversy. The questions come from a variety of local reporters, myself included. A separate post will include reporters' Q&A with Ford's attorney, Lawrence Fisher.]


Here are links to coverage by the Trib and the PG , as well as to one of my Channel 4 Action News reports.

Mayor Ravenstahl's opening statement: ...Certainly, as I mentioned on Wednesday morning when I had the opportunity to speak to some radio stations, I was blindsided by Mr. Ford's attack and resignation letter. It was, in my opinion, outrageous, very malicious. On a personal level, I am very hurt, and I'm also very angry and sad on a professional level, for the residents of the City of Pittsburgh. And with that, I will answer any questions you guys have.



[Question redacted]

A: I would just say that there are a lot of rumors and things being said right now. and if I were members of the media, I'd be very careful in what I reported and make sure that they're factual and not simply rumors.


[Question redacted]

A: Nobody in my office nor myself has ever been contacted by any investigatory agency. So, no.


Q: What did Mr. Ford mean in his letter of resignation... "a culture of deception and corruption", "where there is no vision, people perish", "I have no desire to perish along with Luke Ravenstahl's Pittsburgh" -- what did he mean by all of that?

A: You'd have to ask Mr. Ford that question.


Q: Is there a culture of corruption and deception in the mayor's office?

A: Absolutely not.


Q: Do you have any idea what he means when he says that he's being made a scapegoat for "inappropriate affairs and activities of others"?

A: Not at all.


Q: (inaudible)...that your administration can take in regards to campaign finance, in regards to bidding procedures for professional services contracts that might remove any suspicions that linger our there?

A: Well, I think you're always going to have those questions. And Don Kortland's here to answer your specific questions after this press conference. I know there's been a lot made about a couple of specific contracts. For example, a McTish contract that was mentioned. And again, I'll let Don answer the specifics. And I understand how it's sexy and something that looks good in a newspaper or on a TV report. But the reality is, for example, if you're going to buy a car, Rich. You're going to consider Dealer A and Dealer B. If Dealer A's bid's lower but doesn't have tires on the car, you're going to go to Dealer B. Because that's the lowest responsible bidder for the purchase that you want to make. So, it's not always as cut and dry as a newspaper article can make it seem to be. And I'll let Don answer that question more specifically afterwards. But I'm comfortable and confident that every decision that was made, that all these suggestions of corruption and deception are false. They're malicious. They're designed to attempt to attack me and this administration. And I stand here confident that that decision and all other decisions that were made were made appropriately.


Q: Mr. Ford's attorney, Mr. Fisher... talked in terms of contracts being awarded to people who were political contributors. His broad brush statement about that: what is your response?


A: Again, we've awarded contracts to contributors, W've awarded contracts to non-contributors. The reality of the situation is that we make decisions based on who we think is the best and responsible person. We've opened up the contract process at the URA. In fact, more so than has ever been done previously. Don can allude to that after the press conference to give you some more specifics on what that means. But we went through competitive processes in all these cases and we feel comfortable that the decisions that were made were appropriate. I can understand how some can suggest or may have the perception. The reality is that the decisions that were made were the best interest of the taxpayers of the taxpayers of the City of Pittsburgh. I believe that. I stand by that. Others may suggest otherwise, but I believe we made the right decisions.

Q: Have any investigators from any agency -- whether federal or state -- contacted your administration concerning Mr. Ford or any other activities of anyone within city government?

A: We have never -- not once -- been contacted, let me be very clear, by any federal investigator, by any investigator of any kind, whether it's me or any member of my administration. We have yet to be asked one question. I know there's been rumors. I've been made aware of the rumors that are out there, but I can only state the facts that that has not taken place. We have not been questioned, nobody has been approached. When and if that happens, we'll certainly make you aware of it, but at this point, absolutely, unequivocally nothing to that degree has happened.


Q: Mayor, why was Mr. Ford's attorney asked to leave and not be allowed to listen to this press conference?

A: He wasn't invited. I don't know that I appreciate the comments that he's made about me and my administration and I didn't want him in the room.


Q: Is this an open public forum. I mean, the fact is that you are speaking to the people of Pittsburgh through the news media. Isn't everything you're saying in here goes to the public?

A: This is a press conference and I've invited members of the press that have credentials and Mr. Fisher is not one of those members.


[Question redacted]

A: I think Joanna addressed that to you yesterday.


Q: No truth to that?

A: No truth to that at all. I think you need to get on with it.


Q: Mayor, why was it necessary to cut short your stay at the convention and when did you leave and why?

A: When I left -- what's today? Friday -- Wednesday afternoon, to come home to deal with this issue.


Q: Why was it necessary to cut it short and deal with it? What was the pressing matter that...?

A: I don't know that there was any pressing matter, other than, of course, it was surprising to me and I wanted to make sure that I was here to deal with the issue. And I felt it was more important for me to be here to be prepared to deal with this issue or any other than it was to me to be in Denver for the convention. So, it was a personal decision.


Q: When you say "deal with the issue", what have you been doing to deal with...? I mean you came home Wednesday afternoon and went all through yesterday.

A: Yeah, I left there Wednesday afternoon and got into town Wednesday evening. So, I didn't really have much to do Wednesday evening, other than to go to bed. But yesterday was just gathering facts. You know, considering what the resignation meant. Of course, talking with members of my staff about different issues that you all have questioned me on here today. I just wanted to make sure that I had all of the information before I made any public statement in a forum like this.


