Tuesday, February 23, 2010

UPDATED: New City Government Web Design Lowers City Council Profile

[UPDATE 1 : The city's now changed its website since this blog post -- and I have some new information. I've added my e-mail exchange with Mayor Ravenstahl's Press Secretary Joanna Doven to the end of this post. A hat tip to Tim McNulty of the PG's Early Returns, who spotted the website change as of 11:15 AM.]

The "Emergency Information Page" on the City of Pittsburgh's website is apparently a sneak preview of a site re-design in the works -- one that literally takes City Council down a notch.

You can compare the before and after looks at these links.

Blogger-on-hiatus Bram Reichbaum and Pittsburgh Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak were discussing it recently via Twitter.

In the old website design, the link to City Council appears immediately to the right of the link to the mayor. (You can click on any of this images to enlarge them.)

The new design replaces the "Council" link with a generic "Government" link.

The link to City Council only appears if you hover your cursor over the word "Government".

Curiously, the link to the mayor's office appears both immediately after the home page link and as the first link under "Government", above City Council -- a sort of first among equals.

UPDATE 2 : Here's my e-mail exchange with Mayor Ravenstahl's Press Secretary Joanna Doven since my original blog post. At some point during this e-mail exchange the city restored City Council to the new website masthead. The Howard Stern mentioned in the cc: heading is the the city's Director of Information Systems.

-----Original Message-----
From: Mayo, Bob
Sent: Tuesday, February 23, 2010 10:27 AM
To: Stern, Howard; Doven, Joanna
Subject: City website changes

...Is this arrangement final? What went into the decision to drop City
Council down in the web link hierarchy?

Bob Mayo

----- Original Message -----
From: Doven, Joanna
To: Mayo, Bob E
Cc: Stern, Howard
Sent: Tue Feb 23 10:31:07 2010
Subject: RE: City website changes
I will consult with our web designer on this "concern" I assume council has. If Council has a concern, they may also consult with him. Nothing has been brought to our office's attention regarding arrangement yet.
The redesign is still in its infancy stage.



-----Original Message-----
From: Mayo, Bob
Sent: Tuesday, February 23, 2010 11:47 AM
To: Doven, Joanna
Cc: Stern, Howard
Subject: Re: City website changes
No one from council pointed it out to me or expressed a concern. I noticed the change and am asking questions based on observation. Was the web designer instructed to make that change or did he/she do it without guidance? Was it done in house or contracted out?


----- Original Message -----
From: Doven, Joanna
To: Mayo, Bob
Sent: Tue Feb 23 11:55:16 2010
Subject: RE: City website changes
In-house. No instruction from this office.

According to web designer...

The idea for Government was to have a page that describes city government (the elected bodies) to citizens. This page was an exploration of the concept:

The drop-downs were a more recent addition in the latest design, allowing us to have links to all of the most prominent resources.

Here's an image from the updated city website.



Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Reporting in the Burghosphere, 2010

Pittsburgh City Paper Editor Chris Potter raises some interesting questions about the relationship between the news media and Pittsburgh's blogosphere during this week's "where's the mayor" controversy. I spent most of yesterday in Johnstown and wasn't present for the mayor's news conference. My observations here are intended to address Chris' blog post on the topic.

Tuesday I was using Twitter to report updates on John Murtha's funeral when JanePitt (Virginia Montanez) sent me the following question:

JanePitt: "Is Luke there? Heard a rumor he went to Mardi Gras in New Orleans today".

Note that I did not tell her the rumor to her-- she asked me about it-- at a time when it was already being discussed by the public on Twitter.

My response back via Twitter direct message was:

bobmayo: "did not see him at Murtha funeral. I've been hearing that rumor since last night. Doven denies. No 1sthand sightings yest or now"

(The syntax and spelling is a forced result of Twitter's 140 character limit.)

Reporters answer viewer and reader questions about news stories all of the time. If anyone -- not just the blogger formerly known as PittGirl -- asks me a question about a story I'm tweeting, I answer it. If they ask it in the public Twitter stream, I answer there -- but if they ask via Twitter direct message, I answer back the same way. Virginia Montanez may have characterized that as a "source" -- but it wasn't anonymous and I dealt in fact, not in rumor.

