Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Homework Assignment; Deconstructing the Post-Gazette

It's just one little article by the Post-Gazette's Rich Lord, but it contains so many points for discussion. And it even provides the very first homework that I can assign to you, all six of my readers.

The Pittsburgh Parking Authority is taking measures to secure the $5 million that flows into parking meters annually, even as its employees continue to take complaints of theft and intimidation to the district attorney.

Ten months after it spent $45,000 on surveillance, tracking and interviews of its employees in a fruitless effort to find evidence of theft, the authority has nonetheless decided it can do more to protect its money.
I am shocked, SHOCKED that any city agency would spend that kind of money and have nothing to show for it, aren't you?
"More security procedures will be implemented and additional ones will always be looked at," said acting Executive Director Dave Onorato.
Your homework assignment for tonight; describe, in 25 words or less, how Dave Onorato got his job as "acting Executive Director" of the Pittsburgh Parking Authority.
Employees, though, say there's one thing the authority hasn't done: exonerate them, five months after one collector hurled what they call false theft accusations at others in front of City Council.

That omission "affects the morale of employees," said Shawn Beck, union steward for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2719, which represents some 50 meter enforcement, repair and collections workers. Low morale, in turn, "impedes the ability of the authority to collect money."
Low morale somehow "impedes the ability" of the collection workers to pull coins out of the meters? These people have to haul tons of coins around the city in both the baking heat of summer and the sub-freezing days of winter. I would never expect them to ever have anything but low morale.
Responding to internal accusations of employee theft, the authority in January retained Victory Security of Carnegie. The authority had law firm Klett Rooney Lieber & Schorling contract with the security company, so it could shield the investigation from public document laws.
You just gotta be kidding me here. They passed the investigation through private law firm -- who no doubt took a cut of the fee for themselves, thus raising the overall cost to the taxpayers -- just so they didn't have to comply with any public disclosure laws? What, falling back on the age-old and apparently ironclad excuse that this was a "personnel matter" wasn't good enough? What is up with this pathological fear of public disclosure? We keep paying for investigation after investigation around here, but we are never allowed even the slightest peak behind the curtain. How in the hell could public disclosure of any documents from this investigation -- which, quite frankly, nobody was ever likely to have examined -- be worth several thousand dollars in additional legal fees? This story is getting really old, people!
Victory Security's invoices, which the authority released, were paid by Klett Rooney, which was reimbursed by the authority. They show that the firm used four investigators per day to follow collectors for four weeks. Global positioning system, or GPS, devices were installed in collection vehicles.

"The investigation did show no evidence of theft occurring in the collections department," said Mr. Onorato.

The authority considered involving police against one employee, but in the end just gave written warnings to collectors who were found to stray from their assigned areas.
Oh right, the police. That would be the people whom the public are already paying to do investigations like this one. Good idea here! We musn't involve the police when we can pay extra money for private security officers (hired through a middleman) to do this kind of work for them.
In July, collector Robert A. Davis told council, during its public comment period, that colleagues have taken meter keys and left meters unlocked. He also went to District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr.'s office, and was interviewed by investigator Dennis Logan, assigned to look into the theft allegations.
So in other words, the thefts (if there we any) were not taking place while the collectors were on the clock and doing their rounds. Instead, the thieves were stealing keys or leaving meters unlocked so that they could get to the money after their shifts were over. Given the nature of the accusation, what was the point in paying four private security guards to follow the collectors while they were doing their daily rounds in their city-owned, GPS-equiped vehicles? That's not when the thefts were happening!
On Nov. 20, Mr. Beck [the union steward] and former authority employee Robert Santucci went to the district attorney's office and said that the investigation was biased, intimidating some employees while ignoring allegations against Mr. Davis. ... "My concern is that I have a number of employees, as a direct result of the investigation, who are working in a hostile work environment," said Mr. Beck. "I want to know if [the authority] is allowed to use public money to engage in a political witch hunt" that he said targeted some employees and supervisors while failing to scrutinize others.
You know, Mr. Beck, I could almost buy into your whole "witch hunt" thing if you hadn't opened with that tired old union steward bullshit about there being a "hostile work environment". Of course there's a hostile work environment. Anytime you have low-wage people working with decent amounts of cash in a job that defies any kind of ongoing supervision, there's going to be some theft, and some accusations about theft. And occasionally, there are even going to be some investigations of theft. It's part of the very nature of the job here. Get used to it.
[Mr. Onorato said he is] taking steps to reduce the possibility that some of the millions of quarters flowing into his system are filched. For instance, coin collectors now carry cell phones with GPS tracking devices, allowing the authority to monitor their whereabouts as they tap meters. ... It is replacing the locks and coin cups in meters, while reducing its reliance on the coin-operated devices by shifting to multi-space meters. The multi-space meters take cash and credit cards and include software that tracks the money collected -- something coin-operated meters don't do.
This kind of technology, of course, will also reduce the number of pain-in-the-ass coin collectors that the Parking Authority will have to employ. After hearing from their union steward in this article, you can understand why the Parking Authority would find that kind of work-force reduction pretty attractive.

Such a minor little article, and yet so illustrative of Pittsburgh. I love it!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The handling of this investigation is quite suspect. Why go to such lengths to cover-up an investigation of alleged misconduct? Taxpayers should demand to know why such expenses were incurred instead of simply turning the case over to Pgh. Police or the FBI to conduct an "integrity check". Also, it seems that Ravenstahl and Onorato are confusing the words "can't" and "won't" insofar as their decisions to refrain from releasing info. to the public. The question is whether state law absolutely prohibits the govt. from disclosing the results of investigations involving personnel or whether the current administration is stretching the personnel exception to public disclosure laws as an excuse for not wanting to disclose something. Clearly (once again) our current administration was not sincere in its representations in its budget speech that it values "transparency". Unless there is an absolute prohibition against disclosing the results of these types of investigations, the decisions by Ravenstahl/Onorato to voluntarily refrain from disclosure are suspect.