Q: Mr. Ford's attorney has said in a letter that Mr. Ford planned to work or at least get paid through the end of the year. Is that still going to happen?

A: That's a question that the URA board will ultimately consider. And I believe that they'll do so in executive session. I respect their ability to do so. I certainly will communicate with them in that regard. Haven't had the opportunity to do so yet. I don't want to tell you the answer before I tell them.


Q: What officials and members of staff had you been meeting with through the day and did you meet with any private attorneys in addition to..?

A: No.


Q: Have you spoken to Mr. Ford?

A: What's that?


Q: Have you spoken to Mr. Ford?

A: No.


Q: After you vetoed campaign finance reform earlier this year, you mentioned that your administration might promptly put out something that would in your view would be more (inaudible) and effective. Given all these questions, is that on an expedited timeline now?

A: We're considering it. I don't know that anything's changed since I've originally made that statement to you a little while back. But, so I don't know that it's expedited. We're trying to deal with this issue in the short term. And we'll take a look at it.


Q: How do you respond to the criticisms about your chief of staff from Pat Ford (on) Zober?

A: It doesn't surprise me.


Q: Did Yarone Zober make threats against people who had spoken out and tried to contact you on behalf of Pat Ford?

A: No. It's ridiculous. First of all, nobody contacted me on behalf of Pat Ford.


Q: No letters, no phone calls?

A: I didn't see them. Apparently one or two may have come through, but I didn't see them. And nobody threatened anybody.


Q: What was your opinion of Pat Ford prior to receipt of that letter and what are your thoughts about Pat Ford now?

A: Certainly, you know, I'm saddened by the whole turn of events and I think it's unfortunate. It's something I couldn't predict would have happened. And let me also be clear that never once -- ever -- did Pat approach me, approach the chairman of his board, approach anybody at the URA to suggest that there was any type of corruption or decisions being made that were not in the best interest of the residents. :Never once during his employment did that take place. And so for him now to suggest that there was a culture of it, I think is certainly contrived and very unfortunate. So you have to consider the turn of events that has taken place with this individual.

Q: So, you had no fault found with Pat Ford prior to this letter of resignation and the accusations contained in it?

A: I think you all have been asking me these questions for two years now about Pat Ford. I've been supportive of him. I've always stood behind him. I remained behind him as recently as last week. Of course, now I realize that was a mistake. I take responsibility for it. And we'll move on.

Q: Do you have any idea what prompted Mr. Ford's letter? I mean, everything seemed to be on track?

A: I don't. I mean, I was simply waiting for the state Ethics Commission's recommendations, and I was very clear and consistent with that. And was willing and ready to make a decision once that recommendation came back. And he decided to do what he did. I don't know why.


Q: (Inaudible)..that recommendation will ever come from the state Ethics Commission?

A: I haven't given that much thought. Yeah, I was expecting it to come at some point.


Q: Nor have they said that it's coming next week or anything like that?

A: Nothing.


Q: If one does eventually come this month, say following the next meeting, will that have any influence on whether he's paid through the end of the year or not?

A: I don't think so, no.


Q: Given his public statements in that letter, will that form the basis of denying him any payments? Does that constitute anything that would be considered a break of his responsibilities under the contract?

A: You should probably direct that to Don afterwards, because he could -- I mean those are issues that the URA board and the URA themselves are considering. I mean employment law, contracts, et cetera. So, that's above my pay grade.


Q: Mayor, you said you've always supported him up until last week, and now the word you just used, you realized it was a mistake. Have you learned something since last week that raises a question in your mind about Pat Ford's tenure in the city with the URA and the way he was conducting himself in office?

A: Well, I think clearly he has decided to attack others to potentially benefit himself. I think that's unfortunate. I've done nothing over the past two years other than stand behind him. I gave him the authority and the ability to get his name cleared at the state Ethics Commission. I remained silent and open to their recommendations. So, I've done nothing over the past two years to not support Pat. I've been there to support him. And so, needless to say, I was blindsided and surprised by the course of action that he chose to take on Wednesday. And you know, I'm still surprised by it, but we'll move on. I think it's unfortunate and we have important business that we have to take care of and we're going to do that.

[The following portion of the transcript was added to the blog at 5 PM Saturday.]

Q: [Inaudible]...in any way what is happening at the URA..?

A: No, in fact, I'm very pleased with the way things at the URA have been going. I think if you were to talk to people, whether it's neighborhood advocates, developers, employees at the URA, we have not missed a beat whatsoever and in fact have perhaps become more efficient in some ways. And so I think the URA has continued to function in a very good way and they'll continue to do so, despite some of the activities that have potentially been a distraction over the past couple of days.


Q: Your thoughts and feelings about being put in the position where you felt it was necessary to miss the Obama acceptance speech, Biden's acceptance speech, Biden's visit to the Pennsylvania delegation, President Clinton's speech, and fulfill(ing) your role as a delegate?

A: I think my responsibility to residents of the City of Pittsburgh are what's always been my number one priority. And I felt in this case it was more appropriate for me to be here in Pittsburgh to deal with this issue and the questions surrounding it than it was be in Denver having a good old time at a convention party.