Though reporters were making inquiries about the mayor's whereabouts, it was City Council's concern about his availability to sign an extension of the snow emergency that made first made news on Tuesday. The tact taken by the mayor's office in order to "make a point" to the media appears to have fueled more reporter interest in getting to the facts. No mainstream media referenced "New Orleans" or "Mardi Gras" until the mayor made his own headlines with his chastising of reporters during the news conference.

I do enjoy reading Chris' work and listening to his Wednesday appearances with Lynn Cullen online. I'll have to download today's session via iTunes to hear if they discuss this topic.

Virginia Montanez, meanwhile, has moved on to again taking up the cause of the BRESMA orphans in Haiti.



Monday, February 15, 2010

On This Date In The War On Snow

ere's a link to my Channel 4 Action News report tonight examining Mayor Ravenstahl's 2008 plan for snow removal in the wake of citizen complaints at the time. The plan was announced two years ago today.

I did contact Mayor Ravenstahl's Press Secretary Joanna Doven, asking to interview the mayor himself for the story but was told he was not available. She did provide this map of street salting routes which was developed as part of the plan. She explains that "red means state road, yellow means primary, blue means secondary, and green means tertiary. Each division has a list of priority roads".

Here are three of my questions for the mayor, along with the answers from Public Works Director Rob Kaczorowski, as seen in my TV report:

Q: When was the state-of-the-art snow removal and (computerized) routing system --"RouteSmart" -- put in place, and is he satisfied with how that system is working?

A: "RouteSmart at that point, wasn't useful to us. Actually the part of the legwork that we did took us about two years. It's completed and this is all fieldwork that was done by two people."

Q: Did the city benchmark Pittsburgh against other cities -- and what best practices elsewhere have been adopted?

A: "I couldn't find a city that had actually the type of terrain and challenges that we have here in the City of Pittsburgh -- parking on both sides of hilly, narrow streets."

Q: Does the city now install snow plows on refuse trucks -- and did it do so during this year's big storm?

A: "We found out in the early seventies when it was tried that it led to numerous accidents and it was actually more detrimental than helpful."

Below is Mayor Ravenstahl's news release from February 15, 2008.

Date: February 15, 2008
Contact: Alecia Sirk, Press Secretary

PITTSBURGH (February 15) Mayor Luke Ravenstahl is fired up about the the Department of Public Works inconsistent removal of snow and ice, the remnants of which have left some side streets impassable.

After fielding complaints from a number of residents, the Mayor cancelled his afternoon meetings Thursday for a tour of City neighborhoods, to see for himself where travel routes were still frozen.

"I am putting my full attention on getting these issues resolved," Mayor Ravenstahl said. Sure, Mother Nature can deal us a rough hand in the winter months. But we should not make excuses, we should make changes."

Mayor Ravenstahl convened a meeting with top City officials after returning to the office and, effective today, the Mayor has announced the implementation of a snow and ice mitigation plan for Pittsburgh:

1. The promotion of Rob Kaczorowski to Deputy Director of Operations for the Department of Public Works, a move that will require no pay increase. The Deputy Director, to serve under DPW Director Guy Costa, will be charged with supervising and managing all operations for the Department, including snow and ice removal. Current Deputy Director Mike Gable will be named Deputy Director of Administration, charged with supervising the administrative aspects of Pittsburgh's largest non-public safety related department.

2. The purchase of the best state-of-the-art snow removal and routing system available. The system will be in place no later than December 2008. Staff will also be benchmarking Pittsburgh against other cities to identify and evaluate best practices that could be useful for Pittsburgh.

3. The installation of snow plows onto refuse trucks for use on larger, primary streets, freeing up other trucks to clear the side streets.

4. The requirement that existing snow and ice removal routes will be adhered to, barring a major emergency, regardless of who calls the Department or the City.
"For decades, plows have been inefficiently being moved from one part of the City to another based on calls to City and Council offices, wasting time and missing entire sections of neighborhoods," Mayor Ravenstahl said. "The existing snowplow and deicing routes will be followed for the remainder of this winter, sticking to their plans and cleaning every neighborhood, street by street and block by block."

Then changes come just before a week in which at least three days of flurries are predicted.

"We can do better and we will do better, " Mayor Ravenstahl said. "All of our resources should be mobilized when our residents need us. With these changes, I will see to it that the City doesn't melt down when faced with snow and ice."