Q: In addition to preparing to respond publicly today, dealing with the media, are there any specific additional actions that you're taking or steps that you're taking that come out of that daylong meeting with staff?

A: No. And it wasn't necessarily a daylong meeting It was just -- certainly I was in dialog with certain folks about it. But, you know, it was just a day for me to get back and get settled and prepare for today. But I mean I don't want to suggest that from 8 AM until 8 PM yesterday I was entrenched in meetings because I wasn't -- so...


Q: Did you learn anything in those talks yesterday that you didn't know your staff was doing beforehand or that they had had with Pat Ford? Were you kept in the dark on any of it?

A: No, I don't kn-- nothing that was revealed yesterday was new to me. No.
Last one. If that's okay.


Q: What does the future hold now for this position? (Inaudible).

A: That will be a question that the URA board will answer. Of course we will put some sort of transition in place. You know, whether that's the current acting executive director or otherwise, we'll decide what that means in the future. But at this point they have not met, nor have they even decided to do what -- necessarily what to do Mr. Ford's request. So until they do that, I guess we're speculating. But we anticipate a smooth transition that will take place rather expeditiously.
Okay? Thanks, guys.


[Moments later, reporters interviewed Pat Ford's attorney, Lawrence Fisher, who had attempted to attend Mayor Ravenstahl's news conference. Fisher had entered the mayor's conference room by following reporters and photographers in when the media was admitted. At some point Gigi Saladna of the Mayor's Office learned his identity and the mayor's bodyguard, Pittsburgh Police Detective Domenick Sciulli, escorted Fisher out of the room. After several minutes, Mayor Ravenstahl entered the room and the news conference began. Fisher spoke with reporters near the entrance of the empty City Council Chamber, located down the hall from the Mayor's Office. A transcript of that Q&A will appear as a separate post.]


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Friday, August 29, 2008

Mayor: Ford Claims Outrageous, Very Malicious

I'll be providing Q&A quotes in a later post.

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Ford's Attorney Turned Away By Mayor's Office

Pat Ford's attorney Lawrence Fisher attempted to attend Mayor
Ravenstahl's news conference. He followed reporters in, then was
escorted out by the mayor's bodyguard.

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Mayor Ravenstahl News Conference Today


Shortly before 9:00, the mayor's office announced that Mayor Ravenstahl will hold a news conference at 11:00 AM. He's expected to field reporter questions about Pat Ford's resignation as URA Executive Director, Ford's allegations of a "culture of corruption" in the administration, and the mayor's early return from the Democratic National Convention.


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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Mayor Drops Dem Convention -- Ford Controversy Brings Him Home

Adapted from my 5:00 PM Channel 4 Action News report

Through the day, the office of Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has been keeping his exact whereabouts a mystery. We do know he's no longer in Denver at the Democratic National Convention. The mayor rushed back to Pittsburgh early for private meetings dealing with the fallout from the controversial resignation of a former member of his inner circle, Pat Ford, and the accusations included in Ford's resignation letter.

Pittsburgh Democrats in Denver we spoke with say Mayor Ravenstahl wasn't in their sight for Joe Biden's vice-presidential acceptance speech or Bill Clinton's rallying of the convention faithful. The mayor was long gone when Biden met the Pennsylvania delegation today and tried to hail Ravenstahl by name.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review provided Channel 4 Action News with audio from Biden's remarks:

"To the Mayor of Pittsburgh: Luke I warned you. The job's too tough. I don't know why anybody would want to be a mayor. Like I tell you, you guys are crazy. They know where you live."


We now know that URA Executive Director Pat Ford's resignation-- in which Ford attacked the Ravenstahl administration -- is the reason why. Both Ford and his attorney Lawrence Fisher claim the administration has "a culture of corruption that Mr. Ford wants nothing to do with."


The mayor's Acting Press Secretary Joanna Doven first told reporters that she believed claims Ravenstahl returned to Pittsburgh last night were incorrect* -- that if it were true, Chief of Staff Yarone Zober would have told her in their phone conversation this morning.

Later Doven was able to confirm Ravenstahl did scrap his convention delegate duties and fly back from Denver to Pittsburgh last night -- and that Chief of Staff Zober was back too. She confirms the mayor spent all day in private meetings away from his office, dealing with the Ford resignation. She was unable to identify who else was taking part in the meetings.

At 2:00 PM Doven told reporters that Ravenstahl was staying away from his office for the entire day and will not answer reporter questions on the Ford matter today.

For now, the mayor's office can't say when Ravenstahl will resurface to answer reporters questions or whether the mayor will attend the Obama-Biden rally in western Pennsylvania tomorrow.

* [I initially reported that Doven said the claims were "false". She corrected me that her actual wording was that she believed them to be "incorrect" and that she then checked and learned otherwise.]

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


FINAL UPDATED VERSION
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.


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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Pat Ford Resigns, Blasts Ravenstahl, Zober

From an e-mail moments ago:

Excerpted below is the text of Mr. Ford's letter of resignation. You
may contact me to discuss this matter.

Lawrence Fisher

27 August 2008

Mr. Yarone Zober, Chairman
Board of Directors
Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh
200 Ross Street, 12th Floor
Pittsburgh, PA 15219-2069

RE: Letter of Resignation Patrick B. Ford, Executive Director Urban
Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh

Dear Mr. Zober,

I am resigning from my position as Executive Director of the Urban
Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh (No. 6 of contract) effective
the end date of my contract term. Per the term of my contract, I
expect to be compensated for the remainder of 2008 (No. 3 of
contract).

When I returned to work for the late Mayor Bob O'Connor, I believed
that great things were about to happen in this City. I hoped for those
same things when I was promoted by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.
Unfortunately, I have not seen that to be the case.

To this day, my wife and I are being persecuted with no support from
the administration I served, for no real reason whatsoever. Although I
was cleared nearly two weeks ago by the State Ethics Commission, no
discussion has occurred in regard to my future. Today, I want to set
the record straight that I do not support the actions of what I
believe to be a failed administration and no longer desire to return
to a position where I will again be forced to serve as a scapegoat for
the inappropriate affairs and activities of others.

Over the past two years I have told myself that I was a "good
soldier," and that I did what was asked of me by the Mayor I served. I
believed that by working together we could have a positive impact on
this City, embracing all that it has to offer. But that vision never
materialized, and as I have always said, "Where there is no vision,
people perish." I have no desire to perish along with Luke
Ravenstahl's Pittsburgh.

It is clear to me that as long as I continue to fight to have my name
restored by this administration, I will only be further tarnished by
this culture of deception and corruption. I have stood by recently and
watched as you personally retaliated against those who tried to
support me, and I cannot allow others to be penalized for not
understanding that, when it comes to Pat Ford, honesty is not
appreciated.


I have worked for 20 years as a city planner, zoning official and
planning consultant, and I, as I have said from the beginning, want to
get back to work. However, it has become clear to me that I will not
be able to continue my career in this town, and I hereby tender my
resignation. I will contact Rob Stephany to make arrangements to
remove all personal items from my office.

Sincerely,

Patrick B. Ford


CC: Luke Ravenstahl

Don Kortlantdt

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Why Call Him "Billionaire" Bluhm?


Viewer & reader Ted Couperus writes:

Why do you as well as all the other news folks on WTAE refer to Neil Bluhm as "Billionaire Neil Bluhm"? I didn't hear anyone refer to Don Barden as "Millionaire Don Barden". It seems very strange to use someone's alleged net worth as part of their name almost like it is a title.

It's a fair question.

While a billion dollars may not buy what it used to, it's still a significant mark of distinction in the world of business and worth noting. It's certainly in a different league than millionaires and the strata for the rest of us which a local bank referred to as "thousand-aires" in an ad campaign years ago.

Until Mr. Bluhm & company close the deal, which -- at this writing -- they've not yet done, we can't call him the Pittsburgh casino co-owner. (UPDATE: Late this morning, word came that the deal closed, casino financing came through, and payments to contractors is under way.)
In fact, Bluhm has said that his personal stake in the new casino will amount to only a few percentage points. He testified that he does not control the trusts established by his adult children for his grandkids. Those trusts will also have a stake in the casino.

Click image to enlarge.

The PowerPoint presentation to the gaming board identifies Neil Bluhm as "Managing Principal of Walton Street Capital", but that fund has many investors. "Walton Street Capital" has a 74% percent stake in "Pittsburgh Gaming Investors"... which has a 75% stake in "Holdings Gaming Borrower"... which is the vehicle for raising money for... "Holdings Acquisition Co", the casino licensee.

Taking the borrowed money into account, the PowerPoint then breaks it down this way:



Bluhm will serve on the three person management committee which controls the casino. That committee is at the top of a chain which includes a total of four variations of the Holdings/Gaming/Borrower/Aquisition/GP/ LLC/ LP/Company maze of names in the chart below.

Click image to enlarge.


Faced with those labyrinthine details and limited time, we opted for saying "Billionaire Neil Bluhm". The fact that it alliterates is a bonus.

We're not alone.

Google "Billionaire Neil Bluhm" and you'll get 1,970 hits. I'm only responsible for a few of them but I'll try not to run up the score.

A search for my alternate adjective in this case, "investor Neil Bluhm", brings 478 Google hits.

A simple search for "Neil Bluhm" produces 10,100 hits; the first two are shown in the screenshot below.



(PS to Mr. Couperus: I tried to e-mail back to you, but my response was bounced by your internet service provider as "rejected by the recipient domain".)


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Shields Apologizes, Motznik Still Favors Boot


T
hough Council President Doug Shields apologized during Monday's council meeting for his behavior the previous week, Councilman Jim Motznik still believes his colleague deserves punishment. Shields had publicly berated Personnel Director Barbara Trant for what Shields called "a pack of lies". In my Channel 4 Action News report, you'll see Councilman Motznik's own notable occasions of lashing out at what he considered a lack of truthfulness.


In the compromise worked out by some members of council with the mayor's office, most of the money for the gender and racial bias study will actually come from a budget reserve of City Council's unspent funds from years' past. The rest of the city money does not come from the corresponding internal budget of mayor's office, but from general city funds instead. The balance of the funding comes from the Women and Girls Foundation.

The compromise draws down from the amount of unencumbered money that council has available for other independent actions, such as hiring its own attorney. Councilman Peduto noted with some resignation that a significant amount of the unspent council money came from his own office's cost savings over the years. He complained that he'd cut back on his spending with the intent that the funds go toward reducing the city's debt. Peduto also bemoaned that he wasn't consulted by his colleagues about their deal to spend the money. As he spoke, several other council members silently stared in another direction, appearing to avoid eye contact.

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Friday, August 15, 2008

Contractors Feared Casino Might Drag Them Into Bankruptcy

Pittsburgh Casino Construction Site

The Pittsburgh casino project's cash crisis had local contractors worried that if Don Barden's company had gone bankrupt owing them tens of millions of dollars, their businesses would have been dragged down with him.

That information came to light during sworn testimony before the Gaming Control Board in Harrisburg. The details were overshadowed by the board's approval of the casino deal at the end of a daylong hearing.

Here are my notes from the testimony.

Dean Mosites, Mosites Construction Company:
• "I think the board knows that we've not received payments for work that was done in April, May, and June. For all of these contractors, that adds up to a tremendous sum of money. And it is enough money to put us in financial jeopardy. Right now, our banks and our bonding companies are looking very closely at our businesses and (are) very, very concerned (about) our businesses moving forward carrying these kinds of receivables."

• "We're in a position now where we have to be very judicious with the money that we spend. We can only spend on essentials. We have to make decisions -- every day I meet with my controller. This is not a situation I've had before in the 30 years I've been in business. I've got to meet with our controller every day and we've got to pick and choose who we can pay and who we can't to keep us moving forward."

• "We wish to avoid the harrowing problems that go with bankruptcy."

• "That is a very real possibility."

• (In answer to the question of how many families would be hurt by such bankruptcies) "I would say as it goes down from the 22 of us, the geometric progression until you get down to the bottom, there's thousands."

Here's a link to raw video of Mosites' testimony.


Others who testified:

Dan Keating, Chairman of Keating Building Corporation, General Contractor for Pittsburgh casino project:
• "If we can't get the work started, those contracts will terminate and the effects will be disastrous."

• "From a practical standpoint, it would be devastating. The people people affected.. are literally thousands. Every subcontractor has numerous sub-subcontractors and vendors that are part of this process. They, their families... would, I think, suffer irreparable damage...It's a frightening thought...it would just be devastating."


Rich Stanizzo, Business Manager, Building & Construction Trades Council:
• "If these contractors cannot recoup their money, it is going to change the face of construction in Western Pennsylvania, and it won't be to the better. We do not want to see any of these contractors be faced with going out of business. It's something that we in Western Pennsylvania cannot stand."


Meanwhile, casino spokesman Daniel Fee says logistics delayed transferring money today -- and he says that it will be wired on Monday. He now predicts work at the casino site won't resume until Tuesday.


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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Notes & Quotes: Casino Deal Approved

Gaming Control Board

We're on the Pennsylvania Turnpike again, just heading back from Harrisburg and the Gaming Control Board vote approving transfer of control of the Pittsburgh casino license.

In the end, the vote was unanimous. Board members took great pains to emphasize that "this was not a rush to judgement" and that politics did not drive their choice. One member suggested that politics were behind some of the criticisms they faced leading up to the vote.

Here are some quotes from Billionaire casino investor Neil Bluhm, following the vote:

"If this didn't go ahead, this would be in bankruptcy, tied up for a long period of time. Instead you're going to have a wonderful casino, a great project on the river, and I'm sure the citizens of Pittsburgh will enjoy it and at the same time (it will) create a lot of jobs...."

"Tomorrow, we should be wiring funds and hopefully close on the transaction and on Monday the contractors will be back at work and we'll be on our way."


Representatives of contractors and unions had testified that some local companies could have been driven out of business by losses due to bills unpaid by Barden's PITG Gaming if it had gone bankrupt.

Ken McCabe, Gaming Board Member:
"I think if we revoke it or rebid it will only help a small group of people and would be disastrous for thousands of families, for Pittsburgh, and for the commonwealth."


Sanford Rivers, Gaming Board Member:
"Mr. Bluhm, thank you for removing the doom and gloom that hovers over the Pittsburgh casino and it's amenities."


James Ginty, Gaming Board Member:
"To deny this application would do a tremendous disservice to the people of Pittsburgh, to the citizens of Allegheny County and to the citizens of Pennsylvania.."


State Senators Jane Orie and Jim Ferlo -- who had urged the board to revoke the license -- did not come to testify. They submitted their statements in writing. Ferlo had a staffer at the hearing who provided copies to reporters. In it, he says:

"....it seems the board's actions are not intended to provide an open, fair. And objective public process, but instead to speedily cover its tracks."


...and...

"...the process leading up to this hearing has been shrouded in secrecy. Repeated letters requesting documentation of the buyout were either ignored or met with indifference."

"It was only last week that my office began receiving this information, which is very complicated, and it has been filled with redactions. Important names and financial numbers have been removed making discerning information from the documents difficult"


Senator Orie's office e-mailed a statement to the media, but the pdf format isn't legible on the small screen of the BlackBerry I'm using to write this post.

The gaming board staff says:

"A PowerPoint presentation made today to the Board has been posted on the PGCB web site. A link to the presentation can be found under the 'What's New' section of the PGCB's home page, www.pgcb.state.pa.us .

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A Blogging Update On The Road

Neil Bluhm, Greg Carlin, Don Barden

I
t's 5:50 AM as I write this. Photographer John McKee and I left WTAE at 5:00 AM, headed for Harrisburg to cover the gaming board's hearing on the Pittsburgh casino license.

It turns out that as I was staking out casino billionaire Neil Bluhm's meeting at the mayor's office, there was quite a contentious meeting going under way on just the other side of city council's chamber door.

Here's a link to video of Jake Ploeger's Channel 4 Action News report.


I'm curious to hear what specifically Council President Shields was labeling as lies when his remarks prompted city Personnel Director Barbara Trant to walk out of the council meeting.

One side note. Those of us waiting for Bluhm outside the mayor's office hadn't heard what was happening inside council chamber. We did see Director Trant waive her hands in the air in exasperation as she exited council and headed for the mayor's office. She then apparently realized that she's picked up Councilwoman Payne's glasses on her way out. She doubled back and handed the glasses to another reporter to return to Payne. The reporter hadn't been in the council meeting and appeared puzzled by his unexpected assignment.

Finally, on an unrelated note, thanks to PittGirl for the mention in her Burgh Blog the other day. The power of PittGirl is amazing. As I went through the day Wednesday, people kept asking me "Did you see? You got a mention by PittGirl!"


....So, we just heard there's an accident on the Turnpike at Breezewood. That may mean a detour on our road trip to Harrisburg. I may post again later today.


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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Billionaire Bluhm Meeting Mayor & County Exec

Neil Bluhm

I'm posting this by BlackBerry at 1:15 PM from outside the mayor's office.

Lead investor Neil Bluhm and proposed CEO Greg Carlin arrived at shortly after 12:30.

This courtesy call comes the day before the Gaming Control Board resumes its meeting in Harrisburg on Pittsburgh's casino license.

Mayor Ravenstahl and County Executive Onorato won't attend the hearing, because it conflicts with tomorrow's groundbreaking for the new arena.

As Onorato went in, he faced some questions about whether state taxpayers will be on the hook if the casino's share of payments toward financing the new arena were lost.

Here's a link to my report back in July, confirming that fact.

The Pittsburgh Channel story summarizes my report, and there should be a link to the video on that web page.

The bottom line from my report on July 25th: the governor's office confirmed to me last month that the state has a "backstop" agreement to lease the arena for $7.5 Million a year, if the casino's share of payments on the financing is not available.


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Saturday, August 9, 2008

Controversy Over "Excited Delirium Syndrome"


Here's a link to my Channel 4 Action News report on "Excited Delirium Syndrome."

At the time I interviewed Dr. Cyril Wecht -- shortly after noon on Friday -- he had not been hired to do the independent autopsy on the body of Andre Thomas, the man who died after being tased by Swissvale police. District Attorney Stephen Zappala has said that Thomas' conduct before his death fits the symptoms of Excited Delirium Syndrome. That can include violent, erratic behavior and "superhuman" strength.

Shortly after 5 PM, as my TV report was airing, the Post-Gazette website posted a story quoting attorney Howard Messer as saying Wecht had been retained by Thomas' family. After spotting the PG's web report, I contacted Wecht around 6 PM. He confirmed that he had been hired for the autopsy less than an hour and a half earlier -- several hours after I had interviewed him.


The American Psychiatric Association's Associate Director, Division of Research, Dr. William Narrow, confirmed for me in a telephone interview that neither the American Medical Association nor his professional organization recognize the term "Excited Delirium Syndrome".

Dr Narrow: "In my experience, the term excited delirium has been used exclusively by law enforcement and in the legal world."

Dr. Narrow says it doesn't have a basis in medical terminology. I asked him if it was a pseudoscientific term. His answer: it doesn't have a basis in medical terminology.

Dr. Narrow: "It is a term that is to the best of my knowledge developed by a non-medical group -- i.e. The law enforcement and legal community -- and therefore, yes, it doesn't fall into what would be legitimate medical science."


Here's a quote from "Excited delirium: Does it exist?", an article in Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, Jul-Sep 2003, by Mary Paquette.

Paquette: "Even though the American Medical Association does not recognize this diagnosis as a medical or psychiatric condition, the National Association of Medical Examiners has recognized it for more than a decade... It is used by medical examiners in most major cities. Thus, there is a great deal of controversy regarding the use of this syndrome to explain sudden death while restrained."

This is a link to a New York Times story: "Deaths in Custody: Excited Delirium or Excessive Force?"


Finally, here are some breakout quotes from my interview with Dr. Wecht about Excited Delirium Syndrome.
Dr. Wecht:
• "I have had much reservation about this so-called entity for many years. The forensic pathology community is split on this."

• "As far as I am concerned, it is not an entity that exists in and of itself."

Whect says that when cocaine, meth-amphetamine, or an hallucinogenic is present, "one could theoretically argue that the state of excitement induced by a confrontation may produce death".

Dr. Wecht:
• "In the absence of drugs, in my opinion, this is pure scientific conjecture. It is a fiction that has created by a combination of medical examiners, coroners, forensic pathologists in those offices, district attorneys, law enforcement officers."

• "It gets them out of a difficult situation many times when you have these deaths occuring following police altercations in which there was no weapon, in which the person has no heart disease, in which there was quote 'erratic behavior' unquote."

• "The AMA and the American Psychiatric Association do not recognize this entity in the year 2008. It's been discussed now for many, many years. Certainly it has been revisited by the appropriate experts in these two national organizations, and I am with them. I do not recognize it or accept it at all in the absence of drugs."

• "I look at it skeptically, but I'm willing to review it when drugs are present -- specifically cocaine and amphetamines and other drugs that can alter behavior, but not in a central nervous system depressant fashion."

• "You cannot ignore the fact that nine out of ten of these cases involve victims who are members of a minority and cops who are white."

• "(It's ) a more acceptable way of saying -- almost like 'it's God's will'. In other words, it's something we could not have prevented. Hey, man he just got excited. In a state of delirious excitation -- he died. We don't really know why,we don't understand why, we can't demonstrate anything at autopsy."

• "It's convenient, and you need something you can sell. And you know what, to the public, generally out there, 'hey, man, it's another one of those excited delirium cases. Too bad'."

• "How come we don't have excited delirium cases, absent cocaine, amphetamines, et cetera, in situations that do not involve the altercations with police?"

• "They only seem to die when the altercation is with the cops. It's never an altercation with their brother in law, with their neighbor..."


The District Attorney and the Allegheny County Chiefs of Police Association distributed educational material to local law enforcement on Excited Delirium Syndrome in 2006. It included a link to this online video training on the topic, as well as an article called "10 Training Tips For Handling 'Excited Delirium'" prepared by the Force Science Research Center and posted on The Policeone.com website.




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Ford Case Puzzles


URA Executive Director Pat Ford's attorney Lawrence Fisher declined on Wednesday to show me the Pennsylvania Ethics Commission letter which he announced as exonerating his client. Rich Lord's story in this morning's PG breaks new ground by revealing this quote from that letter by ethics commission's Executive Director John Contino.


Mr. Contino wrote a letter to Mr. Fisher dated Tuesday saying that "only the commission ... may act upon the closing of a preliminary inquiry. To date, the commission has not acted upon the matter involving your client."


I've e-mailed attorney Fisher, asking him to provide me with a copy of the Ethics Commission letter he apparently shared with the Post-Gazette. It's possible that, elsewhere in the body of that letter, Contino explicitly says:

a) the 60 days provided by law for a preliminary review of Ford have past, and no evidence has been found to justify launching a full investigation...

..and/or...

b) there will be no formal investigation of Ford.


For now, we don't know. Is the passage quoted in the Post-Gazette the only one that addresses the status of Ford's case? It's not clear whether Fisher is simply deducing for now that Ford has been cleared as he awaits official notice.

Ethics Commission Executive Director Contino has not been returning the messages I've been leaving for him since Tuesday. (Contino is prohibited by law from discussing specific ethics cases. He sometimes does answer general questions about the law, policy, and procedures.)

The current situation begs the question of whether the passing of more than 60 days constitutes proof the Ford ethics case has been closed. If you enjoy logic puzzles, check out the Wikipedia discussion of "begging the question".


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Thursday, August 7, 2008

Q&A: Mayor Ravenstahl on Pat Ford


This question and answer session with Mayor Luke Ravenstahl is from Wednesday, August 6, shortly after 11 AM. The questions are mine, except where noted otherwise.

Q: " Your reaction to the word, Pat Ford's attorney saying that he has been exonerated and he wants to come back to work?"


A: " Well, let me first say we haven't officially -- meaning the city or the URA -- been notified whatsoever by the... state ethics board. Certainly encouraged by at least Mr. Fisher's comments this morning, in terms of what the state ethics commission -- he anticipates will say. Of course, I know it's not the right thing to do to rush to judgement before any official recommendation comes down. And so we'll wait until we hear officially from the ethics commission. And of course I think it's in everybody's best interest to bring some closure to this issue and hopefully that will happen here in the very near future."


Q: " My understand is the ethics commission -- since you weren't a party to this --- actually, that because of their legal requirements can't issue a statement to you. Had they indicated that they can communicate anything to you at some point?

A: " I think they'll communicate to the URA or make their findings known, and that has not been done yet. Whether that was directly communicated to Mr. Ford or his attorney, apparently it has been, but it hasn't been communicated to us. And once we are made known of what the conclusions are, then of course we'll react to it at that time. But until that happens, I think it's in everybody's best interest to make sure that case is concluded, their recommendations are brought forward, and then decisions are made accordingly."


Q ( Jeremy Boren, Trib) " What if Mr. Fisher is correct, though and he has been exonerated, they're not going to do the full investigation?"


A: " Well, again, I want to reserve judgement until I see that, first and foremost. But I think it's in everybody's interest to bring closure to this issue and move forward. And once that recommendation comes down, we'll act accordingly. If there was no wrongdoing found from the ethics commission, then obviously we'll take that into consideration and move forward. But until I see what that is, I don't want to make any statements toward what might happen, not knowing what the ethics commission is formally going to say."


Q ( Boren, Trib) " You're not willing to say whether you'll bring him back as executive director, even if the ethics commission..?"

A: " Again, I haven't speculated for four months and, despite what his attorney reported today, I haven't been notified directly. So, if in fact this is the case, I would anticipate that we'll hear in the next couple of days. And I think once that happens, certainly we'll communicate with the URA board, being that they are the board that ultimately hires and deals with these issues. And certainly I'll communicate with them once the judgement comes down."


Q: ( Boren, Trib) " Would you leave it to the board or would you make the call?"

A: " Well, certainly I'll communicate with them. It's board action that will dictate what happens formally, so it will be their responsibility. But certainly I will, once the ethics commission investigation is concluded, I will communicate with them on what I think is the best step for the URA and for the city. "


Q: " So, is it fair or accurate to say that you don't want to be locked in to saying 'yes, he's coming back' until you have information firsthand?"

A: " That's very fair, yes. I mean, I want to make sure that despite what the attorney said this morning, I've been hearing rumors for two months now that a decision was coming tomorrow. We have the comment that was made today, and I think it's encouraging . And certainly hope that the ethics hearing board communicates with us directly, and once they do that we'll act accordingly. But until I have that information from the ethics commission -- board -- directly, I want to reserve my judgement until then."


Q: ( Boren, Trib) " When you say 'encouraging', are you glad this could be the case, that he has been exonerated and that there's...?"

A: " Well, sure. You know, of course it's in everybody's interest to make sure there was no wrongdoing or nothing that was done inappropriately. And so if the ethics commission drew that conclusion, I think that's great news for everybody. And it's encouraging toward putting this issue to closure."


Q: ( Boren, Trib) " Have you talked to Pat?"

A: " I haven't, no."


Q: " Would there be any reason -- other reason -- why he could not come back if the ethics commission says 'all clear'?"

A: " As far as I see it, you know, again, if, for example, there was no wrongdoing done, then the URA board would ultimately have to decide. I don't see any grounds at that point for any further action. But again, before we say that, we want to make sure we get their remarks."


Q: ( Boren, Trib) " Will you let us know when you do?"

A: " I will, yeah."



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Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Doug Shields: Q&A on Pat Ford


In the last post, Pat Ford's attorney Lawrence Fisher singled out Council President Doug Shields for criticism. Here's my Q&A with Shields.

Q: "Your response to the news of Pat Ford's attorney saying the review has been terminated, there won't be an investigation, and that Pat Ford, he says, is exonerated?"

A: "Well, the reaction to that is that I still have a lot of questions out there as to what is going on in the city. I don't know what they looked at, I don't know who they spoke to. But it is what it is at this point. As far as any comments on my take on all this or political grandstanding, there's a couple of inconvenient facts in the way. Number one, the city solicitor's opinion made it very clear that Mr. Ford was absolutely wrong in his analysis of what that billboard's about. It is not a minor change. The city solicitor made it clear that Mr. Ford had previously done these Lamar deals and, as you'll recall, that those were not legal actions then. And the word that he used was 'prospectively'-- meaning going forward -- that we shouldn't do these things. Those are the facts."

"And whether there was influence peddling or not, it's really down to the issue of 'are we abiding by the city zoning code?' and the answer was 'no' and it's as simple as that. And all the other matters that came Mr. Ford's way were not of my making, but were of his own making. And putting himself in a position where there was a question of his integrity. There was a question on the table of who's influencing whom. And actions that were taken by the zoning administrator and others at the direction of the URA director was improper as far as I'm concerned. There's no way that the URA director should be directing the Department of Planning. Those are facts. Those are all established facts. And I don't see it as any grandstanding on when you've got a fact matter out there with regard to abiding by the law."


Q: "So, you're saying that apart from the matter about personal gifts -- you're saying that his role in the way the billboard matter went forward raises questions?"

A: "Well, one thing's absolutely clear. During the six hour post agenda, the facts, or so-called facts that Mr. Ford was asserting to the council were incorrect. That's a fact. I don't understand. You know, this is part of the problem with government today, generally. Whether it's in the congress or the state house or at the local level. It seems that there's a wink-and-a-nod system out there; that we're going to let things slide. That it doesn't really matter and nobody wants to go and read the law and understand how to run a city. There's a certain amount of arrogance on the part of governmental official about what they should be doing and what they actually do. And I would consider all of this matter part of that whole scene that we see in Pennsylvania today."

Q: "Finally, his lawyer said that they've notified the URA that Pat Ford intends to request a return to work. Is it appropriate for him to return?"

A: "That's a decision between the URA board. I will say this: that I think despite the finding of the ethics commission, I think that the relationships between the council and others that deal with the URA, this is clouded by this. And I don't know how productive that is. If Mr. Ford wants to take the position of being 'okay, I did something wrong', i.e. interpreted the zoning code wrong, then it should be admitted and apologized for there, and move on. But if it's going to be an acrimonious relationship, if it's going to be personal battles and so forth, then the value of his being in that office is diminished."


Q: (Elaine Effort, KQV): Say he is allowed to come back, if the Lamar billboard issue comes forth...?

A: "The Lamar billboard's going to be the Zoning Board of Adjustment in early September, I think the 4th or the 7th, something like that. And my interpretation of the code is that they don't have the use exception available to them under the code. And then we'll see what happens there and then people can judge for themselves, as to the veracity of what those of us on council objected to in the process of putting that board up. There's a no-bid contract at the Parking Authority, Mr. Ford was the chair. There was a sign off at administrative review that was incorrect, as said by the city law department. All these things came to a head. They were not of my making. They were presented to me, and I acted accordingly. I'm here to basically mind the public purse and mind the public trust."

"There's an old saying, 'once you reach the limit of your logical argument, then you resort to name calling". It seems to me that someone's looking to do some name calling around here. And I presume that they ran out of their logical argument a while back."

To be posted next: Q&A with Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.

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